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Submitted by Frank Borden • Director of Operations, LAFDHS LAFD HISTORY - FIRE ON THE WATERFRONT PART II

A HISTORY OF FIRE PROTECTION IN LOS ANGELES HARBOR (1542 - 1984) By William E. Dahlquist, Pilot, Fireboat 2 “C”

Frank’s note: This is Part II of Bill Dahlquist’s story. It was written by Bill in 1984 when he was a Pilot on Fireboat 2, “The Ralph J. Scott”. It is part of the many stories in a new exhibit funded by the Port of Los Angeles through a grant in the LAFDHS Harbor Fire Museum titled “The History and Evolution of Fireboats in the Port of Los Angeles”. This visual interactive exhibit opens this summer. I have written a continua- tion from Part II of Bill’s story that brings it up to date in the 21st Century. Bill, now retired, volunteers his time su-

pervising the restoration of Old Fireboat 2 on the dock in San Pedro next to Fire Station 112. The work is done by volunteers and the funds are from donations.

THE PACE SLOWS DOWN (1930S) Little progress was made during the de-

pression years and the same was true for the war years of the early 40’s. The Main Channel was dredged to a minus 35 feet and a second section was begun on the breakwater. The 1933 Long Beach earthquake did a quarter of a mil- lion dollars damage to L.A. Harbor property. Several large fires occurred during this

period. 1,200 feet of wharf and warehouse were destroyed on May 14, 1941 at Berth 88. In 1943, an early morning fire took the South Coast Cannery near Fish Harbor. Birth 223 was the scene of a disastrous explosion and fire on October 21, 1944 with 16 killed and 50 injured. The fire destroyed 200 feet of wharf, two Navy LSM’s and 25 vehicles.

It was June 22, 1947, however, that

the firefighters of the day recall most vividly. At Berth 167 in Wilmington, the tankship “Markay” was taking on a cargo of gasoline and butane blend when it exploded killing 11, injuring 22 and setting fire to wharves and warehouses. At one point, Boat 2 was forced to plow its way through a sea of fire to protect the upper reaches of the slip. Fire loss was over $5 million.

ANOTHER MOVE FORWARD (1940S AND 1950S) The late 40’s and early 50’s saw more

The first of the LAFD divers jumping off old fireboat 3 in the early 1960’s.

New Fireboat 4 sailing into the Port of LA in 1962 after her voyage from Portland Oregon.

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large fires, including: three ship fires, three re- finery fires and a major tank farm fire at Berth 119. It also was a period of more harbor growth and improved fire protection. Fireboat 2 received new gasoline en- gines during the mid and late 40’s and in 1949, a new slip and covered boat house was built for Boat 3 on the south side of the station. In Wilmington, the old frame house of Engine 38 was replaced with a modern sta- tion. The same thing was done to Station 40 on Terminal Island in 1950. One year later a new company, Engine 86, moved in with Engine 40 and remained there for ten years until replaced by Truck 40. Drill Tower 5 would later be built in the field behind the station.

1951 was also the year that Fire Sta-

tion 53 was remodeled and Fire Station 85 was built in Harbor City at 1331 West 253rd Street. Several years later the San Pedro Signal Office, which had been located upstairs in Fire Station 36, was moved to a new building across the street from 53’s.

A DECADE OF PROGRESS (1960S) The decade of the 60’s was a period that

saw major changes and improvements. It start- ed with a greater alarm wharf fire at Matson Steamship Company March 17, 1960. A few days after this high loss fire, some firefight- ers volunteered to use diving gear to retrieve lost equipment. Division Chief W. W. John- ston, a diver himself, asked them to handle a 1-1/2 inch line while they were in the water. From this humble beginning evolved a whole new concept in fighting wharf fires using scuba equipped fire divers. It is still in use today in Los Angeles and many other port cities of the world. The divers are also used for rescues and fireboat maintenance.

The time was right for a second large

fireboat. The economy was strong, fire activ- ity was up and it was recognized that two large boats were needed to guarantee that one would always be available. Fireboat Number 4 was to be the ultimate fire vessel and A/C Bethel F. Gifford supervised the design and construction.

Old Fireboat 2 fighting the wharf fire caused from the explosion of the tankship “Markay” - 1947

A major fire at the Matson Steamship Company dock - 1960

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