On an April morning in 1908, Fullerton residents were roused from their slumber by a horseback rider racing through the streets firing a six-shooter and shouting "fire!"
Three structures on the southwest corner of Amerige Avenue and Spadra Road (now Harbor Boulevard) had caught fire, and the blaze was threatening to spread throughout the downtown.
After citizens tried unsuccessfully to stop the flames, a call went out to Anaheim, which sent its sole piece of firefighting equipment - a horse-drawn cart carrying 600 feet of hose. But calamity struck when the citizens, racing to hook Anaheim's hose to Fullerton's only hydrant, found the hose threads did not match those on the hydrant.
Undaunted, the residents formed a bucket brigade and managed to bring the fire under control, but not before much of the block had been razed. "Had the wind been blowing, it is believed the whole business part of town would have been consumed by fire as the city has absolutely no fire protection," reported the "Orange County Tribune," a newspaper of the day.
As embers of the fire still glowed, the residents quickly called a town meeting to discuss fire protection and start planning for a fire department. In a report filed April 17, 1908, "the group cited a plan for obtaining water, recommended purchase of 1,200 to 1,500 feet of `good quality' hose, and announced that between $1,500 and $1,600" had already been pledged by local businesses to fund a department, writes Fullerton historian Bob Ziebell in "Fullerton: A Pictorial History."
On Aug. 5, 1908, the "Orange County Tribune" reported the enrollment of volunteer fire company members. Emerson J. Marks, the city attorney, was named chairman of the group, and O.J. Harvey took on the role of secretary. On Aug. 10, 1908, the Fullerton Fire Department was formally organized, with O.S. Erickson elected its first chief, and Emerson Marks and Gus Stern appointed first and second assistant chiefs, respectively. (Chiefs of Fullerton Fire Department.)
Local shops fabricated a hook and ladder wagon and two hose carts. The good citizens of Fullerton had also outfitted their new department with three nozzles, a hand-pulled hook-and-ladder truck, two hand extinguishers, a fire bell, a hand-pulled 60-gallon chemical fire engine, and two fire plugs. The City entered into an agreement with a privately owned water company to provide a water distribution system.
Photo courtesy of Fullerton Public Library
Fire years later, the voters approved a $5,000 bond issue which enabled the City to purchase its first motorized engine - a 1913 Seagrave combination ladder, hose and chemical truck.
The first "fire station" was a small, wooden building located in the 100 block of W. Amerige. In 1909, the building was moved to the 300 block of N. Spadra, between Wilshire and Whiting avenues.
With the arrival of the first motorized engine, a building was rented in the 200 block of N. Spadra to house it, while the City contracted for the lower floor of a nearby building to house the truck's volunteer driver and his family. In 1924, the equipment was moved around the corner onto W. Amerige and into a sheet metal building.
The City's first formal firehouse was opened in 1926 in the 100 block of W. Wilshire Ave., and the Firefighters shared the space with City employees as the upstairs served as City Hall. The Firefighters were able to occupy the entire building and add sleeping quarters when, in 1942, the "new" City Hall (now the Fullerton Police Department) was opened on the northeast corner of Commonwealth and Highland avenues.
Photo courtesy of Fullerton Public Library
The Wilshire structure remained Fullerton's only fire station until 1953 when Station 2 opened at Brookhurst Street and Valencia Drive, to serve the west side of the city. Station 3, 700 S. Acacia Ave., was added in 1958.
Thanks to generous voters, a bond issue was passed in the mid-1960s which allowed the Department to build a new Fire Headquarters (Station 1), which opened in 1966 at 312 E. Commonwealth. The old Wilshire firehouse was leveled.
The bond issue also allowed the City to add Station 4, 3251 N. Harbor Blvd., and Station 5, 2555 Yorba Linda Blvd. Station 6, 1500 N. Gilbert St., joined the line-up in 1968. However, by the end of 2004, Station 6 will move into a brand new facility - an 11,000-square-foot, $3.4 million, state-of-the-art building which is being built for the City by Centex Homes, Suncal and Chevron Land and Development.
Artist's rendering of the new Station 6
Fullerton's six stations house one ladder truck, six front-line engines, and three reserve engines and one reserve truck, with a minimum staffing of one Battalion Chief supervising 25 on-duty Firefighters. Six engines and the truck are staffed 24 hours per day. Three of those engines are Paramedic-staffed and equipped. Another is a Paramedic Assessment Unit.
The Department is divided into three divisions: Administration, Fire Prevention and Operations.
The Administration Division provides overall leadership, coordination and direction for the Department. It is responsible for the budget, analyzing programs, developing administrative procedures, recommending changes to increase productivity, and researching and preparing grant proposals. Its daily operation forms a link between the community and other City departments, as well as the County of Orange, the state, and the federal government.
The Operations Division has three subprograms: Suppression provides continuous fire control and suppression, rescue, medical aid, hazardous materials control, and related emergency services; Emergency Medical Services provides basic and advanced life support; and Training ensures compliance with county, state and federally mandated and nonmandated training.
The Fire Prevention Division is responsible for promoting public awareness of fire and life safety and enforcing the California Fire Code, the California Code of Regulations, and the California Health and Safety Code. The Division oversees all fire inspections. Inspectors and specialists also participate in community, school, civic and industry education outreach programs.
Fire Prevention has two subprograms: Environmental Protection oversees state-mandated hazardous materials disclosure and underground storage tank laws and regulations; and Code Enforcement provides guidance to the public on fire-safe practices through education and enforcement. Fire investigations are also processed through this subprogram.
Always progressive, the Department's history is filled with many "firsts," dating back to 1916 when it received the first resuscitator equipment in Orange County. In 1919, the Department purchased the first triple combination truck in the County.
As the decades passed, the "firsts" continued, including being one of the first Orange County fire departments to recognize the importance of providing Paramedic service for its citizens. Fullerton's first Firefighter-Paramedics went on duty in 1974, and continue to be an integral part of the Department.
Fullerton was one of the first departments to make extensive use of cable television for training and briefing purposes. For its innovative use of cable, the Department received the coveted "Helen Putnam Award" from the League of California Cities.
Almost a century after its founding, the Fullerton Fire Department stands ready to serve
Fullerton is also the first Department in Orange County to use 12-LEAD EKG "heart monitors" on its Paramedic engines. The monitors, made possible through a pilot program with St. Jude Medical Center, provide more detailed information on a patient's condition than the 3-LEAD EKGs used by other departments, and will soon become the standard throughout the state.
An active and important component of the Fullerton Fire Family is the Fullerton Firefighters' Association, which was formed in 1960. The FFA sponsors a variety of activities for its members, and enthusiastically supports many community programs.
As the Fullerton Fire Department nears its centennial anniversary, its staff stands steadfast in its commitment to the Department's traditions of excellence and service to the community. The Department is proud of its role in the development of the City of Fullerton, and looks forward to a future in which dedication to the citizens and City of Fullerton remain the highest priority.