Los Angeles Fire Department
By CAPT. H. J. GRIFFIN, Retired
The following article appears as submitted by author. The time was slightly before the editor's time.
If you were a member of the department around the year of 1909, the salary was $75.00 per month, 21 hours per day on duty with 3 hours off to go home for meals. If you wanted to lay off it was necessary to fill out a form and put up a cash deposit; an extra man was called in and at the end of the lay-off period he was paid off in cash.
It was necessary to go to the City Hall to get your check and nearby was a Loan Shark who could draw your check, take out what you owed him and then give you what was left.
You were always kept busy, unloading hay, briquets, grain, coal, and kindling. As every fire alarm box pulled in any part of the city came in to all fire houses it was necessary at night to get up many times and yet not respond to any alarms. In two story houses it was a continuation of sliding the pole and then walking back up the stairs. After every alarm there was roll call with all names being checked off in the journal.
At every alarm, go or not, the harness had to be dropped over the horses. The driver hooked the harness on the horse on his side and another man hooked the harness on the horse on the other side. It was necessary to grab the collar that hung over the horse, pull it down over the horses neck and snap the collar, grab the reins that hung on the collar, and snap them to the bridle that was always on the horse. If it was a no go, it was necessary to unsnap the reins, unhook the collar and hang same back on the hook, and push it up and out of the way; then took the horse back to the stall. This was a continuous process. If the horses were warm on return from a response it was necessary to walk them in the street until they cooled off. The driver was always strapped in the seat. The engineer had a coal torch on the back of the engine that he lit when responding and then lit fire in firebox, which was laid with excelsior and kindling, with some coal on top., Upon returning to quarters, it was necessary to put in new excelsior, kindling and coal and be ready for the next alarm. You can see that if you responded to a number of calls how busy the engineer was, in fact all the boys. You did not in those days pile into bed upon return to quarters from a fire. The tires on hose wagon and engine were of steel and apparatus on way to fires slid and swung all over the street. The engineer on arriving at fires had to shovel coal into the firebox besides his other duties. A coal wagon responded to fires to supply coal for engines, and when engines were working the streets were filled with smoke from the stacks, as some engines ate the coal as fast as you could shovel it in the firebox. Boilers foamed sometimes causing more work for the engineers.
At 5:00 A.M. the driver arose, watered the horses picked up bedding in the horse
stalls and put it in boxes which were then rolled out of quarters. At 6:00 A.M., roll
call, everybody up; drivers went to breakfast, and relief drivers drove apparatus out to
exercise the horses. If an alarm and a go-- there was a mad scramble to run out into the
street and get on the apparatus. There were no windshields or nothing to keep wind off you
on way to fires. Drivers upon return from breakfast started to curry the horses, clean out
hoofs, wash out mouths, flush out stalls and clean harnesses with soap. At noon we watered
the horses. At 6:00 P.M. the horses were bedded down with straw and fed barley and hay. On
this hay the horses munched most of the night. In the daytime the fireman on watch had to
remove refuse from horses as needed.
The axels of the apparatus had to be jacked up once a month and greased.
The travelling horse shoeing wagon with a horse shoer and helper came to the station once a month to shoe the horses. If a horse got sick the Vet. Doctor was called, and if too sick another horse had to be brought from the corral at Ave. 19 and Pasadena Ave.
The fire horses were most human and very smart; to cite one instance, one fireman at Engine 4 walked in his sleep, fell down the pole hole, and lay there in front of the horses stall, near fatally injured. That horse knew something was wrong so he began to kick on side of the stall which awakened members who slid pole and found the man with a fractured skull. He would have died but for this act of the fire horse. Then another time the horses were hitched by some of the firemen the the engine and then they got on the apparatus; the driver did not for some reason get on the driver's seat. Those fire horses followed the hose wagon out of the station onto Aliso Street to Fourth and Main Street with no driver. The Engineer on the rear of the Engine saw no driver on the seat and climbed over the hose suctions with the Engine swaying from side to side, reached the seat of the apparatus and drove the horses to the fire.
No one of today can know how these human-like lovable fire horses were loved by the boys at the fire stations and the public. These fire horses always giving their best, running at full speed down the streets, and in hot weather foam sweat upon their bodies. Sometimes falling and getting hurt but never quitting; always loyal to duty. Some say that when fire horses passed out of history so went life out of the history of the pioneers' most loved animals.
And as you fire laddies of today can see by my little bit of history of the life of a fireman in years of 1909 were not easy. And these pioneers and fire horses were the start of the great fire department of today. But us old pioneers left are having a difficult time of getting our City fathers to grant us a living justified small raise in our pensions. So we pray and live in hope that before our lives end our great City will see fit to reward us for our efforts in the pioneer days to protect life and save property.
But, no one can take out of our memory the true pals, the fire horses; we loved them and they loved us.
This article appeared in the February 1956 issue of THE FIREMAN'S GRAPEVINE.
Copyright 1999 All Rights Reserved.