PHOTOS Duke Morse
It began as a simple, one-apparatus volunteer department in 1872, and has grown into one of the finest fire departments in the world. This transition 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. We honor the 70 Dallas firefighters who have died in the line of duty. 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 destroyed by fire in 1875. In 1883, Charles Kahn was named fire chief, and the next year, a new apparatus was put in service, nicknamed “Old Tige” in honor of Mayor Ben E. Cabell. “Old Tige” is on display today in the Dallas Fire Department Museum. Chief Kahn also oversaw the department’s transition from volunteer to salaried.
Motorized equipment was introduced to the department under Chief H.F. Magee, and by 1921 the last of the horse-drawn models were retired. The men who manned the new motorized apparatus 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 three hours off each shift for meals and one day off per month. Vacation was unheard of, and the salary was $60 per month. That year, a huge fire in the southwest part of the city consumed 86 houses. Inadequate water supply was a contributing factor.
In 1957, a reduction in work hours was the first since 1939. The new workweek averaged 67.2 hours, compared to the previous 72 hours. Two years later, a “C” shift was added to the existing “A” and “B” shifts. The staffing strength rose to 1,063, and the additional shift allowed for the workweek to be reduced to 60 hours.
Feb. 16, 1964 was one of the department’s saddest days. A five-alarm arson fire at the Golden Pheasant Restaurant claimed the lives of four firefighters. Their deaths orphaned 10 children.
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.
Chief Merrell C. Hendrix became chief in 1971, and during his tenure, the Department hired the first Hispanic and female members in the fire prevention division.
To bring the DFD to the forefront in emergency medical service, in 1974, the department’s EMTs began to train as paramedics. The next year, the firefighting operations’ workweek was reduced from 56 to 54 hours.
In 1976, Dodd J. Miller became fire chief, and his tenure would be noted for technological advancements and modernization. Important changes included additional advanced life support capabilities for the ambulances, 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. All advances still used today.
The Department made a significant personnel advancement in 1977 with the hiring of the first female firefighter.
In the 1980s improvements were made in firefighting gear, as 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, and Nomex hoods were included in the protective gear. Other improvements included the formation of specialized teams, including high-angle rescue and HazMat.
1982 saw more leaps in technology, 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.
The DFD marked its 100th Anniversary as a paid, professional fire department in 1985. On Feb. 18, 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 that fire apparatus was dispatched to more medical emergencies than fire calls. On Aug. 2, Dallas firefighters and paramedics responded to DFW Airport to assist victims of the crash of Delta Flight 191, which killed 137 people.
Dallas firefighters began using PAL III Pass devices in 1988. If a firefighter 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.
The 1990s ushered in additional technological advances, as computers were installed on engines and ambulances to relieve radio congestion and improve response times. The investigation division also grew during this decade. Debra Carlin was appointed the first female assistant fire chief and fire marshal of the department in 1998, working her way through the ranks as fire inspector and investigator.
Chief Miller retired in 1999 as the department’s longest-serving fire chief. Steve Abraira, the department’s first Hispanic fire chief, was named. He was instrumental in changing the department’s name to Dallas Fire-Rescue.
In 2001, firefighter Gerald Fields suffered a fatal heart attack while on duty at the station. His death was one of the first times a heart attack was recognized as a “line-of-duty” death. 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’s experiences, or any occurrence in the country, paled in comparison to the horrific events that unfolded on Sept. 11, 2001. Dallas firefighter member associations sent firefighters to New York to serve as pallbearers for FDNY funerals.
Firefighters fought the two largest single-family dwelling structure fires in the department’s history in 2002: A six-alarm fire in a 43,000-square foot mansion caused more than $20 million in damage, and a four-alarm fire that resulted in more than $11 million in damage.
Eddie Burns, the first African American to be appointed fire chief, was named in 2006.
In 2019, a massive storm cell struck Dallas, as 10 tornados–including an EF3–ripped a 15-miles long, three-quarters of a mile wide, line of destruction through the northern part of the city. The damage toll was steep: more than $2 billion. A fire station was among the properties destroyed. The city’s civil defense system was a stellar success: no citizens or firefighters were killed or seriously injured.
Today, Dominique Artis leads the 1,900-member department, providing protection to 1.3 million residents of Dallas, the ninth-largest city in America.
To learn more about Dallas Fire Rescue, and for a complete list of firefighters who’ve died in the line of duty, as well as chiefs of the department, go to