Over 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.

 

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.

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