Los Angeles Fire Department
The year was 1912 . . . New Mexico and Arizona were admitted to the Union as the 47th and 48th states; the luxury liner Titanic, while on its maiden voyage, struck an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic; Woodrow Wilson defeated William Howard Taft and Teddy Roosevelt in the Presidential election and became the 26th President of the United States; the stage was being set in Europe for World War I; the Olympic games were being held in Stockholm, Sweden; Ty Cobb was capturing the American League Batting Championship for the 6th year in a row batting .410 for Detroit; ;a fellow by the name of Joe Dawson attained an average speed of 78.82 mph to win the Indianapolis "500".
Locally, the City of Los Angeles was acclaimed the 17th largest city in the nation with a population of just over 400,000; William Mulholland, then the Chief Engineer of the Water Department, was supervising the completion of the Owens River Aqueduct Project; natural gas came to Southern California as the Southern Counties Gas Company was established; work began on the first municipal wharf in San Pedro and completion was being rushed to coincide with the opening of the Panama Canal, expected in the summer of 1914; America's first drive-in gasoline service station was opened at Washington and Grand by Earle C. Anthony; some downtown buildings of note being constructed were Robinsons Department Store, Los Angeles Athletic Club, The Clark Hotel and the Examiner Building.
Also under construction early in 1912 was Fire Station 28, located at 644 South Figueroa Street. The Los Angeles Fire Department at that time was under the leadership of Chief Archy Eley who was directing an expansion program made possible by a recent successful fire bond election. These were the first bond funds available since 1898 and the City was in dire need of more Fire Stations and equipment.
Station 28 was constructed to house two companies. Also incorporated
in the plans was a third floor which was to provide needed space for a
proposed modernized fire alarm bureau. The huge basement we designed
to hold the bulky alarm equipment and considerable conduit was installed
to accommodate miles of wiring. The plan at that time was to replace
the antiquated alarm system in the old City Hall located in the 200 block
of South Broadway. This plan was never realized, however, and over
the past 56 years the third floor provided quarters for the Arson and
Photo Units, the Relief Association and Credit Union. Among other
uses, the basement served as a practice hall for the Fire Department Band
in later years.
One of Captain McDowell's first duties was to order supplies for the new station. Some items listed on that first requisition were:
Apparently one couldn't maintain quarters properly without these items. A search of today's storeroom catalog shows no listing of these supplies and for that, one can be thankful.
The working schedule in those days was referred to as the "30-day System". Each man was allowed six 24-hour periods off each month and three one-hour meal leaves per day. If for any reason manpower fell below minimum level "call men" were hired and paid on a daily basis. Many of these men later became full-time members of the Department. Pay day for regular members came on the first of the month and the pay envelope for a fully-paid fireman contained four twenty-dollar gold pieces.
July, 1913 also brought a new administration to the City. Henry Rose was the new Mayor. The administration of the previous Mayor, George Alexander, had established for the 1913-14 fiscal year a city budget amounting to $6,435,776.00. The Fire Department's share was $772,638.00. Mr. A. F. Frankenstein, the conductor of the Orpheum Theatre Orchestra, was a new appointee to the Board of Fire Commissioners. He and Mr. F. B. Silverwood, a local clothier, together had composed the song "I love you California." In 1951 this song was adopted as the official state song by the legislature.
At 6:16 p.m. on July 23, 1913 Engine 28 responded to its first working fire at
1222 West 11th Street. Few details were recorded but the company worked
twenty minutes and raised twenty feet of ladders. The inbound lanes of the
Harbor Freeway now occupy the space where that structure once stood. It
was somewhat apropos that on Christmas Day of that same year they
Firefighting strategy of the day called for use of the chemical hose or in the event of a large fire, a straight 2 1/2 inch line was used. Mattress fires were often handled with buckets and wet gunny sacks took care of many of the grass and hay fires that occurred.
One of the duties of the engine companies in the downtown area was the testing of dry standpipes in their district. This was usually done on Sunday mornings between 6:00 and 7:00 a.m. The practice was reportedly discontinued, however, when water damage to the buildings resulted in some instances.
In quarters daily drill sessions included Reading of the Rules and Regulations in addition to equipment manipulation and operation. Outside wet drills were conducted at the southwest coroner of Orange St. (now Wilshire Blvd.) and Figueroa St. Because few firemen had motor vehicle driving experience in those days, many hours were spent tutoring relief drivers. It should be noted, much of this time was not without incident. Dented fenders, wrinkled running boards, bent steering rods and other miscellaneous scrapes occurred until the men "got the hang of it".
Truck 7 joined Engine 28 in April of 1914 and ten years later Salvage 2
went into service in the same station. Both the Truck and Salvage
Companies changed their identities to 28 to coincide with the Engine Company
number. This occurred in 1932 in accordance with Department
policy. Outside of a brief six year move to Engine 9's quarters by
the Salvage Company, the three Companies remained quartered together until
the Truck Company was reassigned as Truck 50 in early 1967.
Another major change came in August of 1915. Ordinance #32,438 provided for the establishment of a two-platoon system. The platoons, identified "A" and "B", alternated weekly between daily 10-hour day and 14-hour night tours. Relief times were 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. It was necessary to hire several more firemen in order to implement the new system but funds were not made available. The Board of Fire Commissioners argued that it was impossible to continue the same level of fire protection without this additional manpower. The Board's request was not granted and so reluctantly they temporarily closed down ten companies which allowed the remaining 19 engine, 6 truck and 2 hose companies to be fully manned.
This "10 and 14" system remained in effect until June of 1929 when at the request of the Department members, the voters approved a 24-hour, two-platoon plan which remained basically unchanged until January 1961, when the three platoon system was established.
Ordinance #32,438 also included a new salary schedule which established the following monthly rates of pay for uniformed members:
Many more changes in the Department have come about since the early days of Station 28 and as in any dynamic organization, more will come. The most recent change affecting the station, as most of you already know, was its closing. Engine 28 moved to Engine 3 and became Engine 203 establishing the Department's fourth Task Force station. The rescue-Squad (Salvage) moved in with Engine 10 and assumed a new identity also.
The closing of Station 28 is part of a continuous facilities replacement
program which is currently dovetailed into present studies concerning the
feasibility of combining companies in a single station and establishing
Task Force Units. In addition to 3's, stations 15, 29 and 33 are
currently slated to become Task Force stations.
Do You Remember . . .
This article appeared in the August 1969 issue of THE FIREMAN'S GRAPEVINE
Copyright 2000 All Rights Reserved.