Culver City has a brand new ladder truck with a 100-foot ladder so firefighters can reach trapped victims or douse flames from strategic angles from eight stories high. Three engines pump water to the truck and a battalion truck centralizes all communications and data on the fire to the commander overseeing the incident. There are two paramedic rescue units and one ambulance staffed with Emergency Medical Technicians.
With eight structure fires in 2016, all this seems a lot – until the next emergency.
CCFD is constantly called out, up to several times a day, to help other departments in a mutual aid pact that goes back to the 70s. A group of firefighters was at the Whittier fire for eight days and another group of firefighters took an engine to the Mariposa fire last week.
“We help each other all the time,” Fire Chief David White told a capacity crowd at the Culver City Historical Society’s quarterly meeting. “We maintain enough equipment to meet our own needs, but help nearby departments and are fully reimbursed for our expenses.”
Himself a 39-year veteran of the CCFD, active paramedic and in his third year as Chief, he presented a history of the department, possibly the first time this has been done, said Society Programs Chair Hope Parrish, in her final year of bringing history to life with innovative programs like this.
The CCFD has an equipment repair and replacement schedule, so purchases like the new $1.2 million truck are anticipated. “It will last 25 years,” Chief White, the 11th in the department’s 95 years, said. “It replaces the current truck, which will become a reserve we can call on.”
With its equipment current and maintained and firefighters who are all EMTs and three quarters with paramedics, the CCFD has earned distinguished ratings that directly benefit citizens.
“We are rated Class 1 by the Insurance Services Office,” Chief White said. “Insurance companies look at that and lower our premiums.”
There are many factors that make Culver City an outstanding place to live, and, Chief White said, one of them is their Fire Department. Culver City has always been in the forefront of firefighting. In 1919, they paid a man $10 a month to keep the first fire wagon in his garage. The problem was, other things were stored in the garage and digging the engine out delayed response time. After Mayor Clyde Slater’s garage burned down due to the lengthy delay, they moved locations and bought a second truck, Ford Model T Fire Wagon, in 1920.
For a while, L.B. Minnick, the fire chief from the Ince (now Culver) Studios, was acting chief. He would hear the fire bell, run to the equipment and drive to the fire, grabbing as many volunteers as he could on the way. They were paid one dollar if it was a false alarm and $4 if they used water from the fire hose to put it out.
Bu 1922, they had three pieces of equipment, and paid Frank Wilcox to store it. He rented his garage to the city in April and become chief in October. Chief White described the conditions Chief Wilcox worked under.
“As the only full time employee, he was paid $150 a month and on call 24 hours a day with no time off,” Chief White said. “But he had 12 volunteers he could call on when needed.”
One-time Fire (arson) Inspector/Chief Jim Forte and Captain/Chief Jim Gilbert added stories to the city’s colorful history. Gilbert recalled having to leave fires to throw up because of toxic chemicals and Forte told how he got Jack Nicholson, an inveterate smoker, to use a designated area by stationing firefighters to police his smoking and ensure all sparks were out. “We charged MGM for their time,” he said.
In 1946 CCFD established a Fire Protection Bureau to pursue preventative measures. This was decades before prevention departments became popular in the US, Chief White said. Culver Citizens who live in moderate to severe fire hazard areas were send a notice to clear the bush around their homes in May to make fire control more effective.
In 1956, CCFD grew to three fire stations and three platoons, or shifts of firefighters, who numbered 46. The department also added its training center on Jefferson. It’s still there – updated to a four story fire tower and other equipment in 1970. “Firefighters are constantly training to be as fit as possible for any emergency,” White said.
An arson bureau was added in 1971 and paramedics in 1973. Once again, Culver City was ahead of the pack. There were protests against allowing firefighters, who trained without medical personnel present, to help patients. CCFD also had one of the first in-house Emergency Medical Technician programs in California in 1979.
To meet demand, they added a second paramedic until in 1981 and an ambulance manned by EMTs in 1982 (there have been no female firefighters in the Culver City Fire Department). They gave low cost First Aid and CPR lessons to citizens and employees.
In 1995, the Culver City Fire Department earned a First Class rating from the Insurance Services Office (ISO). Of 24,000 departments nationwide, just 18 were awarded First of ten classes. In 1994, they earned the Life Safety Achievement Award from the International Association of Fire Chiefs, one of two departments in California so designated. The same year, they started the Certified Emergency Response Training CERT, which teaches citizens how to respond to earthquakes, fires, floods and other disasters.
In 2014, they renewed their Public Protection Classification Class 1 status with the ISO, one of seven in California of 43,000 departments in the US.
Firefighters have dropped from 70 to 61 since Chief White took on the role. He will be adding more, and said he hopes women apply. The last time they hired, just 17 of 1,000 applicants were female. He believes if women start as reserve firefighters, it will help prepare them for the applicant tests.
Two third of calls are between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., White said. They range annually between 89 at 6 a.m. to 883 at 3 p.m. He said the new regional communications center has already cut response time measurably. They can now identify high volume repeat callers and direct them to the appropriate help they need.
“It was a good call,” the Chief told the crowd.