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A centennial celebration of firefighting service

By Aaron Blevins, 4/18/2013

Station 29 commemorates milestone

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Before the Los Angeles Fire Department’s station in Koreatown was called Station 29, it was as an all-female fire brigade that fought fires in what was then considered a suburban area of Los Angeles.

Before blowing out the candles, firefighters and supporters sang “America the Beautiful” at the 100th anniversary of Station 29 on Tuesday. (photo by Aaron Blevins)

Much has changed since then, but the station’s early roots were not forgotten during its 100th anniversary on Tuesday, when officials held a pancake breakfast and honored the legacy of the firehouse.

“The times may change, but the mission of fire service does not. …It is simple: We call, you come, no fear,” said Lyn Cohen, president of the First-In Fire Foundation, which strives to further solidify the bond between stations and the communities they serve.

To celebrate the station’s milestone, the foundation will help restore the site’s landscape and install a memorial marking the occasion that will be made with materials from the station’s former location on Western Avenue.

The event was part of an initiative that the First-In Fire Foundation embarked upon after Cohen and her husband, Marc, visited New York City following 9/11. She said it is imperative that communities recognize that walking into the heart of a fire station is like “walking into the heart of America.”

“Together, we hope to honor 100 years of fire service and to honor this fire station very specifically,” Lyn said. “After all, friendship is the first step in preparedness.”

Marc said the foundation seeks to help fire departments in such an “unprecedented time of financial need.” He referenced the Boston Marathon explosions and the firefighters who did their jobs while bombs exploded around them.

“We the community, we don’t run toward flames,” he said. “We don’t treat wounded while bombs are exploding. We don’t run toward danger. So, if we can make their lives just a little bit better, give them a few more resources … then we the community will be doing our part.”

Jim Finn, president of the department’s Historical Society Museum and Memorial, gave a run-down of the station’s extensive history. He said the firefighting effort in the area, which was then the western edge of the city, began in 1909.

By 1910, Fire Chief Archibald Ely put together two volunteer fire brigades, Finn said. Since the men were downtown working, the women took over the brigade, then called the First and Manhattan Volunteer Fire Brigade. However, they didn’t like the name, opting instead for the Society Matrons Fire Brigade, he said.

In 1912, the same year the Titanic sank in the Atlantic Ocean, the department began building a fire station on Western Avenue, Finn said. He said it opened in 1913, but the construction continued.

At the time, firefighting was a job for mostly single men, as it wasn’t a job for a married person, Finn said. That was until 1915, when the department implemented a two-platoon system, he said.

Finn was wearing a uniform from the time period, except he wore a belt. He said the firefighters actually wore suspenders for many years.

“Things move slow in the fire department,” Finn added. “We got belts in 1946, and wore suspenders up until then.”

In the 1920s, several apartment building and homes, some of which are still intact today, were constructed near the station. In the 1960s, the city created a 13-story height limit for the area, Finn said. Then, the subway came, and the area could no longer be viewed as a suburb.

On Jan. 22, 1991, Station 29 closed on Western Avenue and moved to 4029 Wilshire Blvd. Finn said the original address of the station was 4033, but he contact a friend, Tom LaBonge, then a field deputy for the late City Council President John Ferraro, who wrote a letter that led to the address change.

LaBonge, now the area’s councilman, spoke at the event. He praised the late William Mulholland, who helped create a water system in Los Angeles in the 1910s.

“Without the water, you can’t put out the fire,” LaBonge said.

He referenced the old station on Western Avenue, saying that its ceiling was so low that one of the structure’s beams had an image of a duck on it. The image was reminder to the tillerman to duck or get squished, LaBonge said.

He said the current location of Station 29 had been, at the time, the largest parcel the city had purchased in a “long, long time.” LaBonge said a guy named Fitz lived on the lot, and he gave him money to ensure that the lot stayed clean. The current location was once the site of The Executive Room, a piano bar in which Billy Joel wrote “Piano Man”, he said.

LaBonge called for a round of applause for the station’s current firefighters, and gave commendations to several people involved in the celebration, including Wilshire the Dog, who barked his approval. He said the commendations were on behalf of the city and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who lives “in public housing two blocks away.”

“On behalf of the people of Los Angeles, we salute Fire Station 29,” LaBonge said.

Hadi Martono, the consulate general of the Republic of Indonesia in Los Angeles, also attended. With limited English, he too praised the department.

“We are also becoming secure here with the preparedness of the fire department here,” Martono said. “I will have to congratulate the fire department for the celebration of the anniversary, and I wish that everything will be perfect for them.”

A woman portraying Clara Barton, who founded the American Red Cross, attended as well.

“Please know how important citizen support of your courageous firefighters is,” she said. “You must know each other well before tragedy strikes to be resilient after disaster comes.”

At the end of the event, organizers gave a birthday cake to the firefighters as the audience, Girl Scouts Troop 495 and Boy Scouts Troop 10 sang “America the Beautiful”.

 

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