Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, It's Off To Work They Go

The Disneyland Fire Department Keeps The Magic Kingdom Free From Fire

(From Firehouse Magazine, January, 1993)


        It's vacation time, finally, and the kids are screaming, "we want to go to Disneyland!" For most firefighters, vacation time is the time to forget all about firefighting and the fire safety of your district, and Disneyland is a perfect place to do go to do so. But, while you and the kids are whizzing down Space Mountain or being spooked by ghosts in the Haunted Mansion, an experienced and dedicated team of firefighters is watching out for your fire safety.

        The first image that comes to mind is of the little antique fire truck that putts up and down Main Street, U.S.A., with its little firehouse near the entrance to the park. In reality, the Disneyland Fire Department (DFD) probably has one of the most trained, efficient and rigorous fire responses in the United States.

        The current Chief is Bill Collins, a retired battalion chief with over 25 years of service with the L.A. City Fire Department. His staff includes two other chiefs, 12 full-time paid members and 38 part-time paid members, many of whom are members of neighboring fire departments. Others are retired firefighters with many years' experience, including a 30-year veteran of the Garden Grove, CA Fire Department.

        There has always been a fire service at Disneyland. When the park officially opened on July 17th, 1955, Disney acquired a 1954 Willys Jeep with a front-mounted pump for fire protection and staffed it with ex-military personnel. Today, they are equipped with a 1981 Chevrolet/Pierce/Crown pumper with a 250 gallon tank and a Waterous 300 gpm pump, 600 feet of 2-1/2 inch line and 150 feet of 1-1/2 inch attack line. This truck, and another utility pickup truck equipped with fire extinguishers, is stationed at the fire department headquarters located near the entrance to Disneyland. There is also a trailer-mounted Hale 1000 gpm pump with three shots of 5-inch hard-suction, 2,000 feet of 4-inch supply hose and two cross-lays of 2-1/2 inch and 1-1/2 inch line that is stored in the back-lot area of the park, for use in drafting should the need arise.

        While this equipment is rarely used and is always maintained in tip-top shape, anyone who has spent any amount of time in the fire service is sure to be thinking at this point that should there be a fire of any real consequence, the equipment on-site would not even be nearly capable of handling it. This assumption is correct.

        The main thrust of the work done by the DFD is preventative in nature. This is no small assignment, however, for a "protection district" as complex and varied as Disneyland. The park itself encompasses roughly 200 acres, including the backstage areas. There are almost 10,000 employees in the summer months, and on a busy day there may be over 60,000 visitors to the park. Due to the mechanization of all the attractions and animatronics that Disney is famous for, there are probably close to 20,000 electric motors on site, not to mention all of the wiring that goes with them. Many attractions, including the most current show extravaganza "Fantasmic," include a host of pyrotechnic and laser effects, and there is an abundant supply of hazardous materials in all configurations that are used in the creation and maintenance of the attractions. There are 22 restaurants, and therefore 22 kitchens that need to be inspected on a regular basis. As part of fire prevention, there are roughly 2,000 fire extinguishers in the park that need to be inspected and serviced as well. While it would seem that there would be very little for a firefighter to do at Disneyland, the DFD receives on the average of 1,100 "calls" annually, making for quite a busy operation.

        The vast majority of these calls are investigative in nature: strange odors, burnt electrical motors, small spills, etc. There is also a high degree of involvement with the research and development end of Disneyland: As new attractions are installed, the fire department is involved in every step, from enforcing sprinkler codes to overseeing actual construction. At times, to meet deadlines for a new attraction, a painter and a welder may accidentally be working side-by-side.

        The attractions themselves are inspected daily and governed by the operations department of Disneyland, but many include interesting fire/rescue safety features. For example, roller coasters such as the Matterhorn and Space Mountain have compressed air in the tubes that are the "rails" of the ride, and this pressure is constantly computer-monitored. If a crack were to develop anywhere along the length of the rail, the air pressure would drop and immediately alert the ride operator to the problem. In the Star Tours ride, which involves an actual "flight" simulator, any activation of the sprinkler system triggers a computer program whereby the ride stops, rights itself, the exit platforms are lowered and all of the individual seat belts on the ride are automatically unbuckled.

        The most frequent "working" fire situations the department sees are trash can fires. "When guests visit Disneyland, the streets are so neat and clean that if they're smoking a cigarette they're afraid to stub the butts out on the street," explains Chief Collins, "so instead they put them in the trash cans!" One unusual aspect of being a fireman at Disneyland involves the Disney philosophy of theatre: If you work for Disney, you are a "cast-member" as opposed to an employee; what you wear is not a uniform but a "costume," and when you are inside the park (as opposed to backstage) you are "onstage." Your demeanor is as important as your job. When there is an alarm, Disney firefighters are asked to walk (as quickly as possible) rather than run to the location. If in the process a "guest" stops them to ask them how to operate their camera, they help them operate it!

        In the unusual event that there is an alarm of real significance - and this has only happened three times in the last ten years - there is an automatic mutual-aid alarm sent to the Anaheim Fire Department, who by prior preplan has specific responses designed for specific emergencies. These responses are thorough to say the least: A typical first response would include four engines, two trucks and a battalion chief. For a Skyway rescue, six trucks, two engines and a heavy rescue would be used. In any alarm where Anaheim responds, the Incident Command goes to Anaheim, but Disneyland prides itself on a close-knit working relationship with the Anaheim Fire Department. There are on the average two mutual-aid drills annually - and one of the Anaheim chiefs is also a Disneyland firefighter.

        In the event of a large-scale emergency such as an earthquake, Disneyland is also prepared with three Disaster "Stations." Each consists of a portable 500 gpm pump, one shot of 4-inch hard-suction hose and 400 feet of 1-3/4-inch line. Because of all of its water attractions, Disneyland has over 18,000,000 gallons of water on site - more than the entire city of Anaheim. Other municipalities would in all likelihood turn to Disneyland for water should such a disaster occur.

        The next time you find yourself visiting Mickey and Minnie, tip your hat to America's Bravest. They are making Disneyland one of the safest - as well as happiest - places on earth.