California wildfires again riveted the nation's attention during a roughly two-week period beginning in mid-October 2007. Overall responsibility for California's efforts to prevent and fight wildfires is in the hands of CAL FIRE, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. However, a number of local counties, ranging from Marin, Kern and Santa Barbara to Ventura, Orange and Los Angeles County, are paid by CAL FIRE to provide wildfire services nominally considered the State's responsibility.
While San Diego County was hardest hit by the October 2007 wildfires, it was nevertheless necessary for firefighters from the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) to respond to several serious but less damaging wildfires in Los Angeles County. According to the LAFD website, firefighters from the city's fire department rolled out to both the so-called Buckweed Fire near Agua Dulce, about twelve miles north of Los Angeles, and the so-called Canyon Fire, a brush fire about eight miles west of Los Angeles near Malibu, California. Overall, the LAFD deployed five Strike Teams comprising some 150 firefighters during the October wildfire crisis. By all accounts, the Los Angeles Fire Department is well-equipped to serve the fire-fighting needs of America's second largest city. Launched formally in 1886 through the amalgamation of several volunteer fire companies founded as early as the 1870s, the LAFD has grown from its original complement of four fire stations and a Los Angeles population of just 50,000 to become one of the country's largest firefighting services.
Today's force levels top out at slightly more than 3,600 uniformed firefighters, who man more than a hundred fire stations. More than 4 million L.A. residents currently rely on the LAFD for fire prevention, fire fighting, EMC services, hazmat mitigation and disaster response.
An often overlooked but nevertheless extremely important part of the force is comprised of five fire boats that protect the Port of Los Angeles from fire. Perched on the shores of San Pedro Bay, about thirty kilometers due south of downtown Los Angeles, the Port of Los Angeles is the busiest container port in the United States with a container volume of 7.4 million TEUs in 2004, the last year for which figures of this kind are available.
The Port also has the West Coast's largest cruise ship facility, which handles in excess of one million cruise ship passengers annually. Five fire boats guard the Port of Los Angeles from fires that have the potential to be just as devastating as the California wildfires of 2007. The newest of these, the Warner Lawrence, is a 105-foot powerhouse with the ability to pump 38,000 gallons of water per minute at heights of up to 400 feet. The Warner Lawrence retired the LAFD's oldest fire boat, the 78-year-old Ralph J. Scott, in April 2003.
Matt Paolini is a senior researcher for CityBook, the family-safe Online Yellow Pages, which carries an extensive directory on Los Angeles civil law.