John H. Alderson succeeded Chief Scott in May of 1940. Chief Alderson came to California upon his release from the U.S. Army after World War I and was appointed to the Fire Department September 2, 1923. Fireman John Alderson entered an all motorized department; the last fire horse was put out to pasture in 1921. In only six years he was appointed captain on Salvage 2, located at 644 S. Figueroa Street; now a fashionable restaurant known as “Engine Co. 28.” John Alderson was soon tagged with the nickname of “Big John” for his size, 6’1” and 180 pounds, and his ability to make a clear cut solid decision without hesitation. When he was first appointed to the rank of battalion chief, he decided it was time to become, “just, firm and dignified” so he traded his beloved Mail Pouch chewing tobacco for cigars which would become his signature as the chief.
The chief was active in many areas to improve the lot of the members of the LAFD. He worked tirelessly in the formation of the Fire and Police Protective League and served as president in 1933, 1934, 1936 and 1938. Alderson guided the department through the lean years of World War II when there was a shortage of manpower, fuel, apparatus and replacement parts. The shortage of able bodied men to hire was aggravated by the many members who left the Department to serve in the armed forces. Of those men who served in the armed forces, nine would die in combat. The chief was also elected President of the International Association of Fire Chiefs in 1950. Alderson saw the advances in technology in the fire service and the need for advanced education for firemen, so working with USC he helped the university establish a four year course so a member could receive a BA degree in Fire Science. Later through his efforts working with the university a degree in Fire Administration was offered. During his tenure the Department became the first in the nation to use resuscitators as part of their service to the public. John H. Alderson retired from the LAFD on December 29, 1955, leaving behind a thoroughly modernized department.
In December of 1955, Frank H. Rothermel was appointed acting chief engineer until the appointment of William L. Miller as chief engineer in January of 1956. William Miller was born in Morrison, Iowa and graduated from Cedar Rapids Business College which led him into administrative jobs that included being a district circulation manager for the Los Angeles Examiner newspaper. A young Bill Miller joined the LAFD during the depression on June 1, 1933 and was assigned to Engine 63 in Venice. He was appointed captain in 1940 and assigned to Engine 40 and also served his fellow firemen and their families as president of the Los Angeles Firemen’s Relief Association; the only Chief Engineer to do so. His career was to take a big turn when he left the Fire Department to serve in the US Navy during World War II. Captain Miller wound up serving as a Lieutenant Commander on the admiral’s staff in the South Atlantic Fleet; he was appropriately put in charge of fleet damage control.
Starting with his appointment he began building the Department to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding population. He reorganized the Department staff with seven deputy chiefs, affectionately referred to as the “Seven Dwarfs.” They successfully retained the Class 1 underwriters rating which saved the citizens millions in insurance premiums through the years. He established Fire Service Day in 1956, which expanded statewide in 1957. He pressed for the passage of an ordnance which banned open fires in the City, thus greatly reducing the number of fire responses. He pressed for an accelerated building program to build new fire stations. Helicopters and Helitak Units were established; salvage and rescue units were combined and the first Fire Department rescue ambulances were put into service in the San Fernando Valley. Airport firefighting was moved into the jet age at both LAX and Van Nuys airports. Chief Miller established the three platoon system for staffing the Department. The Department conducted school burning tests which were to be published by the NFPA in books I & II. He started program Operation High Rise, formulating fire ground procedures for major high rise fires. Miller established the first Fire Research Laboratory for a fire department. Under the guidance of Miller the Department started and completed the stormy process of complete desegregation. Having met his personal goals, William L. Miller retired on July 16, 1965.
Raymond M. Hill was appointed chief engineer on April 25, 1966, and completely reorganized the command staff. Hill brought an austerity program to the Department by cutting positions and creating a constant manning system which specified exact staffing levels for fire companies and hired off duty members back to fill vacancies. These were known as Scheduled Overtime Days (SOD) which were paid at straight time without the benefits liability of hiring additional members to fill vacancies. Chief Raymond M. Hill retired in May of 1975.
On August 25, 1975, Deputy Chief Kenneth R. Long was appointed chief engineer. He initiated the use of the Incident Command System on the LAFD. His career as chief was to only last for less than two years when he retired in 1977.
Chief Long was replaced on June 30, 1977 by John C. Gerard who was promoted from the rank of deputy chief to chief engineer. Gerard served in the US Navy from 1948 to 1953 and reached the rank of chief petty officer at the time of his discharge. He was appointed to the LAFD on June 16, 1953, and promoted up through the ranks. In 1970, Gerard was promoted to battalion chief and while serving in that rank he received the Medal of Valor for leading the rescue efforts in the Sylmar Tunnel fire. At the time of his retirement, Chief Gerard was the center of a controversy when he and some chiefs of surrounding departments began campaigning to legalize fireworks. John C. Gerard retired from the LAFD on June 6, 1982.
Donald O. Manning was promoted from the rank of deputy chief to chief engineer on January 20, 1983. Chief Manning was chief engineer nearly twelve years and was able to see his two sons promote to the rank of chief officer before he retired. During his long tenure he was able to initiate many improvements in the Department including EMS, Urban Search and Rescue, the Community Emergency Response Team program and many more. Donald O. Manning retired in 1995.
Battalion Chief William R. Bamattre was promoted to the rank of chief engineer on April 23, 1996. Bill Bamattre was a native of Los Angeles who went on to receive a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Stanford University where he worked his way through school as a student/firefighter. He would later earn a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Cal State Los Angeles. The Bamattre family lived in Dana Point where they were active in their community; Bill was to become the inaugural mayor of Dana Point. When Chief Bamattre was appointed to the rank of chief engineer, the family relocated to the Northridge area of the City of Los Angeles. In the year 1998 the LAFD was to suffer one of its darkest periods with five firefighters meeting a violent end; one in a diver certification incident, another in a fire and three members in a helicopter crash. Chief Bamattre and his wife Liz became personally involved in trying to comfort the families and especially the young children left behind. Throughout his administration when he was away on business, Mrs. Liz Bamattre would attend funerals as his personal ambassador. Liz was to go on to take up the cause of a permanent Fallen Firefighter Memorial for the LAFD which was later erected in front of old Fire Station 27. Chief Bamattre is the last chief engineer of the LAFD because the rank was transitioned into the rank of fire chief where it stands today. He retired on January 1. 2007. Chief Bamattre and his wife Liz continue to actively support the mission of the LAFD Historical Society.
Chief Douglas Barry, Chief Milage Peaks, Chief Brian Cummings and our new Chief Ralph Terrazas were all given the title of Fire Chief.
Submitted by Frank Borden, LAFD retired