This website is provided, and paid for by: Retired Fire Captain, Dewitt Morgan, who served with the Los Angeles County Fire Department from March 1957 to 1992.
This website was inspired by a website developed by: Battalion Chief, James O. Page.
Jim has passed, but he left us with a very strong legacy.
Retired and Active FireFighters of The Los Angeles County Fire Department
From our first days as Los Angeles County Fire Department, recruit firefighters, we knew we were part of a very special organization. The people we worked with were proud to be L.A. County FireFighters, and they expected us to be proud too - and grateful for the opportunity to join the organization. You could hear guys complain about things (after all, it's a fire department). But those same guys often could be heard saying, "This is a great job." Most important, nobody ever seemed to quit unless they were killed, injured or retired. A lot of the guys that did leave the job to try something else, were often reapplying to get back on the job.
After retirement we were at odds end as to how to contact all our retired friends. We did have area breakfasts, mostly in the battalion or division that we worked in. They were held once a month, and if you forgot, you missed out until the next one.
Don Borthwick, and Tom Little, started the San Clemente area breakfast, and then they started an annual picnic. This was well received. At one of these picnics, Don Borthwick, on the job, February, 1951, August 83, and me, Dewitt Morgan, March, 1957, May, 1992, got to talking about what a good thing the picnic was for getting guys together, it was held at the beach, and was catered. I suggested that we start collecting email addresses and that way we could stay a little better in contact. I soon became the server. But, also soon I was overwhelmed with trying to get the incoming messages out to the troops it was so well received. We had to do something different because if I was gone for a few days, I was hours getting the mail out. I have a friend, Rae French, who had started her own business, Called Aplonis INC, that has a mail server. We contracted with Rae, to start CyberStreams, the first, and premier email listing. It has worked flawlessly keeping the guys in contact with each other.
There are two other lists that are available. One, SmokeShowing, was started a couple of years after CyberStreams because of the more stringent rules. SmokeShowing, Started by Steve Johnson, was to allow the guys to use more colorful language, I.E. same as in the Fire Station.
One of the things missing was the timely notification of the sick, hospital, and Funeral Notices. This took care of that. As soon as anyone heard of an illness, hospitalization, or death, I was notified, and immediately posted a "Sad News" notice. That has been improved upon considerably in that Bob, "Malibu" Martin, now gets these notices and publishes them in a very timely fashion.
Many of us had come to the LA County Fire Department, after serving with either the Military, or other career fire departments in Southern California. Almost universally, smart, aggressive young firefighters in those departments wanted to be part of the "varsity team." We wanted to work for Captains and Chiefs with lots of fire ground experience. We wanted to ride on those big Crown Fire coaches, with their throaty Hall-Scott engines. We wanted the opportunity to bid on station assignments in the inner city, in industrial areas, the high-rise West Hollywood area, and in the brush-covered hills that burn almost annually. We wanted to experience engine companies, truck companies, rescue squads, mountain patrols, and maybe even the pioneering "Air Attack," program
Most of us had been construction workers, truck drivers, farm kids, or in the military before we joined the fire department. Still, there were quite a few who came to our job with college degrees. In fact, in 1964, a study conducted by Firefighters Local 1014 (our union) disclosed that the average L.A. County firefighter had 54 college units.
No matter what we'd done before we got there, those of us who were hired after 1955 were required to complete a rigorous recruit training program at "the tower," I was in class number 5, on Eastern Avenue in East LA. Those who succeeded got a badge and a station assignment. Those who didn't succeed were dismissed - no excuses, no lawyers, no appeals. Our training captains had the ultimate power but they used it wisely.
While at the tower, aside from the official stuff, we soaked up a lot of information about the lore of the department. At first, we heard station numbers stated as plural (e.g "twenty-ones" or "ninety-fives"). Nobody ever explained why, but we adapted without question, using the lingo of our training captains without taking the risk of asking a dumb question. (Apparently, the practice of adding an "s" to a station number originally was intended to make it possessive rather than plural. For example, "I'm going to seventeen's" would be similar to saying, "I'm going to Bob's house.") By the third week of training, if any of our members were still referring to stations without the "s" they were considered slow learners.
Our training captains loved to regale us with stories about their experiences. We learned that 9's, 16's and 41's were in South LA and they got lots of action. We heard all about 7's and 8's, the West Hollywood stations where almost anything could happen and often did. The "south end" usually referred to Battalion 7, a 60-square mile area between South LA and Marineland, no longer there, at Palos Verdes. That was the territory of 36's, 6's, 127's, and 95's, among others. We were told about lots of "south end" fires in junkyards, chemical plants, oil refineries and warehouses. It seemed awesome.
Then there was "the Valley," which referred to the San Gabriel Valley territory served by 43's, 29's, 26's and 44's among many others. They were on a separate dispatch system, and we soon heard that the Valley operated much like a different fire department. While we performed the manual labor of recruit training at the tower, we could hear the sirens of fire engines in East LA, and our training captains would tell us about big fires they'd worked in the districts of 1's, 2's, 3's, 27's, and 39's. Every story made us wonder where we'd be assigned - if, we managed to get through the tower. We heard that there were vacancies in Division 3, the vast area of mountains, brush, weeds and sagebrush that circled the LA basin from Malibu to near Mojave and Victorville. The training captains referred to people in Division 3 as "stumpies" (short for "stump-jumpers"). Later, we learned that the stumpies referred to our training captains as "flatlanders").
None of us could ever forget that day when the Fire Chief handed us our badge. Not a dinky little thing but a big shiny "bear badge" (with the powerful California bear gracing the top of it). Standing on the grinder at the training center, wearing our dark blue dress uniform for the first time, with our families watching the ceremony, we finally could permit ourselves to think: "I'm an L.A. County firefighter!" From there we drove to our station assignments. Actually, we were on probation. Whether we made it to permanent status would be the decision of the captain we were assigned to. Before he made that decision, we would be required to memorize every street, alley, hydrant and target hazard in our first-in district. We would be tested on all the standard hose lays, ladder work, rescue techniques, first aid, and ventilation and salvage procedures. We would need to know the placement and function of every tool, appliance, nozzle, fixture and device that was carried on our rig. Furthermore, we would need to prove that we fit in - that we could be part of the team. When we walked into our new stations, the absorption process continued. Some old-timers enjoyed the opportunity to humble a "boot" (a probationary firefighter). From practical jokes and undesirable chores to the silent treatment, they could make life difficult for a newcomer. Usually, however, if a boot proved to be an okay guy in the first few weeks, everybody on the crew would help him succeed.
From a supervisor's standpoint, a career fire station may be the most complex workplace in modern American life. Several people from different backgrounds come together at the fire station, a place that resembles a home, with common cooking, sleeping and bathing facilities, and a big garage. Those several people must remain together for long periods of time (24 hours or more). They must share mundane duties, such as station and equipment maintenance, but they must also afford a certain amount of privacy to each other. There are many opportunities for personal differences, preferences and aggravations. Yet, when this work group receives an alarm, they must react in a coordinated manner, sometimes depending on one another in life-or-death situations with only moments to prepare. In order to maintain harmony among the members of a fire company or a fire department, certain habits, practices, customs and beliefs develop. Some are written and formal. Others are subtle and unwritten, and must be learned by watching, listening, and conforming. All of those do's and don'ts form the organizational culture. Violating or offending the organizational culture of a fire department can leave an indelible mark on the offender, even when he or she doesn't realize what they did or didn't do. The common qualities of those who succeed are perception and adaptability. Most who made it through probation went on to enjoy long, enjoyable careers. In the process, there were many times when they were challenged by emergencies that most people could never imagine. Routinely, they made decisions and took actions that made enormous differences in the lives of total strangers, citizens who depend on and trust their fire department. At the end of their careers, they were secure in the knowledge that they had spent those years in a great organization that does vital work for people in their times of greatest need.
Along the way, they made many friends among their colleagues, and they have maintained those friendships in retirement. Unfortunately, many of those who proudly wore the badge of an L.A. County firefighter paid the price of injury or poor health as a result of the dangers of the job. A few paid the ultimate price and gave their lives in the line of duty. This website is dedicated to them. Since this website is the product of many people, wherever possible the source of a story or anecdote will be credited by name, current location, and date the material was received, as well as the years he or she served with LA County and other fire departments.