It's night. Activity is at a minimum along miles of docks on the San Pedro waterfront. Suddenly the shrill clang of an alarm bell pierces the silence in a Terminal Island boathouse. Twenty men race down a gangplank and board a long, tugboat-like vessel. In less than 45 seconds the boat is churning its way into the harbor, speeding the firemen of the sea to another alarm.
Whether it be San Pedro, San Diego, Seattle, or San Francisco, good harbor fire protection is vital to the maritime economy of the Pacific Coast.
And the seagoing smokeaters of the Los Angeles Fire Department who protect America's ninth busiest harbor rate among the best in their dangerous profession.
These sturdy men who man the L.A.F.D.'s fireboats are always ready to sail to battle waterfront fires. While they fight from the water, fellow smokeaters from the department's 6th or harbor battalion also roll by land to combat the flames.
Admiral of the fireboat fleet and boss of the 6th battalion is Battalion Chief F. P. Adams.
"Our Fireboat 2 is the best all-around fireboat in service in United States today," said the veteran harbor firefighter. "Sure, New York City's Firefighter is bigger and can throw more water, but we can do more with this boat."
No. 2 the queen of the smokeaters' fleet, is based at Berth 277, Terminal Island, on the Main Channel. The 100-foot-long craft can pump up to 12,000 gallons of water a minute from five mammoth turret nozzles or from hoses attached to 26 rail hydrants.
Below decks are heavy engines.
"We have three big marine engines to run the boat," Chief Adams said. "Then we have four additional pumping engines. We also can and do cut the main engines in to run the pumps. You can see how we can get so much water pressure with all that horsepower."
No. 2 has a triple screw with which the boat can be turned in its own length, something highly desirable in waterfront firefighting. It'll do slightly in excess of 16 knots.
Chief Adams is always proud to show off No. 2, which although it was built in 1925, is always kept in top condition.
"See that big tower toward the stern," the chief pointed out. "It is 30 feet high and our turret nozzle on top will go even 12 feet higher."
Another turret tops the pilothouse. One is on the bow and two are on the stern.
Back of the pilothouse is the nozzle room. Here is a glittering array of giant brass nozzles and a small arsenal of other special equipment. Big six-inch tips for the turret guns line the walls along with cutting torches, oxygen masks, and a myriad of other unique tools needing to properly fight waterfront blazes.
"Look here," the chief said as he picked up one of the nozzles. "This is a 3 1/2"-inch mystery-type fog nozzle. You don't see many of these in the whole country."
Boat 2 actually carries more and heavier hose than a regular fire engine, much of it being stored in big deck reels ready for instance action.
"We carry 1,000 feet of 3 1/2-inch hose, 1,500 of 2 1/2-inch hose, and 850 of 1 1'/2," the chief said.
Nerve center of the boat is the pilothouse. Here, with the pilot at the wheel, the captain directs operations. The pilot--a fireman--navigates. He is assisted by a mate and three engineers below decks.
The pilothouse is fairly simple--standard engine room controls, steering wheel, three-way radio for communications between headquarters, the fireboats, and land-based companies, charts, searchlight controls, and other instruments.
"We have a tough job to do here," Chief Adams pointed out. "With all the gasoline around the harbor--this is one of the largest oil and gas loading ports in the world--we must move fast by both land and sea.