The Story of

Fire Boat Four


Los Angeles Fire Boat No. four is probably the most complete and complex marine fire fighting unit ever designed and incorporates many features that put it on a par with land based fire apparatus in effective fire control.

Its design is the result of preliminary research dating back to 1954, and intensive research since the middle of 1957. This covered the entire field of fire fighting, such as fire boats of any importance now in service in the country, fire fighting efficiency of these boats in comparison with land based apparatus, their adaptability to all size fires, the standard by which fire boas are usually judged, whether or not firemen designed the boats, the experience of the Los Angeles Fire Department covering over forty years of fire boat operation, required capacity and design to cope with conditions in the Los Angeles Harbor, and many other factors involved in the design of an efficient fire boat with an expected life of at least fifty-five years.

Many interesting facets of the entire field of marine fire fighting became obvious as the above research progressed.

It gradually became apparent that the efficiency and standards of marine fire fighting are far below that of other fields of fire suppression. This could be attributed only to the equipment (fire boats) being incapable of handling fires as efficiently as land based apparatus. The question was, why?

Further research resulted in a very definite answer to the foregoing.

It was found that land based apparatus are, in most cases, designed by experienced firemen who incorporate not only their own years of experience in their particular area, but also that of the entire country. Specifications are written by firemen, based on the tremendous volume of experience available, and the needs of their city or area.

It is only after the above specifications are written, by experienced firemen, that the manufacture or their engineers become involved, and then only to the extent of engineering the apparatus to include all the features of the specifications. The manufactures, or their engineers, do not and could not design a successful and efficient fire apparatus because they are experienced engineers and not experienced fire fighters. They can, and do, incorporate the required fire fighting features, specified by experienced firemen, into a successful piece of fire fighting apparatus.

For some unknown reason, fire boats are not usually designed by experienced firemen. Most of the modern fire boats are no more effective than those built thirty, forty, or fifty years ago. When the term "boat" is mentioned, sight seems to be completely lost of the basic fact that, to be successful, a fire fighting machine must, first of all, be capable of effectively fighting fires. Whether this fire fighting machine is engineered into a boat, or automotive apparatus, in no way alters this basic fact.

Fire Boats, in general, are designed by Naval Architects who are usually hampered by a lack of fire fighting experience, by a lack of detailed specifications written by experienced firemen such as are furnished to manufactures of land based fire apparatus, and by precedent which results in designing a boat first and then adapting the fire fighting machinery to the boat.

The foregoing is indicated by the fact that descriptions of fire boats usually stress only three features, the boat itself, the large capacity of the fire pumps, and the large turrets. Mention is seldom made of any provision for efficiently fighting medium or small fires which constitute probably 95% of all fires, or large fires under wharves where properly located small steams are more effective than streams from the large turrets even of they could be directed on the fire.


Furthermore, only halfhearted attempts are usually made to provide for control of the heavy, or even the small streams, unless the boat is moored. It is axiomatic that capacity, regardless of how large, is ineffective unless it can be effectively controlled. It is also axiomatic that control of large streams from a fire boat is dependent on the maneuverability of the boat. A fire that requires the full capacity of a fire boat will simultaneously require the greatest maneuverability of the vessel to effectively control the large streams. It is general practice of utilize a large percentage of the power of the propulsion engines for pumping when full capacity is needed. This definitely limits the maneuverability of the boat because the small percentage of the propulsion power left cannot satisfactorily handle the boat under conditions that require the greatest control of the vessel. If more power is required for maneuvering, then the volume of water must be reduced.

The foregoing presents a sad situation. A fire boat is usually designed with a capacity sufficient to handle the largest potential fire in the area in which it is to operate. When this fire occurs the boat is generally ineffective. If the required capacity is pumped the vessel cannot be controlled and the streams are useless or do extensive damage due to lack of control. If full control of the streams is maintained the capacity must be cut. In either case the boat fails to accomplish its designed propose.

In addition to solving the many problems implied in the foregoing there are many other features that must be designed into a fire boat, such as full centralized control, controlled ventilation, safety, provision for effectively fighting underwharf fires, foam system, and numerous other features for increasing the efficiency, dependability, and life of the vessel.

The experience of the Los Angeles Fire Department in operating a sixty-eight foot fire boat for over forty years, also a thirty-eight foot and a hundred foot fire boat for over thirty-five years, as well as the planned expansion of harbor facilities, indicated that the new fire boat should have a capacity of at least 6,000 GPM at 150 PSI, and that this required capacity be available and usable under the most adverse conditions. Furthermore, the vessel must be thoroughly seaworthy and capable of operating offshore in heavy weather.

All the foregoing is reflected in the design of Fire Boat No. 4.

Specifications were written covering all phases of the proposed boat, with precise specifications covering all machinery, controls, firefighting facilities, and performance. Only the approximate length, beam, and freeboard desired was indicated in order to give the naval architect some freedom in designing a hull to accommodate the specified machinery, etc. A profile and deck plan was included in the specifications to show the extensive unobstructed deck space, the general arrangement of the turrets, hose manifolds, hose beds, the low trunk cabin and equipment compartment, the full vision pilot house, and the general type of vessel we desired. Our specifications further required all plans and specifications by the naval architect to be approved by the American Bureau of Shipping, and that the completed fire boat carry an A.B.S. certificate before acceptance by the Los Angeles Fire Department.

The services of a prominent Naval Architect were obtained who fully understood that he was a naval architect and not an experienced fire fighter, therefore, his job was to engineer our specified firefighting machine into a boat. The result was that he designed a vessel, incorporate our requirements as specified , in a manner acceptable to us.


The following is a non-technical description of the more important features of Fire Boat No. 4.


BHP--Main Fire Pumps.................................
BHP--Auxiliary Pumps & Generators.............
Pumps--Main--2--3,000 GPM.......................
Pumps--Aux.---2--1,500 GPM......................
Total Gross Capacity....................................
Fuel Capacity..............................................

Twin-Screw Diesel Fire Boat
Welded Steel
76' 6"
13 MPH
6,000 GPM at 150 PSI (Required capacity)
3,000 GPM at 150 PSI at 150 PSI
9,000 GPM at 150 PSI
Sufficient for 30 hours operation at full capacity


Fire Boat No. 4 exceeds all recommendations contained in N.B.F.U. Bulletin No 137--(Oct. 1960)


Two main fire pumps, each with a "Class A" capacity of 3,000 GPM at 150 PSI, are provided. Each pump is driven by a 400 (continuous duty) HP engine direct connected to the pump.
Full control is provided on the fire console in the pilot house and on the engineer's console in the engine room.


For propelling the boat, two 400 (continuous duty) HP engines are provided to drive two controllable pitch propellers.
Full control of the propulsion engines, propellers, and rudders, is provided on the pilot's console in the pilot house.
The use of separate propulsion units makes the required total capacity of the fire pumps available at all times, and provided full power for maneuvering the vessel within the limits of the propellers and rudders.
They do not, however, provide the control necessary to hold the vessel in position when large streams from the turrets are in use.


To provide the necessary additional control and maneuverability, four water jets are provided in the hull, one forward and one aft on each side of the hull. Controls for these jets are mounted on the pilot's console in the pilot house.
To provide water for the jets, without reducing the required capacity of the boat, a 1,500 GPM pump is provided on each of the two generator sets, with remote clutch controls located on the fire console in the pilot house.
A separate header (water manifold) is provided for the auxiliary pumps rather than connecting them to the main header which is supplied by the main pumps. This is necessary because at times a much higher pressure may be required on the jets than is being used on the turrets or hand lines which are supplied from the main header.
The auxiliary header, however, is connected through control valves to the main header. This makes it possible to use the small auxiliary pumps for small fires.
If conditions warrant, the full capacity of the two 3,000 GPM pumps and the two 1,500 GPM auxiliary pumps can be used for firefighting, giving a gross capacity of 9,000 GPM at 150 PSI.


Controllable pitch propellers are particularly suitable for use on fire boats due to the fact that normally the pitch is automatically set to conform to the load, RPM, and speed through the water, and in our installation have the additional advantage of splitting the pitch and throttle controls to permit setting the engines on governor at any desired RPM, then feathering the propellers as desired from stop to full speed forward or reverse
A standard reverse-reduction gear is used in conjunction with the controllable pitch propellers instead of a straight reduction gear.
The use of a reverse-reduction gear solves many problems. The cost is about the same as a straight reduction gear. Space is saved due to mounting directly on the engine and it provided a means of reversing the direction of rotation to unwind mooring lines, etc., that might become entangled with the propellers. In addition the propellers can be stopped without stopping the engines if members are working overboard near the propellers, or rescue work is in progress.


The duties and responsibilities of a pilot on a modern fire boat are so complex that he must be provided with controls that are fast, dependable, compact, and easy to operate.
To accomplish the foregoing, the vessel is provided with electro-hydraulic steering. Control is provided by two follow-up and one non-follow-up steering levers on the pilot's console.


Two generator sets are provided, each capable of carrying the entire electrical load of the vessel.
The engines of these generator sets are also used to drive the auxiliary fire pumps. They are of sufficient power to operate the generators and auxiliary pumps simultaneously under full load.


Two 150 GPM motor driven positive displacement pumps are provided for pumping out leaking yachts, etc. Controls, and connections for salvage hose, is provided on the deck.
These same pumps can take suction through sea valves and supply 3/4" or 1" hose lines on the deck for wash down purposes, extinguishing minor fires, etc.
In addition these pumps are used as bilge pumps.


The main and auxiliary headers are constructed in sections to permit removal of any portion without disturbing any major part of the boat.
All branch lines leading from the headers are provided with emergency gate valves near the header. These valves are to be used only when damage occurs to any of the branches or repairs are needed in the operational valves in the branches.
Galvanic protection is provided for both the main and auxiliary headers.


Linked, rubber and fabric, deck mats are used instead of the usual non-skid mastic. These mats are non-skid under all conditions. In addition they are resilient and non-abrasive so cause no injury to members falling on them. These mats are easily maintained and present a good appearance.


Absolute control of the ventilation is provided, so it will never be necessary for members in the engine room or pilot house to wear self-contained breathing apparatus.
All air supplying the engines is taken from outside the vessel.
Under normal conditions, ventilation is provided in a normal manner, with air entering at the usual level above the deck or trunk cabin. If the air at this level becomes polluted these fans and vents can be shut down and air drawn into the system from the top of the mast. Under extreme conditions, where the polluted air reached to top of the mast, the entire system can be shut down and all vents closed. This would entrap enough fresh air to last the few members therein a considerable length of time.


Compressed air is used for various controls, whistle, operating pneumatic tools, etc.


The main turret valves, wharf nozzle valves, maneuvering jet valves, etc., are operated remotely by hydraulic pressure.
The system is provided with two separate motors and pumps, each with sufficient capacity to handle the full requirement of all units operated by this system.
Emergency shut-off valves are provided in all branch lines of the system.


Ten 2 1/2" and three 3 1/2" discharge gates are provided in three manifolds as follows.
One manifold is located forward of the pilot house and provides for one 3 1/2" and four 2 1/2" discharge gates.
One manifold is located above and on each side of the trunk cabin, aft of the stack. Each provides for one 3 1/2" and three 2 1/2" discharge gates.


Revolving hose beds are used instead of the usual unwieldy hose reels. The hose is loaded in a manner similar to the beds on land based apparatus, so any fireman that has worked on land companies can go aboard and handle the hose without additional training.
Each of the two hose beds provide for carrying the following amount of hose.
250'--3 1/2" D.J.(double jacketed) Fire Hose
500'--2 1/2" D.J. Fire Hose
400'--1 1/2" D.J. Fire Hose


Three turrets are provided as follows.
One 3,000 GPM on the pilot house
One 2,000 GPM on the deck forward
One on the deck aft


In addition to the above turrets, two 1,100 GPM portable monitors are provided. These monitors are provided with long handled four inch NST female swivels instead of the usual siamese inlets.
A riser, terminating just above the deck on each side near the stern, is provided for attaching these monitors as needed. The control for the valve extends up through the deck near the riser.
These monitors can be placed in service and handled effectively by one man.

RAIL PIPES (Miniature portable monitors)

Risers are provided and extend up through the bulwark cap at six locations on each side of the vessel. These risers terminate in a 2 1/2" NST male fitting immediately above the bulwark cap, and are provided with a control valve below the cap.
Miniature portable monitors, equipped with long handled 2 1/2" swiveled female inlet fittings are provided. The monitors are screwed onto the bulwark fittings and the stream directed as needed.
These monitors replace the usual rail standees, eliminate laying a section of hose for each standee, and can be placed in service and handled by one man


Permanent, controllable nozzles are built into the hull on each side of the vessel near the bow and above the waterline, for projecting streams under wharves.
Controls, for directing the streams and for control of the water, are located on the deck directly above the nozzles.


To protect the vessel from burning gasoline or oil on the water, use is made of the Rail-Pipes and Portable Monitors.
When equipped with spray tips the vessel can be completely surrounded by a spray of water.


A permanent foam system is provided that will supply approximately 65,000 gallons of expanded foam in twenty minutes through lines connected to two of the forward discharge gates.


The vessel will be equipped with a standard fire department radio, and a radar suitable for use in the narrow confines of the Los Angeles Harbor.


The inter-com system provides telephonic communication between the pilot or engineer in the pilot house, the engineer in the engine room, and the officer in charge on the deck.


The P.A. System can be used by the pilot or engineer in the pilot house, and the officer in charge on deck.


Full control of the vessel, including pumping machinery, is centered in the pilothouse on two consoles. One for use of the pilot and the other for use of the engineer.


An equipment compartment is provided just aft of the pilot house and above the engine room trunk.


All applicable requirements of the American Bureau of Shipping, American Institute of Electrical Engineers, and the U.S. Coast Guard, for this type of vessel are to be complied with.
The vessel is to carry an ABS Certificate classing the boat as +A1 Harbor Service & AMS.


L. C. Norgaard and Associates, San Francisco, Calif.


Albina Engine and Machine Works, Portland, Oregon


Steering Gear
Rail Pipes
Wharf Nozzles

--De Laval
--General Electric
--Westinghouse Air Brakes

This article appeared in the July 1961 issue of THE FIREMEN'S GRAPEVINE.

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