“TENS FIRST IN.” Several years ago, I ran across a video documentary by Harry Garvin on Station 10– Task Force 10– of the Los Angeles [City] Fire Department (LAFD). The title is “Tens First In.” Of course, there is no shortage of good stuff out there on the LAFD, including a large body of really good work by Alan Simmons and some nice pieces on You Tube. Still, even though it was produced in the late 1990s, it remains one of my favorite videos of all types and times.
What’s so great about “Tens First In?” Well, it’s got a subtle, well refined story line, refined videography that gives you a unique feeling for being in the middle of everything (not just watching it), and one of the most engaging and memorable conclusions of any film, of any type, I’ve ever seen. And, it introduced me to LA’s unique “task force” concept. I’ve only seen the video in VHS format– grab one if you get a chance.
Like many fire departments, LA refers to its aerial apparatus as “trucks.” Ladder trucks don’t tend to run a lot of calls by themselves. But, in LA, the independent value of trucks is expanded by teaming them up with what might be considered their own engine, forming a 2-piece operational unit called a “light force.” In LAFD parlance, a “task force” is a 3-piece combination of a truck and two engines (an engine and a “light force”), all running out of a single station, often as a single unit. The task force idea appears to have developed during LA’s Watts riots of 1965. Staging these 3-piece groupings of apparatus as a single entity, simplified assignment, communications, flexibility and autonomy.
In current practice, a task force’s fully staffed primary engine operates as the station’s main fire “attack” unit– what some East coast companies would have called a hose wagon or “wagon” in earlier, 2-piece engine company days. The task force’s other engine, the “pumper” (since, at a major incident, it would position at a hydrant and pump to the attack engine), is lightly staffed (sometimes with only an operator). Its primary job is to support and equip the station’s truck or attack engine. This is a fairly unique organizational structure in modern times. Fascinating.
STATION TEN– SPIT AND POLISH. I “grew up” in the rather utilitarian traditions of East coast fire service culture. Tools were tools and, while they were cleaned, sharpened and repaired, as necessary, and sometimes taped or painted for identification purposes, they seldom offered much in the way of aesthetic appeal. I certainly appreciated the quality and value of highly polished tools like Fire Axe Inc’s. essentially hand-crafted pickhead and flat head axes and Aazel’s option for polished versions of their entry bars (as shown below). However, it was hard to imagine an operation where such refined tools and equipment were the rule, rather than occasional exceptions.
Clearly, though, Station 10– the whole Los Angeles Fire Department, for that matter– is that kind of operation. On a recent trip to LA, I had a chance to confirm that first-hand, with a visit to Station 10, some 20 years after “Tens First In” was produced. The crew was great– a couple of younger troops “agreed” to give me a detailed tour of Truck 10. It was unique in my experience. The array of tools and equipment, and the condition of tools and equipment, was all spit-and-polish– uniquely LAFD.
Right away, in the first compartment we opened, you could see the LA difference. It contained an array of forcible entry tools. In addition to twin Partner saws, axes and sledge hammer, this compartment included highly polished stainless steel Halligan-type and Hayward claw tool-type bars– but the biggest surprise was the equally bright companion bolt cutters.
The bright work seen in the first compartment, turned out to be a staple of virtually every other compartment, as well. If the contents weren’t fire engine red, they were likely to be polished stainless, chrome plated or highly polished bare metal (like the pump pot coffee caraffe, fuel cans, hose appliances and the pair of rubbish hooks caribinered together for ease of transport, shown below).
STATION TEN INGENUITY. The condition of their rigs was impressive, but, Station 10 was more than spit-and-polish. Truck 10, for example, was bristling with innovative “tricks of the trade.” Among these were the set of entry adjuncts assembled by one of its crew members (photo below) for access to motor vehicles, building doors, elevators and other specialized entry.
Under the flip-up door at the rear of the truck is an array of the station’s traditional West Coast wood ladders. Most are constructed using a tapered truss design pioneered by Frederick Seagrave in the 1880’s, before his firm began manufacturing fire apparatus. Truck 10’s A-frame combination ladder is stored with a medium length, D-handled pike pole mounted on it.
TENS ARE ALL IN. The concluding segment of the Garvin’s 1995 documentary on Station 10, left me with the impression of a well-integrated operation that was ready for virtually anything. My visit with them clearly confirmed it, in my mind.