Los Angeles Fire Department
Historical Archive

     March 8, 1961



The following is the text of an address given by
William L. Miller, Chief Engineer of the Los Angeles City Fire Department
at the Diamond Jubilee Celebration, marking the 75th anniversary of the City Fire Department,
held on March 8, 1961 at the Biltmore Bowl

  The year 1886--seventy-five years ago was a period of great advancement for the City of Los Angeles. Los Angeles had been an incorporated city under laws of the State of California for 36 years. It had a population of some 35,000, with three good hotels, 27 churches, an adequate number of saloons and 350 telephone subscribers. Main, Spring, Fort and Hill Streets were paved that year, and the street car system was double-tracked.

  A new City Hall had just been occupied at the corner of Second and Spring Streets, which was previously the site of the first public school.

  The City Fathers determined that it was high time to have an organized and paid Fire Department to replace, in part, the volunteer fire companies that had served on an intermittent basis since 1869, with apparatus provided principally by public subscriptions.

  In December 1885, Mayor E.F. Spence signed Ordinance No.205, authorizing the creation of a Board of Fire Commissioners, with power to make all necessary arrangements and do and perform all acts necessary to manage the Fire Department constituted by this ordinance.

  The ordinance directed that the department consist of a Chief Engineer, two steamer companies, one hook and ladder company and three hose companies. Two of the hose companies were to remain as volunteer companies.

  The Board of Fire Commissioners, consisting of Mayor Spence as ex-officio President and Councilmen H. Sinsabaugh and J. Kuhrts, came into existence on January 18, 1886, in the City Council Chamber of the new City Hall. There the members took the oath of office, elected Walter S. Moore as their secretary, and adjourned, subject to the call of the President.

  Three days later the Commissioners again convened. At their second meeting they formally notified the City Council that they were ready to proceed, and requested the Council to elect a Chief Engineer. They adopted the first rules and regulations for the Fire Department, providing among other things--
  --that every member of the department be at least 21 years of age;
  --a citizen of the United States;
  --a permanent resident of the City of Los Angeles;
  --and able to converse understandably in the English language.

  Rule No.18 ordered that engine, hose, and hook and ladder drivers not drive out of a trot in going to or returning from fires and alarms and that racing be strictly prohibited. The Commission on January 28 directed Commissioner Kuhrts to buy five tons of hay, 40 sacks of rolled barley and six sacks of bran. Thus the Fire Department was staffed, provisioned and in operation on February 1, 1886, with stations and apparatus taken over from the old volunteer companies.

  Also effective February 1, 1886 Walter Moore became Chief Engineer of Los Angeles' first paid Fire Department.

  On April 19, the Board recommended the purchase of a wagon--not to exceed $185--for transportation of the Chief Engineer.

  By order of June 14, the first inspection of the department was set for 9 A.M., July 5.

  On December 13, it was decreed that the fire bell be placed on the First Street hill.

  Remembrances of events that transpired 75 years ago are important, for from such beginnings of a fire service for a little city than spanned some 30 square miles, there has grown the Los Angeles Fire Department of today (1961), protecting the lives and possessions of 2 1/2 million people; inhabiting a metropolis of some 459 square miles.

  To night we celebrate 75 years of progress of the Los Angeles Fire Department. Because of its protection our loved ones, our homes and our businesses are safer from the ravages of fire, explosion and panic.

  There are those present who have in a few short years seen this city grow from a sprawling country town to the nation's largest city in area, rapidly approaching second in population and for decades the most colorful and progressive.

  We have seen its orchards and grain fields transformed into great industrial complexes and subdivisions; its swamp lands converted into airfields and harbor facilities, ranking among the busiest and best in the world.

  We have seen the development of great communications, transportation and industrial systems; a vast network of highways; a water and power supply from the high Sierras and the Colorado River; public utilities and public works without parallel.

  Each of these great developments has brought to our city its inherent hazards. Because of adequate fire protection, continued progress in all these fields has been and is possible. Without adequate fire protection, our civilization would destroy itself, for each day it creates new hazards with new discoveries and new processes.

  In these 74 years our city's population has multiplied over 70 times. This virtual explosion in population has required hundreds of additional schools; hundreds of thousands more homes, tens of thousands new businesses, great factories, research facilities, hospitals and entertainment centers. It has demanded fantastic increases in fire protection. In short the challenge to the Fire Department has been unprecedented. Our current five-year expansion program exceeds all combined efforts in the Department's history.

  Citizens of Los Angeles have made possible the excellent fire fighting facilities of today. City officials, civic leaders, the press and the electorate have consistently supported efforts of the Fire Department to meet its challenges. They have never been willing to accept second-class protection for their lives and their property.

  The story of progress in fire protection parallels the city's growth. In the early Pueblo of Los Angeles, the fire engine was drawn by hand, until horses were provided. The gasoline engine, replacing the horse, marked a great new era in our civilization. From the protection of a few small adobe buildings in a rural village, we have rocketed into the age of space; into a world of nuclear power; into a complex of scientific developments--that can spell progress--when controlled, or disaster if not controlled.

  Today the fire fighting forces of our city stand in bold contrast to the humble beginning of the early pueblo. Three powerful fire boats--manned by Firemen trained in shipboard and waterfront fire fighting--protect our city's 35 miles of ocean frontage, its acres of wharves, docks and piers, with additional millions of dollar value in ships and cargoes going to and from all parts of the world.

  But--a few months ago a great fire at one of the piers threatened the very existence of our vital harbor. Only through excellent tactics, highly trained manpower and the best fire fighting equipment was the holocaust held to the pier of origin.

  In recent years, multiple alarm fires have occurred in ocean liners, tankers and flammable liquid tank farms within our harbor. Each time the damage has been confined to the area or vessel of origin and the harbor has been saved from total destruction. Each success proved the value and economy of maintaining a first-class fire fighting force.

  At our municipal airports--expertly trained crash crews man the most powerful and specialized aircraft crash fire fighting engines in existence; protecting the entry and exit of 6 1/2 million air passengers each year.

  In addition, conventional crews and fire engines protect aircraft, manufacturing and allied facilities of these leading air terminals of the world. Crash crews of the Los Angeles Fire Department have an enviable record in assisting safe landings of aircraft in trouble.

  Los Angeles is the only major city having specially organized forces of trained men and specialized equipment to combat brush fires. The City of Los Angeles has one of the largest trained forces of brush fire fighters in the United States.

  Historically, conflagrations in cities frequently come from uncontrolled brush fires entering the city proper. It is well known to most of you, that in spite of the fastest burning ground cover in the nation, and with hundreds of incipient fires in the city each year, none has ever reached conflagration proportions. None has ever penetrated beyond the fringe areas of mountain dwellings. Each year my office receives hundreds of letters of praise for the excellent work of our firemen in saving homes and lives during these fasting moving fires.

  Throughout this great city a hundred stations house 3,000 of the world's finest Firemen and what will soon be the most modern fleet of fire engines in existence anywhere.

  What kind of men are these firemen?
   First, they are selected only through competitive examination; with requirements so rigid that but a handful of each thousand applicants ever gains admittance.

  Our Firemen are community leaders in churches, Red Cross, professional groups, PTA, Chambers of Commerce, service clubs, Scouting, Woodcraft and youth work throughout the city.

  Our ranks include many members with college degrees in the fields of public administration, law and the sciences.

  Firemen are good neighbors, family men, home-loving citizens--doing their bit in every-day life to build a greater Los Angeles.

  In their profession they have no equal. Los Angeles is the largest major city to have a class one fire department. This distinction and excellence has been recognized for 14 years by the National Board of Fire Underwriters and the Pacific Fire Rating Bureau, which through repeated reductions in fire insurance rates, have saved Los Angeles property owners millions of dollars in premiums.

  Even more significant is the record of life safety. If the United States, as a whole, enjoyed the same degree of fire safety as do the citizens of Los Angeles, over 7,700 persons (including 1,200 children) who died in fires last year would be alive today. Likewise, over 75,000 maimed and injured in fires last year would have been spared.

  Members of the Fire Fighting Profession, throughout the world, come to our door to participate in training; to study fire prevention methods, organization, tactics and equipment. Our most recent student is from Saudi-Arabia. Each year we train special classes of Firemen from both industry and government. Our manuals and training films are used around the globe.

  Many members of the Los Angeles Fire Department serve on local, State and National committees in the field for fire protection legislation.

  In the field of physical fitness, we have the most comprehensive program of any major fire department. In many types of athletics our members are in national championship class. Our most recent honors were won in the Winter Olympics at Snow Valley.

  Among you tonight are many of these highly trained, dedicated, professional firemen and their wives. They are a part of the force of over 3,000 who guard your lives and property every day and every night of the year. As the Chief of your Fire Department, I humbly accept the great privilege of commending them to you as members of this Class One Fire Department and as citizens of your communities--dedicated to the saving of lives and property.

  No commendation would be complete or just without mention of the wives of our Firemen, who also have joined with us tonight in this celebration. As in all great professions, to them goes much of the honor for the accomplishments of their men. It is they--who know the anxiety, the heartaches and sacrifices that so often go unnoticed. It is they--who know the need for courage and faith when roaring flames engulf our mountains, or great structures, or when a Fireman must go through literal hell to save a life from fire.

  At my invitation tonight, a Fireman's wife has come from her husband's bedside in Central Receiving Hospital. With 70 percent of his body severely burned when trapped in a fire, on the night of January 17, Fireman Tom Morse has since hovered between life and death. Medical science and the Central Receiving Hospital are doing everything possible to heal his injuries and to relieve his pain. His wife and three little daughters--and 3,000 Firemen and their wives--are hoping, praying and waiting for the day that Tom and Daddy is able to come home.

  To the wives of Firemen here--and to the wives of those on duty throughout the city tonight, and the nights to come--I extend the humble gratitude of your men.

  Also in our gathering tonight are many retired men form our Department, who have given the cream of their lives for the safety of our citizens. To you, retired men--I extend our thanks for establishing a sound foundation and a firm base from which we could progress. Without your fine examples and your dedication to duty, the Los Angeles Fire Department would not enjoy the fine reputation that it does.

  The challenges of the future are great. We have faith that our citizens will continue to support an adequate fire fighting force--which must grow--as the city grows.

  We accept the challenges of the age of electronics, nuclear power, space engines and automation. We stand firm in our resolution to insure that progress, with effective protection. Nor shall we, in the face of all that is material, ever forget that our dedication to the saving of human life is the first and foremost of our duties.

  To Your Honor, Mayor Poulson, Members of the City Council and Fire Commission--my thanks for your great assistance in our daily work.

  To my contemporaries in other City Department's gratitude for your confidence and continued support.

  To all--we pledge a progressive Fire Department, trained and qualified to meet the challenges in the years ahead.


Copyright 1999 All Rights Reserved.