Los Angeles Improves Mountain Defenses

Los Angeles Improves Mountain Defenses

Inside new Coldwater Alarm Center. Chief Douglas Cully watches dispatchers at work. Photo was taken during greater alarm operation. Key dispatcher is at right and push buttons on center board used for dispatch of units with business and fire incoming lines at left. Directly under mike at top right is the answer-back board. Other buttons control helicopter landing lights and other facilities. Board in foreground denotes availability of companies

TWO STATIONS, a new signal office and a heliport are expected not only to close serious gaps in fire defenses of the Santa Monica Mountain area of Los Angeles City, but the communications center will improve dispatch and command of units throughout the western portion of the sprawling metropolis.

The new stations, 97 and 99, are located along Mulholland Drive, the two-lane twisting highway which runs along the crest of the Santa Monica Mountain range from Cahuenga Pass to Woodland Hills, separating the San Fernando Valley drainage from Hollywood and West Los Angeles. Station 97 is just off the intersection of Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Mulholland and will provide long-needed response from “the top down” into brush and canyon areas. The land cost $25,500 with the station constructed for $143,000. The station has 4,940 square feet and houses a triple-combination pumper and a 1,000-gallon all-wheel-drive tanker formerly assigned to the Mountain Patrol.

Will protect canyons

Station 99 is near Beverly Glen and Benedict Canyon on Mulholland and also will provide response to canyon areas which previously had inadequate protection. This station is less than a mile from the spot where the Bel AirBrentwood fire leaped Mulholland late in 1962 to raze more than 400 homes. Land cost $16,300 and the 8,600-foot two-level station was built for $264,000. It will also be headquarters of recently established Battalion 17 which covers the mountain area and will house a pumper and a tank wagon. Construction costs on both stations and the alarm center were approximately 5 to 10 per cent higher because of landscaping and other changes needed to blend the structures into the high-value residential areas.

The new Coldwater Signal Office overlooks Coldwater Canyon and the Hidden Valley section where many entertainment industry personalities live. The 5,708-square-foot structure and heliport was built for $170,000 on city-owned land. The center combines dispatching operations for Divisions 4, 5 and 6 which comprise the entire San Fernando Valley and all areas of West Los Angeles including the vital International Airport complex, more than 330 square miles of the city’s 455. It takes over operations previously performed by smaller and outmoded facilities in West Los Angeles at Station 59 and in Van Nuys at Station 39. A captain and five men will be on 24-hour shifts here and, for the first time, continual supervision will be available.

Forty-six fire stations, including crash companies at International and Van Nuys Airports are controlled from this center. L. A. City, incidentally, has two other alarm centers—the central office at Westlake controlling cen -tral Los Angeles and the San Pedro center handling Los Angeles Harbor, Wilmington and San Pedro districts.

New L. A. City Fire Station 97. Located on Mulholland Drive near Laurel Canyon Boulevard, it closes gap in city's mountain fire defenses. Rig at right is 1,000-gallon all-wheel-drive tanker formerly assigned to Mountain PatrolLooking north from Coldwater Canyon toward new Coldwater Center of L. A. City Fire Department. Note heliport in foreground. Mulholland Drive is highway at rear

All L. A. City F. D. photos

The center’s dispatching equipment is completely new, developed by Pacific Telephone Company working with department and city officials and technicians. Dispatchers use a pushbutton board for dispatching for the first time.

Telephone lines for dispatching

The board uses telephone lines for all dispatching and incorporates voice alarm at the stations. Each station has a button much like a telephone company call director box key—in numerical order. To give an alarm the dispatcher merely depresses the button for the station which lights up. After all stations required are punched up, he depresses a “ring” button which sounds the alarm bell in all bouses affected. He then gives the vocal alarm to all units, repeating the address and closing with “Coldwater clear.”

The last phrase notifies the unit commander that the lines are clear to push the answer-back button which in turn lights up the number of the station on another board in front of the dispatcher. If the answer-back is not immediately lighted, the dispatcher takes steps to ascertain if the unit has received the call. Selective dispatching is available for the rescue ambulance units in the Valley area and for battalion commanders at night. Rescue ambulance calls, incidentally, make up more than 50 per cent of the alarms for the Valley area.

Coldwater has eight incoming fire reporting lines with circuits from West Los Angeles, Van Nuys and one Sunland-Tujunga trunk. In addition, there are direct lines from West Los Angeles and Valley police dispatchers and a special “hot” extension from the Van Nuys public service city ball switchboard. If a citizen calls the city hall number instead of the direct emergency number, particularly for ambulance service, the operator can , plug in directly to Coldwater. There is also a direct line from the Van Nuys tower and a special separate red telephone with a light on it from the International Airport tower. Several business trunk lines also come into the center and these proside an auxiliary dispatching svstem using a telephone company-developed “executive override.”

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L. A. MOUNTAIN DEFENSES

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With two exceptions, the last two numbers of each station coincide with the station’s number and business extension. For example. Station 60 In North Hollywood might be 660. To use executive override, the dispatcher punches only 60 on the business board and then the override button. He cuts in and over on any and all conversations on that line and soon will he able to sound the station alarm, too.

To connect with Westlake center

Also coming in to Coldwater are departmental lines which link that center directly to Westlake.

Captain Haugewood, one of the liaison officers during construction, explained that Pacific Telephone engineered the system especially for the department and laid in an underground cable along Mulholland to supplement overhead lines because of the center being in a high brush fire hazard area. Incoming fire trunks and business lines are located at the left of the board with the dispatching position at the right. A bell chime quietly signals an incoming call. Built into the system are recorders for all incoming calls and a “dead man bell.” The operator taking the call can disengage the recorder with a foot pedal.

The “dead man hell” rings if the trunk remains unanswered for a minute and alerts other personnel. Also engineered in the system is an electronic automatic transfer of fire calls to special unlisted lines in event of breakdown of circuits. Lights automatically indicate any trouble on circuits with the exception of a phone off the hook in the station.

“And,” the captain says, “the phone company hopes to solve that one, too.”

The watch commander at present sits behind the locater cards. On his desk is a Call Director telephone box giving him access to virtually all incoming calls. An intercom circuit allows calls to be made to other stations in the building and also can be used as a public address system. The commander also has a microphone on his desk giving him access to the radio system. Coldwater controls three radio base stations by land lines. One at Station 63, Venice; one at Station 108, the Mountain Patrol base just across the highway from the control center; and Briarcrest, atop a commercial FM tower on a hill one-half mile east of the center. Future plans call for new transmitter sites, as the L.A.F.D. radio system is expanded and beefed up.

In the near future construction will start on a new dispatch console built around the modern equipment already operating. There will be a special radio room for dispatchers to use in a major emergency. A staff room adjacent to the dispatchers area will also be constructed giving top commanders a place to work in a major situation and yet be close to the dispatching operations.

“We felt it was better to get in and work with the new system and then get the finishing touches taken care of later,” the captain explained. “We wanted to have the operation really shaken down before the brush fire season started.”

Dispatcher controls landing lights

The dispatcher, from his key position also controls landing lights for the heliport and lights on his panel indicate if they are off or on. The building has a combination kitchenrecreation room, commander’s office and four dormitories. Stored in a garage at the rear is the L.A.F.D.’s field command communications truck and power unit.

Also coming into the center is the department TWX system. This system links all stations in the Coldwater command by microwave as well as keeping Coldwater in contact with Westlake and other headquarters facilities. The department hopes to use the TWX system as a third dispatching alternate if the other two should break down.

The alarm center and the two stations were constructed under supervision of Deputy Chief Harold Johnson of the Bureau of Building Administration. Assistant Chief Curtis Hart commands the communications division and the alarm facilities are under direct command of Battalion Chief Douglas Cully.

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