Cover Story

By Henry J. Amparan, Captain
Fireboat 4, "C" Platoon

LA's Fireboat 4 celebrates
50 years of service to the
port of Los Angeles

On February 22, 2012 the fiftieth anniversary of Fireboat 4 marked an important milestone here at the Port of Los Angeles.  Her purring engines and shiny decks make it difficult to believe she has been gracing our waters with her presence for five decades.  Ready at a moments notice to spring into action, she was specifically designed to meet the unique needs of her assignment here at the Port.  Back in 1954, she was but a gleam in the eye of Assistant Chief Bethel F. Gifford, assigned to the Southern Division which encompassed the Los Angeles Harbor.  It was that year when Chief Gifford, the mastermind of the project, began researching marine firefighting here in Southern California and nation-wide.  He compiled all of the required data and established the specifications necessary to build a craft that would meet all of the needs here at the Los Angeles Harbor.  He concluded that such a vessel would be best designed by experienced marine firefighters, who would use their years of experience to design a fireboat that would exceed all expectations.  Ultimately, the precise specifications addressed all phases of the proposed new fire boat with a life expectancy of at least 55 years.

  Once these requirements and specifications were agreed upon, it was time to turn this marvellous dream into a reality. Fire Boat 4 was engineered and designed on the drawing boards of L.C. Norgaard, Naval Architects of San Francisco.  From there, her plans would be turned over to the company contracted to build her, Albina Engine & Machinery Works in Portland, Oregon.  After much anticipation, she made her six day maiden voyage in heavy seas from Portland to Los Angeles without a glitch, arriving at her new home at the Los Angeles Harbor on February 22, 1962.  She would be tasked to protect one of the most expansive man-made harbors in the world. and she has certainly not disappointed!

  The Los Angeles Fire Department protects 43 miles of waterfront and eight thousand acres of Harbor Department Property.  This includes the communities of San Pedro, Wilmington and Terminal Island.  The Los Angeles Harbor boasts a bustling commercial industry of huge proportion along with extensive recreational and residential areas.  Fishing, working, and passenger ships use their assigned terminals here.  Pleasure boat marinas, wharfs, and ecological preserves offer visitors some fun in the sun, while commercial production plants hum along close by.  The obvious diversity here creates a unique challenge in keeping people and property safe.  I am proud to say that the men and women of the Los Angeles City Fire Department have done an exceptional job in doing just that.  We have been privileged to have Fire Boat 4 on our team as we continuously strive to provide superior support and protection to the Port of Los Angeles.

  So come out and join us as we celebrate this extraordinary vessel and her 50 years of service to the Port of Los Angeles!  Past and present crew members of Fire Boat 4 will be on hand.  It will be quite an exciting event and we encourage everyone to join us on Fire Service Day, May 12, 2012.  Bring you family and friends and come on aboard for a tour and boat ride aboard a true piece of Los Angeles history.  All aboard! For further information please contact Fire Station 49 at (310) 548-7549.

Pertinent History


-Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo discovers the Bay of Smoke, a swampy marshland that would later become the Los Angeles Harbor.


-First of the Yankee trading ships arrives


-The City of Los Angeles is incorporated and cargo is transported from San Pedro twenty miles north to Los Angeles


-Phineas Banning dredges the channel to 10 feet deep to allow boats further into the harbor


-Construction of the Federal Breakwater begins; the main channel is dredged to 18 feet.


-The City of Los Angeles annexes the communities of San Pedro, Wilmington and Terminal Island.  The LAFD takes over fire protection from the volunteers.  City contracts for fire boat service from two privately owned passenger boats with some firefighting capability.  These Fire Boats are named the Warrior and the Falcon.


-Falcon's service is canceled.


-"Aeolian," first City-owned fire boat is built in Seattle.  The vessel is constructed of wood and is twenty feet long


-Warrior's contract ends.  A steam pumper is mounted on a barge and Engine 36 is attached to the firefighting barge


-Fire Boat 1 is built at a cost of $33,000.00 constructed of wood and pumps 2000 gallons per minute (gpm).


-Fire Boat 2 is launched from L.A. Ship-building at a cost of $214,000.00. Measures 99' long and pumps 13,500 gpm.  She is made of steel


-Boat 4 with six engines, two propellers, 9000 gpm


-Sails into the Los Angeles Harbor with great fanfare.


-Fire Service Day Fire Boats are christened with the names:
Fire Boat 1 Archibald J. Eley
Fire Boat 2 Ralph J. Scott
Fire Boat 4 Bethel F. Gifford


-New Boats 1, 3 & 5 built at Drakecraft in Oxnard, CA.   Measured thirty-four feet long with twelve and half foot beam made of fiberglass


-Boat 2 Re-commissioning after total renovation


-Fire Boat 4 Re-powered and modernized.  Dedication of New Fire Boats 1, 2, 3 & 5 at Kvichak Marine Industries.  Vessels are forty feet long with thirteen and half foot beams.  Maximum speed twenty-nine knots at a cost of $900,000.00 each.  Fire Boat 2 built by Nichols Brothers Boat Yard Whidbey Island, Washington is 105 feet long with a 29 foot beam, 38,000 gpm capacity at a cost of $8.9 million.


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