LOS ANGELES - Today marks LAFD's 100-year anniversary of the very last horse-drawn fire apparatus being taken out of service.
The councilmen of 1873 and 1874 refused to purchase one team of horses to draw the only steam fire engine in the city of Los Angeles. This decision resulted in the only fire-fighting organization disbanding. Within three years, new volunteer fire companies were organized and horses were adopted as the means of pulling all fire apparatus, with the exception of hand hose reels.
The era of the horses began in 1877 with a purchase of two horses for the volunteer Hose Company 1. When the present paid fire department came into existence on February 1, 1886, the LAFD had 11 horses on staff to provide fire protection to the nearly 50,000 residents of Los Angeles (which was just 30 square miles at the time). The use of horses in the fire service was not without its unique challenges, but by the turn of the century, 80 horses provided the backbone of the LAFD, and by 1911, the number of horses peaked at 163.
It was that year (1911) that the last engine houses (23, 24, and 25) were built specifically for fire horses, and the last year that all 25 horse-drawn steam fire engine companies remained in service. In the following years, horses were purchased to replace older animals, but the era of motorization had begun, as LAFD purchased its first single-piece auto pumper and hose-carrying apparatus (Engine 26). It took approximately 10 years to replace all of the horse-drawn apparatus, and on July 19, 1921, the very last fire horse was retired when Water Tower 1 (65-foot Gorter assigned to Engine Company 24) was removed from service (and taken to the shops to be motorized) to end the horse era of the LAFD. All of the remaining horses were retired to Griffith Park.
Instead of literal horse power, the 16 apparatus that remained in service were powered by the "Nine Mechanical Horses," which were two-wheeled tractors. The era of the horses lasted just over 40-years in Los Angeles.
The last fire horse, named "Blackie," traveled from school to school in his retirement (when not residing in Griffith Park), delighting students as they learned about fire safety. While horses may never again be a part of the modern-day fire service, they will be remembered as a crucial part of our history.
Historical Information Gathered From Los Angeles Fire Department Historical Archive at lafire.com.