With the end of World War I and the Panama Canal open to shipping, the Los Angeles harbor and the fire department embarked on a period of extensive expansion and prosperity. The new Chief Engineer was Ralph J. Scott, a man who was soon to become one of the most progressive fire chiefs in the nation for his ability to take advantage of every trend and opportunity to upgrade the department. With Chief Scott’s support, a $2.5 million bond issue was passed in 1922 providing for 14 new fire stations, including three more in the harbor area and a new fireboat. This was in an era of large capacity fireboats. Every port worth its salt wanted a fireboat capable of dealing with the kind of disaster potential encountered in an active harbor.
On October 20, 1925, L.A. Fireboat Number 2 was launched at Los Angeles Shipbuilding and Dry Dock (later known as Todd Ship yard) in San Pedro at a cost of $214,000. Mrs. Scott christened the vessel “L.A. City No. 2” by breaking a bottle of fire-fighting foam across its bow. At 99 feet and a pumping capacity of 10,200 gallons per minute, Boat 2 was a beautifully engineered wrought steel, gasoline powered vessel. With five large turrets and up to a 6-inch nozzle tip, she had six pumps, three propellers, nine engines and a 44 foot high elevating turret, the first of its kind in the nation. She had a top speed of 17 knots and a crew of 14 LAFD members. The large 8-inch monitor known as “Big Bertha” could throw a stream of water hundreds of feet with devastating force.
In spring of 1926, finishing touches were completed on a magnificent wooden boat house and fire station to accommodate the new seagoing super-pumper. Located at Berth 226-227 on Terminal Island, it occupied a strategic position near the geographical center of the harbor. Boat 2 was there for the transition from wooden sailing ships to steel hulled power vessels.
Many modifications were made on Boat 2 during its over 77 years of continuous service so that it would retain a maximum capability in fire fighting and rescue operations. The gasoline engines originally installed were replaced by Hall-Scott gasoline engines in the mid 1940’s. In the mid 1970’s all the gasoline engines were replaced with diesel engines. After the engine changes the pumping capacity of the boat increased from 13,500 gallons per minute to its current capacity of 18,655 GPM at 150 psi. It is interesting to note that the six Byron Jackson bronze 4-stage centrifugal pumps were never changed and still work as efficiently as they did 77 years ago. Now “Big Bertha” can produce 10,000 GPM at nearly 500 feet.
Major upgrade improvements were made to the boat in 1969 thanks to plans from fireboat Captain Warner L. Lawrence. Improvements included: a modernized pilot station and engine room (the boat’s steering wheel was replaced with lever steering controls at this time), new hydraulic stainless steel monitors, six bulwark nozzles, under water maneuvering jets, large capacity under-wharf monitors, and a hydraulic lift boom and winches. This modernization and increased effectiveness resulted in the reduction of staffing from 14 crew members to eight. Special equipment and personnel were added to the boat’s capability including certified LAFD SCUBA divers for underwharf fire fighting and water rescue operations.
The “Ralph J. Scott” has been involved in responding to emergencies in the Port of L.A. for over 77 years. A record that will be hard to match by any response apparatus in years to come. The first major fire fought by this famous boat was aboard the steam schooner “Sierra” which caught fire laden with Douglas fir lumber on March 3, 1926. Boat 2 responded to the first major wharf fire in December of 1926 at Berth 175. As the years past, the boat fought fires in baled cotton on the docks, fires in refineries and aboard ships, and in warehouses. Several large fires occurred during the 1940’s. 1200 feet of wharf and a warehouse was destroyed on May 14, 1941, at Berth 88 in San Pedro. In 1943, an early morning fire burned the South Coast Cannery near Fish Harbor. Berth 223 was the scene of a disastrous explosion and fire on October 21, 1944, with 16 killed and 50 injured. The fire destroyed 200 feet of wharf, two Navy vessels, and 25 vehicles. It was June 22, 1947, however, that the firemen of the day recall most vividly. At Berth 167 in Wilmington, the tank ship Markay, while taking on a cargo of gasoline and butane blend, suddenly exploded killing 11, injuring 22 and setting fire to wharves and warehouses located at Slip 1. At one point, Boat 2 was forced to plow its way through a sea of fire with its monitors opening the way to protect the upper reaches of the slip. A very risky and brave operation by the crew. The fire loss was over $5 million.
In 1951 Boat 2 pumped into a 10 inch line for several hours to supply water to companies fighting a large fire at the Union Oil Refinery. The Matson Terminal fire at Berth 200A in 1960 was burning a large area of the wharf when Boat 2 cut the fire off saving the wharf and a container crane. A grain terminal fire wharf fire in 1967 at Berth 174 found Boat 2 both cutting the fire off and supplying water to the LAFD SCUBA divers. On August 8, 1972, a major fire occurred at the General American Transportation Corporation (GATX). Several tanks of various petroleum products and chemicals were exploding and burning with one tank rocketing up high into the air and landing on a warehouse roof next to some of the firefighters on the ground. Fireboat 2 pumped through 17 hose lines for more than three hours. In January of 1974, the Starkist Tuna Cannery caught fire and Boat 2, along with the other LAFD fireboats, was credited with saving adjacent cannery buildings. The evening of December 17, 1976, was suddenly shattered by an enormous explosion and fireball in the outer harbor. The super-tanker Sansinena had blown in half at her moorings at Berth 46, killing nine and injuring 22. Fireboats rescued more than 18 crewmen from the water, and boats and land companies fought the fire for many hours. As a result of this catastrophe, a new policy of LAFD tanker inspections was implemented. In 1988 the S.P. slip at Berth 73 was the scene of a major fire involving the wharf and several fishing boats. The quick action of fireboats and land companies saved hundreds of feet of wharf and dozens of fishing boats and their valuable nets.
On May 8, 1965, Fireboat 2 was renamed the “Ralph J. Scott” in honor of the progressive Fire Chief who was involved in the development of the boat and a special ceremony included a water display parade up the main channel. The water display from Boat 2 is spectacular and was a part of all major harbor celebrations including the “Tall Ships” visit to the Port of L.A. in 2002 and the dedication of the new LAFD Boat 2, the “Warner L. Lawrence” in 2003.
Fireboat 2 celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1975 and in 1976, the boat was named a Los Angeles City Historic-Cultural Monument. In 1989 the U.S. National Park Service designated the “Ralph J. Scott” a National Historic Landmark because it possesses national significance in commemorating the history of the United States of America.
On April 12, 2003, a special dedication and retirement ceremony took place in the Harbor with four new LAFD fireboats replacing four old fireboats. The Ralph J. Scott was retired from service, but not before it was used to dedicate the new LAFD Fireboat 2, and put on a memorable water display.
Because of its significance, the “Code 3” model company made a model of the “Ralph J. Scott” for many to remember and enjoy in the years to come. Since they are no longer in production, the Historical Society purchased many of them for future sales and special gifts. The boat has truly become a landmark of the harbor and Los Angeles having been visited by thousands of people and appearing in movies and on television.
The Ralph J. Scott was retired after a record of over 77 years of continuous service having been replaced by a new more powerful Fireboat 2 capable of pumping more than 38,000 gallons per minute. Old Fireboat 2 has certainly become a legend and one the most famous fireboats in the world. The LAFD Historical Society, working with the City of Los Angeles, Fire Department, and Port of Los Angeles embarked on a plan to preserve this great historic landmark for generations to come by placing it near its last firehouse, Station 112 at Berth 86. It will be placed in a beautiful setting on land, in its own museum, surrounded with displays, so that people can see and learn about this magnificent fireboat and its service to the citizens of Los Angeles and of course the personnel who worked on it.
The Preservation Project
In June 2002, the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) formed an advisory committee which included Los Angeles Harbor Department (LAHD) and the Los Angeles Fire Department Historical Society (LAFDHS), and began consultation with a variety of community groups and government agencies including the National Park Service and the California State Historic Preservation Office, concerning the fate of the fireboat Ralph J. Scott, a National Historic Landmark, on her pending retirement from active duty. To support the work of the committee, the LAHD commissioned two studies: one to evaluate the condition of the vessel (Vessel Inspecting Report: MV Ralph J. Scott Los Angeles Fire Boat No. 2 (Retired) by Robert Allan LTD. Naval Architects, 2003) and the second to develop a plan for its the historic preservation (Final Historic Preservation Plan for the Fireboat Ralph J. Scott, 2006).
The consensus of the committee and the greater community was that the Ralph J. Scott should be preserved, and its NHL status should be maintained. To that end the LAFD, LAHD, and LAFDHS have embarked on a plan, to rehabilitate and preserve the Ralph J. Scott as a museum vessel and public education display, near Fire Station 112, as part of the multimillion dollar redevelopment of the San Pedro waterfront in the Port of Los Angeles.
The Ralph J. Scott Historic Preservation Plan provides an overall preservation framework as well as specific recommendations. The preservation plan includes:
• Historic context
• Stabilization plan
• Documentation plan
• Preservation approach
• Interpretive plan
• Work plan
The LAFD agreed to allow the Scott’s incorporation into the Port of LA redevelopment project designed to connect the community to the waterfront, enhance community – and visitor – serving commercial opportunities and thereby revitalize the waterfront. The redevelopment project passed environmental review and construction of project elements began. The LAHD will provide the land and construct a two-storied protective structure which will complement and support the historic context of the fireboat, protect its historic materials, and not detract nor compete with the Scott while providing the public the opportunity to view the vessel.
The LAFDHS took on the responsibility for the rehabilitation of the Scott before her placement into her permanent home. Key personnel in this effort include William Dahlquist, retired LAFD with over 20-years as crew member and fireboat pilot and volunteer in charge of the rehabilitation of the Scott and retired Assistant Chief Frank Borden, Director of Operations for LAFDHS as co-chair with Bill on project oversight. Most of the work so far has been carried out by LAFDHS volunteers with some help from members of FS 112.
There are two facets of the project, first the rehabilitation of the vessel in preparation for its new role as a museum vessel and public education tool, and secondly construction of the protective structure in which it will permanently reside. Rehabilitation will focus on addressing the deterioration of the vessel’s fabric by removing paint and corrosion down to bare metal and applying new protective covering to the vessel, removing residual oils from the machinery and equipment, cleaning and performing repairs to the vessel to return her to the appearance in her final years of operation. Long-term preservation will be achieved by placement of the vessel on a specially engineered and constructed foundation providing support along the length of her keel to prevent over stressing and damage to the vessel and enclosing the vessel in an purpose built climate controlled building for her display and protection from the elements.
Once placed within the building and a controlled environmental, maintenance needs of the Scott will be vastly reduced and supplied by staff and volunteers from the LAFDHS, many of which are retired Scott crew members. The building will open to the public for viewing of the fireboat. The LAFDHS will also provide, in conjunction with the LAHD and LAFD, an educational program using the fireboat with static and interactive displays within the building space, to present the story of the Scott and the firefighters who manned her, firefighting in the Port of Los Angeles and history of the Port itself. In addition, the building will have a transparent wall facing a plaza to be constructed as part of the waterfront redevelopment project. With the building closed, the fireboat will still be visible during the day and when illuminated at night.
04/12/03 – RJS retired from active service. LAFD, LAFDHS and POLA join together to plan for the preservation of the vessel on land in a covered building.
12/09/03 – RJS receives Vessel Inspection Report from Robert Allen Ltd.,
08/12/04 – RJS moved to Larson’s Boat Works for hull bottom rehabilitation.
08/20/04 – RJS removed from the water by Connely Pacific barge crane, and moved to a location on the wharf top at the foot of Third Street.
09/03/04 – Limited work starts on preparing for preservation and rehabilitation. A 40 foot shipping container installed along side RJS.
05/11/05 – Attended a NHL Owners and Stewards meeting in Riverside.
07/13/05 – First LAFDHS RJS Committee Report submitted.
06/01/06 – RJS Rehabilitation Program submitted by LAFDHS.
07/01/06 – Final Historic Preservation Plan submitted by Jones and Stokes Company.
02/28/07 – Waterfront Improvement Project begins environmental review.
07/18/08 – LAFDHS meets with POLA and consultant architects to discuss the RJS Museum project.
10/01/09 – Harbor Commission Approves $1.2 Billion Waterfront Project.
09/16/10 – San Pedro Downtown Harbor Project submitted including the design of the new RJS Museum.
2011/2014 – Rehabilitation work continues using a small volunteer group from the LAFDHS. Work includes all aspects of the vessels condition and systems. Items have been removed, tagged, photographed, location measurements taken, drawings made and placed in a shelter awaiting restoration, after which they will be placed in protective containers awaiting re-installation. A temporary covering structure was purchased by POLA and installed in 2013 by Mahaffey Tents.
A four volume History of Ralph J. Scott fireboat is nearly completed and a 2 volume rehabilitation history and work log is also underway. A number of various scale drawings both original and later have been preserved.
During the remainder of 2014 and through 2016 work will continue to prepare the boat for its move into its museum building. The new tent will provide protection for the boat from the weather and an improved working environment for the volunteers. Fund raising for the rehabilitation of the boat will continue as well as volunteer recruitment. It is anticipated that the building to house the boat will be completed in 2016/17.
[PHOTO – Caption “Our volunteers now work on the boat inside the tent that protects the boat and them from the environment.”]
Financial Support through Donations
Why is LAFD Fireboat 2 – The Ralph J. Scott – Important?
1. The Ralph J. Scott is the longest serving piece of Los Angeles Fire Department apparatus at 78 years.
2. The Ralph J. Scott is a classic example of generation riveted wrought steel hull fireboats
3. The Ralph J. Scott has an outstanding record of emergency and non-emergency service to the Port of Los Angeles.
4. The Ralph J. Scott is recognized as a Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Monument.
5. The Ralph J. Scott is recognized by the U.S. Department of Interior, National Park Service National Maritime Initiative as a National Historic Landmark.
6. The Ralph J. Scott is listed on the National register of Historic Places.
7. The Ralph J. Scott and crew served with honor, courage and distinction for over seven decades.
The LAFD Historical Society is referred to as Stewards of the “Scott” by the National Park Service with regard to its National Historic Landmark Status.
The Preservation Project for the Scott will require the finest engineering, craftsmanship and over-site to be successful. Funding is a major challenge for the preservation project to be completed.
We need support from our LAFD active and retired members and the general public in the way of volunteers to help work on the boat and donors who will be recognized for their contribution in the new boat museum and receive a special gift. Donor levels start at ”Firefighter” $100 and go up from there to “Diver” $500; “Mate” $1,000; “Engineer” $2,000; “Pilot” $3,000; “Captain” $5,000; “Chief” $10,000. Of course any donation will help.
By William Dahlquist and Frank Borden