L. A. County Opens Petroleum Fire Training Center
All L. A. County F. D. photos
ONE OF THE MOST MODERN petroleum fire training centers in the United States has been put into full operation by the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Located at Del Valle in the Castaic-Newhall area, approximately 35 miles northeast of Los Angeles Civic Center, the facility is unique in several respects.
Valued at $250,000, the facility was built at a minimum cost to taxpayers through cooperation of the Western Oil & Gas Association, the Western Liquid Gas Association and more than half a dozen oil companies in Southern California. The facility, which in the future may be used for other hot fire training including aircraft and crash control, is located outside the smog-restricted burning zone of the County and will be open to use by other area fire agencies as well as industrial suppression crews.
“Plans for the center were started more than four years ago,” recalls County Fire Chief Keith E. Klinger. “We had an old facility behind Station 17 in Santa Fe Springs, but it needed modernization and parking was limited. Then Santa Fe Springs incorporated and took over its own fire protection. We still could have used the old facility, but it was also in the middle of the high-smog area so we instructed our division chiefs to seek and suggest possible sites outside the smog restriction area on burning and yet in an accessible area where we also could obtain fuel.”
In 1959 a site was found in Del Valle adjacent to a Union Oil Company of California facility. Although somewhat distant from the downtown area, County planners felt the soonto-be-completed Golden Gate State Freeway leading to the area was a great asset. Arrangement was made to lease three acres from Union with options for future use.
“The agreement was signed in 1959 and we went ahead immediately with plans for construction,” reported Les Dutton, division chief in charge of fire prevention and training. “Captain Robert Ballentine was assigned as liaison officer with Western Oil & Gas and Western Liquid Gas and we were well on the way.”
Chief Dutton explained that the petroleum training facility was sort of a do-it-yourself project. He added that although the planning was begun and Union had leased the property at negligible cost to the County, adequate funds just weren’t available for construction due to other higher priority needs for the county and fire department budgets.
Chief Victor Petroff of the department’s construction division, worked closely with the planners to obtain maximum use of the department’s own personnel and heavy equipment normally used to build fire breaks and roads and to aid in brush fire suppression work. Terrain surrounding the site consisted of rolling hills. Considerable work in leveling and terracing the land was necessary before any props could be constructed. This phase of the project—done by carefully supervised County juvenile probation forestry crews and department heavy fire equipment—took several years.
Meanwhile, arrangements had been completed for all necessary equipment for the facility to be donated by the petroleum industry representatives and which Included everything from fuel tanks and pumps to fittings and pipes. A special department committee was set up under Battalion Chief K. W. Bicksler, County fire training officer, to plan the layout and supervise construction. Fire and safety representatives of the petroleum industry worked closely with the County fire committees to provide the most functional and modern facilities possible.
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Included in the facility are: 1,250gallon LP gas storage tank; 5,700-gallon, compartmented fuel storage tank; pump houses to energize fuel lines to all of the various props; LP gas backboard fire made of heavy boiler plate; 10-foot by 12-foot concrete slab used for spill fires and demonstration of hand extinguishers; the “christmas tree fire”; pipe trench fire; 10-foot by 10-foot cellar fire; 10-foot by 20-foot rectangle pit for heavy fuels; 1,000gallon tank used as loading rack; 16foot-diameter tank; 200 feet of concrete curb and gutter used to simulate gutter fires and rate burning with two hydrants installed on each of the three levels. A large Union water reservoir is located adjacent to the training grounds.
The Del Valle facility was officially dedicated and accepted October 10 by the County with representatives from fire agencies and petroleum companies throughout Southern California attending. Following the dedication a petroleum fire control demonstration was conducted under supervision of Chief Bicksler.
L. A. County fire rookies now will receive their hot fire training here. Beginning January 1, 1963, an in-service training program was initiated at the facility for all department fire personnel. Additional facilities may be added at the training grounds from time to time and officials feel that other permanent structures may be built as budget and manpower needs permit.
Recently constructed was a 20-foot by 50-foot metal building to be used as a change room and offices. “We had no budget for a structure,” explained Chief Dutton, “so we looked around other County agencies. We found the Parks and Recreation Department had a surplus metal building, so we dismantled it and constructed it for our use at Del Valle.” Chief Dutton believes the example of how L. A. County developed the facility with the cooperation of industry is a good one for other fire agencies faced with the perpetual problem of lack of funds and yet needing proper training facilities.
“Without the petroleum industry cooperation, we might have had to wait years to get the superb facility we have today. Also, the public relations involved in location of the training grounds is very important. The Air Pollution Control permits fire agencies to bum in the L. A. Basin, but if we had located our facility in such an area and during our training, large clouds of black smoke had puffed skyward, what would the sensitive, smog-conscious public have thought of our department?”