Los Angeles Fire Department
by Willis M. Martin
As a result of the February, 1910 election, the residents of the City of Hollywood voted to annex to the City of Los Angles.
Prior to the annexation, all fire fighting had been performed by volunteer firemen who drove and operated horse-drawn fire equipment. Shortly after the annexation in 1910, the City of Los Angeles established a firehouse known as Hose Company No. 7 at the southeast corner of Cahuenga and Selma Avenues. Under the command of Chief Jack Atwell, the small station housed the first motorized piece of fire fighting apparatus in the City.
Of the many fires recorded during that period of history, one was journalized as follows: Saturday, January 7, 1911, 2:40 p.m. Fire at 324 So. Wilcox. Outside closet and fence. Loss $50.00; cause: unknown. Extended to 318 S. Wilcox, one-story, frame barn. Loss $250.00. Extended to 100 Sunset Blvd., one story frame livery stable. Loss $50.00. Extended to 319 Townsend Ave., dry cleaning works. Loss $200 structure, $100 contents. Extended to 329 Townsend Ave., one-story frame barn. Loss $35.00 structure, $20.00 contents. Used 800 ft. of hose. Worked 2 hours, 50 minutes. Four call men received $3.00 each.
Another interesting journal entry appeared on February 20, 1911--
Although Hose Co. No. 7 had the first piece of motorized fire fighting apparatus in the City, horsepower was still the primary method of getting from here to there, as attested to by a May 15, 1911 journal entry: Got horse and buggy from Eng. No. 20 this a.m. and Shill and Atwell tested hydrants all day. Kept horses here all night.
The hydrants had wooden plugs in them in those days, hence the term "plug buggy" was coined.
On Monday, November 20, 1911, a local resident, Mrs. T. A. Livingston, 559
Estelle Ave., was severely burned about the hands, face, and neck trying to
save her chickens and rabbits from a fire involving her chicken corral and
rabbit house. The fire was started by a fire in a barn at 562 Estelle
Ave. Loss $5.00 structure and $20.00 contents. Laid 600 ft. of
On August 24, 1915, Battalion Chief O'Malley, during his rounds of Battalion 5, instructed officers that men must show life when lining up." And on August 28, 1915, Chief O'Malley wrote "Men showed life in falling into line." Has anything changed?
According to Chief O'Malley's records on New Year's Eve of 1915, Engine 27 and Truck 9 responded to Fielding and Fountain, one block out of City limits and 1500-1700 feet from the nearest hydrant. Upon arrival of E-27 and T-9, the house was burned beyond saving. The companies worked with garden hose, buckets, and pike pole. E-27 and 79 returned to quarters "leaving neighbors who said they would stay with it until it was out." Some things have changed.
During Prohibition when the firemen and policemen were working from 1625-29 No. Cahuenga, several of the members of both Departments jointly rented a residence in Laurel Canyon. This fraternal lodging was appropriately named the "Boars Nest" by the members of both Departments.
Occasionally the Police Department would raid a speak-easy, confiscate the booze and bring it back to the station, holding it there for evidence. It should be pointed out that the P.D. only needed one bottle of the stuff for evidence and the major portion of the cache would mysteriously disappear. Of course none of the police or firemen could tell you whatever happened to the excess evidence. However, it was reported that on more than one occasion when the members of F.S. 27 could roll on a fire and see a loomup in the direction of Laurel Canyon, some of the members could be heard to exclaim "good god fellows, it's the Boars Nest--let's get going!"
In 1927 the City was given property located at Vine and Lexington. Chief Engineer R. J. Scott took the opportunity to recommend a new fire station be built at that location. However, the community leaders sounded a loud protest complaining they didn't want a fire station on Vine Street. In fact, they went so far as to get a court injunction against the Fire Department to prohibit construction of a fire station there. Subsequently, the property at 6428 DeLongpre was acquired by degree of condemnation on October 24, 1929 for a total cost of $24,321. Three additional lots were purchased for a grand total of $52,415. On January 16, 1930, the Fire Commission requested the establishment of a fire station at Wilcox and DeLongpre. The City was now being charger $500 per month for the building at 1625-29 No. Cahuenga and the tenancy was to expire on June 30, 1930.
Los Angeles City Architect P. K. Schabarum, uncle of present Los Angeles
County Supervisor Pete Schabarum, designed a two-story, brown, brick
building, with natural wood trim, tile roof, and creative masonry
work. The new building incorporated 18,227 square feet and for many years
was the largest fire station west of the Mississippi River. The total
expenditure to the City including land and construction, for the new fire
station was approximately $178,000.
On Tuesday, July 1, 1930, Engine Co. No. 27, Hose Co. No. 2, Truck Co. No. 9, Rescue Co. No. 2, and Salvage Co. No. 4 moved into the unfinished building. Although the building was not entirely completed at the time of occupancy, a substantial savings was made in the termination of rental fees.
As testimony to the urgency of moving into the new building, on Saturday, June 28, 1930--"Captain Roth and 3 men (went) to the new house to spread cement on temporary paving. Rec'd. 10 sks cement from storeroom."
Apparently the original address of new Fire Station 27 was not 1355 Cahuenga Blvd. due to the fact that it was journalized as 1355 Cole Ave. by Battalion 5 in July of 1930.
The first emergency response from Fire Station 27 came on the fist day of occupancy at 3:14 p.m. to a two-story brick hotel at 6724 Hollywood Blvd. The occupants of apartment 149 extinguished a fire caused by a cigarette with buckets of water.
An article appeared in the GRAPEVINE on March 30, 1931 titled "New Fire House Dedicated." Here are some excerpts from that article.
The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, Vine Street Development Association, and the Sunset Blvd. Development Association sponsored a day and night of festivities on Monday, March 16, 1931.
The festivities centered at Fire Station 27 where Carl Bush, Executive Secretary of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, acted as master of ceremonies.
Chief Engineer Ralph J. Scott told of the cooperation that has been forthcoming from the Mayor and City Council and thanked them for their interest in Fire Department affairs.
Mayor Porter congratulated Chief Scott and the entire Fire Department for their accomplishments. He was favorable impressed with the way the Fire Department has responded to alleviate the unemployment situation and in assisting those less fortunate ones who have been without food and clothing.
The Fire Department band furnished music throughout the day and
evening. The orchestra played in the latter part of the evening for
the benefit of those who desired to trip to the light fantasia.
On a more somber note, an entry in Engine 27's journal of Monday, December 8, 1941 reads: 7:55 p.m. Recall of "B" Platoon. And on December 10, 1941: 8:07 p.m. Black Out Signal--9:16 p.m. All Clear Signal. On Wednesday, December 24, 1941: 8:30 p.m. All members assigned to night watches and given Xmas gifts from Broadway, Hollywood.
In the 57th Annual Report to the Board of Fire Commissioners for the fiscal year ending 6-30-43, Chief Engineer John H. Alderson reported that recovery from an existing manpower shortage had just seemed on the point of realization when Pearl Harbor changed the entire aspect. Factors reducing effective personnel employment included the voluntary retirement of a group of officers which consisted of the Chief Engineer, the Deputy Chief, the Assistant Chiefs, seven Battalion Chiefs and 24 Captains. In addition to this, no source of replacement seemed available because of qualified men being vulnerable to Selective Service.
In 1943, the Department was down to 1480 men working two platoons averaging 84 hours per week. In 1928 the Department t had 1800 firefighters.
Considerable effort was exerted to obtain military deferments for the existing personnel. However, many of the men enlisted into the armed services. As a result, a civilian auxiliary fire force was established. Having been trained by Fire Department officers, the auxiliary force proved to be quite effective during 14 emergency incidents that year.
During that same year Fire Station 27 received a Utility Truck to provide lighting equipment and a continuous supply of food and coffee at the scene of major fires.
The major problem faced by the Department following WW II was the absorption and training of men returning to the Department from military service. Fire Station 27 was now not only the Headquarters for Battalion 5 but also for Division II.
During the twelve months preceding June 30, 1945, E-27 had responded to 349 alarms and Truck 27 had responded to 402 alarms. As a comparison, in the twelve months preceding June 30, 1979, E-27 responded to 2,234 alarms and Truck 27 responded to 1,185 alarms.
No one had ever heard of a Heavy Duty Task Force in 1947 but that's essentially what was created at Fire Station 27 when Engine 82 moved in there and replaced Hose Co. 2.
Battalion Chief Leonard Eggleston was Battalion 5 Commander at that time and
he decided he was going to develop the two best engine companies in the City
at F.S. 27. Chief Eggleston's enterprising pursuit left several other
Chief officers wondering why their best men were being transferred to F.S.
27. Engine Co. 82 responded form F.S. 27 until Fire Station 82 was
built on North Bronson in 1961.
On February 25, 1948, at 3:25 a.m. the members of Fire Station 27 responded to 6641 Santa Monica Blvd., the Lounsberry and Harris Lumber Co. The fire, which occurred there that morning, is said to have been one of the largest fires involving a single occupancy in the history of the Department. It was reported that every available engine company in the City was committed to the fire and rumor has it that when one particular Battalion Commander was advised there were no more engine companies available he exclaimed "then give me a truck company and we'll beat the damn fire out with ladders!"
During the late 1940's, E-27 was assigned a 1937 American La France 3,000 GPM duplex triple combination pumper. This rig was "affectionately" referred to as Gargantua. It was big and cumbersome but went real good on the flat (if you didn't have to stop too quickly). One day Gargantua and its crew were dispatched to a brush fire in the hills north of Franklin Ave. Gargantua almost didn't make it around those narrow streets. Subsequently, administrative order was received prohibiting Gargantua from responding north of Franklin. So, F.S. 27 ended up with the only engine company in the City which couldn't respond to its own first-in district.
The following entry was made in E-27's journal on June 22, 1951: 11:13 a.m.--SPECIAL NOTICE--At approximately 11:30 a.m. today, the first Citywide Circuit Test of the Air Raid Sirens will be conducted. Officers in stations were sirens are installed or where sirens are installed in close proximity to the station will make a journal entry recording the time the test was heard. If the siren is not heard by 11:40 a.m. in the station affected, an immediate telephone report will be made direct to the Captain on duty at Westlake. (Dispatch Office) Regular daily tests as outlined in Weekly Bulletin 25 will begin 6-25-51. The responsible officer in each station will acknowledge the receipt of these instructions by the operation of the answer back button. In stations not so equipped, by telephone to the dispatcher. 11:40 a.m.--Notified the Captain on duty at Westlake that no sirens were heard at Engine 27 during test period. Informed by him that there are no sirens within close proximity, therefore notice does not apply to Engine 27.
If you have ever played handball on F.S. 27's court, you're playing on beachwood that was installed by the firefighters who worked there in 1952-1953. Those men decided they wanted a handball court and talked the City out of $5,000 worth of materials then went ahead and built their own court. The 25' x 50' court actually ended up costing approximately $8,000. An extremely low figure considering the enjoyment it has provided over the years.
If anyone thinks the existing residency requirement is something, well it
isn't. As a matter of fact F.S. 27's journal indicated that a teletype
message, signed by Chief Alderson, was received on May 21, 1955 advising
members to ignore a rumor contrary to the residency requirement. He also
made it quite clear who was running the Department. Perhaps the fuzzy
thinking of some members was brought on by the series of smog alerts the
City was having in those days. For example: Oct. 3, 1955--9:42
a.m. SPECIAL NOTICE. Air Pollution Control declared a smog red
day. Red? Maybe the color has faded since 1955.
On June 10, 1965, the members of F.S. 27 were wondering who the new Chief Engineer was going to be. Chief Miller had just advised the Fire Commission he was going to take his pension on July 16 of that year. On July 1, F.S. 27 learned the Fire Commission had made Deputy Chief Don T. Hibbard Chief Engineer on an emergency appointment. This was the same day the mystery of all mysteries was solved. How many holes could be punched out on F.S. 27's tape register with one complete winding? The results were to be reported to the Westlake Signal Office at exactly 6:30 a.m. The total? 527. I'm glad I didn't have to count those little buggers.
Remember the Watts riots? F.S. 27 was notified of a Phase I recall of the A Platoon on August 13, 1965 at 3:30 p.m. Many companies were kept extremely busy for several days. However, being busy was not something new to E-27. On October 1, 1965 through October 2, 1965, pages 122 and 123 of the journal were completely filled with red entries except for two lines.
On July 1, 1970, F.S. 27 became the home of R.A. 27 along with Bob Sjoberg. Bob came directly form the Receiving Hospital around the corner from 27's. There is nothing extraordinary about that except Bob Sjoberg had been an Ambulance Attendant with the City's ambulance service since February of 1942 and he was 70 years old when he was assigned to F.S. 27.
How would you like to have 30 nurses in quarters for R.A. instructions? F.S. 27 did on June 2, 1971. And on May 8, 1978, R.A. 27 was assigned one of the first female Paramedics in the City.
In the meantime, the R.A. personnel were having a hard time logging in their journal entries at night. There was no light for them to see by, thus requiring some ingenuity in the use of a flashlight. Several firefighters offered suggestions as to how the R.A. personnel could best accomplish this feat. However, the problem was resolved in October of 1974 when a lamp was installed in an appropriate area of the station.
By November of 1975, F.S. 27 was in need of a new paint job. According to Captain Barney Nipp, the City painters apparently realized this was just no ordinary building. Consequently, they did a premier job on redecorating the inside and outside of the building. It only seems appropriate that the painters would extend themselves to antique the large lanterns on the front of the station.
Over the years F.S. 27 had been the location for a variety of field tests due to its active history. During a six month period of 1975, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration tested a 4,500 psi aluminum, fiber glass wrapped, air cylinder for breathing apparatus. NASA's 30 minute cylinder weighed 8 lbs. less than the model 27's was presently using. NASA's 60 minute cylinder weighed only 2 lbs. more than the Department's 30 minute model. The NASA breathing apparatus also incorporated a positive pressure regulator. The breathing apparatus that E-27 is currently evaluating is a direct result of several Department-made suggestions regarding the NASA model.
As a tribute befitting this grand old building, which has seen some of
Hollywood's best times and some of its worse, on October 20, 1976, the Los
Angeles Cultural Heritage Board declared, by Ordinance No. 121,971 Fire
Station 27 to be Historical-Cultural Monument No. 165.
This article appeared in the May, 1981 issue of THE FIREMEN'S GRAPEVINE.
Copyright 1999 All Rights Reserved.