In 1850 the Los Angeles City Council had the authority to form a fire department, however no action was taken until 1871 when the Volunteer Fire Department was formed. This was preceded by an informal volunteer organization born in Buffums’ Saloon in November of 1869. In 1874 the volunteers temporarily disbanded in anger when the City pulled appropriations for two horses to pull their apparatus; this was resolved by 1875 when the funding was restored. The members of Engine Company #1 reorganized under the banner of the Thirty-Eights #1, named for the 38 original members. Charles E. Miles was elected Foreman. Shortly after the founding of the Thirty-Eights a second engine company was formed and named Confidence Engine Company #2 with George Furman being the first foreman.
Charles E. Miles was the first Chief Engineer of the Volunteer Fire Department and Walter S. Moore was the first Chief Engineer of the LAFD, the paid fire department. The official start for the paid Department was January 12, 1886 when the Board of Fire Commissioners was created.
After unsuccessfully trying to put a suitable ladder truck into service, the department purchased a 65 foot extension ladder in 1876 which would be known as Vigilance Hook and Ladder Company #1. In 1878, the residents in the area of the 6th Street Park organized the Park Hose Company #1 which was furnished with a four wheel hose carriage drawn by two horses. During the fall of 1883 the last volunteer company was organized in the Morris Vineyard. The company was provided a fire house and a hose cart; their name would be Morris Vineyard Hose Company #3. During 1882, the employees of the Southern Pacific Railroad formed an engine company not affiliated with the City department; it was known as the Southern Pacific #1.
At the time the paid Department was formed the volunteers consisted of three hundred and eighty members: Engine Company #1 (the Thirty-Eights) situated in the Plaza, Confidence Engine #2 at 2nd and Main Streets, Vigilance Hook and Ladder Company #2 on Aliso Street below Alameda Street and Park House Company #1 at 5th and Spring Streets.
The paid Fire Department was created by the City Council on January 12, 1886 by the selection of a Board of Fire Commissioners. The Board elected Walter S. Moore, Chief Engineer of the Department on January 28, 1886, and handed him the responsibility for all 29 square miles of the City; today’s Department covers a city of 464.5 square miles. His career in the fire service began with his serving as a runner with Philadelphia Fire Company #18. Chief Moore had been active in the fire service in Los Angeles since 1875 when he joined Confidence Engine Company #2.
Chief Moore resigned on September 26, 1887 and was succeeded by Jacob Kuhrts (pro-tem) September 26, 1887. Jacob Kuhrts joined the Volunteer Fire Department in 1871 and was later elected president of the Volunteer Fire Department and served as the Foreman of 38’s Engine Company #1. Later in life he went on to serve for many years as a Fire Commissioner. The Amoskeg steamer in our Museum was named the “Kurtz” steamer because he was responsible for obtaining it for the LAFD. The first rig for the paid department.
Thomas Strohm succeeded Jacob Kuhrts in October of 1887 when he was elected by the City Council. Strohm would become Chief Engineer three different times. His career started on the Volunteer Fire Department as a member of the 38’s Engine Company #1 in 1876 where he served until the paid Department was formed. Chief Strohm was succeeded by D. A. Moriarity in January of 1888.
Moriarity served on volunteer departments in Nebraska, Nevada and Arizona before coming to Los Angeles. When he arrived in Los Angeles he joined Confidence Engine Company #2 and became foreman.
Thomas Strohm again became Chief Engineer in March of 1889 and was succeeded by Walter S. Moore in February of 1891. Michael Curran became Chief Engineer February 1, 1893. Chief Curran’s career started as did the others, with the old volunteer companies.
D.A. Moriarity succeeded Michael Curran in December of 1893. Walter S. Moore succeeded Chief Moriarity in February of 1895 and Thomas Strohm succeeded Chief Moriarity in April of 1900.
Walter Lips succeeded Thomas Strohm in February of 1905. Chief Lips had been engineer on Engine Company #3 just five years before he became Chief Engineer. He started his career by being appointed Call Man in April of 1895.
After Walter Lips resigned in March of 1910, John G. Todd became Acting Chief Engineer from March of 1910 to May, 1910 when Archie J. Eley became Chief Engineer.
Chief Eley was originally appointed Call Man in May of 1892 and Lieutenant First Class in January of 1900. During this period the two platoon system was established changing to 24 hour shifts. George H. O’Donnell became Acting Chief Engineer from August 1917 until April of 1918, in the absence of Chief Eley.
Chief Ralph J. Scott succeeded Chief Eley in July of 1919. Ralph J. Scott was appointed to the Fire Department in 1905, became a Lieutenant in 1909, Captain in 1913, Acting Battalion Chief and then to the rank of Battalion Chief, a rank which he held for one day before being appointed Chief Engineer on July 18, 1919. He started on a Department having 163 horses and saw the entire department go to motorized apparatus. As a man of great vision he would go on to form the LAFD Fire College for advanced training of department members.
Chief Scott was 34 years old when appointed Chief Engineer; he was single and lived with his mother and sister. Shortly after being appointed Chief Engineer he married Adeline Haas and for seven years they lived in the Chief’s quarters on the third floor of Engine 23. Mrs. Adeline Haas Scott was the only wife of a Chief Engineer to live in the Chief’s quarters.
When Chief Scott was appointed the City of Los Angeles was 400 square miles and had a population of 850,000. The LAFD had 57 pieces of equipment and 725 firemen. The Department averaged 3,000 fires per years with a loss of $1,600,000. Chief Scott was the longest serving Chief Engineer, serving from July 18, 1919 to April 1, 1940. During his tenure the City of Los Angeles absorbed the City of Venice in 1925, expanding the area of the City to 418.85 square miles This added two engine companies and one truck company to the apparatus inventory as well as twenty-nine men including one Captain, four Lieutenants, eight Auto Firemen and sixteen Firemen. Retired Chief Engineer Ralph J. Scott passed away at the age of 74 on September 17, 1958.
Next month – Chief Engineers of the LAFD, Part Two
Submitted by Frank Borden