Los Angeles Fire Department
Historical Archive



    The newly appointed Fire Commissioners of the City of Los Angeles at their inaugural meeting in January 1886 elected Walter S. Moore, the first Chief of the recently established paid Los Angeles Fire Department. Mr. Moore was well qualified to organize and start the development of the fire department that was one day to become recognized as the greatest fire fighting force in the world. He not only possessed a natural ability to lead and organize but had a good background of fire fighting and knowledge of methods and equipment of his day.

    Walter S. Moore was born of old revolutionary stock in the district of Kensington, city of Philadelphia in 1851 and was educated in the public schools of that city. During the latter part of the Civil War he attended the Northwest Grammar School and was afterwards a runner with Philadelphia Fire Company No. 18.

    He became identified with the volunteer Los Angeles Fire Department in the year of 1875 being elected to active membership of Confidence Engine Company No. 2. During his service in this company he held the office of secretary for two terms and subsequently filled the presidency of that company for five consecutive years.

    In 1883 he was elected chief engineer of the Volunteer Fire Department of Los Angeles. At the time the paid department came into existence in 1886, Mr. Moore, as secretary of the first Board of Fire Commissioners and chief engineer, of the department arranged and carried into successful operation the work of the new department.

    Mr. Moore's tenures as chief is somewhat mindful of a scenic railway, however, his various appointments graphically illustrate his abilities and bears out the truth of the old adage "you can't keep a good man down". His first appointment became effective February 1, 1886. He resigned September 1, 1887, and was reappointed in 1891. He resigned again February 1, 1893 and was reappointed a third time February 1, 1895 and retained the position until 1899 to be succeeded by Thomas Strohm.

    Chief Moore was well known and appreciated for his thoroughness and attention to detail. He also had a strong desire to see his department keep pace with the rapid growth of the city as his Annual Reports to the Commissioners and City Council will indicate.

    Walter S. Moore was 35 years of age at the time of his first appointment as chief engineer. At the time of his retirement the chief engineer's salary was $2400 per year. Available records show this figure to represent a steady increase from a modest beginning. The last increase prior to 1899 being in 1896 when the chief engineer was paid a salary of $175 per month.

    The chief was provided with a buggy and two horses--one held in reserve--His home was also equipped with a tapper so that he would be informed on all alarms, day and night.

    The abilities of Chief Moore as a proficient fireman and administrator were not confined to the city of Los Angeles. In 1898 he was president of the Pacific Coast Association of Fire Chiefs. He also was active in the International Association of Fire Engineers and held one of the vice-presidencies during the same year.

    That Walter S. Moore was a forward looking and aggressive fire chief is well attested. In January of 1889 the then ex-chief Moore was selected by city authorities and the Pacific Coast Board of Underwriters to conduct a survey of the fire department and report such improvements and additions that would put the department in tip-top condition. His report was adopted with the result that three steam fire engines and three horse drawn hose carts were purchased and put into service. One of each of these served the Boyle Heights area, the east Los Angeles district and the other in the "western hills" of Temple Street. Chief Moore can be credited with starting the movement which resulted in the placing in service a water tower, for in his 1896 report he states; "the best equipped fire department with the most powerful and effective appliances at times seem unable to cope with a conflagration. As we have many large, high and costly buildings in which, if a fire should gain headway, it would drive the firemen out and endanger that portion of the city in which they are located, under such conditions a water tower would prove invaluable and enable us to successfully fight the fire." In this same report he recommended that the men of the department should be furnished with leather fire helmets, to be used while on duty at fires, and thus affording them some protector against injuries from falling bricks, blocks of wood, plaster and other dangers." These excerpts from his Annual Reports illustrate the concern that he felt for the property of the citizens of his community and the interest he held in the safety and welfare of the firemen who worked for him.

    The citizens of the city of Los Angeles as well as the officers and men of the present day fire department can be justly proud of the first chief of the Los Angeles Fire Department. It was a wise selection that placed as the first chief engineer a man of the integrity, devotion and ability such as was possessed by Walter S. Moore.


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

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