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Stop 76: The 1915 Dade City Fire Department

Copyright © 2024



 “It’s hard to give up something you love,” firefighter Barbara Wells whispered audibly. “Our hearts are broken!” At the emotional take-over of Dade City’s unique 1957 fire station by the county government in 2003, the poignant account of “the first woman to fight fires in Dade City” who served 32 years was indicative of the humble service of Dade City firefighters throughout their over 108-year history in 2023!


   That same compassion was evident throughout. The final fire chief during the Dade City administrative reign, Bob Cabot shared that one could see in the history of the institution that the need for fire services were evident from the beginning of the city charter in 1889. The devastation of residences and businesses was brutal to life and property in frontier Florida and left pioneers vulnerable to loss of all types.


     From the historical tour of Dade City, participants have glanced many locations that succumbed or were damaged by fire. For example, the Griffin Building experienced two fires that nearly ended its existence while one of the Coleman & Ferguson buildings burned as well as the Sunnybrook Tobacco Plant. Residences also were obliterated beyond repair such as in the case of J.L. Palmer boarding house on Church Avenue. The list goes on and on, and a need for fire service was paramount. 


    The Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of 1915 and 1920, documented every business in Dade City and evidenced a comprehensive analysis of needs with the identification of structural features and risk factors. (Those precious maps are housed yet today on the Library of Congress site and traced every street and building of the revered Pasco County seat, Dade City.) The maps offered important documentation of need for a fire department.




    “The Volunteer Fire Department is well organized” printed The Dade City Banner on November 26 of 1915. The cohorts consisted of a group of ambitious volunteers equipped with a hand hose cart, a few feet of fire hose, a nozzle, and a fire axe. Even though the spirit was willing, the fire loss ran rather high in those days. However, due to the effort of the city commission and citizens of Dade City through the years the Department was birthed and grew.


   Officers elected to serve for 1915 were: William T. Fleming, Chief; Walter C. Craig, Assistant Chief; L.G. Rogers, secretary/treasurer and volunteers: Hans Greutzmacher, Curt Greutzmacher, Jim Ward, W.C. Bessenger, Charlie Rohm, Inman Bessenger, Will Dutton, and Maynard Ingram. 




    By March 19, 1915, fire hoses and carts were ordered by the commission with 1,000 feet of fire hose and other apparatus from Eureka Fire Hose Company, a set of nozzles, and two-reel hose carts. Not determined where the fire station would be located, it was anticipated that the frame building which was being moved to accommodate the new water works building on Church Avenue would be used for the fire department as their first storage location.


     By September 24, 1915, the city council had finalized a fire ordinance…


a volunteer fire department will be composed of twelve members, including a chief and assistant chief. Members be paid for each drill or fire alarm responded to, and to be fined for each drill or alarm they fail to attend.


      The new volunteer force was put to the test within two months on November 5, 1915 when they were called to the frame building owned by Jim Harper as the general store in the Black section of town. The Banner summarized, 

This was the first opportunity that the fire department has had to demonstrate its ability and  the firemen handled the flames like veterans. They arrived promptly and attached hose at the bank corner, and kept the fire from spreading beyond the dwelling houses on either side.” 


   By 1920, the Sanborn Map completed on Dade City documented that the Dade City Fire Department had a volunteer chief, twelve men, two hose houses, two hose reels, 500 2 ½ C.R. L. host on each, and fire alarm by bells and whistle. The historical site, confirms that the first fire truck, a Model T Ford, was also purchased in 1920.


     In that first decade, Dade City was divided into five districts: Ward 1: East of Seaboard Air Line and north of Meridian with an alarm of one short blast; Ward 2: West of Seaboard Air Line and north of Meridian Street, with alarm of two short blasts: Ward 3: West of Seaboard and south of Meridian Street with alarm of three short blasts and Ward 4: East of Seaboard Air Line and south of Meridian Street with alarm of four short blasts. The fire alarm was in fact the steam whistle of the Dade City Ice Light and Power Company Plant which was located on the far north end of 5th Street.

  • Fire Chiefs

  • 1915

    William T. Fleming (also served as City Marshal).

  • 1947

    Harvey Worthington.

  • 1959

    Robert L. Watson.

  • 1962

    Allen Madill.

  • 1966-1975

    J.H. “Red” Moore.

  • 1985

    (served 12 years) William B. McKendree.

  • 1999

    Joe Wubbena.

  • 2003

    Bob Cabot (also served as City Police Chief).

  • Timeline of Department:

  • 1915

    Dade City Banner of November 26, 1915 reported Volunteer Fire Department is well organized. Four wards were created.

  • 1915

    Dade City Banner of March 10, 1915: Fire Hose and Carts ordered by city council with 1,000 feet of fire hose and other apparatus ordered for fire company.

  • 1915

    (November) the frame building owned by Jim Harper was the first opportunity of the city fire department to demonstrate their ability and they handled it well.

  • 1920

    Sanborn Insurance Map commissioned in 1920 stated Fire Department had a volunteer chief, twelve men, two hose housed at the Dade City Water Works on Church Avenue with two hose reels, 500 2 ½ C.R. L. with hose on each, fire alarm by bells and whistle.

  • 1920

    First fire truck was purchased and consisted of a Model "T" Ford.

  • 1921

    City Council announced intention to buy “AJAX” Combination Wagon with both chemical and hose mounted on Ford chassis.

  • 1921

    M.C. Autrey of the Ford Garage delivered the combination hose and chemical truck to the city on Tuesday, December 20, 1921. City council members took a ride on the truck to the Coast Line Station and back to the city hall and directed Clerk James Edwin Turner (later a DC Mayor) to test it out and see that it came through on specifications. Instructed Turner to become familiar with the chemical apparatus and handling the truck.

  • 1940

    School for Firemen sponsored by the Lodge of Knights of Pythias in Dade City. Jimmy Britton of Lakeland Fire Department delivered lectures at city hall.

  • 1946

    The Dade City Banner of December 6, 1946 posted an article, “More Volunteer Firemen Requested:” The City of Dade City provided with a modern fire truck and full equipment was making a call for additional volunteer firemen to attend the training classes being conducted by Jimmy Britton of Tampa. Known as the Fire College, and asked that all businesses be represented at the classes at city hall.

  • 1946

    Fire department was reorganized and two full time engineers were hired, and two new trucks purchased; a 1946 Peter-Pirsch 500 G.P.M. mid-section pumper and a 1946 Ford with a 500 G.P.M. front-mount pump.

  • 1946

    New fire truck costing $4020 was delivered from Kenosha, Wisconsin. The truck was a Peter-Pirsch and carried 1,200 feet of hose and a reserve supply of 800 feet. Mayor C.L. Williams stated the city was expending an amount of $2,200 for equipment of 15 members and for additional equipment for the truck. The Fire Chief was deemed for duty at all times at full-time pay.

  • 1947

    Reorganization of Fire Department consisted of Chief Harvey Worthington; Assistant Chief James Moore; Captains Harry McKillips and C.E. Sidaway. Driver was D.C. Cash and active members: Emery Patrick, Austin Palmer, Jimmy Jordan, Harry Titman, Frank Spooner, Fain Embry, Leon Hudson, Vernon Lamb, Howard Boyd, and James Neisler.

  • 1949

    (May 18) An enormous loss for the fire community was experienced by the sudden death of 38-year-old native, James Pattillo “Jimmy” Britton, the Coordinator of the State Fire College. Named Citizen of the Year by Lakeland, Jimmy taught not only the Dade City firefighters but firefighters across the country. Attending a national firefighter conference in San Mateo, California, he was struck ill. A graduate of UF, he had perfected many of the training techniques for firefighters and often trained the Dade City firefighters in the Dade City ‘city hall.’

  • 1953

    Fire Prevention Week; Fire chief Harvey Worthington and volunteers donated from 4 to 6 hours per week: Chief Harvey Worthington, Assistant Chief James Moore, Captains Harry McKillip’s and C.E. Sidaway with Driver D.C. Cash and members, Emery Patrick, Austin Palmer, Jimmy Jordan, Harry Titman, Frank Spooner, Fain Embry, Leon Hudson, Vernon Lamb, Howard Boyd, and James Neisler.

  • 1957

    City Commission authorized new building site just north of the Dade City Armory on North 5th Street for a permanent Fire Station. Proposal was presented by Harvey Worthington and his assistant, Robert Watson.

  • 1957

    (September 19): Dedication of the first Dade City Fire Station with a barbecue dinner provided by contractor E.M. Covington.

  • 1959

    Robert L. Watson was appointed Fire Chief.

  • 1962

    Dade City’s Fire Department received delivery of a new American LaFrance fire truck which cost $16,500. At the delivery were James Ayres, Carlton Galster, Fire Chief Allen Madill and J.H. “Red” Moore with Dalmatian puppy, “Sparky,” donated by Loyall Fisher of New Port Richey.

  • 1962

    Allen Madill headed the 16 members of the volunteer fire department assisted by Harry McKillips and two full time engineers, J.H. Moore and Carlton Galster. Volunteers included: D.D. Huffstutler and R.L. Sullivan as captains.

  • 1963

    The Department was again reorganized and consisted of a full time Chief, Asst. Chief, and two engineers, as well as 16 volunteers. The Department had two pumpers, a tank truck pumper, a grass fire truck, a rescue truck, and many other pieces of supporting equipment, with a total dollar value of approximately $60,000.

  • 1964

    Times reporter Shirley Chastain commended the Dade City Fire Department. “Dade City’s Volunteer Fire Department started out 49 years ago with a hunk of hose and a handcart (in 1915). Friday night volunteer firemen tackled a gasoline tanker-truck that was spewing a column of flames as high as a 10-story building. They had four fire trucks at the scene and brought into play plenty of savvy from their weekly training.”

  • 1970

    Dade City Volunteer Rescue Squad, part of the Fire Department, possessed 13 volunteer members with six regular fire department employees. (Fire Chief “Red” Moore said the department started in 1962 when an emergency truck unit was purchased).

  • 1971

    Florida’s fire protection service was extended to Pasco County.

  • 1971

    Dade City Manager Bill Pierce said that the indebtedness of the city for fire services to date was $10,416 and announced the city commission would deny fire service to citizens outside the city limits as of December 1, 1917.

  • 1971

    (July): Dade City Firemen answered a total of eight fire calls during July with damages of $8,000, and Fire Chief Red Moore said the Dade City Rescue Squad answered a total of 12 rescue calls.

  • 1974

    Members were: Worthington, G.H. Atwater, Harry Titman, J.B. Reddick, G.J. Barth, D.L. Widdon, Ronnie Griffin, Kenneth Huffstutler, C.W. Tinsley, Buford Barber, David Tinsley, James Eyers, Douglas Newsome and J.A. Fowler.

  • 1974

    Lieutenant David Tinsley was president pf the new Dade City Local of the International Association of Firefighters (AFL-CIO) Local 2365.

  • 1974

    New Dalmatian named “Bill” at Fire Station on North Fifth Street liked to howl daily in front of the fire station!

  • 1974

    David Tinsley born in Dade City in 1940, joined the Dade City Fire Department (previously serving as full-time fireman in 1964 in Clearwater). Tinsley announced that the 12 firemen organized Local 2365 of the International Association of Firefighters and as president and chief spokesman.