History (Story)

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On September 11, 1861, the interested citizens of the community called a meeting, at the courthouse. Their aim was to organize a Fire Company. John W. Ackerson was appointed Chairman and John Ames was appointed Secretary.

A second meeting was called on September 18, 1861, at which time the Constitution and By-Laws were prepared.

At the third meeting on September 23, 1861, the Constitution and By-Laws were adopted and the Company became known as “Redwood City Fire Company No. 1.” Twenty-three members were enrolled with an initiation fee of $1.00 and monthly dues of 25 cents. Meetings were to be held monthly. The company was to consist of not less than twenty members or more than sixty-five members.

The first Officers elected were:

Foreman (Chief) W. C. Grey
First Assistant Foreman W. H. Shreve
Second Assistant Foreman C. A. Perkins
Secretary John Ames
Treasurer John W. Ackerson

These men served until the First Annual Meeting, which was held on January 6, 1862. On January 5, 1862, the following men were elected:

Foreman (Chief) John W. Ackerson
First Assistant Foreman W. H. Shreve
Second Assistant Foreman C. A. Perkins
Secretary John Ames
Treasurer George Wentworth

On March 3, 1862, a Fire Company Committee was empowered to order a Piano Style Fire Engine (hand pumper, drawn by manpower) from Cowing and Company of Seneca Falls, New York. W. T. Coleman and Company of San Francisco were handling the transaction.

Monthly dues, contributions and the proceeds paid for this Engine from the first Annual Ball, which was held on May 15, 1862, and netted $405.85.

On September 1, 1862, the Fire Company purchased its first two-wheel hose cart for $100 and 200 feet of hose for $252.

The Fire Engine ordered in March, 1862, arrived in San Francisco on September 13, 1862, and was delivered in Redwood City on September 22, 1862. The cost of this Engine was $616.70.

The citizens took extreme pride in this new Engine, which was made of mahogany and trimmed in shining brass. Miss Emmie Schofield on behalf of the ladies of the community presented the Fire Company with its first banner. It was made of satin and trimmed in gold.

The first Fire House was built on Main Street and completed in November, 1862. A Fire Bell was purchased for the Fire House on January 6, 1864.

On April 7, 1864, a fire occurred destroying the American Hotel. This was the first major fire since the Fire Company was organized. Pumping water from a nearby cistern saved the Eureka Hotel next door. No water was available from the creek and the tide was out.

A resolution was passed on April 17, 1865, that a funeral procession be held the following Wednesday in behalf of the late President Lincoln. All members were called by the tolling of the Fire Bell.

In April, 1877, the first Water Company was completed on Middlefield Road, known then as Phelps Street.

As the town grew (some 2,000 population) fires became more frequent. In 1889 the Fire Company asked the town trustees to take over the maintenance of the Fire Company as they were unable to maintain such an organization. The town trustees agreed to take over and maintain the organization. They immediately ordered a hook and ladder and a hose cart. This was the beginning of the Redwood City Fire Department as known today.

Three companies were formed in different parts of the town, each with a hose cart. They were known as No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3. George Lovie was the first Chief of this group elected in 1889. Bells were purchased for each company for calling their members, each bell having a different tone.

Following are the names of the Chiefs who succeeded George Lovie:

Henry Beeger Sr. 1890 – 1891
C. H. Davis 1892
Daniel Mullen 1893
John W. Glennan 1894
Joseph N. Winter 1896 – 1905
A. L. Lowe 1906

At the turn of the century, the first hand-drawn chemical engine was purchased.

In 1912 the first electric fire alarm system was installed. This included thirty street fire alarm boxes, a steam whistle at the S. H. Frank Tannery and a two-circuit panel board.

In 1915, Mark E. Ryan was elected Fire Chief of the Department and a new era began. A bond election was held and the first motorized Fire Engine was ordered and delivered in that year. The Schnerr Company built it in San Francisco. It was a chemical engine with a body for carrying hose.

Chief Ryan combined all the Fire Companies into one organization and in 1920 the firehouse on Middlefield Road was built. The first paid men of the Department were hired. They were Bert Werder, who was to retire as County Fire Warden and Sylvester Douglas who was to retire as a Captain in the Police Department. In 1924 Lawrence Wood became a paid fireman retiring in 1948.

In 1921 the first motorized pumping engine with a capacity of pumping 750 gallons per minute was purchased from the Seagrave Company of Columbus, Ohio. In 1926 the second Seagrave engine was purchased with a pumping capacity of 1000 gallons per minute. In 1930 the American La France Company delivered a new ladder truck replacing the hook and ladder wagon which was purchased when the hook and ladder company was organized.

In the early 1920’s the Fire Department used to alert police officers out on patrol to call their office by flashing the street lights.

In 1928, Chief Ryan was elected to the Presidency of the Pacific Coast Fire Chiefs Association, which was quite an honor for a Chief of a small community to accomplish. This convention was held in San Francisco.

A new station at Jefferson and Myrtle (Station #2, now known as Station 10) was built in 1928. The contractors were Duncan and Russell.

In 1931 Chief Ryan became the first paid Fire Chief of the Fire Department. Up to this time his services were volunteered with no benefit of pay.

In 1932 Chief Ryan formed an electrical division in the department. Its members were firemen. This division maintained and extended the streetlights and the alarm system, as the City continued to grow. The fire alarm system grew from two to eleven circuits. The first members of this division were Henry Tarret, Richard Drivon and Willis Leslie. The electrical division was able to help the volunteer firemen during the depression years by hiring them for part-time work.

The Fire Department also helped the needy citizens of the community during the depression years. They would take flour that was brought in from San Francisco and take it to the local bakeries. After the bread was made, the firemen would pick it up and take it to the local schools and the fire stations where it would be distributed to the citizens, who were furnished with I.D. cards.

In 1933 the first drill tower built outside of San Francisco was added to the rear of Station #1 (Middlefield Rd. station).

City Hall occupied the top floor of Station #1 during the construction of the Library and the enlarging of City Hall. After City Hall moved back to their building, the top floor of Station #1 was converted into a dormitory for the firemen.

Around 1936 Redwood City received its first radio. It was a one-way radio. The telephone company would call KAAR Engineering in Palo Alto who would broadcast the information over the air. The Police Department would receive their calls the same way. Walter Harrington, Chief Radio Engineer for KAAR and later to become San Mateo County Communication Officer, was the consultant for all future radio installations for the City.

In 1936 the volunteer firemen began to receive pay for responding to fires. At this time the Department had six full time firemen.

In the late 1930’s bells were installed in the homes of firemen and volunteers to augment the steam whistle at Franks Tannery. A numbered code would be sounded identifying the location of a fire, and the men would respond to that location.

A two-way radio system was purchased around this time allowing, for the first time, conversation between the fire station and the fire ground.

During World War II five volunteer companies were formed and trained. They were assigned to different schools in the community to report to in the event of an alert. A gas-powered siren was installed on the top of the drill tower to alert these companies. Later electric sirens were installed near the schools.

In July, 1946, Chief Ryan retired as Chief after more than thirty years of faithful service to his community. He was to enjoy only six months of retirement passing away in December, 1946.

Deputy Chief J. L. Lodi was appointed Chief of the Department. Willis Leslie was appointed Deputy Chief and Richard Drivon was appointed Fire Marshal.

In 1947 John Keller and Bill Hart were appointed the Department’s first Captains.

In 1947 the Department took delivery of two new 1000 gallon per minute Seagrave Engines. Another was added in 1949 as the town continued to grow.

A $1 million bond initiative was passed. The bulk of this money was used to upgrade the water system of the City and to add a third station as well as enlarge Station #1.

Station #3 (known as Station 11 today) was built at 2nd and Bay Rd. and was dedicated in the memory of Chief Ryan in September, 1952.

In 1952 Ray Balzarini was appointed Fire Alarm Supervisor. He maintained the fire alarm system and supervised the fire alarm dispatch office, which grew to four dispatchers, and he retired in 1978.

Station #1 was enlarged and a new drill tower and drafting pit were added in 1953.

In 1953 Captain William Hart was appointed as the Department’s first Training Officer.

In 1953 the Department took delivery of its first aerial ladder truck, a 75 foot Maxim.

In 1954 while testifying at an arson trial, Fire Marshal Drivon suffered a fatal heart attack.

In 1954 Captain George Asvos was appointed Fire Marshal.

In 1957 Captain Clifford Ashby was appointed the Department’s first Battalion Chief.

In 1958 the Department’s first woman, Mrs. Lillian Earl, was hired as the Chief’s secretary.

In 1958 the Department purchased a fireboat. It was a military surplus from the Sea Bee Base in Port Hueneme. It was paid for by the Port and was maintained and manned by the Fire Department. Jim Rice, Port Maintenance Supervisor, firemen Charles Guinasso, Gene Paridy and Jim Serra traveled to Port Hueneme to pick up the boat, sailing it along the coast to Redwood City. It protected the Port and boaters until it was sold to a developer in the Sonora area in 1978. Its most memorable moment came in 1969 when it sailed up Redwood Creek to help fight the Franks Tannery fire.

In 1960 Captain Hart was appointed the Department’s second Battalion Chief. Captain John Keller succeeded him as Training Officer.

In 1961 the Redwood City Fire Department celebrated its centennial. It was a week long celebration kicked off by a proclamation by the Mayor and the Council, a banquet at headquarters for City dignitaries, former volunteers and World War II auxiliary firemen, and a grand parade. A museum was established and was in a vacant store on Broadway donated by former Mayor Henry Beeger. Wives and friends operated it for many months. The artifacts are now dispersed between the City Library, County Museum, and Fire Station #2.

In 1962 the Department took delivery of its first platform truck (snorkel).

In 1966 Captain Keller was appointed the Department’s third Battalion Chief and Captain Biagi succeeded him as Training Officer.

In 1967 Deputy Chief Willis Leslie retired from the Fire Department. Battalion Chief Keller succeeded him as Deputy Chief. Captain Alfred Hund succeeded Chief Keller as Battalion Chief.

On September 22, 1969, a fourth station (Station #4, now known as Station #12) was dedicated. It was built at Jefferson and Highland.

In April 5, 1970 Chief Lodi retired as Chief of the Fire Department after serving as Chief for 24 years.

Deputy Chief Keller succeeded Chief Lodi as Chief of the Department. Captain Biagi succeeded Chief Keller as Deputy Chief. Captain Andreozzi became the Department’s new Training Officer.

In March, 1971, Captain Miller became the Department’s Training Officer.

Many changes were taking place in the fire service at this time. Chief Keller was involved in many of the following:

    1. The first radio alarm boxes were installed.
    2. The Office of Emergency Services County Communication system was installed at Redwood City’s Dispatch Office.
    3. Automatic aid with the adjoining departments was accomplished.
    4. San Mateo County emergency response plan was drafted.
    5. Five 1500 gallon per minute engines purchased.
    6. Company inspection program starts (all apartments and businesses are inspected once a year by firemen).
    7. Blue dot program starts (blue reflectors are placed at intersection having fire hydrants at that location).

In 1978 Training Officer Captain Peter O’Brien was named Tri-City Training Coordinator. He was responsible for the training of the Redwood City, San Carlos and Belmont Fire Departments.

In November, 1978, Lillian Earl, the department’s secretary retired. In February, 1979, the department’s second secretary, Holliday (Holly) Nazar was hired.

In August, 1979, Chief Keller retired as Chief of the Department. He had served the department as Chief for nine years. Training Coordinator Peter J. O’Brien succeeded him as Chief of the Department. The Training Coordinator’s position was taken over by a member of the San Carlos Fire Department.

Chief O’Brien, upon taking over the operations of the department, set about reorganizing the staff structure of the department. He eliminated the positions of Deputy Chief and, upon Fire Marshal Asvos’ retirement in 1979, the position of Fire Marshal. He replaced them with two Battalion Chief positions. One was assigned the Fire Marshal’s responsibility, and the other with the Deputy Chief’s responsibilities.

In 1980 Captain Harold Yoakum was appointed Fire Prevention Battalion Chief, and Captain Bill Davidson was appointed Administrative Battalion Chief. 1980 saw the Fire Prevention Bureau change to civilian inspectors under the direction of Battalion Chief Yoakum.

The Fire Dispatch was transferred to a newly organized communications department along with Police Department Dispatch.

The dismantling of the fire alarm system is started. It was completed in January, 1984.

A Truck Company (a rescue truck and snorkel) is formed, creating three new Captain’s positions.

In 1981 Captain Mace was appointed Training Coordinator. Captain Alfred Becketti succeeded him in this position in May, 1982. Captain Becketti became a Battalion Chief in September, 1983.

In 1981 Station #2 (currently Station #10) was torn down and a new one built in the same location. It was dedicated in March, 1982. At the time of this revision, Station #1 is preparing to move to new quarters (declared unsafe in the event of an earthquake) while a new Station #1 is being planned and built.

Personnel and equipment moved out of Station 1 (currently Redwood City’s Main Library) to trailers on Franklin Street. This was to last for 1 year. Construction of the new station took three years.

Station 1 crew moved into their new fire house on Marshall Street (currently Station 9). The first Tiller Ladder Truck was acquired. The citizens of Redwood City, by overwhelming majority, vote for binding arbitration as a bargaining tool for the fire fighters.

In preparation for a future County-wide numbering system, all Redwood City’s fire stations numbering Wwas adjusted to the ONE numbering system within the entire county:

Station 1 became Station 9
Station 2 became Station 10
Station 3 became Station 11
Station 4 became Station 12
When the Redwood Shores station was built, it became Station 20 to fit into the County Dispatch’s numbering scheme.

San Mateo County switched from individual city/district-centered dispatch centers for Fire to ONE dispatch center serving six jurisdictions (Redwood City Fire Department, South County Fire Authority, Menlo Fire Protection District, Woodside Fire Protection District, California Department of Forestry and Half Moon Bay Fire). The advantage of this system is the ease in dispatching multiple companies from neighboring jurisdictions for large incidents (link to Communications page).

Redwood City hired its first paramedics (link to Operations Page/Paramedics in Redwood City) to better serve the City of Redwood City. Fire Fighters were sent to Paramedic school by the Department.

Station 20 opened to better serve the Redwood Shores area.

Fire Net Six expanded to Fire Net 99 and included the original Fire Net Six agencies as well as all other San Mateo County fire agencies (link to Communications page).

$20,000 donated by Electronic Arts was used to buy a top-of-the-line Thermal Imagining Camera. This camera has the ability to see through smoke by using the variations of heat to draw pictures. The use of this technology greatly enhances fire fighters ability to rescue persons trapped in smoke and reduce the spread of fire and consequent damage.

$21,000 was donated by Oracle and was used to buy a Thermal Imagining Camera. Redwood City is one more camera closer to their goal of having a camera on every Engine and the Truck.

Stemming from childhood memories of attending Memorial Services with his dad, and also from losing a close friend/fellow fire fighter, Fire Fighter Greg Da Cunha organizes the first non-denominational memorial service for fallen public safety members in South San Mateo County (link to Hot Topics page/San Mateo County Public Safety Memorial Service). It occurred in September of 2002. By popular demand, the event was later expanded to cover public safety agencies in the northern part of San Mateo County, in addition to the southern agencies.

In April 2003, the Department purchases a Thermal Imagining Camera (3rd camera for the fleet) to place on another one of their Engines.

Also in April of 2003, Alpio Barbara, owner of Redwood General Tire, spearheaded the Chamber of Commerce’s local businesses in raising money to buy the 4th Thermal Imagining Camera for the Department. R.C.F.D. is now only 2 cameras away from their goal of a camera on each of their responding apparatus.