Los Angeles, Orange, Santa Barbara

Boat Fighting Her Own
Battle With Nature

Custody Battle Rages Over Retired L.A. Fireboat Ralph J. Scott

By Donna Ethington--

    As the year-long tug-of-war rages between the Los Angeles Fire Department Historical Society (LAFDHS) and Hollywood producer Randy Simon over the future of the retired fireboat Ralph J. Scott, the treasured harbor icon is fighting her own battle against nature.
     The 78-year-old fireboat was ousted from her San Pedro Station 112 boathouse last year to accommodate the department's latest fireboat.

    With the boat's National Historical Landmark status, granted in June 1989, neither the fire department nor the LAFDHS wanted to scrap her even though she is no longer funded for active duty.

Vessel As Tour Boat 

    As the Historical Society was preparing preservation plans, Simon, a collector of firefighting apparatus, stepped in proposing to use the vessel as a tour boat, pointing to New York's 72-year-old retired fireboat the John J. Harvey as an example.

    However, to retain the historic status the National Park Service wants the Scott preserved and kept in a boathouse as close to her original station as possible.

    Both parties agreed, but the LAFDHS planned to display the boat on land while Simon contended the boat should remain afloat and active for the people of Los Angeles.

    Because she has been deemed "unsafe," the U.S. Coast Guard would not license the Scott to carry passengers.

    Built in 1925 by Los Angeles Shipbuilding and Drydock Company at the Todd Shipyard, the vessel has been condemned five times since 1996 by marine surveyors and the Coast Guard.

    She nearly sank last November when a bolt popped out after a maintenance haulout.

    Rich Griffith, retired Hughes Aircraft engineer who shares Simon's vision, disagreed with the condemnation findings.

    "The surveyors looked at what's wrong with the boat, not what's right with it." he said.

    Contending that the Scott can be kept afloat for at least another 10 years if the hull is rebuilt, he envisions a berth with a concrete casing on three sides and beneath the hull.

   A fourth side could be added and the cell pumped dry when the boat is no longer economical to operate, said Griffith.

    The Scott's hull is constructed primarily of overlapping 5/16-inch riveted steel plates, and according to the federal "Standards for Historic Vessel Preservation," changing the fabric of the hull ---materials, design, or workmanship can jeopardize a boat's historic status.

A10                                         The Log        Feb,  6 - 19, 2004                         Web site: www.thelog.com

Many Would Like It In The Water

"Wrought steel is not available anymore nor is that method of riveting," said Frank Borden, who is spearheading the LAFDHS' efforts.

    "A lot of people would like to see it [in the water].  I would like to see it that way," said Bill Dahlquist, who served on the vessel for 50 years.

    "But L.A. Harbor hasn't had a very good record on preserving old vessels," pointing by way of example to the Princess Louise and the sister ships SS Catalina and SS Avalon.

    "Old Fireboat 1 is now 400 feet deep on the bottom of Puget Sound.  We're never going to see it again.  And that's because private individuals tried to keep it and do something with it. They wanted to own it." he said.

    Mike Corcoran, pilot of the Scott for her last 13 years agreed.

    "I think people start out with good intentions, then money starts drying up" he said.  "People get tired or lose interest in the boat, and it ends up scrapped or on the bottom."

    Servicing the L.A. Harbor for 77 years, the Scott has been on the front like of every major incident in the Port of L.A.

    She has responded to more than 10,000 boating incidents and adapted to all the major changes in the harbor.

Representative Of An Era

    "It's representative of an era in the evolution of American fireboats and one of the few things left in the L.A. Harbor that is that old and has so much history," said Dahlquist.  "We want to preserve it in an environment where it will last for 200 years."

    On Jan.20, authorized by Mayor James Hahn,the L.A. Fire Commission concurred with Battalion Chief Lou Roupoli and the Historical Society's recommendation to remove the boat from the water and to display it on land in an honorable fashion.

    Despite the odds, Griffith said that he and Simon are going forward with their proposal.

    The Historical Society plans to dry-berth the Scott in a climate-controlled structure where people can see its normally submerged unique features, view the engine room via cholecystitides television, and have access to the pilothouse.

    Proposing to situate the facility between Station 112, nearby the Maritime Museum, and the new LAFD Museum, the LAFDHS is beginning their campaign to garner community support for the project.

    One major hurdle for a new building to house the Scott, however, is that many say the area already has too many buildings that block the waterfront.

    With the boat in desperate need of TLC and facing the the challenges of housing and maintenance for generations to come the Historical Society has set up a memorial fund and is asking for the public's help.

    Tax-deductible contributions can be sent to LAFD Historical Society, 1335 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood CA 90028.  Be sure to mention that they're for the Ralph J. Scott project. For more information, call (323) 464-2727.

THE LOG, February 6-19, 2004

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