Department History

Historic fire department

The birth of Culver City was announced on July 25, 1913 by founder Harry H. Culver. Harry Culver made a $10,000 down payment on a tract with a vision for a thriving community of partly residential, partly business. It was to be a city midway between the growing Los Angeles metropolis and the beaches.

Thomas H. Ince, a pioneer motion picture producer, set out to shoot his movie scenes in the La Ballona Creek and purchased a piece of land from Rancho La Ballona. The Ince lot (now The Culver Studios) was the first of many film industry studios to make Culver City their home and so the City came to be known as “The Heart of Screenland”.

Culver City was incorporated in 1917 and as the City grew so did the need for fire protection for its residents, businesses, and studios. City records show that Manuel “Cy” Saenz was paid a monthly stipend of $10.00 in 1919 for storing the City’s fire truck in his garage at Washington Boulevard and Ince. Fires were fought by volunteer firemen utilizing the 1917 Pope Hartfield Chemical Truck. Storage was maximized in the Saenz garage which delayed the fire truck’s response time when retrieving it. One particular fire incident was to Mayor Clyde V. Slater’s garage which burned due to the late arrival of the truck. The fire truck was soon after moved to Washington & Irving Place and the movement to form an organized fire department began.

A second piece of apparatus was purchased in 1920, a Ford Model T Fire Wagon with a 250 gallon per minute pump and two 40 gallon chemical tanks. During this time The Thomas H. Ince Studios’ Fire Chief, L.B. Minnick, was Acting Fire Chief for the City. At the first sound of the siren, atop of the Culver City National Bank, Chief Minnick would fly out of the Ince Studios and head towards the fire garage. Volunteers, who where recruited as the truck went racing by to the fire scene, would receive $1.00 for false alarms and $4.00 for fires requiring the use of water hose. Volunteer help was not always guaranteed or available.

The City purchased an American La France triple combination type “75” Truck with solid rubber tires in April of 1922, which was stored in Frank Wilcox’s garage. Thus, Wilcox became the caretaker (Engineer) of the truck and was hired on October 6, 1922 as Culver City’s first Fire Chief. He worked a continuous 24-hour duty and earned $150.00 per month with the assistance of 12 call men (volunteers). Four of those original volunteers later held sworn safety positions and retired from the Culver City Fire Department (CCFD): Carl Burnett, John A. Kearney, Jack Starke and Ralph Wilson.

The fire apparatus was moved to a garage on Van Buren Place, thus becoming the first Fire Station in Culver City. During this time the Fire Department ran a two platoon system of volunteers with an Assistant Fire Chief, William G. Kuehn.

On May 10, 1927, the City passed a Special Bond Election to build a Civic Center which housed both a Fire and Police station. The bond funds were also used to pay for 13 on-duty men and to build a second fire station on McConnell Boulevard. The land however was donated by the Washington Land & Water Company.

The period during the 1930’s did not have much change for the department as far as equipment or facilities. Changes were made in personnel increasing it from thirteen to nineteen. Chief Wilcox resigned and Chief Kuehn was appointed in 1933.

Due to the depression, salaries were reduced. The Fire Chief was paid $175 per month, Captains $140 and Firemen $135. During the World War II years, permanent and temporary firefighters were hired due to the shortage of manpower. John H. Atwell’s tenure began on January 16, 1942 as the new Fire Chief. As a former retired Assistant Fire Chief from Los Angeles Fire Department, he was to reorganize the department. His experience brought new regulations to the department such as the equipment replacement program as well as initiating the placement of annual physical examinations for fireman.

historic fire department in action Two Peter Pirsch (Model 38-1250 triple combination) pumping engines were purchased in 1945 at the total cost of $25,205.60 with a delivery date in early 1947. The early commitment to the vendor saved taxpayers money and gave Culver City ownership of the most modern pieces of fire equipment during that time. Each truck pumped more than 1,250 gallons of water per minute. In 1949 the department also took delivery of a new rescue squad, built to the City’s own specifications, and staffed with a crew of four men, It was fitted with a 400 gallon water tank, resuscitator, cutting torches, smoke ejector, masks, portable generator, and high powered lights. It was capable of pumping 1,100 gallons of water and liquid foam to combat oil fires. It was used as an emergency unit for rescue work and fire fighting.

The Fire Prevention Bureau was formed in 1946. Captain Mike Mason was the first to be assigned to handle complaints, inspections and other fire prevention related duties. The City later adopted formal Fire Codes and one person on each shift was assigned to Fire Prevention. As fire inspectors they were required to serve one year terms. They worked in the bureau during the day and as dispatchers in the evening. Culver City was one of the first cities of its size to form a Fire Prevention Bureau and served as a training facility for other cities who assigned their captains to train in Culver City. Those captains later returned to their cities to form a Fire Prevention Bureau and establish policies, procedures, codes, and ordinances.

Culver City’s founder, Harry H. Culver, died on August 19, 1946 of a heart attack at the age of 66. Chief Atwell retired and John A. Kearney was appointed Chief in June 16, 1947.

On December 14, 1953, Chief Kearney was granted, by the City Council, a six month leave of absence to serve the City of San Leandro during their reorganization of the Fire Department. San Leandro had no Assistant Fire Chief during the untimely death of their Fire Chief. Chief Kearney was asked to step in as temporary Fire Chief and consultant. Chief Kearney was recommended on the basis of his record as Fire Chief by the Los Angeles Fire Chief, the Board of Underwriters of the Pacific and the National Board of Underwriters. Culver City’s Assistant Fire Chief, Carol Burnett, served as Acting Chief during Chief Kearney’s absence.

During Chief Kearney’s term, businesses increased bringing about the inspection of commercial, industrial, residential, schools, and all other public & private structures in the community. Inspections were conducted by on-duty fire companies.

Culver City’s third fire station opened on August 11, 1956, at 11304 Segrell Way & Berryman Avenue. Building cost was $69,000 by Peckham & Peterson, a local construction firm who submitted the lowest bid to the City Council in December 1955. The building was designed by Architects Thomas B. McGee and J.W. Green to blend with homes in the area. It housed a pumper truck and two rotating 5-man shifts. Captain Ralph Wilson became Commander of the A Shift, who’s years of service dated back to the volunteer days, and B Shift Commander, Captain James Rada, who joined the department in 1947. The Fire Department was now operating out of three stations and a staff of 46, which included a records clerk.

Chief Kearney retired from the department effective December 31, 1961 and Battalion Chief Burt F. Campbell was appointed to the post effective January 1st, 1962.

A Fire Department and Ambulance service/rescue squad was proposed by the City in the 1960s’. And so a new rescue was placed into service at the cost of $8,545 with its design created by Fireman George Sweeny. Culver City joined Los Angeles City, Los Angeles County, and Santa Monica in using a three platoon system. In 1966, a new Crown engine was placed in service at Station 3 and one of the original Pirsch engines was moved to reserve status.

A new training tower facility was dedicated in 1970 replacing the original training center from the fifties. The facility which is still in use today has a four-story tower, surfaced yard, drafting pit, hydrants, and a flammable liquid pit.

In 1971, a three man arson bureau was formed. Inspectors, in addition to their Fire Prevention duties, were now completing investigations on arson-suspected fires replacing the police officers who were initially used to conduct such investigations. Inspectors were issued special wallet badges and were licensed to carry firearms. Fire Chief Campbell retired and George Sweeny was appointed the new Fire Chief on August 29, 1972 and served until 1985.

Historic fire department in action The Culver City Fire Department became part of the Los Angeles County Paramedic pilot program due to the launching of The Wedworth-Townsend Paramedic Act of 1970. Signed by then Governor Ronald Reagan on July 15, 1970, it authorized persons trained and certified as paramedics to conduct certain life-saving emergency medical services. A paramedic rescue, with two paramedics, was placed into service on June 18, 1973, as the 37th unit in Los Angeles County with transport being provided by private ambulance companies. In 1979, the Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) program was incorporated being one of the first “in-house” programs in California.

The original Station no. 2 which opened October 17, 1927 was replaced with the dedication of the new fire station on September 23, 1981. It was built at the cost of $901,808 and housed Engine 2, Truck 2, Reserve Engine 2 and eight firefighters.

A second paramedic unit was placed into service in 1981 with the addition of six new firefighter positions and the transporting of patients in our own rescues began in1982.

The emergency dispatching sections (911) of the Fire and Police departments were merged into a combined Communications Center under the direction of the Police Chief, which streamlined fire dispatch calls.

A new Fire Station no. 1, Headquarters, was completed in 1993 replacing the original station built in 1928. It was to house Engine 1, Rescue Paramedic 1, Reserve Truck, the Battalion Chief Suburban and one of the original 1947 Peter Pirsch. The new station included the addition of an Emergency Operating Center (EOC) and a fire garage which maintained all fire and police vehicles for the City. All communication installations and repairs, for the entire city were, were conducted in the fire garage. Currently the fire department still oversees the City’s communication system which includes the 911 system.

The City instituted the Reserve Program in June 1993. Each reserve was required to complete a fire academy and have Firefighter 1 certification. Reserves attended two weekend meetings a month and worked two 24-hour shifts per month. The program was later dissolved due to lack of funding.

In November 1994, the “So Others May Live” program started. Low cost First Aid and Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) training to the community, for both residents and city employees.

In February 1995, the Fire Department was given a “Class 1” rating by the Insurance Services Office (a non-profit organization for the Insurance Industry). 24,000 communities were rated nation-wide with only 18 having achieved a “Class 1” rating with Culver City being one of the 18. Within days of the new classification came a new Fire Chief, Michael Thompson from Grand Junction, Colorado. Thompson replaced Mike Olson, who served as Fire Chief from 1985 to 1994.

The department’s hard work and dedication is recognized once again later that same year by receiving the “Life Safety Achievement Award” by Operation Life Safety (OLS) and the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). The award honored departments that had successfully responded to and extinguished fires without the loss of a single life in 1994. The Culver City Fire Department was one of 34 fire departments nation-wide to receive the award but only one of the two in California.

CCFD became one of the first fire departments in Los Angeles County to receive approval to provide paramedic education to its staff without having a nurse or doctor on staff. This saved the department, as well as the City, time and money. Paramedics no longer needed to travel to various hospitals to continue their education in order to retain their licenses.

Also in 1995, the department received a new Seagrave Pumper replacing the 1970 Crown Pumper. The engine pumped 1,500 gallons of water per minute, as well as having the capability to pump out both Class A and AFFF foam.

The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program was developed in 1997 to promote neighborhood self reliance in the event of a large scale disaster.

historic fire department in action In March 1998, Culver City Fire Department was the first agency in California to receive accreditation from the Commission of Fire Accreditation International (CFAI). CCFD became one of only eight departments in the nation to earn this distinction and the only one in California. The Accreditation process is a self-assessment of a department’s fire and emergency services. It determines if a department is meeting the needs of the community through performance indicators, core competencies, and other criteria and categories. The department began its self-assessment in September 1995 and submitted all necessary documents in May 1997 to CFAI. A site review, with a peer assessment team, was conducted in 1997. Once all reviews were completed and finalized Accreditation was awarded. The department has since been able to maintain Accreditation which must be reviewed annually and renewed every 5 years.

Today, the Culver City Fire Department operates out of three fire stations and responds to over 5,000 incidents per year. Approximately 3,000 patients are transported each year by Culver City Firefighter Paramedics.