Volunteer female firefighters of the LAFD
Reprint of A CENTURY OF SERVICE 1886 – 1986

Chief Engineer Archibald Eley realized it would be many years before the city could afford fulltime, paid firefighters and stations throughout the rapidly-growing community. Volunteer companies had to be formed to supplement the LAFD’s protection, especially in outlying districts. In addition to those part-paid, part-volunteer companies in the harbor area and Hollywood, the department was, by 1914, supporting 14 volunteer companies in areas including Gardena, the Los Feliz district, Mount Washington, Atwater and Palms.

Innovative as he was in fire protection, Eley came up with still another idea when he personally encouraged the formation of volunteer fire companies of women who were taught to operate hand-drawn, two-wheel hose reels. Eley’s logic that many men worked downtown or in the industrial districts during the day; thus leaving a shortage of men to fight fires in the residential areas.

Volunteer female firefighters of the LAFDCaptain Marie Stack was officially appointed head of the Los Angeles Fire Department’s first all-women volunteer fire company consisting of two female firefighters who reported Captain Stack. To signify her position, Eley presented Captain Stack was a regulation fire cap and badge. The women answered their first alarm on June 6, 1912, when they were called to a grass fire at Third and Flowers Streets. They had the fire well in hand as Engine 3 firefighters arrived and assisted them by beating out the embers with wet gunnysacks.

The LAFD’s second female volunteer fire company was formed two months later among socially-prominent women in the exclusive First Street and Manhattan Place area in the western outskirts of the city. Their district was so large that they equipped their two-wheel hose reel with a device which enabled the rig to be hooked to the rear end of one of their automobiles and pulled to fires. Officially known as the Manhattan Place Volunteer Fire Brigade of the LAFD, Captain J.A. Caldwell and the matrons renamed their outfit The Society Fire Department. In Wilmington, two years later, women formed The Wilmington Park Fire Ladies. Their chief, Louise Leonardo, and her fellow volunteers showed off their bright red hose reel with 700-feet of hose and long tow rope. The rig was housed near the Wilmington Park Library. Setting citrus grove smudge pots afire, they showed their prowess to Eley and newsmen as they quickly doused the fires with their two-and-one-half inch hose line and a large, straight-bore nozzle.

Submitted by Frank Borden
Written by Frank Borden (Director of Operation of the LAFDHS) for the Los Angeles Firemen’s Relief Association’s Firemen’s Grapevine Magazine. “In March of 1910, Archie J. Eley became Chief Engineer. Chief Eley was originally appointed Call Man of 1892 and Lieutenant First Class in January of 1900. During this period the two platoon system was established, changing to 24 hour shifts. Chief Eley was responsible for getting the first large fireboat for the LAFD. Fireboat 1 was later named after the chief. He also formed a Women’s Fire Brigade in 1910.”