TIMELINE OF SIGNIFICANT DATES
LOS ANGELES COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT

The majority of this compendium was researched and put together by our Historian, LACoFD Captain David Boucher (Retired)

Click a button on the left for the decade you are interested in. Click it again to close it.
Accordions are set up for each year. Click the year to open, then click again to close.
This section is in progress. We are adding years and filling in the gaps. If you have important events that you think should be added, email us using the contact form, put “Timeline” in the subject line.

YEARS

1911

Forestry Department created by Board of Supervisors

1914

Fire Warden B.N. Powers was appointed and he served ineffectively until 1920.

1919

Two huge fires burned 115,000 acres. San Gabriel and Ravenna.

1920

Chief Forester Stuart J. Flintham named the head of the Forester, Fire Warden, and Fish & Game.

1921

First complete survey of the Santa Monica Mountains was completed.

First fuel breaks cut along the spine of the Santa Monica Mountains. Twelve “Fire Trailers” were distributed throughout the county. The fuel breaks were cut by hand.

1922

First new vehicles purchased; 2 Fords and 1 Dodge.

First temporary Patrol Station set up in Bulldog Canyon in Malibu Hills. Summer only, used a tent.

1923

First Fire Lookout Tower constructed on Oat Mountain, south side of the Soledad Division.

First regular flight of leased fixed-wing aircraft used to patrol for fires. It was in use for 24 months and was based at Grand Central Airport in Glendale.

State Law 2583 was passed allowing property taxes to be collected for purposes of forming Fire Protection Districts in unincorporated areas. Twenty Nine Districts formed between December 1923 and February 1925 within Los Angeles County.

First Fire and Fish & Game Horse Patrols began; Decker Ranch, Malibu.

 Four new vehicles for Forester and Fire Warden; two Fords, a white cargo truck and a Dodge Screen Truck.

First two-way radios for fire control purposes were purchased. Kennedy set; field unit placed on the Dodge Screen Truck (50 watts). Chief Deputy Joe Davis became the first licensed radio operator of the fire control radio station.

First Forester and Fire Warden Field Division was created; “Soledad Division”, leased office in the U.S. Forest Service Building on the Hart Ranch in Newhall.

First field caches of fire fighting tools distributed in brush covered areas; Roland Percey was in charge.

 

1924

$500,000 borrowed from the County General Fund to purchase fire engines (pumpers) for the new district stations. Supplementary funds totalling $60,000 to purchase fire hose and various tools and equipment. Districts reimbursed the County as property taxes were collected.

First Joint Command agreement between the U.S. Forest Service and the Los Angeles County Forester and Fire Warden.

The San Gabriel Forest Fire in September burned for 27 days and burned 50,000 acres. Five Thousand firefighters fought the fire.

1925

Chief Spencer Turner

January: Chief Flintham dies after a short illness. His assistant, Spencer Turner, was appointed head of all crews to become the County Forester, Fish & Game Warden and County Fire Chief on June 8th, 1925. Chief Turner served for twenty seven years. He was presented a solid gold badge with a blue-white diamond in the center to commensurate a position of such responsibility.

First District’s Battalion Chiefs were appointed; Tillitson, Baker, and Heinzman. Their pay was $2,160 a year. Chief Turner’s salary was raised to $5,000 a year.

Fire Prevention Bureau was established and placed under the Forester and Fire Warden’s Chief Dunlap. 

First Los Angeles County Fire Code was adopted.

1926

Buick cars and light trucks became standard for the Forester and Fire Warden. The first set of Fire Districts fire apparatus deliveries occurred from 1924-1926. Fifteen American La France, seven Reo-Obenchain-Boyers, and six Stuttz pumpers were added to the fleet.

1926 – 1932 saw thirteen permanent Forestry Patrol Stations constructed. (see pages 41-43 of Ride the Devil Wind)

1927

Large Forestry nurseries were established at Pacoima and Altadena.

1928

Altadena nursery moved to Henninger Flats.

Eight Harley Davidson patrol motorcycles for Forestry were purchased. Horses began to be phased out. Pack mules remained until the advent of World War II.

Los Angeles County Mechanical Department took over repair of the District’s fire apparatus.

St. Francis Dam collapses, over 500 deaths. Many were not found.

1929

1929-1931 Seven Moreland 600-gallon tankers were ordered for the Forester and Fire Warden. Three 200 gallon Moreland Squads also ordered.

First Fish & Game patrol boat commissioned. (Ethel)

First paid Call Firefighters hired, they were paid $25.00 a month plus $2.00 a call.

Introduction of the two-platoon scheduling system; 24 hours on then 24 hours off all year around.

First three deaths during brush fire operations: Clyde Radenmacher, Ray Metz, and Ray Taylor.

October: Major stock market crash. Significant fund shortages and reorganizations occured. Especially in the Forester and Fire Warden.

1930

First use of a bulldozer on a brush fire, the Tapia Park fire.

Onset of the Great Depression.

1931

Closing of two out of six Construction Camps. No new fire apparatus were purchased for six following years.

1932

Under the Federal Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.) programs, four Civilian Conservation Corps Camps were constructed and opened. One in each Forestry Field Division. An unknown number of State Welfare Camps also opened. Extensive publics works programs begun throughout wildland areas. Roads (motorways), parks, trails, and public buildings were constructed.

First “No Smoking” signs were placed at qualified public access points leading to wildland areas.

1933

First “Board of Review” of major wildland fires was held. Later renamed the “Fire Control Conference.” (Critique)

New Fish & Game patrol boat was purchased, named Cobra, launched to replace the inadequate craft the Ethel.

Maximum involvement of Forester and Fire Warden personnel during the Long Beach Earthquake, which shook the souls of the South Land on March 10th, 1933. Station 9 was used as Headquarters for the event.

1934

Massive mud slides in Battalion 4 following a rainstorm that dumped 10″ overnight. Forty were known dead, there were others who remained missing.

1935

Latigo, Lake Sherwood, and the Brown Fires all erupted about the same time. They burned 10,000 acres.

Owen catchment basin was constructed in Topanga Canyon to contain 200,000 gallons of rainwater for hydrant supply.

1937

Six Seagrave 750 gallon per minute pumpers were ordered for the Districts. The first orders placed since the Great Depression onset.

1938

The Trippet Fire in the Malibu Mountains consumed 14,000 acres.

A forty-eight hour Captain’s position was added to the Forester and Fire Warden Patrol Stations. Manpower was raised to two men. Porches were enclosed for offices.

Fire Seagrave 600 gallon tankers were delivered to the Forester and Fire Warden.

1939

A 2,500 gallon tanker/pumper was delivered from Seagrave to the Districts. Custom designed by W.E. Powellson, head of Mechanical Shops. The rig was assigned to Station 20.

1941

Beginning of World War II; subsequent shortages of men and equipment.

1942

Trained and equipped 1,400 Civilian Defense Firemen, three hundred and fifty of them were women. The women were assigned to industrial occupancies critical to the war effort.

AM radios installed in key Forester and Fire Warden command cars.

All civilian car and truck manufacturing ceased.

First “Fog” nozzles, invented by Battalion Chief Glenn Griswold, were adopted by the U.S. Navy for shipboard firefighting. Chief Griswold was killed in the war from a chemical explosion in Italy as he served as Fire Chief of Naples with the U.S. Army.

1943

The Woodland Hills Fire burned through 15,000 acres. It as the first brush fire that was coordinated entirely by Forester and Fire Warden radio.

1944

Two Ford and three Mack pumpers/tankers were made available to the Los Angeles County Fire. This was a wartime allocation.

First females hired as dispatchers. AM radio transmitters were installed at Arroyo Seco Headquarters, Malibu Headquarters, and Soledad Headquarters. One hundred and eleven radios were put in Chief’s cars and in the rigs.

First FM transmitter was installed for the Districts in the Los Angeles Basin. It was 250 Watts and was located at Headquarters.

1947

Proposal work was begun to combine District with Forester and Fire Warden.

Three Ford and two Mack tankers were ordered and painted RED.

The Common Drill Manual was developed.

1948

Organizational combining was started July 1, 1948. It took five years.

Temporary creation of “Mountain Battalions” took place in areas where Forester and Fire Warden could respond with District engines.

First attempt at numbering Forester and Fire Warden apparatus. They were temporary, as the numbers changed on July 1, 1953.

The Presidential Award was presented to Tractor Operator James Simons for his work under very hazardous conditions building the Topanga Canyon Fire Firebreak. He also received the James L. Bissel Award.

The Ladies Auxiliary was formed in Battalion 4. Soon it spread all over the county.

1948 -1949 Ten new 1,000 gallons per minute Seagrave pumpers were ordered for Districts.

1949

1949-1950 Nine new 1,000 gallons per minute pumpers for Districts were ordered from General-Pacific. One had Forester and Fire Warden specs. (70’s)

Consolidated Fire Protection District which was formed by combining ten separate Districts. Others followed for several years.

1950

First eighty-five foot aerial ladder truck for Los Angeles County Fire. American La France mid-mount, placed at Station 8.

1951
Chief Cecil R. Gehr

Fire Chief Cecil R. Gehr

1951-1952 Eighteen new International Harvester 1,000 gallon per minute pumpers for the Districts.

Chief Turner retires after twenty seven years.

Division Chief Cecil A. Gehr takes the reins.

1952

New Headquarters building constructed at 1320 N. Eastern Avenue in East Los Angles. Named the Klinger Center upon Fire Chief Klinger’s Retirement in 1969. The building cost $320,000 to build.

1953

Chief Keith Klinger

The 40,000 acre “Sulphur Springs” brush/forest fire fought with Angeles National Forest joint command.

Chief Engineer Cecil R. Gehr was killed in a traffic accident while responding to a brush fire in Little Tujunga Canyon.

Chief Deputy Keith Klinger named Chief Engineer of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Monrovia Peak Fire burned 10,000 acres and was fought jointly with the U.S. Fire Service.

First full time Department Chaplain appointed: Captain Ed Spruill.

Forester and Fire Warden Union local 1425 and Districts local 1014 merged as 1014. New badges issued, Forester and Fire Warden stations were given numbers instead of names, the green Forestry rigs were painted red, common uniforms and work schedules were adopted. The Mountain Battalions disbanded, compensation was unified.

Problems with AM and FM radios were solved within 18 months. See 1955.

1954

First serious coordinated efforts at experimentation with fixed wing water drops. Muroc, California.

Operation “Firestop” held at Camp Pendleton. There were joint agency exercises over a two week period.

Forty new Crown Pumpers were delivered over a two year period.

1955

First recruit class graduation from the new Cecil R. Gehr Training Center.

Third Field Division created; Malibu and the desert areas north of Newhall Pass – Division III – Assistant Chief Harvey Anderson was put in charge.

Last of the sixteen County lookout towers closed due to lack of visibility, smog, and proliferation of telephones in the back country.

Two new 600 watt FM radio transmitters for Los Angeles and Valley Dispatch. First selective calling units for Los Angeles Dispatch. 

AM transmitters were disbanded.

1956

Two California State helicopters were used on the Mt. Lukens Fire for hauling equipment up the hills. One fixed wing biplane dropped a small amount of water. The owner/pilot of the biplane is unknown.

Newton-Hume-Sherwood Complex of Fires in Malibu. 35,000 acres burned, 156 Engines were used to fight the fire and there was one civilian death.

Two Bell 47 G2 Helicopters were approved for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. One was detailed to the Fire Department along with a pilot and a mechanic for water drop experimentation.

1957

First water drops by Los Angeles County Fire Helicopter. The drop was thirty five gallons of water. The pilot was Roland Barton. Work was begun to enlarge the water tank.

1958

Signal Hill, Long Beach, Los Angeles County Fire Departments fight the Hancock Oil Company Refinery Fire. It was a HUGE fire, and a huge loss. This burned for four days, there were two civilian deaths from the original explosion.

Two, nearly simultaneous, brush fires errupted. The Calabasas and the Liberty Fires together burned 21,000 acres. Engines 13 and 58 were over run by fire in Corral Canyon. The engines burned as the crews had light burn injuries. Thirty six homes burned.

images: https://latimesblogs.latimes.com/thedailymirror/2008/12/36-homes-burn-i.html 

1959

Woodwardia Fire in Battalion 4’s area of La Canada. 14,500 acres burned and Camp 2 had two crew deaths. The fire was struck with air drops. Fire Headquarters were set up at Angeles Crest Highway and Vista Del Valle.

The fire started when a temporary U.S. Forest Service employee, William D. Grater of Tujunga, torched tinder dry brush in the Angeles National Forest just so he could be called to work to fight the ensuing blaze.

1960

Pre Planned levels of fire fighting operations instituted; Plans I and II. Plan III added later.

1961

First aluminum drop tank, Roland Barton See aircraft..

1962

Petroleum fire fighting school at Del Valle was dedicated and regular use of the facility was begun.

1963

First jet powered fire boat was commissioned, Station 110 in Marina del Rey.

Began the gradual placement of E&J Lyteport resuscitators on all one hundred twenty seven Engine Companies.

Construction began on Chief Klinger’s program to have a fire station every ten minutes around all the San Gabriel Mountain front country.

1964

1964 – 1965 The process to load fixed-wing aircraft with Phoscheck at Lockheed Airport in Burbank was moved from the Van Nuys Airport.

New pumping equipment was designed and built by Captain Frank Hamp and a select crew of Firefighters.

Simultaneous wind driven brush fires, the Chevy Chase Fire and the Whiting Woods Fire were mostly in Glendale. 9,000 to 12,000 acres and thirty four homes were destroyed. Homes in Whiting Woods, Verdugo Woodlands, Chevy Chase Canyon, and Glenoaks Canyons and Eagle Rock had homes destroyed as well.

1965

Watts Riots stampeded all over Los Anglees in August over a four day period. $50,000,000 in property loss, thirty two civilian deaths, one Los Angeles City Firefighter and one Los Angeles County Sheriff was killed. Forty percent of the riot was in County territory and sixty percent was in the City.

1966

Third Dispatch Center was opened at Fire Station 129 in Lancaster. Former office at F.A. closed. I.D. was “Angelope”.

1967

LACoFD has thirty Contract Cities.

On November 1st, 1967 twelve crewmen from the El Cariso Hotshots, U.S. Forest Service, were over run on the Loop Fire which was north of Pacoima in the Angeles National Forest. All twelve in the crew died. Our helicopter pilot, Roland Barton, was awarded the Pilot’s Association’s Award for skillful flying during rescue attempts.

1968

Libre Fire, running south from below Gorman to Castaic. Engine 382 was over run but not destroyed. Captain Phil Goodell died in the hospital from burns.

The Canyon Inn Fire in San Gabriel, Fish and Roberts Canyons. 18,000 acres burned, blackened 21 square miles. Foreman George Thomas and seven teen-age crewmen were overrun by fire and died. The crew was from the Los Angeles County juvenile probation program. More than 1500 men fought the fires backed by eight helicopters, four air tankers, nineteen bulldozers and one hundred trucks. One of the five surviving boys described his experience; “We were cutting a line around it when suddenly the fire came over the hill behind us. I heard the foreman (Thomas) yell ‘run, run, run’ but those fires go like that – He snapped his fingers. “I ran in a different direction.”

 

The Desert Sun, Volume 42, Number 19, 26 August 1968


USDA Fire Weather & Fire Behavior at the Canyon Fire PDF

1969

Chief Richard H. Houts

Chief Engineer Keith M. Klinger retired on June 30th after sixteen years as Chief. He was named Fire Chief Emeritus by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Division Chief Richard H. Houts was named new Chief Engineer by the Board of Supervisors on July 10th.

First high rise fire for Los Angeles County. The Playboy Club in 7’s area on Sunset Blvd was broadcast all over the city as this iconic club burned. Los Angeles City Fire Department helped out.

Supervisors Warren Dorn and Kenneth Hahn propose emergency medical care for the Forester and Fire Warden areas outside of Districts.

Supervisor Kenneth Hahn proposes an Explorer Program centered around the Fire Service.

In December, Los Angeles County and City Fire Departments graduate their first licensed Paramedics. They would be based out of Harbor General Hospital, from which the County’s Heart Unit 59 responded. Later it was out of Station 36.

1970

Santa Ana wind driven Wright-Clampitt-Agua Dulce Fire burned 135,000 acres, the largest area in Los Angeles County ever, up to this date. There were eight additional fires at the same time and the  fire protection systems were strained to the maximum. There were 10 deaths and 103 homes destroyed in Malibu.

The 1970 fire season showed the need for even more County and region-wide coordination of fire resource distribution during near catastrophic emergency conditions. See 1976.

Preparations for the television series EMERGENCY! began with cooperation between Los Angleles County Fire and Universal Studios. Battalion Chief James O. Page was equipment coordinator and realism supervisor for the show. Jack Webb was the Producer. The program ran seven seasons and changed the public’s perception of the Fire Service forever.

Newspaper clippings from: https://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=d&d=DS19700926.2.7&e=——-en–20–1–txt-txIN——–1 

 

1971

The 12 second long 6.5 magnitude Sylmar Earthquake, centered in Pacoima Canyon at Bear Divide hit at 6:00:55 AM on February 9th.Olive View Hospital and a Veterans Hospital were destroyed. Stations 46, 47, and 80 were damaged beyond repair. Sixty four people lay dead, 2500 were injured, freeway overpasses, power stations exploded, fires from broken gas lines and tens of thousands of houses, schools, and major infrastructure was damaged. There was more than $550 million in damages.

Olive View Hospital

Veterans Hospital

Last cooperative fire lookout closed: Charlie Point near the Castaic Reservoir.

1972

Critically important purchase of forty six Ward LaFrance 1500 gallon per minute pumpers, down rated to 1,000 gallons per minute. They were $44,000 each. These replaced one-third of the fleet, some rigs with twenty-five years of service. This was a significant budget battle for Chief Houts.

 

1975

The Mill Fire was a brush and forest fire. 47,000 acres from just east of Angeles National Forest Highway west to Pacoima Canyon. Very strong winds over the Thanksgiving holiday. Last brush fire for Chief Houts as Department leader.

Pilot Thomas Grady was killed in the line of duty in a mid air helicopter collision. His co-pilot was gravely injured.

1976

Chief Englund

Development

Regional Comm

F/carceni???

1977

Last order placed for Crown Fire apparatus. production seriouslty reduced. Switch made to American LaFrance, KME/Kovatch, Seagrave, and Pierce.

1978

California State property tax initiative 13 passes. Revenue for Fire Protection Districts was cut by 70%.

Proposition 8 passes allowing state treasury surplus to be diverted for one year to the Districts while new revenue is found.

Kanan Fire in Malibu Hills burns 25,000 acres during extreme Santa Ana Wind conditions. Due to extreme spotting, the fire reaches the coast in just two and a half hours from the start of the fire. 230 homes lost. The Agoura-Malibu Fire was fueled by at least eight other significant wildfires (including the Kanan Fire) on October 23rd. The fire was started by an arsonist. Agoura, Malibu, and Mandeville Canyons were destroyed. 136 Engine companies, 28 Camp crews, 8 bulldozers, 6 helicopters & 6 fixed wing air tankers were used to fight the fire. A 15-year-old Agoura youth was arrested for starting the fire, he used a lit cigarette wrapped in a matchbook cover to start the fire.

Mandeville Canyon Fire image from 1978 Palisades Post


From a post card that sold for years after the fire:

 

1979

1978-1979 Emergency Medical Technician training given to all Firefighting personnel in order to give better assistance to the Paramedics during rescues.

Pinecrest Fire burns 10,000 acres of brush and forest adjacent to Eaton Canyon in mostly virgin wildland area. Mt. Wilson Hotel and television transmitters were saved.

1980

Simultaneous La Tuna Canyon Fire and the Stable Fire erupted in Battalion 10’s District. Together they burned 13,000 acres. Fifty estate sized homes in Bradbury were lost.

1982

Dayton Fire in Bell Canyon burned to the Malibu coast. It took out 42,000 acres and 85 homes.

Hazardous Materials Squads 87 and 105 enter service.

1982 – 1985 Forty three American LaFrance, Van Pelt, and Seagrave pumpers are purchased, covering one third of County Fire Stations.

1984

Chief John Englund

Chief Clyde Bragdon retires.

Division Chief John Englund named to replace Bragdon.

1986

Unknown photographer: Path of Destruction

On August 31st, there was a mid-air collision between a private plane and an AeroMexico Jetliner. The DC -9 jetliner crashed into homes on this Labor Day Weekend in the Cerritos area. Fourteen homes destroyed and eighty two persons were killed,which included fifteen that were on the ground.

1987

San Gabriel Valley Tribune photo

A 5.9 blind thrust Earthquake hit Whittier Narrows south of Fire Station 4 on October 1st at 7:42 AM. Extensive damage near Whittier and East Los Angeles. Two civilian deaths.

Another one hit two days later, a magnitude 5.2 strike-slip event. This caused more damage and one more death.

1988

Fire Chief John Englund retires.

1989

Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman

First five tillered 100′ Aerial Ladder Trucks were ordered by the Department.

On February 1, former Dallas Texas Operations Chief P. Michael Freeman was named Los Angeles County Fire Chief.

1989

Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman

First five tillered 100′ Aerial Ladder Trucks were ordered by the Department.

On February 1, former Dallas Texas Operations Chief P. Michael Freeman was named Los Angeles County Fire Chief.

1991

Command and Control building completed. It was occupied in 1992.

1992

Rodney King and the Los Angeles Riots occupied most Fire Service organizations for five days. The riot started with a police and citizen altercation after the acquittal of four white police officers charged with assault and the excessive use of force on Rodney King on April 30th. over 2,000 were injured and 50 were dead. over 1,000 building were destroyed in the Los Angeles area with damages over $1 billion. Over 1100 Marines, 600 Army soldiers, and 6500 National Guard troops were patrolling the streets of L.A. for a few months after the riots.

CNN LIbrary

1993

OLD TOPANGA FIRE: On November 2nd, the Old Topanga Fire erupted near the water tower on Old Topanga Canyon Road and by the end had the largest number of men and equipment ever assembled for a Southern California Wildfire; up to this date. 165 engine strike teams of 5-6 vehicles each, 25 single resource engines and Emergency Support Teams, 129 hand crews, 31 air tankers, 23 helicopters, 13 bulldozers, 50 water tenders, 8 food dispensers, over 7,000 fire fighters and support personnel, plus the support of 458 agencies from 12 states. Los Angeles County Fire Station 69 was the first responder with Captain Michael Johnson.

Santa Ana winds fueled the flames as all available County Engines assigned to brush battalions were fully staffed and began the fist of many days of extended duty. The fire was labeled as arson, there were three civilian deaths and one fire captain, two fire apparatus engineers, and two firefighters were injured. More than 350 homes were destroyed.

Read more about this fire at Los Angeles Times article Nov 7, 1993

KINNEOLA FIRE: November: Altadena, in Battalion 4s jurisdiction burned 325 homes, had 5,465 Firefighters, claimed three lives, injured 10 Firefighters and one civilian, and caused $170 million in damage. This fire was ruled accidental. There were 26 fires over two weeks during this period of time, 19 of which were declared as arson with over $1 Billion in damages.

2002

A series of fires for 2 to 3 years, mostly South of Los Angeles County. The Curve Fire was the most notable.