For a photo tour of the SAFD's Firefighter's Museum, click here.
The year was 1869. The Civil War had ended four short years before. The assassination of President Lincoln and the abolition of slavery were still discussed in parlors and saloons across the country. Hostile Indian raids occurred with some regularity in the great Southwest. The Transcontinental Railroad was completed with the driving of the golden spike at Promontory, Utah. The territory of Wyoming had passed the first women's suffrage law in the nation. Almost unnoticed amidst other events, William H. Spurgeon founded the Village of Santa Ana among vast mustard fields in Central Orange County after purchasing seventy acres of land from the Yorba family.
From 1869 to 1883 the Village of Santa Ana grew steadily, and by May 1883 civic leaders had fully recognized the need to establish a fire department. On May 25, 1883, a group of concerned businessmen held a meeting in the office of Judge George E. Freeman. By the end of the meeting, formalizing a fire department had been affirmed as a Village priority. Spurgeon was named Chairman of the formation group and Judge Freeman as Secretary. An election was held, and the residents of Santa Ana approved a tax of ninety cents per $100 of assessed valuation for the support of a fire department (net $2,000).
Under the provisions of Section 3335 to 3343 of Chapter XIV, Title VII, and Part 3 of the Political Code of the State of California, dated March 9, 1881, the Santa Ana Fire Department (SAFD) was finally organized on November 1, 1883. A three man Board of Fire Commissioners was established, consisting of Spurgeon, L. Gildmacher, and Henry Neill.
The first SAFD roster showed the Chief as C. E. Berry, the first Assistant Chief as D. C. Lyon, and the second Assistant Chief as Theo Cobler. Thirty-two additional members were listed, and both Spurgeon and Judge Freeman were honorary members. Moreover, the first fire house was erected on the west side of Sycamore Street, between Third and Fourth Streets. The operations of the SAFD went smoothly. They drilled regularly but were not called often. After one year, Chief Berry resigned and the first Assistant Chief, D. C. Lyon, was elected Chief on November 1, 1884.
In 1885, firemen were in need of a bell with a suitable tower to summon them in the event of a fire. In July of that year an election was called to vote on the proposition to purchase a bell, erect a bell tower, and provide the funds necessary to operate the SAFD. The total cost of the project was $550. When the ballots were counted, it was found that the proposition had failed fifty-one to fifty-four. The SAFD was severely affected by the election result. On July 28, 1885, a SAFD meeting was held, resulting in the resignation of the entire volunteer department.
The "Village" of Santa Ana continued its rapid growth and thus, the "City" of Santa Ana was born June 1, 1886. The original journal of the Secretary of the Board of Trustees of the City of Santa Ana indicates the importance of the fire protection issue. A meeting of the Board of Trustees held on July 21, 1886, resulted in the adoption of Ordinance #6, the first fire prevention regulations. Section 5 of this ordinance stated that the Town Marshal shall act as the Fire Commissioner (Fire Marshal). In Ordinance #15, August 11, 1886, the Board of Trustees established the City Fire Department. Section 1 provided for a Chief, an engine and hose company of at least ten but not more than sixty-five men, and a hook and ladder company of at least ten but not more than sixty-five men. Section 2 stated that the City Fire Department was to operate under Sections 3335 through 3343 of Chapter XIV, Title VII, and Part 3 of the Political Code of the State of California. Section 3 established the Fire Chief's salary at "$8-1/3 per month." As a result of these ordinances and the revival of the SAFD, on September 30, 1886, the Board appointed Trustee A. Snyder as Commissioner of Fire and Water and Adam Forster as Chief of the SAFD.
The establishment of the Santa Ana Gas Company in August 1886 may have hastened the Trustees in their efforts toward the reactivation of the SAFD. Many were quite skeptical of this technological advancement, considering it more of a fire hazard than a source of illumination. The equipment and apparatus of the "new" SAFD were the same as that used by the original department. Only a few of the "old" firemen elected to become members of the "new" group. An old school building was donated by Spurgeon to house the new SAFD at Fifth and Sycamore Street. Furthermore, in October 1888, an election of the Fire Chief by SAFD members was held, and James P. Browne was elected as Chief Engineer and the Trustees affirmed his selection.
On December 1, 1890, $60,000 was approved by the voters in an effort to build and maintain a Municipal Water Department including "fireplugs". Up until this time private wells or cisterns had provided all water, including that for firefighting. With the fireplugs came "hose carts" -- large two-wheeled vehicles with a reel of fire hose located between the two wheels. These were first hand-drawn and later horse-drawn. Around 1892, a total of two hose carts were placed in service. Large volumes of water could now be applied, provided there was adequate pressure in the municipal water system. This was put to the test in 1892 when a large fire struck the Stern-Goodman's Store, located at 306 W. Fourth Street on Washington's Birthday. After the fire, Chief Browne issued an order that residents should not use water during a fire because not enough force could be obtained through the fire hose to make a respectable stream. The Trustees agreed, as they shortly thereafter voted to arrest and fine $25 to anyone caught sprinkling during a fire.
Competition among the two hose companies and the hook and ladder company surfaced with the hose carts. Each company wanted to be the first to reach the fire since many of the firemen were also influential citizens and thus, had persuaded the Trustees to pay $2 to each member of the first company reaching the fire, $1.50 for the second company, and $1 for the third. This only intensified the competition, with some firemen more interested in winning the race than in fighting the fire. In February 1899, the Trustees finally decided something had to be done to prevent absolute chaos in the streets during a fire. They voted to pay $2 to each fireman who could answer roll call at a fire but with no compensation given unless the firefighters' services were needed. This action created a
furor within the SAFD, and talk of a second mass resignation began. The Trustees, desiring to avoid such an action, voted in May 1899 to pay each member $2 for a fire and $1 for a false alarm or a fire extinguished prior to their arrival. This satisfied the firemen and no interruption in fire protection occurred.
After Chief Browne resigned to assume a position with the Municipal Water Department, his first Assistant Chief, W. C. Young, was elected Chief Engineer. The Trustees duly appointed him on February 23, 1900. Moreover, with a new Chief Engineer in place, demand to build a new firehouse surfaced. On December 16, 1901, the Firemen's Cooperative Association was incorporated for the purpose of purchasing a lot to build a new engine house. A lot was purchased across the street from the existing station at 307 North Sycamore.
During 1904, there was much activity within the SAFD. A new combination chemical engine and hose cart was fabricated in Chief Young's blacksmith shop. The two-story brick fire station on Sycamore was completed and the fire alarm system was installed. Three horses with complete harness were purchased, and Ike Fields, who operated a freight transit company and would need to need to unhitch his wagon on the street and proceed to the fire at a full gallop, was no longer required to do so. This team of three horses was in service for approximately ten years before being replaced by motorized fire apparatus. As soon as all firemen were convinced that the new horse less apparatus could in fact replace the horses, the team was transferred to duty in the Street Department. Perhaps the most important event was the hiring of Monte Jackson as the first full-time paid driver. He was assisted by Robert Moffitt, Theo Lacy, Joe Preston, and T. H. Newman. Jackson worked a twenty one-hour per day and seven days a week shift.
One of the more sensational chapters in the history of the SAFD concerned the burning of Chinatown. A leper was discovered living in one of the shacks near Third and Bush Street. The area was covered with small, closely built wooden structures, many of which were connected by a maze of underground tunnels and inhabited by people of Chinese ancestry. After the leper was found, a secret meeting of the Board of Trustees was held. It was decided that the SAFD would raze the area by fire, thereby sparing the remainder of the City from the dreaded disease. On May 25, 1906, the SAFD arrived to surprisingly discover a crowd of several hundred people gathered to watch the spectacle, since this plan was a closely guarded secret. The fire was started with hose lines used to protect the exposures. These lines, along with a light rain that was falling, prevented the fire from spreading beyond the intended area.
At the end of 1916, Chief Young resigned as the Chief Engineer after more than sixteen years as Chief and approximately thirty years with the SAFD. During his career, the SAFD had progressed from hand-drawn and horse-drawn equipment to motorized apparatus and from an all volunteer department to a partially paid one.
The first paid member of the SAFD, driver Monte Jackson, was appointment Fire Chief in January 1917. Chief Jackson's administration began with a world at war. Times were uncertain, and political forces pulled in all directions. Jackson served as Chief for only eighteen months, failing to be re-elected by SAFD members. Thus, John Luxembourger was elected to succeed Jackson and appointed Chief on July 27, 1918. Luxembourger's appointment differed from that of his predecessors in that he was appointed as a full-time Fire Chief. At the time of his appointment, Chief Luxembourger assumed control of four paid firefighters and about thirty-five volunteers. Shortly afterward, and at the forefront of other larger cities, the SAFD went on the "two platoon" system. New York City would use this schedule eighteen months later. This particular two platoon system meant an eighty-four hour work week with every other weekend off.
In 1921, a new brick station was built on North Sycamore Street near Third Street. This was the first station built to house two companies. Two more stations were constructed in 1924 - one at 1314 West Third near Bristol and one at 1204 East First Street. The station on West Third served the SAFD for many years, but the East First Street site proved to have been a somewhat poor location. It was replaced in 1926 by a station at 414 North Eastwood (at Fourth Street). The 1904 fire alarm system was also replaced in 1924 with an eight circuit Gamewell System.
In 1927, Fire Station Number (No.) 4, located at 625 South Cypress, was added. This station was the Communications Center and the receiving station for the fire alarm system. As the City continued its growth and expansion, Fire Station No. 1 was moved to 1322 North Sycamore (at Washington) in 1929. It served as headquarters, containing the Fire Chief's office and the Fire Prevention Bureau. The SAFD also expanded by eight members. Unfortunately, with the country in the midst of the Great Depression all development came to a virtual standstill during the early 1930's. The SAFD was no exception.
In 1937, a team from the National Board of Fire Underwriters visited Santa Ana to review the progress made on their survey recommendations from a previous evaluation (1929). Considering the economic climate of the intervening years, considerable progress had been made. Nevertheless, the City of Santa Ana and the SAFD responded to the evaluation issued by the Underwriters. Assistant Chiefs John Garthe and Elmer Gates were added at the urging of the National Board. Frank Corey, later of the State Fire Marshal's Office, became the City's Fire Marshal upon Gates' promotion.
Additional apparatus and equipment purchases that had been planned would have to be postponed, as the country was rapidly approaching World War II. Not only was apparatus unavailable but many of the SAFD members answered their country's call to military duty. The SAFD�s expansion efforts were again delayed due to circumstances completely beyond local control. In 1945 World War II ended, and in 1946 the beginning of the post-war "boom" began.
Note: In 2012, the members of the Santa Ana Fire Department, equipment, and stations were incorporated into the Orange County Fire Authority.