Los Angeles Fire Department
Historical Archive


L o s  A n g e l e s
F i r e  D e p a r t m e n t




"WHAT is the chief reliance of the department in case of a big fire?" was asked Walter Lips, chief of the Los Angeles fire department.
  The big chief smiled, looked a bit bored at so simple a question and then answered, "Plenty of water, good machinery and intelligent, well trained men to handle it all."
  "Plenty of water, good machinery, trained men, huh," ejaculated a fireman standing near the stall of a big bay horse on the headquarters floor.  "Water, machinery, men.  What we going to do without horses?" continued the fireman, and he threw his arm affectionately around the neck of the big bay.  "Couldn't get machinery and men to the water if it wasn't for you, could we, Dewey?" asked the fireman of the big bay and the horse muzzled down against the breast of the fireman, who was the driver of the big truck, and seemed by the affectionate nosings to agree with him in all that he said.
  "Machinery and men and water are all right, but if you ain't got the horses how you going to get machinery and men to a fire--that's what I want to know?"
  The chief of course was right from his point of view, but the men who do the work at a big fire--and there are no braver or better trained men in any department than is possessed by Los Angeles--look to the horses first.
  It is a far cry from Chief Charlie Miles and his volunteer department to Walter Lips and the modern, scientifically equipped paid department of the present day, but the distance is no greater from old hand-pulled brake pumps to the modern steam-driven apparatus which equips the department of today.
  Motive power is the keynote of all successful fire departments, according to the big driver of the aerial truck, and the Dewey of today was represented in the 50's and 60's by the peon with his bucket, which he passed from the well to the next man in line and so on until the seat of the blaze was reached.
  Looking at it from the driver's point of view, the horse of the present day is the chef reliance of the fire department.  And what a lot of heroes-equine heroes--there have been in the Los Angeles department.
  Take Dewey, the big bay who runs in the middle of the aerial truck from headquarters to every alarm from the downtown district.  Dewey is a typical fire horse.
  "Why, he's got more sense than mist people," proudly says his driver.  "Dewey knows every box in the town. He knows when he has got to go out and when he hasn't.  So do all of them, in fact, but Dewey is the brains of this bunch.
  Take the tillerman on the back end.  He swings
the back of the truck around corners, past cars and obstructions in the street, but it's Dewey that carries the load on the front end.  Course the other horses do their work, but Dewey runs in the middle, and he is the one that bears first to the right and then to the left to guide them in the way.  Me?  I just hang on to the lines and let Dewey run the machine.  He knows more than I do, anyway.  Water and machinery and trained men, huh!  It's horses that 's the mainstay of the department."
  And horses it seems to be with all the men in the department.  The great, big, intelligent brutes--the firemen don't call them brutes, they call them "chum" and "pardner"--are the mainstay of the department.
  When a horse is taken into the fire department he loses his identity so far as red tape departmental methods are concerned.  He may have been know by this or that pet name by his owner before the city of Los Angeles came into possession of him, but the minute title passes to the city he is just a number.  "No. 28, bay, 1898, 10. 1100. 16.0 1/2."  That is the way Dewey appears on the city records. But take them all from No. 1 on and the firemen and the boys who care for them, handle them, train them, live and sleep and work with them, know each horse's name, the pet name bestowed on him by the firemen.
  There are Babe and Bill and Walter and Dick and Prince and Paddy and Jake and Rowdy, they may be 1 or 2 or 4 or 11 or 44 to the methodical and unsentimental register of city property, but to the firemen each name possess a special significance, and while Spot and Pepper and Baldy means only horses 63, 72 and 74 to the records, every fireman knows that Spot is the big brown horse with the white ring in his forehead, who loves sugar lumps and green bits of grass, and that Pepper is the black who makes a pretense of being mad every time you come around him and playfully bites and kicks when you get in reach and that Baldy is the young bay who lost all his mane and foretop while dragging his hose cart out of a hot spot in an alley one night, when most horses would have bolted and left its driver and its load to be burned up in the hell of flame that suddenly belched forth while they were trying to get to a fire plug.
Then there is Gray Jim, the big white creature with brains and human intelligence, which has pulled the heft of the load of the headquarters steamer for almost a decade.  Jim is now on pasture, taking his annual vacation.  Jim actually knows every box in the city and needs no guiding hand to turn him this way or that in going to a fire.
  So you can take it with all of the horses of the department.  They are selected animals.  Selected first for size and strength, then for intelligence and temper.
  On the department rolls they appear as numbers.  In the hearts of the men each one has a name and an individuality which is all its own.  There are Bullet, Colonel, Jim Y., Sontag, Dan and King, and Mack, Eagle, Chub and Belle, Don Juan, Dugan, Barney, Dandy, Rock, Rufus, Yukon, McKinley, Roosevelt and Teddy, Izy, Nigger and Dago.
  Names for all of them and loving memoirs of each and every name.  No horse but what has done something to endear him in the hearts and minds of his masters and caretakers, and all the firemen think the horses are nearer human than any other horses ever were or will be.
  Los Angeles is justly proud of its fire department  There is no city in America big or little, that has a better equipped or managed fire department than has the city of Angels.
  Way back half a century ago there was a volunteer organization which amounted to not much more than a bucket brigade.  In 1871 the first regular fire company was organized.  It was equipped with hand drawn apparatus.  For three years the firemen dragged their pumping machine to fires and then they asked the council to buy horses to pull the heavy machine.  The council refused and the fire company disbanded.  For a time Los Angeles had no firemen, but in the fall of that year thirty-eight members of the old organization met and formed a new company called the "Thirty-eights, No. 1."  The following year a second engine company was organized and the next year a hook and ladder truck was purchased.  Five years later four other fire companies were organized and they remained in service until the present paid department was organized in 1886.
  The department increased in size and importance as the town grew.  Chief Miles of the first volunteer department had just as much responsibility and care on him as does Walter Lips today, and so increased responsibilities came to Walter Moore, D. A. Moriarity and Thomas Strohm, who followed in order after the first chief, but each man fitted into his place and met the responsibilities as they came to the best of his ability and gave to Los Angeles what was said at the different periods to be the best fire department for its size in the country.
  From 1871 with its one engine and hose company the department has grown today to twenty-one engines, four hose companies, four trucks, one water tower, twenty-four combination chemical and hose wagons with 209 miles of telegraph alarm wires, 312 automatic boxes and more than 2000 hydrants.

ENGINE 10 IN ACTION                                                                                                                  --PHOTO BY DR. ADAH PATTERSON


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