LAFD History: Chief Engineer Archibald Eley

March 31, 2019

Reprint of A CENTURY OF SERVICE 1886 – 1986

The First Women on the LAFD

Chief Engineer Archibald Eley realized it would be many years before the city could afford fulltime, paid firefighters and stations throughout the rapidly-growing community. Volunteer companies had to be formed to supplement the LAFD’s protection, especially in outlying districts. In addition to those part-paid, part-volunteer companies in the harbor area and Hollywood, the department was, by 1914, supporting 14 volunteer companies in areas including Gardena, the Los Feliz district, Mount Washington, Atwater and Palms.

Innovative as he was in fire protection, Eley came up with still another idea when he personally encouraged the formation of volunteer fire companies of women who were taught to operate hand-drawn, two-wheel hose reels. Eley’s logic that many men worked downtown or in the industrial districts during the day; thus leaving a shortage of men to fight fires in the residential areas.

Captain Marie Stack was officially appointed head of the Los Angeles Fire Department’s first all-women volunteer fire company consisting of two female firefighters who reported Captain Stack. To signify her position, Eley presented Captain Stack was a regulation fire cap and badge. The women answered their first alarm on June 6, 1912, when they were called to a grass fire at Third and Flowers Streets. They had the fire well in hand as Engine 3 firefighters arrived and assisted them by beating out the embers with wet gunnysacks.

The LAFD’s second female volunteer fire company was formed two months later among socially-prominent women in the exclusive First Street and Manhattan Place area in the western outskirts of the city. Their district was so large that they equipped their two-wheel hose reel with a device which enabled the rig to be hooked to the rear end of one of their automobiles and pulled to fires. Officially known as the Manhattan Place Volunteer Fire Brigade of the LAFD, Captain J.A. Caldwell and the matrons renamed their outfit The Society Fire Department. In Wilmington, two years later, women formed The Wilmington Park Fire Ladies. Their chief, Louise Leonardo, and her fellow volunteers showed off their bright red hose reel with 700-feet of hose and long tow rope. The rig was housed near the Wilmington Park Library. Setting citrus grove smudge pots afire, they showed their prowess to Eley and newsmen as they quickly doused the fires with their two-and-one-half inch hose line and a large, straight-bore nozzle.

Written by Frank Borden (Director of Operation of the LAFDHS) for the Los Angeles Firemen’s Relief Association’s Firemen’s Grapevine Magazine. “In March of 1910, Archie J. Eley became Chief Engineer. Chief Eley was originally appointed Call Man of 1892 and Lieutenant First Class in January of 1900. During this period the two platoon system was established, changing to 24 hour shifts. Chief Eley was responsible for getting the first large fireboat for the LAFD. Fireboat 1 was later named after the chief. He also formed a Women’s Fire Brigade in 1910.”


Chief Engineer Eley’s Annual report of 1915


To the Honorable, The Mayor, The City Council and the Board of Fire Commissioners of the City of Los Angeles.


During the year the Fire Department has responded to 2723 alarms, 2415 of which were actual fires, being 123 more than last year, with a property loss of $773,035.00, which is $494,820.00 less than last year. During the year the Fire Department at San Pedro responded to 115 alarms, 110 of which were actual fires, with a property loss of $122,525.00. Within the past year the following improvements have been made: visa: A one-story frame bungalow Engine House was constructed at Wilmington to house a motor-driven combination chemical and hose wagon.

Construction of the following bungalow engine houses has been completed and placed in commission:

Engine Co. No. 32, located at 2930 W. 1st St., equipped with a Seagrave motor driven combination chemical and hose wagon, with the necessary equipment of 2 1/2-inch hose, accessories, and a full crew of men. Engine Co. No. 33, located at 244 W. Florence Ave., equipped with a Seagrave motor driven combination chemical and hose wagon with the necessary equipment of 2 1/2-inch hose, accessories and a full crew of men. Engine Co. No. 34, located at 3834 S. Western Ave., equipped with an American LaFrance motor driven combination pumping engine and hose wagon, with the necessary equipment of 2 1/2-inch hose, accessories and a full crew of men. Engine Co. No. 35, located at 1314 N. Vermont Ave., equipped with a Seagrave motor driven combination chemical and hose wagon, with the necessary equipment of 2 1/2-inch hose, accessories and a full crew of men.

During the year the following motor driven apparatus has been purchased: Two front-drive Christie Tractors for engines. One Moreland chassis. Three Moreland combination chemical and hose wagons. One Hupmobile five-passenger auto for Assistant Chief.

106 additional fire hydrants were purchased and installed in the districts supplied by private water companies.14, 000 feet of 2 1/2-inch, cotton-jacketed, rubber-lined fire hose and 1000 feet of one-inch chemical hose was purchased, also various minor equipment. 750 tons of oat hay were purchased.

Systematic inspections have been made by the officers of the Department of all theatres, moving picture houses, basements, public buildings, department stores, hotels and apartment houses in order to enforce the fire ordinances, in order to aid in the prevention and spread of fire.


With the rapid growth of the City there is a corresponding increase in the number of fires and in order to give the fire protection that this calls for, I would recommend that a modern fire boat with a capacity of not less than 9000 gallons per minute be purchased, without delay, in order to give adequate fire protection to shipping, including the eight miles of wharfage and millions of dollars worth of property in such wharves, at Los Angeles Harbor, as the present method of fighting fires at the Harbor is entirely inadequate to cope with any serious fire, especially with the high winds that prevail there.

That a lot be purchased at Cypress and Pepper and a one-story bungalow engine house be built on same, with a motor-driven combination chemical and hose wagon be installed therein, with the necessary crew and equipment. That a one-story bungalow engine house be built on a lot owned by the City at 45th and Compton and a motor-driven combination pumping engine and hose wagon be installed therein, with the necessary crew and equipment. That a one-story bungalow engine house be built on a lot owned by the City at 10th and Gaffey Sts., San Pedro and a motor-driven combination pumping engine and hose wagon be installed therein, with the necessary crew and equipment. That a two-story double brick engine house be built on a lot owned by the City on Pasadena Ave., between Ave. 25 and Ave. 26, and that Engine Co. No. 1 at Pasadena Ave. and Ave. 19 be moved to this new house.

I also recommend that the following motor-driven apparatus be purchased in order to motorize several of the horse-drawn pieces of apparatus in the outlying districts, and also to give the Department the much-needed relief apparatus to keep the Department up to the right standard of efficiency: Eight motor-driven combination pumping engines and hose wagons for Cypress and Pepper, 45th and Compton, Wilmington, 10th and Gaffey Sts., San Pedro, Engine Co. No. 32, and to reconvert Hose Co.’s 1, 2, 5. Four motor-driven combination chemical and hose wagons. Three motor-driven city service trucks for Engine Houses 22, 29, 30. As the growth of the City is phenomenal, and the present area covers over 288 square miles, it is becoming quite a problem for the Fire Department to cover this large amount of territory without additional apparatus, all of which should be motor-driven, not only on account of the amount of territory over which buildings are widely scattered, but from an economical standpoint as well, and as a matter of efficiency in the Fire Department, and I strongly urge that all horse-drawn apparatus be motorized as rapidly as possible.

In conclusion, I desire to extend my thanks to his Honor, the Mayor, the Honorable Members of the City Council and the Board of Fire Commissioners, for their interest in matters pertaining to the Fire Department. Also, to the Prosecuting Attorney for the invaluable assistance rendered this Department in the enforcement of the Fire Ordinances.

I also wish to thank the officers and members of the Fire Department for their faithfulness, willingness and strict attention shown in the performance of their duties and to extend thanks to the Chief of Police and the members of the Police Department for assistance rendered at fires.

ARCHIE J. ELEY Chief Engineer


Former Fire Chief Eley Passes

Archibald J. Eley, former Chief Engineer of the Los Angeles Fire Department, died June 3 at Thousand Oaks, Ventura County. Funeral services were held June 7 at the Todd & Leslie Mortuary in Santa Monica, with internment in Woodlawn Cemetery. A uniformed detail of the fire department, under command of Assistant Chief Forrest W. Moore, was in charge of funeral arrangements.

Chief Eley on May 1, 1892 entered service with the department as a call man. Six months later, October 20, 1892, he received appointment as driver. In May of 1895 he became captain, and on May 24, 1910, after eighteen years of service in the department, he was appointed as chief engineer.

For nine years he remained at this post. Nine years which witnessed many of the major additions and improvements in the department, being a period that gave demonstration of the great future of the city.

Coming into control of the department at a time when politics had its effect in the personnel and conduct of the department Chief Eley, strict disciplinarian, immediately made known his intention of developing the department to the exclusion of politics and favoritism. He demanded physical fitness of the individual fireman and constant fire drills were the order of the day. Typical of his program is the statement credited to him: “It is a ticklish job when a man has to go up a high building with a scaling ladder or struggle with a twisting, writhing hose at the top of a tall ladder, and if that man has not had a lot of drilling it is no place for him.”

At the time of Chief Eley’s appointment there were but few pieces of motorized equipment in the city. An avowed exponent of power driven apparatus, he was instrumental in the constant replacements of horses by automobiles. A student of fire fighting methods he stressed fire prevention, his activities in this having much to do with the installation of sprinkling systems which have made a large contribution to the relatively small fire losses in this city and saved much money for owners of property in reduced insurance rates.

On June 30, 1919, Chief Eley retired after twenty-seven years an active member of the department. After a vacation period he accepted the appointment as chief of the fire department of Universal Studios, which place he held for twenty years. It is noteworthy that in this period there was never a major fire on the studio property.

Deputy Chief F. H. Rothermel and Captain Walter J. Shreves, retired, were drivers for Chief Eley in the latter years of his regime. Chief Rothermel recalls the Chief’s propensity for outdoor sports, especially hunting and fishing, and tells of many incidents reminiscent of this hobby. One of these, a trip to a lake back of San Diego in company with the Mayor, came near a disastrous conclusion. The pair had driven to the lake for a week end of fishing, taking with them a canvas boat the Chief had constructed. A hole in the boat caused the men to be left floundering in the water with drowning imminent. They fortunately made their way to the shore with all their gear at the bottom of the lake. Their car developed mechanical trouble, they finally being compelled to summon assistance from Chief Rothermel, who furnished transportation to get the disappointed vacationists back to Los Angeles.

An additional hobby of Chief Eley was prospecting. It is said that he was familiar with many of the formations of the state, making periodic solitary sorties into the mountains in quest of deposits of valuable minerals.

Three sons and two daughters survive Chief Eley. One son, Francis, is a lieutenant commander in the navy.

This article appeared in the July 1943 issue of the FIREMAN’S GRAPEVINE.

Submitted by Frank Borden

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