History of the LAFD

Early days of the LAFD.

Los Angeles is not only one of the largest metro cities in the world, it’s also complex, with harbors, airports, high rise buildings, brush filled canyons, and more than four million people living within its boundaries. To protect those four million people, fewer than 4,000 firefighters are employed by the city, with on average 1,100 on duty at any one time.

In the 1880s, Los Angeles was a sleepy little pueblo, with agriculture as its primary industry. The use of firemen to protect buildings and citizens was in its infancy. This section of the LAFD Historical Society’s website will bring you some of the history of the department over the past 123+ years.

The Los Angeles Fire Department became a career, paid department on February 1, 1886. In those days, the city would go for days, or even weeks, without a fire. Yet, on the first day of the paid department, two working fires put the new “career” firemen to work.

Today’s LAFD is a complex, paramilitary organization. It includes fire suppression, fire prevention, fire boats, air operations, training, and much more. Yet, it is one of the leanest fire/life safety agencies in service, relative to the more than 4 million people who call Los Angeles home. By comparison, New York City employs more than 14,000 firefighters.

Explore the history of the LAFD as we publish it here. Every month, we’ll add new chapters of the department’s history, new videos in our “LA FIRE” video channel, and new stories of firefighters, their experiences, and what it’s like to protect the citizens of Los Angeles.