Megalopolis Looms as Cities Grow Together in Southern California

Megalopolis Looms as Cities Grow Together in Southern California

Typical of booming southern California is the planned community of Sunset Homes in Los Angeles County. Formerly orange groves arul rolling hills, the area will contain 2,000 dwelling units

Sunmet-International Petroleum photo

FROM SANTA BARBARA to San Diego and from Catalina Island to the San Bernardino Mountains the southern California population explosion has occurred. The embryo megalopolis is on its way to reality. A current move to chart the fivecounty cluster of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura Counties as a single metropolitan area shows a population total of 8,528,000. In the 10-year period from 1953 to 1963 Los Angeles County alone gained 560,000 residents while Orange County added 720,000 as orange groves and acres of rolling hills have been transformed into housing and industrial developments. Unbelievable growth throughout the area has taxed all services, but fire has fared from good to average along with other pressing governmental needs.

With the population boom it has been impossible for many jurisdictions to keep up with construction and proper location of stations. Cities have grown “the wrong way” and relocations have been necessary. In Orange County, Anaheim today has 134,000 residents compared to only 15,000, 12 years ago. Chief E. J. Stringer has 126 paid men, eight engines, two trucks, two rescues compared to two engines and one truck in 1951. “We have six more stations to construct and at present own property for four. Two additional stations will be constructed this year. We just moved into a new 18,726-square-foot headquarters.”

In nearby Santa Ana, Chief John Garthe reports that his department has kept pace with the growth, in 10 years, from 52,335 to 120,800. “Along with lowering our National Board classification by two classes we have but one station left of the four we had in 1952 and we expect to relocate this one in 1963. This will mark completion of rebuilding or relocating every station we had in 1942. Together with the construction, the oldest piece of apparatus in service is a 1948 model.”

Chief L. V. Foster of Long Beach emphasizes that growth in his city has brought about the need to alter existing stations to accommodate additional equipment and manpower, especially in outlying areas. “The trend to decentralized business areas, sometimes getting into multiple-story buildings, brings about the need for ladder companies which formerly may have been unnecessary,” the Long Beach chief says.

Battalion Chief Noel Manchester, air officer, talks to department helicopter pilot via radio. Los Angeles County Fire Department has pioneered aerial fire fighting operations to meet its peculiar needs

—L. A. County F. D. photo

Under construction in Malibu area, Station 70 will cost $250,000 and will replace 30-year-old structure at left

L. A. County F. D. photos

New $329,000 headquarters for Amheim, Calif., Fire Department. City now has eight engines, two trucks and two rescues compared with two engines and one truck in 1951

Anaheim F. D. photo

Orange County has really struggled to keep up with fire protection in many areas in Santa Ana and Anaheim as noted previously, but Garden Grove is even more unusual. In 1955 Garden Grove incorporated with one station, seven full-time personnel and a population of 25,000 (1953 population data.) Today the city has four stations, with 85 full-time personnel. Population 105,176!

Structural fires increase

Outside the cities in Orange County fire service has fallen mainly to the California Division of Forestry which provides certain protection under agreement with the board of supervisors. Joe Scherman, state ranger and county fire warden, who has held these posts since 1930, has the following thoughts on those growing years:

“When I took over in Orange County there were only half a dozen tool boxes which furnished hand tools for fire fighters on grass and brush fires. The first trucks we received a year or so later were primarily for grain, range and forest fires. However, they gradually started to respond to structures by public demand in small communities. Over the years the various communities throughout the county demanded more and more structural protection until approximately 25 stations were established.

“Since 1950 we have faced many difficult problems. Some areas incorporated; some annexed. It was difficult to keep abreast of the problem. Some large areas made attempts to incorporate and failed. In some cases cities endeavored to annex and failed. In some areas we were advised they would annex or incorporate. They did not. Some large new developments were created with populations from 35 — 40,000—cities within themselves. Their fire protection needs had to be taken care of until they incorporated or formed districts. We ve had several senior citizens communities and it is not easy to recruit callmen in developments like these.”

L. A. County keeps up to date

Los Angeles County has had its major problems too, but due to its flexibility and organization the County fire department has at least, in the opinion of Chief Keith E. Klinger, managed to keep up to date.

Los Angeles County operates 118 engines, seven trucks, 19 rescues, two crash trucks and one fireboat from 106 stations. Personnel totals nearly 2,000 plus 850 men and boys in forestry camps. The department serves 26 incorporated cities with a population of 570,794 and unincorporated areas with 1,088,853.

Its protection varies from a lonely mountain patrol station high in the mountains on the Old Ridge Route to heavy industry in the City of Commerce and from the growing movie and TV studios in Universal City to bedroom communities in the San Gabriel Valley.

“Our biggest problem today is planning for the future,” says Chief Klinger. “We have plans for 30 new stations over a 10-year period. In Newhall-Saugus-Castaic and in otir Battalion 5 taking in Malibu, Agoura and Calabasas, major developments are planned and with metropolitan water now flowing, it will not be long before construction begins.”

The County is currently building a $250,000 station in the Los Flores area of Malibu to replace a 30-yearold structure. Station 70 will have 8,761 square feet and will be able to house six pieces of apparatus and a battalion headquarters.

“We have acquired a number of sites for stations, trying to keep ahead of soaring land values,” the chief says. “We try to be certain to place the station in the right location, even more so than a ‘conventional’ department.” He explained that some developments which are completed must be protected immediately. Later they may choose to incorporate or annex to existing cities.

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L. A. County, Chief Klinger revealed, currently has the interesting project of planning fire protection for an offshore island—Catalina. “Now, we have a patrol station on the island (located 26 miles offshore) and are working with the Wrigley Company and Southern California Edison in planning for full protection when the island is developed in the not-toodistant future.”

Chief Klinger also feels that the fire service must spend more time on administrative research. “Particularly from the fiscal standpoint we must do everything we can not only to economize but to administer the fire service in the most efficient manner.”

“Fire departments have become big business around our area,” commented one chief. “Most departments in this area (southern California) pay more than $600 a month to veteran firemen.” By contrast, L. A. County paid its men $375 as of June 30, 1953— they also worked longer hours.

Financing difficult

Chief Calvin A. Wetherbee of West Covina makes the following comments on the financial problems of a growing city: “The explosive growth of a city such as West Covina makes fire protection a very difficult problem because of financing. Simple arithmetic reveals that one fire station at $60,000; land for a station at $1520,000; one crew of nine (three-platoon), $72000; and one pumper at $34,000 makes us push $186,000. How can you raise these kinds of funds on pay as you go? Unless there is a lease-purchase or bond issue to buy the protection needed in 1963, 1964, etc., I am afraid that good efficient fire protection will continue to suffer as a result of our continued explosive growth.”

Problem in training

Chief Stringer of Anaheim offers a few thoughts on problems he faced with that city’s population growth: “With the rapid expansion of our city limits plus the influx of population we were forced to hire many new men and purchase additional equipment and build additional stations. We even had to go so far as making engineers and captains out of personnel that had one to two years experience in the fire service.

“The city was kind enough to pay for a course in fire administration that was being conducted by the University of Southern California and had the instructor come to one of our stations and put on the course so this would enable us to appoint an assistant chief and required number of battalion chiefs. These officer’s that were appointed had a minimum of three years service. All officers and men had grown up with the department and we have had very little turnover.”

Another chief who met the challenge of forming a new department in an established area is Robert W. Gain of Downey. The city incorporated in 1956 with a population of nearly 75,000. On September 10, 1957 the Downey Fire Department took over protection from Los Angeles County with four engines, a service-rescue, three stations, and 55 men—all recruited from other departments. Today the city has more than 90,000 residents, five stations, and a Class 3 rating. Personnel totals 78, operating five engines, a truck and a rescue.

Chief Gain comments “I feel that fire protection to be most effective must have centralized control over a given area. As an area expands, with responsibility being spread over larger areas and companies sparsely laid out, too much is lost in the necessary knowledge of occupancies, construction, water and access, to make the over-all approach the most effective from a suppression standpoint.”

Chief Gain notes that his department is represented on the sub-divisions committee. This group has control of future street design, new water main, and hydrant distribution. The fire department also reviews all building plans prior to issuance of the building permit. It is represented at each planning commission meeting, making needed recommendations relative to water and access on all cases.

Fire fighting is big business

No one challenges that fire departments are becoming big business. There is no available estimate on the amount of hose and other equipment, i.e., nozzles, axes, extinguishers and so forth, purchased in the metropolitan area of Los Angeles last year, but a good source estimates that 119 pieces of fire apparatus were purchased last year in this area by all departments including L. A. City, but excluding state and Federal agencies.

Construction of new stations and training facilities continues. Fullerton, for example, recently passed a bond issue for stations and a new headquarters. Many departments continue to upgrade their alarm and communications systems. Some are turning to each other in various geographical areas for integrated assistance—i.e., Montebello, Whittier, Downey, Vernon, Bell, Maywood, Huntington Park, South Gate and Lynwood all have planned programs of move-up. Communities in the South Bay area have a similar plan, as do others.

Telephone exchanges pose problems

In the Greater Los Angeles area alarm reporting is a continuing problem because of numerous jurisdictions. Some communities lie in two telephone areas. For example, the Beverly Hills exchange not only serves that city, but parts of Los Angeles City and County. If you don’t ask for a specific department on dialing “O” you may get the Beverly Hills dispatching center. Los Angeles Supervisor Kenneth Hahn has been an advocate of one uniform county-wide telephone number for all emergencies. Carl Greenberg, noted political writer for the Los Angeles Times, has several times editorially suggested such a number. A California Assembly committee is studying the problem along with the telephone company.

A Los Angeles county-wide committee has been formed on the problem of fire communications and there is discussion currently on further committee studies of purchasing and training.

“The basic problem,” a veteran chief explains, “which faces us in the coming years is boundary lines. Some of my colleagues try to avoid thinking about a metropolitan fire department. But I think it will come some day, if nothing else, as a cost-saving device. There are many cases where stations could be eliminated because another city has a house almost across the street. There are others where one city can give protection to another’s area better, more efficiently, than the city which has the legal responsibility.”

Material matters aside, the fire service faces a great challenge in the megalopolis of Southern California. Not insurmountable, the future must he met with vision, progressive thinking and careful planning by the fire executives. Respect and understanding for the fire service point of view must be won from the men who govern and administer the community, and the taxpayers who make up the community.

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