The Department's forty-six, forty and three-year-old babies, shown in full array as they leave L.A. Harbor's Main Channel received names at last.  20,000 people looked on as Fire Boats 1, 2 and 4 gave a grand display of their power following last week's christening ceremonies.


    When the communities of San Pedro and Wilmington were annexed to Los Angeles in 1910, the City inherited a minimum of land-based fire protection and 8 miles of water-front fire hazards with no fire boat protection. The City immediately contracted for the services of two privately owned fire fighting tugs, the "Warrior" and the "Falcon," from the Wilmington Transportation Company on a monthly rental basis. No firemen were assigned regularly to these two vessels, but fire fighters from land-based stations went to work aboard them at the scene of fires. This contract arrangement was used until the "Falcon's" services were dropped in 1917. At this point the Fire Department placed 2 steam pumpers on a barge, which combination became the first "fire boat" actually owned by the City. One of those steam pumpers, an 1881 Amoskeag, is periodically on display at the old Plaza Fire station in downtown Los Angeles.

    The Fire Chief, Archie J. Eley (after whom Fire Boat 1 has now been named) had been asking for a fire boat in the Fire Department budget every year from 1910 to 1919, at which time the City purchased Fire Boat No. 1 for $33,000. It was stationed at the foot of First Street in San Pedro until 1927, when it was moved to Berth No. 260 in Fish Harbor, where it is now berthed. Boat 1 is 62 feet long and has a pumping capacity of 4,000 gpm.

    The "Ralph J. Scott" (Fire Boat No. 2) is the City's largest. It was launched October 20, 1925, and was built at a cost of $214,000 (from bond issue money) by the L. A. Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company (now know as Todd shipyards). Boat 2 is 99 feet long and has a pumping capacity of 10,000 gpm.

    Fire Boat 3 (which was not named at the recent ceremonies), the Department's smallest boat, is quartered with the "Ralph J. Scott" at L. A. Harbor's Berth No. 227. It was accepted by the Department March 22, 1928, just 2 1/2 years after its big brother. Boat 3 is 34 feet long and has an 800 gpm pumping capacity.

    The newest of the Department's fire boats is the "Bethel F. Gifford." It was accepted by the Department February 22, 1962, and is truly one of the world's most modern fire boats. It was designed with the particular fire protection problems of L. A. Harbor in mind.

    Its design gives it a wide range of pumping abilities, enabling it to properly handle the smallest as well as the largest fire that may occur, and giving it the same versatility as a land-based fire fighting company. Exemplary of the design are piping arrangements of boat 4, which minimize the need of scattering hose on its deck, thus keeping the decks clear for action.

    The boat has sufficient power to maneuver and hold its position at a fire while throwing water at maximum capacity (a problem of fire boats in the past has been that back pressure in nozzles tends to push the boat away from the fire). Four water jets below water line and a controllable pitch propeller give the boat a maximum of maneuverability.

    The "Bethel F. Gifford" was designed and built to L.A.F.D. specifications by L. C. Norgaard and Associates, architects of San Francisco and Albina Engine and Machine Works, Boat Building Yard in Portland, Oregon, at a cost of $639,000. The boat is 76 feet, 6 inches long and has a total pumping capacity of 9,000 gpm.


    CHIEF ARCHIBALD J. ELEY began his service with the Department May 1, 1892, as a call man. Six months later, October 20, 1892, he received an appointment as driver. In May of 1895 he became a Captain, and on May 24, 1905, after thirteen years of service in the Department, he was appointed as Chief Engineer.

    At the time of Chief Eley's appointment, there were but a few pieces of motorized equipment in the city. An avowed exponent of power-driven apparatus, he was instrumental in the constant replacement of horses by automobiles.

    Coming into control at a time when politics had its effect on the personnel and conduct of the Department, Chief Eley, a strict disciplinarian, immediately made known his intention of developing the Department to the exclusion of politics and favoritism. He demanded physical fitness for the individual fireman, and constant fire drills were the order of the day.

    His progressive outlook and practical concern for the City's fire service needs are evidenced by his long and successful battle for the purchase of the Department's first fire boat (Fire Boat 1).



     Chief Eley retired from the Department June 30, 1919, after serving more than 27 years as an active member.

    He then accepted an appointment as Chief of the Fire Department at Universal Studios, a position he held for twenty years. (It is noteworthy that in this period there was never a major fire on the studio property.

    Attending the name-christening ceremonies of Fire Boat "Archibald J. Eley" (Boat 1) were the Chief's daughter-in-law, Mrs. Francis L. Eley; his grandson, Robert A. Eley, and seven of his great grand children.

    CHIEF ENGINEER R. J. SCOTT attained his high office July 18, 1919, during the closing of one epoch and the dawning of another. The battle of a decade over the question of horse versus automotive power had finally been settled in favor of the latter. The Fire Department rode on the crest of universal prosperity. Salary raises were obtained without difficulty through the City authorities, and when the latter failed, the people of the City authorized further increases through initiative ordinance. By bond issue, two and one-half millions provided the Department with new buildings, new engines, more companies. A succeeding bond issue built a new fire boat. The pension system was improved by direct action of the people. It was the heyday of prosperity and progress, and the Fire Department shared in it. Members were amazed by their own successes. Alert to these trends of the times, Chief Scott overlooked no opportunity to take advantage of them for the upbuilding of the Fire Department, and it a short span of years became known as one of the most progressive fire chiefs of the Nation.

    By vigorously proclaiming his devotion to the welfare of Departmental personnel, he rapidly built up a reputation as a leader. He was heroic in stature and in the eyes of his men. His domination of Departmental policy was complete and unquestioned. If Chief Scott was in favor of a proposition, its success was a practical certainty. If he was convinced as to its wisdom and practicability, no one had the temerity to push a matter further. He was feted at a thousand banquet tables by the great and near-great, and in 1930 he was further honored by the presidency of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

    Then came the Depression. As always, hard times are not as quickly felt in municipal service as in private industry, but belts had to be tightened a little. Came then, a day when the men were asked to accept a salary deduction. Such was the power and influence of the Chief that for more than three years, regular salary deductions were willingly consented to by the members--a remarkable fact, considering that due to the establishment of salary scales by law, the written consent of each man was necessary to bring the reduction about.

    On April 1, 1940, Chief Scott closed a brilliant Fire Department career. During his tenure in office, he established many functions in the Department which came as innovations and remained as fixtures.

    Both Fire Boat 2, the Department's largest, and Fire Boat 3, the Department's smallest, were purchased during Chief Scott's career as leader of the L.A.F.D. Mrs. Ralph J. Scott took part in the ceremony, as Fire Boat 2 was given her husband's fine name.

    ASSISTANT CHIEF BETHEL F. GIFFORD was appointed to the L.A.F.D. April 6, 1929.

    As a Fireman, he worked in areas extending from the hills of Hollywood to the waterfront of San Pedro; and it didn't take long for Fireman Gifford to earn an outstanding reputation. Soon he was promoted to Auto Fireman, and in a short 8 years, he was promoted to Captain.

    After placing number 3 on the list, Captain Gifford was promoted to Battalion Chief in 1944. Shortly thereafter, he was assigned to head the Fire Department Shops and Storeroom. He remained at that command, until the Fire Department reorganized in 1956, at which time he attained the rank of Assistant Chief and was assigned as Division 1 commander in charge of the Harbor area.

    Chief Bethel Gifford achieved his greatest personal satisfaction, and no doubt his greatest single contribution to the operations of this Department, with the development and final delivery of Boat 4.

    Boat 4 might be called "Chief Gifford's Project," as he was personally responsible, throughout the entire project, for researching, planning, engineering, building, outfitting, testing and for the boat's ultimate delivery in the Port of Los Angeles, where it was accepted by Mayor Yorty, and the Fire Department on February 22, 1962.

   "Chief Gifford's Project," from formative stage to culmination, took about 3 years. During this time the Chief made at least 15 trips to San Francisco and Portland for architectural and construction conferences at Norgaard Architects and the Albina Engine and Machine Works.

    Assistant Chief Bethel F. Gifford, a veteran fire fighter with almost 35 years of service, passed away January 18, 1964, while on active duty. He is survived by his lovely wife, Frances, who was in attendance at Fire Boat 4's name-christening ceremony.

    Of all this year's (1965) Fire Service Day activities, the naming of these fire boats and the water display that followed, was perhaps the most spectacular.


This article appeared in the May 1965 issue of THE FIREMEN'S GRAPEVINE.

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