History

More Than a Century of Service
African American Firefighter Museum
LAFD Historical Society
Old Plaza Firehouse
The Origins of the LAFD
LA Fire Historical Archives
Previous Fire Chiefs
 

 

MORE THAN A CENTURY OF SERVICE

 

The history of the Los Angeles Fire Department is one of the most unique and inspiring in U.S. fire service history. An all-volunteer department for nearly two decades in the mid 19th Century, the department became an official agency of the City of Los Angeles on February 1, 1886. There are museums, historical archives and other resources available to anyone interested in the LAFD's past.

Museums
There are a number of museums within the City of Los Angeles dedicated to the history of this great department. We invite you to learn more about the history of the department by visiting one of these volunteer-managed, historic sites.

 
 

AFRICAN AMERICAN FIREFIGHTER MUSEUM

 

The African American Firefighter Museum is dedicated to collecting, conserving and sharing the heritage of African American firefighters. The history of African American firefighters in Los Angeles spans more than 100 years and provides a unique glimpse into the history of firefighting, race relations and segregation in the City.


The Museum is housed at old Fire Station 30 - one of two segregated fire stations in Los Angeles between 1924 and 1955. It was built in 1913 to serve the Central Avenue community of the City. It is now beautifully restored and has the original apparatus floor tiles, poles and kitchen out-building. Old Fire Station 30 is now a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument - 289 on the historic register - and is the recipient of the Los Angeles Conservancy's 1999 Preservation Award. It is opened to the public as a museum.

Old Fire Station 30 exhibits display a wide array of firefighting paraphernalia including vintage engines (a 1940 Pirsch ladder truck and a 1890 hose wagon), uniforms from New York, LA County and LA City firefighters, badges, helmets, displays of African American women firefighters, photographs, and other authentic firefighting artifacts.


African-American Firefighter Museum (Old 30s)
1401 South Central Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90021-2607
213.744.1730 [ Direct Line ]
Visit the African-American Firefighter Museum Online: [ AAFF Museum ]
 

 

LAFD HISTORICAL SOCIETY

 

On October 13, 1960, Fireman Bob Foster (Truck 17-B) was appointed the department's official historian by the Fire Commission. In 1981, Acting Chief Engineer Alan R. Evanson created a committee to further support archiving history of the department. Two of the firefighters named to the committee were Don Dodd and William Dahlquist, serve the LAFD Historical Society to this day. The committee evolved into a formal organization. The Society was initially named "Olde 23s" because of the expectation that the group would restore old Fire Station 23 and move in to the facility. Unfortunately, that never happened. In 1998, the group became a non-profit public benefit corporation (501c3) and was formally named the Los Angeles Fire Department Historical Society (LAFDHS). They were in need of a new home.

Fire Station 27 had withstood significant damage during the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. In 2001, a new fire station was completed next door, and the old building was slated to become a community center. With some dedicated commitment on the part of a number of local officials, Society members, and LAFD management, the LAFDHS received a long-term lease on the building. In the years that followed, the Society developed an inventory of more than 30 pieces of firefighting apparatus significant to Los Angeles, thousands of artifacts (some dating back to the 1880s), and hundreds of hours of film and video.
 

Since taking over old Fire Station 27, the LAFDHS has opened it to the public as a museum, and has also opened a smaller, but no less impressive museum in San Pedro. Both are opened on Saturdays from 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM.

Today, the LAFDHS is working to preserve the history of the department, focusing on both artifacts, apparatus and documents. The organization relies on donations and corporate gifts.

323.464.2727 [ Direct Line ]
Learn more about the LAFD Historical Society [ LAFDHS Museums ]
 

 

OLD PLAZA FIREHOUSE

 
The Old Plaza Firehouse is the oldest firehouse in Los Angeles, operating from 1884 to 1897. Since then the building has been used as a saloon, cigar store, poolroom, "seedy hotel", Chinese market, "flop house", and drugstore. The building was restored in the 1950s and opened as a firefighting museum in 1960.

The Old Plaza Firehouse
501 North Los Angeles Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
213.485.8437 [ Direct Line ]

 

 

THE ORIGINS OF THE LAFD

 

In the mid 1880s, the City of Los Angeles could go several weeks without a fire. On the morning of February 1, 1886, the eight firemen at 26 Plaza had no expectations of alarms. It was just another day in the growing little community of Los Angeles. But this day was different. This was the day the city officially began paying firemen - the true birthday of the Los Angeles Fire Department. For 15 years prior to this day, up to 380 men volunteered their services to the city as firemen.

On February 1, 1886, 31 firemen, including a Chief Engineer, and an Assistant Chief, entered the city's payroll. In addition, 24 reserve (call) firemen stood by, knowing that their part-time responsibility was to respond to any fire in their district. At that time, Los Angeles had 35,000 residents and many carried hand guns. In fact, three shots fired into the air was a typical signal of a discovered fire. Getting anywhere in the 30 square miles that made up the city took only a few minutes, but already, the signs of rapid expansion were visible on the horizon. The Southern Pacific Railroad had determined that Los Angeles would become one of its larger hubs, and people were flocking to town, looking for jobs and opportunity.

Los Angeles has always had a unique take on firefighting. Even in the early days, individuals who found firefighting to be an exciting lifestyle were making their mark. One of the the most popular volunteer companies (and a paid company after 2/1/1886) called themselves the Original thirty-eights, Engine Company Number 1. They held their own fund-raising events, and the city considered their activities to be major civic events. Today, Los Angeles still refers to its fire stations in the plural - Engine 86s, or simply, 86s.
 

Today, the Los Angeles Fire Department responds to more than 1,100 emergency responses every day. 3,600 uniformed members and civilian specialists protect four million people, and the department transports more than 500 people to area hospitals every day.

2011 will mark the 125th anniversary of this storied Fire Department. We encourage you to visit the three local museums that house artifacts and display the history of the city and the LAFD. To learn more about the history of the department, you can also visit the online archives, as listed here in the LAFD website.
 

 

LA FIRE HISTORICAL ARCHIVES

 
LAFire.com is maintained by LAFD Captain Larry Schneider. It is a wonderful resource for information regarding the history of the Los Angeles Fire Department. Digital historic archives are being released that focus on the more than 125 years the department has served the public. We invite you to explore the history of this unique and special department. The purpose of the Archive is to collect and present in a simple format the history of the Los Angeles Fire Department. It is Captain Schneider's belief that knowing one's history is to better understand the present and better prepare for the future.

The Archive includes hundreds of photos, newspaper articles, reports, records, and maps. The archive is a work in progress and Captain Schneider welcomes submissions.

Visit the archive: [ LAFire.com ]

Historic LAFD Station Details

 
 

PREVIOUS FIRE CHIEFS

 
To learn about the past Chief Engineers (now called the Fire Chiefs), we encourage you to visit LAFire.com for a complete list through the most recently retired Fire Chief, Brian Cummings.
View the list: [ Past Fire Chiefs ]