LAFD History – The Year 1910

March 31, 2018

Frank’s note: I rarely feature a single year of LAFD history, but I decided to use 1910 because one of our curators found a historical document from 1910 in our museum archives. It was the Battalion Chief’s exam from 1910. I included it in this article along with the happenings on the Department and the city during that year.

The City of Los Angeles had undergone a major growth period in 1910, adding 216,700 new residents, for a total population of 319,200. In 1909, the City annexed San Pedro, Wilmington and the harbor gateway bringing in the volunteer firemen from those areas. The “City of Hollywood” was also annexed, giving the LAFD its first motorized apparatus, an auto chemical hose vehicle.

We had two Chief Engineers during that year. Walter Lips succeeded Chief Engineer 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 as a Call Man in April of 1895.

After Walter Lips resigned in March of 1910, 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. 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.

Note from Frank: For you Captains who want to be Battalion Chiefs, try taking a practice exam with this 1910 test.

Questions from the 1910 Battalion Chief’s exam

1. In case of a fire what action should be taken?
    a. Before opening or ventilating a building?
    b. Before connecting to a standpipe?
    c. In a cellar stocked with cartridges?
    d. When there is a trolley wire in front of building?
2. A. What are the difficulties to be overcome in fighting a fire in a large apartment house and how would you overcome them? B. Joist building. C. Hill fire. D. Fireproof building. Answer in detail.
3. How would you destroy a building to prevent the spread of a fire in the business district?
4. Write a letter containing a hundred words on how to best preserve discipline in an engine house.
5. Give the most important duties on a Battalion Chief.
6. Write a sample report of a fire such as would be required of a Battalion Chief.
7. If attending a fire one of your Captains should report one of his men for drunkenness what action would you take.
8. If a three car train in front of the P.E. building on Main St. should catch fire from the motor, what would you do to extinguish it?
9. Outline the section of the building ordinance on the construction of fire escapes.
10. What firefighting apparatus is required by ordinance in a theater?
11. Give the different types of the engines in the fire department and their capacity.

Arithmetic

1. What would the interest be on $1452 at 8% per annum for 5 years and 6 months?
2. A fireman’s salary is $75.00 per month less 2% taken out for the relief fund. How much would he pay in the fund in 18 months?
3. If it took 8 men 9 hours to extinguish a fire, how long would it take 12 men?
4. How many bales of hay, each weighing 105 lbs., would 15 tons, 2240 lbs. to the ton make?

Write a 500 word letter to the Fire Commission recommending a way to create better discipline in the department.

THE LA TIMES BOMBING October 1910

At 1:07 in the morning on October 1,1910, the day new fire station 23 was to go into service, the most violent explosion to ever take place in the city of Los Angeles occurred at First and Broadway at the Los Angeles Times building. A bomb had been placed in the alley behind the building which was occupied by 100 employees. The explosion and resulting fire killed 20 workers and injured many more. A police officer walking his beat was knocked down by the blast. He got up and ran to Box 12 at First and Broadway and pulled the hook. The firemen at Station 3 were jolted awake by the explosion and some were knocked from their beds. It was a short run for Station 3’s chemical, hose, engine, and aerial ladder rigs. Never in their careers had so large a building been so totally involved.

When 3’s arrived, workers were at the windows trying to escape the flames and smoke. Some jumped before a life net was deployed and many who jumped were saved by the truck company members. A second and third alarm was sounded which brought a total of eight engines, two trucks, a combination chemical and hose wagon and the Gorter Water Tower (the same one that is in our Hollywood Museum). The firemen concentrated on protecting the exposed buildings and on controlling the fire in the Times building.

Fireman William Campbell of Engine 17 was operating a stream inside the first-floor window of the Times when the second floor collapsed. Campbell was buried up to his neck in a deluge of steel, brick and stone. His fellow firemen thought he had been killed until they heard him calling for help. While firemen covered Campbell with protective streams of water, a rescue team crawled over the rubble and for two hours worked to clear the debris until Campbell’s chest was free. The problem was an iron beam that had fallen across his foot and could not be moved. Firemen tried to cut the beam and pry the beam up but that did not work. “I guess my foot goes boys,” Campbell told his rescuers. The firemen refused to give up as more rocks and beams threatened to fall on them. Campbell pleaded with them to cut off his foot. After being trapped for three and one half hours, a receiving hospital doctor amputated his foot at the ankle and he was at last freed. Campbell miraculously survived but he never answered another alarm. He was pensioned due to his injury.

The bomb consisting of 16 sticks of dynamite and a clock timer was placed in the alley by a criminal element of a labor union. Two men were found guilty for the crime and sentenced to prison. Despite the destruction to the Times building they never missed an edition and rebuilt on the same site until they moved to their present location at First and Spring Streets on July 1, 1935.

The following story was written by Eddie King who was a Los Angeles policeman at the time of the bombing and nearby when it exploded. This article appeared in the November 1960 issue of the Firemen’s Grapevine.

Down Memory Lane
By Eddie King

If I lived to be a thousand years of age, I could not forget this great tragedy. The suitcases containing the dynamite were placed in Ink-Alley at the rear of the old TIMES building. And because of the floors being soaked with benzene, which every fireman knows is one of the most inflammable liquids known. As close as we were to this Times building and as quickly as Lt. Ferns and I could run, the heat was terrific, and it seemed the flames quickly covered each floor, burning those poor humans employed there on the night shift. My recollection is as clear of events, as if it were but yesterday. In fancy I can hear the screams of those poor souls, and tried in our feeble way to stay the jumps or falls from that burning building. Some tried to talk to Ferns and I before others came running, but their sufferings were so intense that they could not talk, only scream, and moan in their misery. Some that jumped from the top floor were killed outright on the cement sidewalk, others died on the way to the Receiving Hospital which was just around the corner.

The smell of burning human flesh was most nauseating, and I remember I became violent sick in carrying burned humans dying or dead to the hospital. The heat as I stated before was so intense that Ferns and I pulled our coats up over our heads in trying to carry those poor souls away. Never did I ever see a fire that was hotter, and I have seen many in my time.

Fifty years have gone by since that terrible night that this city witnessed one of its greatest tragedies. As the embers of that fire cooled we who stayed on the job until the last, found one body, pressed flat on its stomach in the farthest corner of that cement basement. This body, like many others, was burned black, only the underneath side of the body was white where the fire could not get to it. Ghastly you say, and how right you are.

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