John C. Gerard, Los Angeles fire chief from 1977 to 1982 and a Medal of Valor hero whose reputation was later sullied by accusations that he accepted financial favors, has died. He was 70.
Gerard, who became a consultant to the National Fire Protection Assn. in Washington after he left Los Angeles, died Friday in Leesburg, Va., a suburb of the capital.
A 29-year veteran of the Los Angeles Fire Department, Gerard served as fire marshal in charge of fire prevention programs before becoming chief. Throughout his career in Los Angeles and Washington, Gerard campaigned for anti-arson programs and such fire prevention items as residential fire sprinklers, smoke alarms and fire-safe cigarettes.
Because of that record, many city and fire officials were startled when Gerard backed city ordinances in 1979 and 1980 to legalize sale of "safe and sane" fireworks within the Los Angeles city limits. The City Council defeated the measure both years.
Although some firecrackers and similar devices have been readily available in many California communities, they have been banned in Los Angeles since World War II.
After Gerard left office, a Times investigative team revealed that Orange County fireworks manufacturer W. Patrick Moriarty had paid off a $20,000 bank loan for Gerard and given him a two-for-one investment return on a condominium project that failed.
Orange County prosecutors convicted Moriarty, former owner of Anaheim-based Pyrotronics Corp., of fraud and corruption and sent him to prison for seven years for trying to influence public officials on the proposed Los Angeles ordinances and a similar statewide measure that was defeated in the Legislature.
Moriarty testified that he had made the two-for-one investment offer on the condominium to Gerard and two legislators. Gerard repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and was never charged with any.
"I'm not involved in anything that's illegal or dirty or anything else," he told The Times from Washington in 1984.
While working his way up through the Fire Department ranks, Gerard earned the Medal of Valor in 1973 for his rescue efforts as a battalion chief in a 1971 Sylmar tunnel explosion that killed 17 people. Gerard personally led two search and recovery operations through flames and poisonous gas with a limited supply of oxygen.
As fire marshal, Gerard supervised the department's arson investigations, safety code enforcement and fire prevention.
"My concept of the fire chief is that his responsibilities transcend being a firefighter," Gerard told The Times after he was sworn in as chief engineer and general manager on June 30, 1977. "The fire chief is a community leader. He has to be involved."
Gerard is survived by his wife, Stacy; three children from a former marriage, Teresa, Kathleen and Mark; a stepson, Andrew; and five grandchildren.
Memorial donations may be sent to the Los Angeles Firemen's Relief Assn. Widows and Orphans Fund, 2900 W. Temple St., Los Angeles, CA 90026.