History of the Fire Department
History of the Fire Department
In August of 1889, the City of Fort Bragg was incorporated. A month later, the trustees of the City passed a motion to have the president of the board, C. R. Johnson, appoint a "Fire Protection Committee" which was directed to formulate a plan for the protection of the city against fire. Mr. Johnson appointed Calvin Stewart, J.W. Randolph and Frank Bucholta to the "Fire Protection Committee". In 1890, a Hook and Ladder truck was purchased for a price of $350. Although it was called a truck, it was actually hand or horse drawn. Nonetheless, it was the first piece of fire equipment in the history of the City. In 1891, a fire devastated nearly one complete block of Main Street, from the Shafsky Building to The Grand Hotel. That fire increased awareness of the destruction a fire can cause and the importance of organized fire protection. Later that year, a fire department was organized. Horace F. Milliken was the first active firefighter to sign his name in the roll book and soon many other citizens followed. To this date, that same roll book is signed by new members entering the ranks. In 1904, a constitution and by-laws were drawn up under the name "The Fort Bragg Hook and Ladder Company #1." The Fire Company by this time had grown to 40 volunteers. As the City grew, so did the department. In 1905, the first firehouse was completed at a cost of $791. The building was two-stories and served a dual purpose: the upstairs was occupied by City Hall and the downstairs garage housed the fire equipment. The property upon which the present day Main Street fire house sits is the same property occupied by that first City Hall / Fire Department.
April 18, 1906 marks a day in history that will forever be remembered, not only by the people of Fort Bragg, but also by people all over northern California. It was one of the greatest single tests of the skills and ingenuity that the department would ever face: "The Great Earthquake of 1906." The fires that followed the quake destroyed one entire city block and half of another. Water mains were useless because of damage sustained from the quake. The only source of water was a single supply line hooked to a steamer ship moored in the Noyo River. Without that steamer ship, the loss could have been much greater. The City and fire department grew stronger after the quake. In 1916, the first motor driven fire truck was acquired by the fire department. A Studebaker truck with two 35 gallon chemical tanks for fire suppression was put into service and gave birth to a new name for the department, "The Fort Bragg Chemical & Hose Truck Company #1."
1918 to 1924
In 1918, the volunteers began hanging soda / acid extinguishers on poles throughout town to aid in response to a fire. In 1924 another truck was purchased, an American La France fire truck. As progress in fire technology grew and newer equipment was purchased, the American La France truck was retired, but not forgotten. Through the efforts of past and present fire fighters of this department it has been completely restored. The American La France is now a link to the past and a centerpiece of the department.
1951 to 1960
By 1951, the fire department housed five trucks, seemingly very well equipped, but as the City grew, so did the outlying areas. By 1955, the growth of the rural district became a serious concern and talks of forming a rural fire district board began. After a few years of planning and organizing, it became a reality. On May 3, 1960, Resolution #3416 was adopted by the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors. This resolution allowed the formation of the Fort Bragg Rural Fire District. The board wasted no time in acquiring the first truck for the rural district, and in later years it would have 3 engines and 1 water tender (tanker). Over the many years of its existence, the rural board not only provided the needed funding for the district's fire protection, but they also joined forces with the City to purchase one engine, one squad, and one rescue unit to bolster the resources for both the city and the rural district.
In 1990, the City of Fort Bragg and the surrounding Fort Bragg Rural Fire District joined together to form a Joint Powers Authority (JPA) to oversee the Fort Bragg Fire Department. The “Fort Bragg Fire Protection Authority” is responsible for funding, directing, and overseeing the fire department. They hire the paid staff and direct the chief, who is an at-will employee, to fulfill the department's responsibilities.
This would not be a complete history without mention of some of the very significant fires from the past the William Dixon Fire, the Aulin Building, the Ford Garage, the Shafsky Building, the Oaks Hotel, the Union Lumber Company Dry Shed and Planing Mill Fire, Cold Deck Fire, Junior High School Fire, Windsor Hotel Fire, Anchor Inn Lodge, Caito Fisheries, Presbyterian Church, Piedmont Hotel and Library Fires (both of these fires were on the same night and 30 minutes apart), and the North Coast Food Warehouse Fire.