YESTERDAY AND TOMORROW
Written by: Captain Harold McBeth, Retired Fire Marshal (1943-1969)
From the time of its founding in 1850, the City of Eureka had no organized fire department. Fires were fought by people carrying buckets, axes, ladders, etc.
One of the first fires mentioned in city records was on October 2, 1854, when a man smoking his pipe in bed set the bed on fire. It was reported that he was very much offended when he was pulled out of bed and the fire extinguished.
On December 1, 1860, it was called to the attention of the Town Trustees that a fire department should be organized. On October 14, 1862, the Ryan Mill was burned to the ground in the early morning hours. Fortunately, due to a calm morning with no wind, the remainder of the town was saved.
On February 16, 1864, a group of six prominent citizens visited the Town Trustees and made formal application for a tax levy to purchase equipment for fire fighting purposes.
February 16, 1864, the Eureka Fire Department was officially recognized by the Town Trustees and given permission to borrow $1,500. This sum of money was loaned by 36 citizens in varying amounts from $5 to $100.
The first piece of fire fighting equipment was a used 1849 Hunneman hand operated pumper from Chelsea, Mass purchased by John Dolbeer in San Francisco in 1864. A schooner fire in October, 1864, at the Vance Wharf gave the engine its first service.
With this piece of equipment, Torrent Engine Company #1 was formed, and this was Eureka’s fire protection until 1871.
On June 15, 1871, the first regular fire company was formed and became known as Eureka Hose Co. #1. On August 16, 1872, the company changed its title to Eureka Engine Company #1.
At this time it was assigned Eureka’s first steam fire engine, an 1872 Silsby. The pumping capacity of the pumper was 600 gallons per minute. This gave Engine Co. #1 two pieces of equipment. This equipment was housed at the Fire Station on Second Street between H and I Streets. At this time A.C. Hichborn was appointed the first Eureka Fire Chief; he served two terms until 1874.
In May of 1873, the City of Eureka paid $295, for the first hose carriage for the fire department. The record shows that at this time J. W. Frost, Engineer, and George Hart, Foreman, were each paid the sum of $100 for salary for a six month period. At a later date, they were hired for $150 for one year’s service.
In 1873, a second steam fire engine was purchased, another Silsby, and Humboldt Engine Co. #2 was organized to handle it. In June of 1873, Asa Persons applied for appointment as engineer of the new steam engine at a salary of $150 a year. After some major problems, Co. #2 was reorganized in 1877.
In 1877, a Hayes Horse Drawn Service Ladder Truck was purchased. This ladder truck had a hand operated 50 foot aerial ladder plus ground ladders. This equipment was stored along with the Steamer, at Humboldt Co. #2. At this time Hook and Ladder Co. #1 was organized.
On January 18, 1878, Torrent Fire Engine Co. #3 was organized. The company moved into its quarters in April of the same year. The quarters were located at Grant and B Streets.
April 4, 1894, Columbia Hose Co. #4 was organized and quartered at Third and O Streets. The building was in existence until 1990 when the Hose Co. #4 building was declared surplus and sold to The Art People.
In 1903, the first Gamewell Alarm System was installed at the City Hall. The system was maintained by the city electrician. A number of storage batteries were used for standby in case of a power failure.
April 16, 1904, California Hose Co. #5 was organized. Ordinance #351 officially approved the company. Its location was at Pratt (now Sonoma) and California Streets. The building was sold to the Eureka School District in 1960 and used for maintenance and storage yard. Currently it has been restored and is an operating day care center.
June 30, 1904, Sequoia Hose Co. #6 was formed and approved by Ordinance #496 of the City Council mustering the company into service July 12, 1904.
In February 1905, an American Metropolitan Steam Fire Engine was delivered to the Fire Department. This engine had a pumping capacity of 1100 gallon per minute. It could handle four 2 ½ inch fire hoses. It was the biggest and best fire engine manufactured at that time.
March 13, 1908, Myrtle Hose Co. #7 was organized and approved by Ordinance #496 on July 7, 1908.
At this time the membership ordered a Webb Chemical Hose Wagon. This was the Fire Department’s first piece of motorized equipment. Four driver operators were hired on the department at this time. These men were the first full time paid men of the department.
In 1924, an American LaFrance, 750 g.p.m. pumper, arrived. Additional man power was added to the paid fire department.
In 1928, the following equipment was received from the American LaFrance Company: A 1,000 g.p.m. pumper, a service ladder truck with a 50’ extension ladder, a 35’ extension ladder as well as other ladders. At this time additional paid men were again hired.
In 1936, a 500 g.p.m. pumper was delivered to the Fire Department from Ahrens Fox Co. It was purchased through the local firm of Jewett Rhodes. Today it is awaiting restoration by Arcata Fire Department.
In 1937, tragedy struck the department. The 750 g.p.m. LaFrance Pumper was wrecked at the corner of 7th and F Streets in a collision with a loaded wood truck. The impact of the collision completely removed the motor from the fire truck injuring Fireman Pasquini. The driver of the wood truck received only minor scratches and bruises. The fire engine was beyond repair. At a later date the same year, another collision between the 1,000 gallon fire truck and a McGaraghan Drayage truck also occurred on 7th Street, this time at A Street causing the death of a Volunteer Fireman, who was also the City Electrical Inspector; he was riding on the tailboard of the engine. The impact threw the fireman completely over the top of the fire truck landing him in the street.
In 1938, a 1200 g.p.m. pumper was purchased from the Sea Grave Corporation.
In August of 1939, Volunteer Companies #3 and Hook and Ladder were asked to move their quarters to the rear of the Municipal Auditorium. Engine House #3 was given to Eureka City Schools since they needed additional property acquisitions in order to comply with State School Regulations.
The Fire Fighters’ A.F. of L., Local #652, was chartered in 1940. June 12, 1943; a retirement system was adopted for the fire and police departments by vote of the public. Up until 1948, working conditions consisted of the following: 72 hours per week, 10 hours on a day shift, and 14 hours on a night shift, one day off or one night off per week.
In 1946, an 85’ American LaFrance aerial ladder truck was delivered. The old LaFrance Ladder was declared surplus and later sold to the Lodi Fire Department. The manpower was increased by 6 people at this time. The 1946 aerial truck later serviced the Crescent Fire Protection District.
In July of 1946, A.D. Pettingill was appointed the first full time paid Fire Chief. In 1948, the fire department changed to a two platoon system which consisted of 24 hours off and 24 hours on duty. There was still a 72 hour work week.
A Ford 500 g.p.m. pumper was picked up at Hamilton Air Force Base in 1949 and refurbished by the men of the fire department. It was later placed into service at #6 Fire House when the County moved its pumper to Redwood Acres. The City of Eureka and Humboldt County had had an agreement since the early 1930’s regarding storage and manning their pumpers. This agreement ended July 25, 1949, when the County hired their own chief and firemen.
In 1952, additional manpower was delivered from LaFrance. This same year, radio equipment was installed in the tire trucks. Dispatching was done by two firemen who were on disability from heart attacks. These two men never left the Fire House. When their days off occurred, other firemen took over. Also, at this time, a full time alarm technician was hired. The Fire Prevention Bureau was established full-time in 1955. The 1955 pumper later serviced the Westhaven Fire Department.
Duty hours per week were reduced to 61 in 1956. Then in 1957, new Engine Houses #3 and #4 were occupied. Houses #5 and #6 were closed.
In 1958, a surplus fire boat was picked up at Mare Island Navy Base and brought to Eureka by truck. It was refurbished by the firemen and put in to service on October 2, 1958 as the “Captain Pudgy Davis”. In 1985, this boat was declared surplus and sold to a salvage company.
A pay back day was granted in 1961 which gave firemen a, 56 hour per week work schedule.
In 1963, three Crown 1,000 g.p.m. pumpers were delivered. This put the Seagrave and LaFrance Pumper’s in reserve. Later the Seagrave was declared surplus and sold to the Shelter Cover Fire Department. The LaFrance is still stored at #6 Fire House and is in running condition. In 1961, the work week remained at 56 hours, but was changed to a 3 platoon system. The fire department is still utilizing this duty schedule at the present time.
The fire department continued to grow. A 75’ Crown Snorkel was delivered in 1966 and a Van Pelt, 1,250 g.p.m. pumper arrived in 1969. In 1971, the Office of Emergency Service stationed a new 1,000 g.p.m. pumper in Eureka to be used by fire departments in the area.
Fire department headquarters moved into a new station at 6th and C Streets on March 22, 1975. The old main station was demolished the same year. Growth continued with a Stuphen 85’ Aerial Pumper Combination added in 1977.The three Crown Pumpers were refurbished and diesel motors installed in 1985 and 1986.A FMC 1,500 g.p.m. Pumper was purchased in 1986. In 1990, a used 2,000 g.p.m. fire boat was purchased from Wilmington, Delaware and put in to service. Two Pierce 1,000 g.p.m. Pumpers were delivered in 1991.
In 1994 a 100’ Pierce Aerial Tower Pumper combination was delivered to replace the Crown Snorkel that failed its certification tests.
The fire department has grown in manpower from two paid stokers to a paid department consisting of a chief, two assistant chiefs, two fire prevention officers, 36 firemen, two administratiive assistants, and still has twelve trained volunteers. Ten dispatchers handle all 9-1-1 calls for the fire and police departments. All members of the fire department are certified as Emergency Medical technicians and Defibrillation. Today’s fireman is also trained in law and police procedures and is given peace officer status.