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Dallas Fire-Rescue

            It began as a simple, one-apparatus volunteer department in 1872, and has grown into one of the finest fire departments in the world. It’s development into a world-class fire department didn’t come easily nor quickly. Many people have come and gone, many fires have been fought, and many heroic deeds performed. The Dallas firefighters of today aren’t any different than those who took up a hose so many years ago. True, they’re more educated and better equipped, but they’re just as dedicated and inspired. The following is a glimpse into what has gone into the making of today’s Dallas Fire-Rescue.

            Two hand-engines and 10 small fire extinguishers, which were carried on the members’ backs, were the first equipment used. W.C. "Bud" Connor was elected chief of the 14-member fire department and, for a little while, the organization was little more than a bucket brigade.


             A horse-drawn steam pumper made by the Silsby Manufacturing Company was purchased in July, 1873. The apparatus, affectionately known as “Old Silsby, was burned beyond repair in the early months of 1875.

            In 1883, the reins of the department were put in the hands of Charles Kahn. In 1884, a new apparatus was put in service, and nicknamed “Old Tige” in honor of Mayor Ben E. Cabell. “Old Tige” is on display today in the Dallas Fire Department Museum.

            A huge change that occurred during Chief Kahn’s tenure was a complete reorganization in 1885, which resulted in every member of the department receiving a salary.

            In 1887, Tom Wilkerson was appointed to Chief of the Department, and in 1897 H.F. Magee was appointed Chief. Incidentally, Chief Magee's buggy was pulled by the best known of the Department’s fire horses, a dark bay named “Hobson.” It was said that Hobson was the only horse on the Department that could race full-tilt around corners without losing his footing. Motorized equipment was introduced to the department under Chief Magee, and by 1921 the last of the horse-drawn models were retired. The men who manned the new motorized equipment were known as the “Flying Squadron.”

            The first line-of-duty death occurred June 24, 1902, when John Clark collapsed at a massive fire scene and died soon afterward. Before the fire was extinguished, 25 houses were damaged or destroyed, and 15 firefighters were overcome by heat, smoke and exhaustion, but survived. The firefighter monument located at the department’s Dodd J. Miller Training Center was created in Clark’s honor, and the firefighter on top of the tribute was fashioned in his likeness.

            The work schedule in 1908 consisted of 24-hour shifts, with time off consisting of three hours per day for meals and one day off per month. Vacation was unheard of, and each man received a salary of $60 per month.

            That year, a huge fire in the southwest part of the city consumed 86 houses. A contributing factor to the extent and seriousness of the destruction was the inadequate water supply.

            In 1911, Homer Fisher became the city’s first Fire Marshall.

            Next to serve as fire chief were: T.A. Myers, 1919; R.D. Gambrell, 1927; J.T. Coffman, 1919. In 1931, R.D. Gambrell served a second stint as fire chief, and in 1935 S.E. “Sid” Hansen was named chief. Fire Marshal L.M. was promoted to fire chief in 1939.

            In 1945, C.N. Penn became fire chief and served in that role for more than 26 years–the longest tenure of any fire chief at that time.

            In 1957 there was a reduction in work hours, the first since 1939. The new work week averaged 67.2 hours as opposed to the previous 72 hours.


            In 1959, the advent of the three-platoon system went into effect as the “C” shift was added to the existing “A” and “B” shifts. The overall authorized strength rose to 1,063, and the additional shift meant the work week was again reduced to 60 hours.

            One of the most infamous fires in the Department’s history took place Feb. 16, 1964. A five-alarm fire at the Gold Pheasant Restaurant claimed the lives of four firefighters. Killed in the fire, which was ruled arson, were James K. Bigham, Jerry T. Henderson, James R. Gresham and Ronald E. Manley. The deaths orphaned 10 children. It was estimated that 750 firefighters were involved in battling the blaze or engaged in overhaul of the scene.

            In 1964, the first African-Americans were hired as uniformed officers, with one of the men, Milton Washington, rising through the ranks to become an assistant fire chief.

             In 1971, Chief Merrell C. Hendrix replaced Chief Penn. During his tenure, the Department hired the first Hispanic and female members in the fire prevention division.

            In 1974, the department’s EMTs began to train as paramedics, a program designed to bring the DFD to the forefront in emergency medical service. In 1975, the firefighting operations work week was reduced from 56 to 54 hours.

            In October of 1975, tragedy struck the Department again as two firefighters were lost in separate incidents on two consecutive days. Oct. 9, Bennie Carroll was killed in a fire, and Oct. 10, Melvin Green suffered a fall while bunking out at Station 3, striking his head. These line-of-duty deaths were the first for the Department since the Golden Pheasant fire in 1964.

            Sadly, that year would prove to be even more deadly. In December, two firefighters, Capt. Ralph Lack and Riley Hurst died of smoke inhalation after running out of air while battling a three-alarm fire.

            In 1976, Dodd J. Miller followed Chief Penn as head of the department. His administration would last until 1999 and would be marked by technological advancements and modernization. Several important changes included additional advanced life support capabilities for the MICUs, the switch from manual to computer-assisted dispatch, implementation of the Uniform Fire Incident Reporting System (UFIRS), and the use of five-inch diameter hose.

            In 1977, the department garnered an important technological advance when it was switched from the traditional manual indexing of emergency dispatches to the computer-aided system. The next year, the Department made a significant personnel advancement with the hiring of the first female firefighter.

            In 1979, the first large-diameter hose fire engines went into service, each carrying 800 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose and 1,000 feet of five-inch hose. These soon became standard equipment, as well as the task-force-tip nozzles. These advances are still used by the Department today.

            In the 1980s improvements were made in firefighting gear, as their gloves were replaced with ones made of a heavy leather and Kevlar blend. Three-quarter boots were eliminated, with firefighters suiting up in bunker pants for all fire-related emergencies. Other improvements included the formation of specialized teams, including high-angle rescue and HazMat, and the inclusion of Nomex hoods issues as part of the protective clothing.

            In August 1981, Edward Metters and Charles Rogers died after a roof collapsed at a three-alarm fire.

1982 saw another technological advance, as a video terminal network system was installed in every fire station, allowing members to check the status of active incidents, and file reports electronically. Officers on all fire apparatus also received portable radios, improving communication while away from the apparatus and on the fireground.

            In the late 1980s, a new 9-1-1 system was placed in operation after many tests and trials. In 1984, the High Angle Rescue Team, the pre-cursor to the present day Urban Search and Rescue team, was established.

            The Republican National Convention came to Dallas in 1984. With the whole country watching the city, a fire broke out at the Texas School Book Depository. This building is notorious for the role it played in the assassination of John F. Kennedy some 21 years earlier. It was a bittersweet moment for the city and Department as its members shined, but at the same time lost a piece of history.

            1985 marked the 100th Anniversary of the DFD as a paid, professional fire department, and on Feb. 18 of that year, the first fire resulting in a Signal 1-7 (the summoning of off-duty firefighters) in 20 years occurred.

            The Department’s EMS system also continued to evolve, and 1985 marked the first year in that fire apparatus were dispatched to more medical emergencies than fire calls. On Aug. 2, 18 DFD members, along with four MICUs, responded to DFW Airport to assist victims of the crash of Delta Flight 191, which killed 137 people.

            On Feb. 25, 1987, firefighter Dale Rhine lost his life fighting a house fire in what investigators determined to be a backdraft. The memorial service was attended by over 1800 mourners. Then on Dec. 3, recruit Adrian Cal died after collapsing weeks earlier during skills testing. He became the first African-American member, as well as the first recruit, to die in the line of duty. The cause of death was ruled a rare medical condition.

            In 1988, the Department started using PAL III Pass devices. These audible devices are worn on the coats of firefighters working in a structure fire. If the firefighter is incapacitated in any way and lies still for a certain period, the device emits a loud noise, alerting others that a member is down. Following the Sept. 11 attack on New York City, the loud ringing sounds heard on news footage is the alerts from all the fallen firefighters Pass devices.

            1988 also marked the year that the City of Dallas’ 9-1-1 system began operation.

            The 1990’s brought about more technological advances as computers were installed on engines and MICUs to relieve radio congestion and improve response times. The investigation division also grew during this decade. Cinder, the arson dog, joined the ranks of the DFD.

            Upon Chief Miller’s retirement in 1999, the city hired Steve Abraira, the department’s first Hispanic fire chief. Among his accomplishments was changing the DFD’s name to Dallas Fire-Rescue, and Mobile Intensitive Care Units were now called Rescue Units. Fire Dispatch continued to revamp, as status boards with state-of-the-art displays were placed in service that allowed multiple images to be broadcast simultaneously. The arson division added another canine, Ashly, to its ranks.

            March 10, 2001, Gerald Fields suffered a major heart attack and died while on duty at the station. His death was one of the first times a heart attack was recognized as an “in the line-of-duty” death. Before then, only firefighters who died while responding to or actually engaged in duties at an emergency scene were recognized as a death in the line of duty. His death prompted the Department to add the names of firefighters who had died from natural causes while on duty to the firefighter’s monument and have their pictures added to the halls of the academy

            All our Department experiences, or any occurrence in the country, paled in comparison to the events that unfolded on Sept. 11, 2001. The Dallas Fire-Rescue’s member associations sent firefighters to New York to serve as pall bearers for FDNY funerals.

            In 2002, firefighter Vincent Davis died during a six-alarm fire in Oak Cliff after a wall collapsed on him and another firefighter. 

            July 11, 2002, the firefighters fought one of the two largest single-family dwelling structure fires in the department’s history. The six-alarm fire in the 43,000-square foot mansion, which was under construction, sustained more than $20 million in damage. The second fire occurred Nov. 8, escalated to four alarms due to the home’s size and accessibility issues. The home sustained more than $11 million in damage. On Dec. 5 of that year, Captain Michael DePauw suffered a fatal heart attack while working a house fire.

            On Feb. 12, 2003, the Department was again in mourning with the loss of recruit Wayne Clark, who died while participating in a routine drill at the Academy.

            In 2006, Eddie Burns was the first African-American to be appointed fire chief. In 2012, the city promoted Louie Bright III to fire chief. Bright had twice served as acting chief.

            On Aug. 14, 2001, firefighter Todd Krodle was killed while battling a three-alarm apartment fire.

            Today, Chief David Coatney leads the 2,000-member department, providing protection to 1.3 million residents of Dallas, the ninth largest city in America.

SOURCE Dallas Fire-Rescue

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