Frank’s Note: This article appeared in the November 15, 1940 issue of The Grapevine. This is a great story written about the boat and its crew in 1940. Hope you enjoy the writing style and humor of Stanley Halfhill.
Los Angeles Fire Boat 2, that mighty engine of fire destruction that for 15 years has been cruising the waters of Los Angeles Harbor is here pictured in midstream of the harbor channel. Deep in its steel hull are housed seven powerful engines – six of which are geared to large centrifugal pumps capable of throwing fifty tons of water a minute through its turrets, while the seventh is being used to propel it into position.
The story of Fire Boat 2 and how it came into being in 1925 is well known. Built at the Los Angeles Shipbuilding and Drydock Corporation for an initial cost of $229,000, it is still one of the largest and most efficient on the West Coast. Less well known are its personal habits, its home and surroundings, its history and those of the many men who have trod its steel decks in the interim.
Home at Berth 227, Terminal Island, the fire boat is housed in a covered slip and moored “fore and aft, port and starboard.” It is groomed daily by a crew of eighteen men or so made up of one each of captain, pilot, mate, radioman, and the rest whose various duties are grouped under the one heading of deckhands
Its paintwork and brasswork are kept clean and shining by the deck force under the able and watchful eyes of the mates who look with a jaundiced eye upon rust or corrosion. The fight against deterioration is constant and down through the years many coats of paint and hundreds of cans of brass polish have been consumed, as well as thousands of hours of mechanical, electrical and ordinary labor to keep that splendid fitness that is characteristic of Fire Boat 2.
It is and has been a splendid weapon against the ravages of fire in its home waters, the second largest harbor in the U.S. As you look upon the pictured scent of its activity its enormous strength can be seen. “Big Bertha,” that turret atop the deck house can throw a stream from a six-inch tip for a distance of four hundred feet and needless to say can demolish almost anything but the most solid construction. Such strength has been needed on the waterfront where goods are stored in such quantities that, if and when fire results, it is of corresponding seriousness and difficulty.
Los Angeles Fire Boat 2 seems to be the “Show Boat” of the harbor. In the years that it has been “home to callers” thousands of visitors have trod its decks, peered through its ports, fingered its brass and paint work and marveled at its engine room. Thousands of school children have lined the cat-walk that surrounds the slip wherein it lies moored and watched round-eyed while a “man in blue” told of its wonders and pulled the whistle cord for their entertainment. Visitors have always been welcome down the long lane from Dock Street. Down the lane between the piles of lumber to the boat slip and house where are quartered the boat and its crew.
The crew of the boat have always seemed a bit “salty” to other members of the Los Angeles Fire Department. Perhaps because of their waterfront habitation, their marine occupation or just because so many of the members have served in Uncle Sam’s navy and at the boat have retained much of the picturesque speech of their salt water days. Among the crews that have manned the boat have been masters of ocean going vessels, officers of the Merchant Marine, Chief Petty Officers of the Navy and many who have served a “hitch or two” in the Navy. Of course many firemen who have worked on the Boat or are stationed there now have not had any previous marine experience. But at the Boat they soon learn “fore and aft, port and starboard” and how to chip paint, shine brass, and many jobs not done generally on the Fire Department.
At least six or seven of the original crew are still on the present crew and have seen continuous service on the boat for fifteen years. Many are the stories that they can tell of that service and of the boat. Space would not permit recounting their entire experiences.
Many are the tales of marine fires – of the strange things fires will do in the hold of a ship, or of burning wharves. But anyone can see from the picture of the Boat taken recently that Los Angeles No. 2 is ready as ever to answer the call of any victim of the “Red Demon” that would destroy, whether it be ship or warehouse or wharf; lumberyard or oil storage or barge. Like a great stallion at play, she is pictured, with the deep throated roar of her engines, the pounding of mighty hoofs, the silvery spray of her high flown water streams, the flying mane and tail, the imperious call of her whistle – the shrill challenge of a champion. She is ever confident of her conquering power and waiting the next trial of her eternal adversary and immortal enemy –FIRE.
Boat 2 Facts
Mounting five monitor guns, including a tower gun which could be extended 44 feet above water level, Los Angeles City No. 2 was one of the first large fire boats powered by gasoline. Carrying 2156 gallons of fuel, the fireboat featured a safety system which completely changed the air in the engine room every five minutes as a precaution against leaking gasoline vapors. A further safeguard against below deck fires was a bank of 18 carbon dioxide extinguishing agent cylinders forward of the water tower.
Originally the Los Angeles City No. 2 was powered by seven 350-horsepower, 6-cylinder in-line Winton gasoline engines. Three of these Wintons drove the center, port and starboard propellers for a top rated speed of 17 knots (the fastest fireboat afloat). The four other Wintons operated the forward-mounted pumps. Increased pumping capacity resulted from the dual capability of the two wing propulsion engines when they were switched from propulsion to pumping mode. There are six Byron Jackson four-stage centrifugal pumps mounted in pairs forward of the propulsion system. Each is rated at 1700 G.P.M. at 200 psi, for a total output of 10,200 G.P.M. In 1945 the seven Winton propulsion engines were replaced by Hall Scott engines. Two 625 H.P. V-12 Hall Scott Defenders drive the outboard screws. A 275 H.P. 6-cylinder in-line Hall Scott Invader drives the center screw. The six Byron Jackson four-stage centrifugal pumps, mounted in pairs forward of the propulsion system are driven as follows: Pumps No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, and No. 4 are driven by one of the 275 H.P. 6-cylinder in-line Hall Scott Invaders. Pumps No. 5 and No. 6 are driven by one of the 625 H.P. V-12 Hall Scott Defenders.
Beginning in 1975 the gasoline engines were replaced with diesels, and by 1978 two 700 H.P. V-12 Cummins, three 380 H.P. 6 cylinder in-line Cummins and two 525 H.P. V-12 – 2 cycle Detroits powered the fireboat. The engines and Byron Jackson pumps were still in perfect working order when the boat was retired on 2003. The total pump rating was 18,000 GPM.
Current Status of Old Fireboat No.2 “The Ralph J. Scott”
Since the old boat was retired in 2003, volunteer members of the LAFD Historical Society and some of the members of Fire Station 112 have been working on restoring the boat for eventual display in a new museum on the waterfront in San Pedro. Since the 1940 article was written, the boat had undergone many changes to modernize it along its 78 years of service. We rely on volunteers and donations to keep our job going and we have few of both at this point. We have saved a great deal of money by doing the work ourselves. Hiring it out would be very costly. Thanks to the Port of LA we have a protected environment for the boat in a huge tent so that the work that we finish will last for awhile.
Our primary project now is restoring the boat’s tower – the most difficult job on the list. We thought we would have to hire it out, but retired Engineer Mark Howell came up with a design for a scaffolding that saved the day, giving our workers safe access to all parts of the structure. We are using pneumatic tools called “rattlers” to remove the layers of paint and rust to get to bare metal and ready for primer and coats of enamel. As this is being done dozens of small parts like brackets, lights, etc. and being removed and refurbished.
Retired Fireboat Pilot Bill Dahlquist is our foreman and has the plan of work laid out for us. We work on the boat on Fridays from 0800 hours to around 1200 hours. If you are interested in restoring the LAFD’s National Historic Landmark, please contact us or email me direct at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can sure use the help. We gladly accept donations for the project. Any amount is appreciated, but we have a donor program for those donating $100 or more that includes the donor’s name on a special wall and a gift depending on the level of donation.
In August the “Tall Ships” will be in San Pedro and the “Scott” will be open to the public as one of the featured vessels along with its neighbor the US Battleship Iowa. There will be dozens of large sailing vessels for visitors to see and board.
By Frank Borden