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LAFD Historical Society Submitted by Frank Borden • Director of Operations, LAFDHS Portrait of assistant Chief Bethel f. Gifford I

was reminded by Captain Henry Amparan at FS 49 that LAFD Fireboat 4 “The Bethel F. Gifford” is celebrating 50 years of service

this year. This story is about Assistant Chief Gifford who was responsible for planning and construction of the Boat named after him. The portrait was written by Otto Firgens and the article appeared in the March 1964 issue of the Firemen’s Grapevine:

in retroSpeCt-- A triBute to BetheL F. giFForD, ASSiStAnt Fire ChieF

. . . “Efficiency--very good. Obedi-

ence--excellent. Sobriety--excellent,” was his Marine discharge report at the age of 20. . . . . . “Good--very good--excellent,”

was his drill tower report. . . . . . “A very good and willing worker-

-keen interest, quick to learn--will make a good fireman,” was his probationary report. . . . . . “He was strict--a man of convic-

tions--you always knew where you stood. How- ever, he was reasonable and always willing to listen. We held him in the highest of esteem,” say the men he worked with at the Shops. . . . . . “An experienced and progressive

individual who was dedicated to the fire service and a true perfectionist,” say manufactures who had contact with him regarding apparatus and equipment. . . . . . “An unusually serious man meticu-

lous--quiet--extremely reserved. Highly respect- ed for his ability; likeable and a kind and under- standing heart,” say his firefighting comrades. . . . . . “A wonderful husband, good fa-

ther and family man,” states his wife of 24 years, Frances Gifford. . .

These are the unedited and spontane-

ous comments made to this writer during the preparation of this portrait of Bethel Francis Gifford, who was born in Garfield, Washington, on October 17, 1899. Young Gifford was raised in the beautiful setting of Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, living with his family in a houseboat on the lake.

At 19, Bethel F. Gifford enlisted in the

Marines. During his basic training he became a sharpshooter. Soon he found himself on a ship bound for the Philippines, and he had the dis- tinction of being the first victim to ride the new ambulance, which had been transported to the area on the same ship. “Leatherneck” Gifford contracted the mumps on the trip; and because of the crowded conditions on the ship, he slept in the ambulance and rode it ashore during landing operations. After his release from the service, he worked as an auto electrician and later purchased a service station in Pasadena. This business ven- ture did not last very long, because he was ap- pointed to the L.A.F.D. on April 6, 1929. The scope of his firefighting experi-

ence extended from the hills of Hollywood to the waterfront in San Pedro; and it didn’t take long for Fireman Gifford to earn an outstanding repu- tation. Soon he was promoted to Auto Fireman, and in a short 8 years he was appointed to Cap- tain. He promoted to Battalion Chief in 1944 and shortly thereafter, he was assigned to head the Fire Department Shops and Storeroom. He con- tinued this duty until the Fire Department reorga- nization in 1956, at which time Gifford attained the rank of Assistant Chief and was assigned to Division 1 in San Pedro. It was during his 12-year tenure at the

Shops that he truly found his niche - the niche in which he contributed immensely to the opera- tions of the LAFD. It didn’t take long for Chief Alderson to recognize this hardworking and pro- gressive fireman. In a memo to Chief Gifford in 1950, the Chief Engineer had this to say: Once again I had an opportunity to observe how S&M and all of its individual functions operate and how you have integrated your operations with the rest of this department. Frankly, of all the improvements which have been made in our procedure for the handling of mountain fires, I think that the

50 • April 2012

Bethel F. GiFFord was appointed to assistant ChieF on June 25, 1956. ChieF GiFFord Commanded division iii (san pedro) at the time oF his passinG.

greatest credit goes to S&M . . . Please ex- tend to all of those concerned my personal thanks of every man who worked at this fire. My hat is off to all of you.

According to Don Brittingham and

Frank McGreeney, who worked for Gifford the entire 12 years, the following are a few of the accomplishments that can be directly attributed to Chief Gifford: --The Crown high-pressure wagon was de- signed by him; --He designed the two heavy utilities; --Responsible for more powerful (Hall Scott) engines in the Seagraves; --Developed the small crash wagon; --Improved the 1941 Mack tank wagons; --Developed Squad 9’s wagon; --Helped in developing the three Mack sal- vage wagons; --Insistence of specified and adequate com- ponents for material, thereby preventing any possible inadequate or under-powered chassis for apparatus;

While at Supply and Maintenance,

Chief Gifford made many friends within his own Department, and many outside of it. Red Willmore, GM of Crown, told

me, “we have been in business since 1950. I must say that the company owes a large portion of its success to Bethel Gifford, namely through his in- sistence of not sacrificing quality for a price. He was a dedicated man and a true perfectionist with a progressive attitude.” Jack Ruggles, of Seagrave was pleas-

ant in stating his feelings to me - “I considered Chief Gifford a very close, personal friend and the most unselfish individual I have ever known. He was highly intelligent, and I felt a tremendous admiration and respect for him. Horatio Bond, of the NFPA had this to


. . . Battalion Chief Gifford kindly looked over the list of equipment shown in Appen- dix I of the former edition and gave us some excellent suggestions. On the basis of his review, we have decided that the list pub- lished is perhaps not exactly the one to use and so we have decided to leave Appendix I out of the revised edition.

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