LOVE THEM, HATE THEM, RESPECT THEM OR NOT, the following members featured in this column and future ones, through their leadership and personal skills, have influenced the Department in an impactful way that has shaped the LAFD of today. They may look at themselves as just another firefighter, doing the job they were hired to do—we, however, recognize them as ICONS OF THE LAFD.
William Finn was born on February 13, 1940, at Methodist Hospital in downtown Los Angeles, just a few years prior to the beginning of World War II. Raised during a time of turmoil, his parents raised him with a sense of duty and honor, which remains instilled in him to this day. As a youth, Bill and his brother Jim, also a Captain, would prowl the streets of Fire Station 58’s district. Bill, as he preferred to be called, was your all-American kid, full of energy and hidden talents. At the early age of 13, Bill began his life of helping others, working summers at a Boy Scout camp on Catalina Island. From the ocean to the mountains, he continued with the Boy Scouts, moving to another camp in the Lake Tahoe area in 1956. Then, in high school, Bill would challenge himself in multiple sports, including running track and playing football for Hamilton High School.
At the age of 18, Bill met his first mentor, Ray Mangliers, who was his boss at a machine shop in West Los Angeles. Bill worked at the machine shop from 1958 to 1976, learning solid work ethics and skills passed along to him by Ray. Bill also worked part time at a gas station for a number of years. High school was not all work and no play. This was where he met the love of his life, Pam. A sweetheart of a woman, the two were married in September of 1962. In 1968, Bill moved his family to Granada Hills where he and Pam would raise their two children, Doug and Heidi. His children would play an important role in his life. From 1976 to 1980, Bill coached his son’s AYSO soccer team and in 1977 went to England to play and tour with other teams.
Bill Finn’s career with the LAFD began in September of 1962. He was only 22 years of age. His probationary houses were all in Battalion 3. Fire Station 34 was his first assignment, followed by 26s, 94s and 58s. Eventually, Bill would return to old Fire Station 26, then located on Washington and Arlington Ave. This is where Bill learned his firefighting skills from what he called, “The Greatest Generation.” Individuals such as Mickey Parr, Lee Kebler and George Adams were just a few that were inspirational in his life and career. In late 1970, Bill was transferred to “new” Fire Station 26, located on Western Ave. and the 10 Freeway. He continued honing his firefighting skills and began studying for his first promotion. In April of 1975 he promoted to Engineer and was assigned to FS 99. Bill would eventually work his way back to FS 26 in August of 1976.
Bill then promoted to Captain I and was once again moved up on the hill to Fire Station 108. In 1980, while assigned to Fire Station 108, he was seriously burned during a flash-over at a structure fire on Ventura Blvd. Not letting this event hold him back, Bill transferred to a busier assignment at Fire Station 89 where he once again began studying, this time for Captain II. In May of 1981, Bill promoted to Captain II and was sent to Fire Station 14. There, he would have the honor and privilege to work and train with people like Bob Munoa, Mike Bennetts, Greg Ikeda, Manny Frausto, Mike McKnight, Brian Baltad, Freddy Purcel, Rene Ortiz, Selwyn Lloyd, Rick Massey, Mark Khitikian, and Ray Mayo.
At FS 14 Bill would build a solid working relationship with not only his crew but with the community, especially the youth. If it needed to be done his crew did it. Christmas was a special time for the members at FS 14 as they would assist the neighborhood by decorating the annual Christmas tree on 42nd St. and Central Ave. When locals were in trouble Captain Finn and his crew stepped up to help, once with raising money for a funeral and burial costs for a son of a man that frequented the station selling peanuts. Bill credits Selwyn Llyod for the extra effort in this matter.
Captain Finn was an “old school” type of Captain. He didn’t wait for things to get done. He took charge and made sure the job was done correctly, including station projects. Under his command many upgrades were made to Fire Station 14. The hand ball court was enclosed and wood floors installed. The crew painted multiple rooms and also dry-walled the ceiling in the front office and recreation room. Tile floors were also put down in the front office, recreation room and the kitchen. Thanks to Chief Anthony, the kitchen was remodeled with new cabinets, counter tops and sink, but no TV in the kitchen. The kitchen was sort of a sacred area to the members, especially Bill. To him it was a special place, where friendly talk occurred and relationships were strengthened. A wide variety of subjects always arose, everything from personal issues to training were discussed. Camaraderie was also a big part of this family gathering.
Bill Finn is not all about book knowledge. He drew from all his experiences needed to be a good leader. He witnessed tragedy first hand in 1963 when the Baldwin Hills Reservoir collapsed destroying multiple homes and covering the streets in mud up to 20 feet thick. He frequently battled fires in craftsman styled homes that are still abundant in FS 26’s district. He witnessed the Watts Riots in 1965 and worked long enough to experience a second civil disturbance in 1992. He recovered bodies from the Ponet fire and found multiple people alive during search and rescue efforts during the 1971 earthquake. In 1972 a large explosion occurred in a sewer at Pico and Muirfield. Captain Finn distinguished himself at this incident, earning the Medal of Valor for his actions. In 1973 he fought the infamous Stratford Hotel fire where 25 people were killed and earned his pay at the Paramount Studio sound stage fire in 1983. In 1992 the Los Angeles Firefighter’s Association recognized his outstanding abilities and honored Bill as the 1991 Firefighter of the Year.
Along the way Bill Finn never forgot where he came from and what was really important in life. He also acknowledged that he had the privilege of working around a group of exceptional people. His crews were always pushed to perform at a high level but were always treated fairly. At Fire Station 14, he worked with probably one of the most diverse crews in the City and made it work; however, on April 30, 2007, Bill finally decided to retire after 45 years of service. During his career his goal was to make sure they all took care of each other and to serve the community in which they worked to the best of their abilities. These goals were accomplished through constant training and staying committed to one another. Even though they worked and played hard, they kidded each other even harder, all knowing not to take it personally because they were family. And speaking of family, time spent together with his crew and family was always a priority for Bill, especially during the holidays when all family members were welcomed into the station.
When coming to a decision on who to honor as an Icon of the LAFD, many factors were considered. Bill Finn’s professionalism, commitment to excellence, and his ongoing dedication to the men and women of the LAFD made him an easy choice. We here at the Los Angeles Firemen’s Relief Association would like recognize Captain II William Finn for his many years of dedicated service to the citizens of Los Angeles. Thank you, Captain Finn, and congratulations on being an LAFD Icon.
By John Hicks