By Stanley E. Halfhill
Los Angeles Fire Boat 2, that mighty engine of fire destruction that for 15 years has cruised the waters of Los Angeles Harbor is here pictured in midstream of the harbor channel. Deep in its steel hull are housed seven powerful engines; six of which are geared to large centrifugal pumps capable of throwing fifty tons of water a minute through its turrets, while the seventh is being used to propel it into position.
The story of Fire Boat 2 and how it came into being in 1925 is well known. Built at the Los Angeles Shipbuilding and Drydock Corporation for an initial cost of $229,000. it is still one of the largest and most efficient on the West Coast. Less well known are its personal habits, its home and surroundings, its history and those of the many men who have trod its steel decks in the interim.
Home at Berth 227, Terminal Island, the Fire Boat is housed in a covered slip and moored "fore and aft, port and starboard". It is groomed daily by a crew of eighteen men or so made up of one each of Captain, Pilot, Mate, Radioman, and the rest whose various duties are grouped under the one heading of deckhands.
Its paintwork and brasswork are kept clean and shining by the deck force under the able and watchful eyes of the Mates who look with a jaundiced eye upon rust or corrosion. The fight against deterioration is constant and down through the years many coats of paint and hundreds of cans of brass polish have been consumed as well as thousands of hours of mechanical, electrical and ordinary labor to keep that splendid fitness that is characteristic of Fire Boat 2.
It is and has been a splendid weapon against the ravages of fire in its own home waters, the second largest harbor in the U.S. As you look upon the pictured scent of its activity its enormous strength can be seen. "Big Bertha", that turret atop the deck house can throw a stream from a six-inch tip for a distance of four hundred feet and needless to say can demolish almost anything but the most solid construction. Such strength has been needed on the waterfront where goods are stored in such quantities that if and when fire results it is of corresponding seriousness and difficulty.
Los Angeles Fire Boat 2 seems to be the "Show Boat" of the Harbor. In the years that it has been "home to callers" thousands of visitors have trod its decks, peered through its ports, fingered its brass and paint work and marveled at its engine room. Thousands of school children have lined the "cat-walk" that surrounds the slip wherein it lies moored and watched round-eyed while a "man in blue" told of its wonders and pulled the whistle cord for their entertainment. Visitors have always been welcome down the long lane from Dock Street. Down the lane between the piles of lumber to the boat slip and house where are quartered the boat and its crew.
The crew of the boat have always seemed a bit "salty" to other members of the Los Angeles Fire Department.
Perhaps because of their waterfront habitation, their marine occupation or just because so many of the members have served in Uncle Sam's navy and at the boat have retained much of the picturesque speech of their salt water days. Among the crews that have manned the boat have been masters of ocean going vessels, officers of the Merchant Marine, Chief Petty Officers of the Navy and many who have served a "hitch or two" in the Navy. Of course many firemen who have worked on the Boat or are stationed there now have not had any previous marine experience. But at the Boat they soon learn "fore and aft, port and starboard" and how to chip paint and shine brass, and many jobs not done generally on the Fire Department.
At least six or seven of the original crew are still on the present crew and have seen continuous service on the boat for fifteen years. Many are the stories that they can tell of that service and of the boat. Space would not permit recounting their experience.
This article appeared in the November 15, 1940 issue of THE GRAPE VINE.
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