Stop 76: The 1915 Dade City Fire Department
“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 OFFICIAL BEGINNING
“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.
OH, MY GOODNESS, THE ALARMS!!!
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, Fivay.org 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.