PRECIOUS MEMORIES

PIONEERS OF GARFIELD COUNTY, OKLAHOMA

Blue_flo.gif - 4087 Bytes

I-ps2.gif - 684 BytesHistory of the Enid Fire DepartmentI-ps2.gif - 684 Bytes

This information is from an article in the Enid News & Eagle, Enid, Garfield Co, OK, March 23, 2002. It was researched by fire department members in anticipation of the Centennial Celebration.


BORN OUT OF FIRE

A DEVASTATING BLAZE 100 YEARS AGO PROMPTED CITY TO FORM FIRE DEPARTMENT

From its humble beginnings protecting a land run community of tents and wooden structures to its current status as protector of a modern city, Enid Fire Department has continued to set an example for other departments within the state to follow, according to its written history.

A history of service and a progressive spirit is the legacy left by the people who have served the department in protecting the lives and property of the people of Enid. Enid's leaders have shown a concern for fire safety since the city was settled in the 1893 land run.

At the first council meeting, three men were appointed to look into the city's fire protection and water supply problems. On December 28, 1893, the council appointed a fire warden and an assistant fire marshal for two weeks to inspect flues, chimneys and other matters relating to fire safety.

The next day, the council asked the city attorney to draw up an ordinance requiring the businesses around the Square and on E Street to keep a barrel of water at each location. Building owners also were required to keep six "hand grenades," glass spheres containing carbon tetrachloride. Several months later, city officials agreed to name a new piece of firefighting apparatus after a brewing company in exchange for the funds to purchase it. The deal called for the new truck to be called the Pabst Hook & Ladder Co.

Enid residents purchased an enormous bell to provide an early fire warning for the city, in which most buildings were built of southern hard pine. The improvised belfry was on the west side of Grand, south of Broadway, immediately west of the old Elks building. The 300-pound bell was referred to as the "Fire Bell" although its function was to enable residents to assemble quickly for any emergency. The city council passed an ordinance in February 1894, to regulate the ringing of the Fire Bell and provide penalties for violation of the ordinance.

A devastating fire on July 12, 1901, ultimately led city officials to create the first Enid Fire Department. On that day, a fire wiped out the entire south side of the city. It started in the back of a secondhand store in the 200 block of South Grand. By morning, the entire block of businesses was engulfed in flames, and the fire was spreading rapidly, fanned y a brisk southerly breeze. There was great concern the flames would skip over Maine and head up the east side of the Squire, but fortunately the brink wall of Gensman's Hardware at the corner of Maine and Grand held.

The fire burned east from there, destroying everything until it crossed a creek and burned out. Flying embers blew west across the street, resulting in the entire south side of the Square going up in flames. The St. Joe Hotel o the west side of South Grand was directly in line with the fire as it burned south and threatened to spread throughout the rest of the city.

Enid's only fire protection consisted of volunteers of the moment, a two-wheeled cart with 500 feet of the fire hose and the horse-drawn Pabst Blue Ribbon hook and ladder.

Knowing the hotel was doomed, its owners dynamited the building to stop the fire and save the rest of the town. The editor of "The Daily Wave" forerunner of "The Enid Daily News" suggested, in a highly critical editorial, a return to bucket brigades and urged abandonment of the new hook and ladder with its undependable horses. The deficiencies of the city's fire protection system were graphically illustrated to the residents of Enid by this major conflagration. After the fire, the need for an organized department could not be overlooked.

Three days after the fire, the city council conducted a special session at the direction of Major L. A. Faubian to discuss the formation of a volunteer fire department. By December, the council had appointed Jake Roach as temporary chief of the fledgling Enid Volunteer Fire Department. The council approved formation of Enid Fire Department on March 20, 1902. The department historically has recognized March 23 as its anniversary but a recent review (2002) review of city records revealed the actual date.

When it was created, the department consisted of two paid firefighters, each at a salary of $45 a month. The city also authorized 12 volunteers, who were paid $2 for the first hour and $1 for each additional hour of active firefighting. By October 1904, the council directed the fire chief to draft rules and regulations for the fire department, as well as a system of signals to locate all fires by ward. A month later, the council instructed a special committee and the city attorney to draft an ordinance regulating the fire department.

By 1905, the department was located in a wooden building on the southwest corner of Broadway and Grand, about where the post office flag pole now (2002) stands. The department had grown to the size the need for permanent, paid officers was recognized. A June 1905 ordinance set the department's full complement of firefighters at 14.

In 1908, city fathers determined it was necessary to build a new station in the 200 block of South Independence to accommodate the growing department. The new station also housed the new Gamewell Fire Alarm System, which was a sophisticated, state-of-the-art fire reporting system for its time. The test board currently is on display at Oklahoma State Firefighters Museum in Oklahoma City.

The city also purchased 20 Gamewell Fire Alarm Boxes to be installed at strategic points around Enid. Equipment purchased for the new station consisted of a $500 automobile, a $5000 steamer pumper and a $5000 aerial ladder apparatus.

The remainder of the department's equipment consisted of one hose cart, three teams of horses with harness and fittings, furniture and fixtures, the alarm system, hose and couplings. The strength of the department was increased to 12 paid men. During the early days of the department, the men worked seven days a week with no days off. They were free, however, to go and come with relative freedom, as long as sufficient personnel were on hand to man the equipment and to tend to the daily station duties.

Gradually, the old fire horse teams were phased out, and the department became more mechanized, as did the rest of society. By 1920 the department had grown to a strength of 18 men. On July 17, 1928, the residents of Enid passed a $53,000 bond issue to build additional fire stations. The construction of these new substations enabled a faster response time to fires and other emergencies.

A pair of memorable events occurred in 1930 - one tragic and the other remembered as a stabilizing force for the young department. The department suffered a tragic training accident in 1920 that resulted in the death of E. E. Kersbergen, 33, and severe injuries to Clyde Lawter, 31. Kersbergen was an assistant chief with nine years of service, and Lawter was a rookie firefighter at the time of the fatal accident. The two men were using life belts and descending a rope secured to the top of the Central Station when the rope broke. The resultant fall killed Kersbergen and inflicted serious injuries, from which he never fully recovered, to Lawter.

This has been the department's only fatality. One May 10, 1030, voters adopted an amendment to Enid City Charter creating a Fire Department Civil Service Commission. The commission was given the authority to appoint and promote department officials, a power that previously rested with the mayor and city commission.

In 1930, financing for the department became difficult for city government, as the community suffered through the Great Depression, which had engulfed the entire nation. By 1930, Enid Fire Department had grown to include the central station, two substations and 31 assorted officers, drivers and firefighters. But substations soon were closed and salaries reduced because of the economic pressures of the times. At the end of the decade, the department had declined to a total of 22 firemen and officers.

Economic conditions throughout the state began to slowly improve in the 1940s. On Jan. 1, 1940, voters approved a $52,000 bond to improve the department's fire equipment. The working conditions of the department began an upward swing during the 40s. The work schedule for firemen in 1949 was a system of split shifts, consisting of 10 and 14 hours a shift with one day off a week. By the early 1950s, the department's manpower had returned to the 1930 level of 31 men and officers, with salaries on the rise again. The two substations, previously closed during World War II, were reopened.

In 1952, 12 new men were hired and the work week was shortened to 70 hours. Additional equipment also was added, as the department continued to grow. The department added a new substation at 2205 W. Garriott Road in 1960. By this time the department had grown to include 53 officers and men.

In 1862, one of its substations was moved to 702 W. Willow, a point farther north in the city, to provide better protection to a rapidly growing section of the community. The fire department boasted a combined strength of 63 men and officers in 1970, spread through the central fire station and three substations. In 1973, the work week was cut to 56 hours, scheduled with a four-day break between cycles.

The 1980s brought a continuation of change to the fire service and the Enid Fire Department. In 1980 a new substation was opened to replace the aging Station 3, at 16th and Randolph. The new Station 3 was built on the southeast corner of 30th and Randolph. During this period, Enid enjoyed a financial boom due to increases in the area's oil production. The population grew, and the city continued to expand to the northwest. In response to this building trend, a fifth substation was constructed at 1306 N. Garland. It opened in 1983.

The old Central Station, which had seen the age of horses and steam-powered pumpers, was proving too small to house the equipment and men of the 80s. In 1984, a new central station was opened at 410 W. Garriott, and the old station was torn down. Today (2002), there are 77 members of the fire department.

More information, particularly relating to names of fire department personnel, can be found in Garfield History Books, Volume II, Page 827



Return to Pioneer Index Page



Return to Garfield County Genealogists Page - Contact information can also be found there
Come Again!
Garfield County Genealogists, Inc.
P. O. Box 1106, Enid, OK 73702

© 1996 bytes by betty