Los Angeles Fire Department
Historical Archive

Fire Chief Scott Tells Story
Of Career From Extra to Chief

  "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 located.

  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 enter

Hearty Greeting

  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 his desk.
  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 Test

  "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.   Each 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

To 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

  Next 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 themselves.
  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 birthday."
  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.


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