Los Angeles Launches Major Fire Dept. Improvement Program
Thirty-five New Stations to be Built; Much Apparatus to be Replaced; Bonds Already Voted
HOW would you like to have the task of building a home—and be given only a hammer and saw to work with? Taking stock of its resources after the war, the fire service in the City of Los Angeles discovered itself in very much the same position. Fastest growing large city in the world, Los Angeles expanded tremendously during the war, yet no comparable development was possible for its fire protection facilities. Conversely, during the war years the department found it necessary to abandon three engine houses and move the units into more substantial quarters with other companies. Military requirements were a serious drain on personnel and forced available manpower to a low level, though at this writing returnees and new men have brought manpower back to a new peak.
The difficulty of obtaining new apparatus during the war is no new story to fire department heads. In Los Angeles it forced continued use of apparatus long outdated and unsuited to operation under modern high speed traffic conditions. One hundred twentytwo units of fire apparatus or active duty were more than fifteen years old. some had seen over twenty years of service. One such unit, a water tower stationed in the high value district, was originally a horse-drawn vehicle and dated back to 1905. Practically all of the reserve units were more than twenty years old.
The term “antique” could be applied equally well to many of the stations housing this equipment. A portion of them were holdovers from the hoysedrawn era. Located close together in the older sections of the city, they were designed for comparatively short runs by horse-drawn apparatus. Of frame construction, many of the older houses were well beyond the salvation of paint and scrubbing. One had been condemned for human occupancy by the Department of Building and Safety. Another could be shaken from end to end by the motion of a man jumping up and down.
Yet neither worn apparatus nor aged engine houses have been Los Angeles’ most serious fire protection problem. Never, since the days when the city annexed much of the surrounding territory, has the fire department been able to extend really good fiye protection to its outlying districts. Adequate, perhaps, but only so by virtue of sending rigs on long runs, frequently up to six or eight miles. Yet despite this fact, the situation prior to 1940 was not serious as the areas in question were not heavily built upon. But the war brought hundreds of new industries and hundreds of thousands ot new citizens to the city. New residential areas and shopping districts were being built in previously undeveloped sections. The need for fire protection in these areas was probably the most serious fire protection deficiency facing the city.
Indications of this situation became more and more evident as the war progressed. Long before the way ended, before the term “reconversion” became a national slogan, Los Angeles Fire Department officers had been assigned to work out the details of a long range expansion program. Of invaluable assistance in this work was a complete survey of the department’s facilities made by engineers of the National Board of Fiye Underwriters in 1941, together with their recommendations for modernization of facilities. The extent of the growth of the city during the war years made it necessary in 1946 to request a resurvey by the Board engineers to bring their 1941 report up to date. Plans finally adopted by the fire department were drawn in most cases in close conformity with the suggestions then made by the Board.
It was determined that for proper distribution of fire protection a total of 35 new engine houses were required. Of these some would be replacements for existing stations on their present sites, some new locations for existing companies, and some new stations for entirely new companies located for the most part in newly developed sections. Sites lor some of these new stations had already been acquired by the city. A municipal program of this magnitude could, of course, be financed in one way only by the sale of bonds, which course of action in Los Angeles required consent of the taxpavers. Early in 1947, city officials decided that the city could no longer afford to be without adequate fire protection and other municipal facilities, and it was determined to submit the question to the people at a coming city election.
It was during the preliminary stages of this campaign that President Truman called a Conference to be attended by leading authorities in the field of fire prevention, fire protection and fire engineering from all over the United States. Chief Engineer John H. Alderson made a visit to Washington at that time to hear President Truman deplore the appalling nationwide death toll of fire and personally stress the need for fire prevention and the fact that fire protection is the responsibility of local authorities and of each and every citizen. This national recognition of the problem came at a most opportune time for the local fire service. It posed the same question that was being readied for presentation to the electorate, “Do the citizens of Los Angeles want better fire protection?” The election results proved they wanted that protection and were willing to pay for it. There can be no doubt but that the results produced so soon in Los Angeles were precisely those sought by the President when he called the Conference.
The issue was presented to the voters on May 27 in the form of a bond proposition which would permit the city to sell bonds to the extent of $4,600,000 to be used to expand fire department facilities. The proposition had the enthusiastic support of Mayor Fletcher Howron and the City Council and it was given first place on a ballot containing seven bond propositions, all of them designed to promote the welfare of every citizen of Los Angeles.
Though the success of the fire bond issue was no doubt due to the veryreal need for increased facilities, the moral support furnished by the President’s Conference was most timely. In addition, local election observers feel that two other factors contributed much toward gaining approval of the electorate. When the time came to undertake the campaign the fire department was ready with detailed plans of how it intended to expend the money. In most cases it was possible to point out to residents of various sections of the city exactly where their fire stations were to be located and exactly how the passage of that particular issue would affect them individually. A second factor was that both firemen and policemen were sufficiently interested to contribute their time and money toward acquainting their fellow citizens with the problem. Before election day, offduty firemen had delivered explanatory literature to nearly every householder in the city. On the day itself both firemen and policemen proved so effective in getting out voters that the election produced a much larger vote than had been forecast. Los Angeles citizens were so well apprised of the importance of good fire protection that the issue carried by a margin of more than two and one-half to one.
Now that the election has been decided and the approval won, plans for the expansion arc being carried out with all possible speed. Of necessity the building program must be spread over a period of time. Present day construction costs are so high that immediate building would in some case be unwise. There is the further consideration that municipal building should not compete with housing construction, at least until after shortages have eased. Some of the newly authorized apparatus is already on order, and funds from the bond issue will provide the basis for a plan whereby in a reasonably short time all apparatus on active duty will be retired at the end of the fifteenth year and reserve apparatus retired permanently at the end of the twentieth year. Therearter, the plan will proceed according to a fixed and orderly schedule with certain apparatus being retired each year so that the city need never again be faced with the burden of replacing a large number of outdated pieces of equipment at any one time. It is believed that a workable plan of this type is something new in fire department administration in the United States.
Summarizing the future of the fire service in Los Angeles, it is apparent that the very best type of fire protection will be available for the city. With young, well trained and well disciplined personnel, with a program for equipping all mobile units with two-way radio well under way, with fire prevention activities playing an increasingly important role, and now with modern apparatus and well located stations assured, the Los Angeles Fire Department stands ready to demonstrate that the protection for which its citizens arc paying is well worthwhile.