Fire Chief Scott
Of Career From Extra to Chief
By ROGER C. JOHNSON
"Up From the Ground" or some similar this title might
well be applied to this Horatio Alger type of story which concerns, Ralph
J. Scott, chief of the Los Angeles city fire department. Real romance
lies behind the story of his career as related in a talk with the writer at his offices at 217 South Hill street, where fire department headquarters are
After waiting for a short five minutes on the third floor of the
modern, ship-shape building, the writer was invited into a near by room by a
stranger who had opened a door to a large office and stood beckoning for us to
Accepting the invitation, we stepped into the room which proved to
be quite large with a lengthy desk on one side and with framed photographs
lining the walls.
Looking at the man who had invited us in, we noticed that he
appeared less strange to us than he had before.
"Aren't you Chief, Scott?", we queried.
"Yes" was the reply. "Won't you be
seated?", he asked as he took a seat and pointed to a chair opposite
It was easy to converse with this rather slim, active man who
directs the destinies of a great fire fighting organization. Every
question met with a prompt, descriptive reply. No evasion and no guarded
answers so characteristic of men in public life.
Start Is Told
"Just how did you happen to get into fire fighting work?",
we asked Chief Scott.
A slight grin came over the Chief's face. "My story is a
lot like almost every other fellow who tries to find a place in the world," he explained.
"At 19 I finished an engineering and business course in college and
found my future rather in the air. For a time after I left college I
did nothing, just looking for something to do.
"A short time afterward I met two former schoolmates who were
in the fire department. they told me I could get a part time
position with the department. At first I scoffed at the idea but
after they continued to tell me to do something to get busy, I thought it
over and took the job, which meant being on the extra list.
Had To Take
"After I had been on the extra list for a time it became
necessary for me to take an examination if I wanted to remain on the
list. I took examination in order to keep on working for a short
time longer and later I was told that I had passed the test and could go
into the work as a permanent thing. The opportunity to do something
different must have appealed to me because I decided to accept and try it
for a month until I could find something else.
"One month passed, two months passed and still I did not
leave. The work became fascinating and here I am today, still in the
fire department. I first started on July 18, 1905 and have since
passed my twenty-fifth year in the service. In reality I have been
with the department since May 15, 1905, for that was when I entered as an extra
worker. On July 19 I celebrated my tenth year as chief engineer of
the fire department.
Wins By Work
"As I continued in the department I made up my mind that I
world give everything I had and perhaps a little bit more.
position up the line has been secured through competitive examinations.
Right now I always tell the men in the department to work hard because
they are bound to succeed and go ahead if they follow such plan."
From the personal experiences of the Chief the conversation drifted
to the present-day fire department.
"There is a novel situation in Los Angeles," he
stated. Here is a city not only with homes and commercial structures
but with harbor and forest problems as well. This geographical
outlay requires a great variation of equipment and fire combating methods,
and a good many persons are affected by our organization. Unlike
other branches of the government, though, by the very nature of our work we
make friends when we do our duty."
One of the innovations introduced by Chief Scott has been patterned
after in other cities. That innovations is the fire college, the only
one of its kind in the United States. All attempts to start similar
colleges are patterned after the one in Los Angeles.
"For five years now the college has been in operation,"
Chief Scott declared. "Each man in the department and there are
at present 1650 of them, have gone through and received a thorough
education. Sometimes, when the men finish going through the fire
college, they tell me I may have to close it up for want of men to
teach. My reply is invariably that they have just taken a
preparatory course and that there is always something new coming into the field.
Must Keep Alert
"In other words," he continued, "the college is
something like a doctor of the old school. Things which were modern twenty-five
years ago are out of date now. With the fire department it is the
same. We must keep abreast of modern conditions. In our fire
service unless we are always alert and educate our men in our college
along fire protection and prevention, we are going to be lost, that's all.
"The old, old theory of service was that a strong back and a
weak mind was sufficient qualification for a fireman. My style has
been to preach the gospel that education never ceases for, after all, education
is nothing more than conception and understanding. Then, too, we try
to make the men take an interest in their work. This does not mean
that we give them a choice of attending the college or staying away, for
the course is compulsory.
"Getting back to the matter of our equipment, it might be interesting
to know what types of such things we have to work with. In the entire
force there are 71 engine companies, 18 truck companies, 4 foamite
companies, 8 salvage companies, 2 rescue companies, 3 fire boats and
several other smaller divisions. These all involve further extra
equipment, ranging from asbestos suits to breathing apparatus. Our
men are experts in resuscitation. Out of 285 emergency calls in 1928
there were 129 successful and 156 fatalities.
Fires Not All
"The general public believes we do nothing but go out and
put out fires when they start," Chief Scott pointed out.
"That is not our only task. We maintain a mountain fire patrol to
protect our watersheds and we also watch the water front at San Pedro.
Our aim is to prevent fires rather than fight them after they start.
Last year the fire prevention bureau made 313,126 inspections and 6504
dangerous rubbish heaps were removed."
Somehow or other there was a bit of doubt in the visitor's mind
regarding the administrative makeup of the department. Chief Scott
reached for a telephone instrument close at hand and requested a clerk to
bring in a set of blueprints which were being prepared for use in the
fire college. Stepping to our side of the desk, the Chief pointed out
several of the highlights of the system.
"The whole system starts with the California State Constitution
and then comes down to our own Los Angeles City Charter. Next comes
the mayor, who has jurisdiction over the entire department. Under him
is the fire commission, composed of members appointed by the mayor and
composed of men whose duty it is to supervise the department activities.
"Next in the line is the chief engineer, or fire chief, the position
I occupy. My duties are administrative as I serve as a sort of general
manager for the entire department. As fire chief, one of my duties is
to prepare a budget for xx????xx
show what great part of the city system the fire department is, our figures
indicate that this year a budget will amount to about $5,000,000."
Going to Alabama
month Chief Scott expects to take office as president of the International
Fire Chief's association. He will be inducted during a convention in
Birmingham, Alabama, on October 22. This is the highest honor that can
be conferred on a fire head. Local honor has been heaped before this
office was given to him. He has served as president of the California
association and also the Pacific coast association. Most of the men
under him, from the deputy chief and 10 assistant chefs to the firemen,
engineers and auto firemen, realize that they have in their executive a man
who tries to give them every opportunity to forge ahead and better
Time passed swiftly as the story of such rapid growth and development
was unfolded. So rapidly, in fact, that the writer lost all track of
time until he noticed Chief Scott reaching for his hat and a small package
contained inside the brim.
"You will have to excuse me now," he said, "but I will
have to be starting for home. You see, this is my wife's
Leaving the office, both of us stepped to a waiting elevator and were
taken to the ground floor where a sincere farewell sent us both on our way.