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Topic: History

Museum Info

Hollywood Museum

1355 N. Caheunga Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90028
(323) 464 - 2727
SAT 10a - 4p

Harbor Museum

638 Beacon Street
San Pedro, CA 90731
(323) 464 - 2727
SAT 10a - 3p

Off-hour tours available
by special request.

Topic: History

Memories of Northridge

The Northridge Earthquake - The LAFD Historical Society Remembers.

Northridge Earthquake Damage

This week, Los Angeles is buzzing with memories of the 1994 Northridge earthquake. At 4:31 on the 17th of January in 1994, a significant earthquake ripped through the San Fernando Valley, northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Although centered in Reseda, the Northridge quake as it is known, killed 57 people, sent 1,600 to area hospitals, and injured more than 8,700.

From a scientific perspective, this was an interesting quake, and quite different from the one most eyes are trained on: the San Andreas. When the San Andreas next rips, it will shift the ground side to side - a slip fault. The Northridge fault pushed up - a blind thrust fault called the Pico fault.

The Northridge quake wasn't a particularly large quake on the magnitude scale - a 6.7 magnitude, but it was one of the most destructive local quakes ever recorded in North America. A freeway overpass on the Santa Monica Freeway collapsed more than 20 miles from the epicenter.

We're learning more about new and potentially deadly faults all the time. Hollywood has been at the center of a battle over the construction of new buildings close to fault lines. And, with good reason. The USGS is worried that a major quake in Hollywood would kill or injure more than 11,000 people, cause more than $20 billion in damage, and literally destroy the Hollywood area. Fire following a quake like that could bolt not only through Hollywood itself, but the neighboring Hollywood HIlls. It was fire that destroyed most of San Francisco after the Big 1906 quake, and more than 110 fires destroyed blocks of buildings following the Northridge quake.

The Los Angeles Fire Department Historical Society is headquartered in Hollywood, and Old Fire Station 27 - now the home of the LAFD Museum - has some significant earthquake history. In fact, it's only because of the building being damaged in an earthquake that the City of Los Angeles eventually agreed to lease it to the LAFD Historical Society. 

Our friends at MySafe:LA have gathered a number of interviews with LAFDHS members, including Director of Operations Frank W. Borden - and are making those interviews available via podcast. You can learn more by visiting the MySafe:LA podcast.

Have you seen our Flickr photos?

The LAFDHS Flickr photo libraryOne of the most important aspects of recording history is photographs. The Los Angeles Fire Department Historical Society has literally thousands of photographs that document the long, storied history of the LAFD. And now, for the first time, we're publishing a number of those photographs via Flickr.

This new addition to the LAFD Museum ecosystem highlights our activities, the Hollywood and Harbor museums, Photo Archive, and the restoration of Fire Boat 2, the Ralph J. Scott to museum status in San Pedro California.

To visit the Flickr photo library: click here!

Check back often. There will be many exciting images to view!

50 Years Later - We Remember the Bel Air Disaster

Bel Air Fire
On November 6th, 1961, the City of Los Angeles experienced the worst fire in the history of the city - to that point in time. The Bel Air Fire destroyed nearly 500 homes, and it was a miracle that nobody died as a result of the wind-driven flames.

As the November winds begin to pick up this week, we encourage you to check out this important reminder of how quickly a wildfire can destroy a neighborhood, even in today's modern world.

Read our story: Remembering the Bel Air Fire of 1961

The LAFD Historical Society Celebrates 10-4 Day

Art Gilmore at the LAFD museum in Hollywood in 2009.Every year, Hollywood celebrates 10-4 Day. It's a police code for "message received." For the past several years, the celebration has included a parade that has started in front of the LAFD museum and hheaded to thte Hollywood Walk of Fame.

"2150 Bye" - that was the famous line delivered by actor Broderick Crawford, who played CHP Chief Dan Mathews on the television show "Highway Patrol" (1955-1959). But the show's real history was set in stone by its narrator, Art Gilmore.

This year, the parade is more than just a celebration of the protection provided by the CHP. Art Gilmore passed away in September and for many participants, the parade is a tribute to him and his remarkable voice.

In 2009, when Art attended his last 10-4 event, he was still vibrant and funny. He told the assembled crowd that when he was doing the show, he was stopped for speeding. He told the officer that, "I'm the guy who does the Highway Patrol narration." The CHP officer demanded that he prove it with a demo. Art launched into his prologue for the show and was interrupted as the CHP officer exclaimed, "you don't sound anything like him. If you don't be quiet, I'll arrest you!"

The photo to the right was taken by MySafe:LA founder David Barrett during the 2009 event.

Check out this gallery on laist: 10-4 Parade.

Happy New Year!

On behalf of the Board of Directors, Officers, and Volunteers of the LAFD Historical Society, we'd like to wish you and your family a prosperous and safe 2010.

You are invited to visit either of our museums (Hollywood and the LA Harbor), and we're eager to have new members, new volunteers, and new sponsors - as there is much work underway. Our memorial plaza, while fully functional, requires ongoing maintenance. The rehabilitation of Old Fireboat #2 in San Pedro is one of our significant priorities for 2010, while the Harbor museum continues to bring in new visitors every weekend.

To set the year off on the right foot, we encourage you to check out the New Year's Greeting from the Los Angeles Fire Department. Featuring a tribute video produced by Cameron and David Barrett in 2005, the message holds true: The LAFD will be there, whenever you need them.

And, from our house to yours, know that the LAFD Museum and Memorial will be there for you as well. We look forward to seeing you in 2010.

The Way It was: LAFD Training Film

Company Response!

When you evaluate all of the various ways in which first responders train today, it's easy to think of the past as a more simple time. Yet, a quick look back reveals that training was as important then as it is today.

The Los Angeles Fire Department has a proud tradition of training its officers and firefighters. Take a look at this training film from the middle of the last century and you'll discover the specific emphasis placed on being safe, and training as if each firefighter's life depended on it. It's really a fine example of LAFD in action.

The LAFD Museum thanks

For those of you interested in the history of the department, check out the vintage apparatus. Can you identify each one of the rigs featured in the show? Share your expertise by adding a comment to this blog posting.

Can you identify each of the stations featured in the film?

What era were the black turnout helmets used in?

We welcome any feedback or comments you may wish to share.

Damron's Badge Comes Home

LAFD BadgeCaptain Steve Ruda was walking along the street, awed by the destruction that lay before him. The disastrous Sayre Fire had blown through the Oakridge Mobile Home Park just one week earlier, destroying more than 500 homes. Now, residents were finally allowed back in, if only temporarily, to sift through the remains of their homes, searching for anything that might be of value.

Ruda, a Captain II with the Los Angeles Fire Department, has years of experience with wildfires, but this was different. “Entire blocks of homes were gone,” he recalled. “It was extremely emotional for our firefighters, as they did everything they could to save these homes.”

Here and there, a gutted car sat in a driveway, the only remaining elements being scorched metal. The only identifiable remains for most homes were mailboxes that tilted at crazy angles next to the street.

Captain Ruda, the Task Force Commander for 27s, was working with his crew to help open safes for homeowners, who would then retrieve the few valuables inside not consumed by the heat and fire.

As Ruda walked along the street, he noticed an older woman, with several young women sifting through rubble, and when they saw him, they motioned for him to come over. As one of Ruda’s roles was to provide support to the homeowners, he strode directly over to them. “I don’t know for sure,” said the older woman, “but this may be of interest to you.”

She offered the Captain a browned, rusted piece of metal. Ruda turned it over and over in his hand. There was a seal on the metal and at first glance, it looked like the seal of the City of Los Angeles. And a word... Fireman. “This looks like an LAFD Firefighter’s badge. A very early one,” Ruda said to the women. The older woman nodded and said, “that badge belonged to my father, George Damron.”

Flash back to 1935. The history books indicate it was a typical southern California Saturday morning on September 7th. Downtown bustled with the many activities of Los Angeles, including the hectic garment district, where clothing and other materials were manufactured. The Mission Painted Fabrics Company was just one of those businesses. A wide array of volatile chemicals were used in the manufacturing process, often in large tanks or vats, to waterproof the often painted fabrics. One of the vats was called, “a dipping tank,” and it was open so canvas or other fabrics could be dipped into it. The vat contained a combination of wax, petroleum oil, gasoline thinner, and paint pigment.

At approximately one quarter past ten o’clock in the morning, the owner of the business, Elliot Theobold and Superintendent, Gordon Gould, were standing near several of these tanks, when they noticed a “flash of fire” just off the ground near the open waterproofing vat. The canvas caught fire and within seconds the vapor in the room ignited, filling the structure with smoke and flames. Lucky to be only slightly burned by the flashover, Theobold rushed to his office and called the fire department. Outside, a passerby also witnessed the fire and pulled three different fire alarm boxes. The initial assignment included Engine Companies 2, 5, and 24. They were joined by Truck Companies 17 and 24, along with Salvage 24. Battalion 7 responded with acting B/C George Dyer.

First in was Engine 2. The crew, headed by Captain Lawrence W. Krumsiek laid several lines in front of the building. Other lines were laid around the two-story structure and entry was made at several locations, nearly simultaneously. Captain Krumsiek and Fireman George Damron entered the structure near the open dipping tank and opened their nozzle, putting water on the fire. Other hose lines were put into operation and within just a few minutes, the fire appeared to be knocked down.

LODD LAFD Damron 1935The rapid addition of water from multiple hose lines not only covered the floor, but the open dipping tank’s chemicals had spilled and were swirling around the feet of Krumsiek and Damron. The chemicals in the tank had been pre-heated for their water-proofing purpose, and shortly after the main body of fire was extinguished, a boil over occurred, resulting in re-ignition of the fire and chemicals that were spilling from the tank. The fire enveloped and trapped both Krumsiek and Damron. They retreated and attempted to exit the building, but the floors were wet and slippery, and they both fell into the burning oils. Both men managed to get up, and they stumbled outside, "looking like human torches," a newspaper account reported. Hose lines were immediately opened and the fire was extinguished, and firemen attended to their injured brothers.

Both men were transferred to the receiving hospital, but despite care, Captain Krumsiek died the next morning, September 8th. George Damron appeared to rally for a few days, but his body was unable to deal with the extent of his injuries and he also passed away, on September 13, 1935.

Standing among rubble of the Oakridge Mobile Home park 73 years later, Captain  Ruda stood with a fallen fireman’s badge in his hand. And at that moment, he decided to do something about it. “The badge represents everything to a firefighter,” he said. “We worked hard to earn it, and we continue to attend to our duties to maintain that honor. I couldn’t let this badge be forgotten.”

So, Ruda arranged for the badge to be encased in Lucite. He spoke with George Damron’s daughter Charlotte, who gave him the badge, and his two granddaughters, Pamela and Cheryl, about preserving the badge at the LAFD Museum and Memorial. They agreed.

On November 14, 2009, at 10AM, Fire Chief Millage Peaks presented a new honorary badge to Pamela and Cheryl, as a tribute to their grandfather, George Damron, and their late mother, Charlotte. He was appointed to the Los Angeles Fire Department on September 5, 1923. On September 7th, 1935, as a member of Engine 2, A-Platoon, he answered his last call. Engine 2, A-Platoon, and the entire Task Force 2 was on hand to assist the Fire Chief with the presentation. Following the presentation to the two sisters, they, in turn, presented their grandfather's preserved badge to the LAFD Historical Society.

For Ruda, the moment he found the badge represents the mystic and wonder of the job. “Not to sound too corny, but it was like a phoenix rising from the ashes,” he said. “To find it the way we did, just shows how some things tend to find their way home.”

NOTE: You can see the badge at the LAFD Museum and Memorial in Hollywood. To learn more about LAFD Line of Duty Deaths, please visit LAFIRE.COM.

Arson Investigator Tom Derby

It's one thing to put out fires, and it's entirely another to determine how they started - and in some cases, by whom. The Los Angeles Times has published a wonderful story about LAFD Arson Investigator Tom Derby. It's a terrific read - and if you're interested in the history of the department, this is a story to remember. Note also the wonderful photo by our friend Harry Garvin, a motion picture cameraman who moonlights with the Arson unit.


Tilson, Task Forces, Trauma: We Remember Watts

Watts Riots
Forty years ago, the Watts community of Los Angeles erupted in violence and flames. It proved to be a dramatic and difficult assignment for the Los Angeles Fire Department, and before the city quieted down, a Los Angeles Firefighter was dead and a new system for fighting fires had been implemented - a system still in use today.

The violence was triggered by a simple and fairly common incident, the arrest of a local black citizen by California Highway Patrol officers. CHP officer Lee Minikus arrested 20-year old Marquette Fry for DUI on August 11, 1965. As the arrest was in progress, Fry's mother, coming from their home a few blocks away, began to verbally challenge the arrest. By the time Fry was booked, hundreds of angry Watts residents were in full riot mode, and the city's history was changed forever.

Watts Community Activist Tommy Jacuette expressed the mood in Watts in August of 1965, saying, "I knew the frustration, the hostility, and I knew the attitude of the police - and it was payback time, for the most part." As with most violent incidents, those not directly involved become the biggest victims.

When the riots began, Interim Chief Don Hibbard was vacationing. Deputy Chief Raymond M. Hill was acting Chief Engineer. It should be noted that the violence escalated over several days - and it was on August 13 that things got completely out of control. By 10PM on the 13th, dozens of fires were burning in LA.

As firefighters worked to bring the flames under control, they came under fire themselves. Pump 65 came under gunfire while extinguishing an automobile fire. An Engine 65 firefighter was injured and the rig severely damaged by rocks, asphalt bits, and thrown crowbars and other hard objects. Police attempted to protect firefighters, but they were often pulled in too many directions.

Chief Hill set up a command post at Fire Station 64, which was close to the fires and in an area where multiple LAFD companies could be staged for proper assignment to the quickly spreading series of fires. Hill formed these companies into "task forces" - each task force made up of a truck company and a minimum of two engine companies, all under the direction of a Battalion Chief. Used for certain brush fires and in European firefighting, the task force concept was unusual in US Firefighting. Chief Hill felt the task force would offer firefighters greater projection and would aid in assigning a strong strike force to fires where you could, as Hill said, "move in fast, knock the fire down in a hurry, pick up your lines and make yourself available to another fire."

There were more fires than the city had ever seen at one time before. Assignments were made in the field and companies moved from fire to fire, without returning to staging areas or quarters. So many buildings on 103rd Street were aflame that a local newscaster dubbed it, "charcoal alley."

Late into the evening of August 14, the city was slowing beginning to calm down, as more than 13,000 armed National Guard troops were arriving, but the worst was yet to come... A fire at the huge Shop-Rite Market brought a number of companies - and upon arrival the initial sizeup included three buildings fully involved. Police were needed elsewhere and firefighters dodged bricks and rocks as they worked to bring the fire under control. As the fire companies began to pick up their lines and prepare to move on to the next assignment, the concrete wall and marquee of the Shop-Right Market collapsed, trapping firefighters Warren E. Tilson and Robert Laxogue.

In the midst of a riot, without police protection, and in the dead of night, a rapid rescue began - but was further complicated due to the nature of the material - concrete. Fearing further damage to the trapped firefighters if jackhammers were used, firefighters Malen W. Jacobs of Truck 28 and Frank J. Harrison of Truck 3 edged their way under the concrete and moved, an inch at a time, towards their comrades. Laxogue was rescued, suffering from broken ribs. Tilson was dead, killed by the collapsing wall. Jacobs and Harrison were awarded medals of Bravery. The National Guard, operating under orders of "shoot to kill," quelled the nightmare.

Today, the concept initiated in the riots by Chief Hill lives on. The task force concept has proven highly effective and has evolved, with both heavy task forces and light forces (a truck and a single engine under command of a task force commander) are used throughout the city, with great effect. Firefighter Tilson's name will be added to the new Fallen Firefighter Memorial when it is introduced later in 2005.

For Watts, the results are more mixed. Forty years later, many area residents still remember those hot August nights. One resident, Alice Harris, known to her friends as "sweet Alice" says not much has changed. "Everybody is tense - no jobs, zero tolerance in the housing projects and people are scared of the police," she says. For the LAFD, an ongoing commitment to Watts continues, with constant rescue ambulance support, new fire stations, and a dedication to the community, regardless of time, day, or temperature.

A bit of video history

The Los Angeles Fire Department has a photo/video unit and in days past, had a "film unit" to record major incidents, press events, and training for department use. On occasion, either working internally or with outside production companies, promotional or documentary videos would be produced.

In the time period of the late 1940s through the late 1950s, a documentary film, titled, Your Fire Department, was produced. There is little available information on this film, but it is a wonderful overview of the LAFD during this time period. The Historical Society is doing some research regarding this film - and welcomes any input or commentary about it.

Screen Grab of 1948 Film
This film in interesting for a number of reasons, including the use of color in an era when black and white was most commonly used. Fire Station 27 (now the home of the LAFD museum in Hollywood), is featured in multiple places and apparatus no longer housed there are shown (utility company, salvage company, etc.). The Gorter Water Tower, now on display in the Hollywood museum is shown in action, as are a variety of interesting apparatus that if found today, would be extremely valuable. LAFD Fire Boats are painted in wartime gull-gray, another interesting hint regarding the time of production. Active Firefighters will get a kick out of the techniques used "back in the day" and it's clear that times have changed!

There have been many films highlighting the LAFD during its history. Terry Sanders produced "The Story of a Fireman" in 1962 and today, a new documentary on the history of the department is in production, with the support of the Historical Society.

The video posted on Google appears to have been uploaded from Europe, and attempts to contact the publisher have not been met with a response. If you have information regarding Your Fire Department, we'd love to hear from you. NOTE: Only Part II is available via the link above. You can see the entire video at the LAFD Museum in Hollywood.

Special thanks to Captain I (9-B) Tim Werle for discovering this video.