Richmond Fire Department History

1837-2010


When the City of Richmond was incorporated in May of 1837, the citizens did not have an organized fire service.  Nearly every able-bodied man in the community participated in fire extinguishment.  At that time nearly every man was needed due to the community being scantily populated, and the first equipment, typical of the times, not being designed to conserve manpower. It consisted of the usual bucket brigade, hose cart, and pump.  The hose cart and pump were both hand operated. It was not until July 26, 1897 that the first organized fire protection was provided by a group of individuals, led by Foreman J.K. Carr, and referred to themselves as the Pioneer Hose Company No.1.

On February 14, 1898, the Pioneer Hose Company No.1 was reorganized and officially named the Phoenix Hose Company No.1, of Richmond, Texas. The restructured company was comprised of 22 volunteers, mostly prevalent businessmen, who were required to pay regular monthly dues of 25 cents. The members were led by a foreman, 1st and 2nd assistant foreman, secretary, and treasurer, who were elected to office for a term of one year. Members of the company were ususally notified of a fire by a shotgun blast that would echo through the small community. The foreman for the Phoenix Hose Company No.1 had command at all fires and had absolute control of all the properties belonging to the organization. The first foreman for the company was E.F. Gillman. For fire protection, the company used one large hose cart drawn by hand. Water for fire fighting was secured from underground cisterns, except for the business district, which was supplied by fire hydrants.

In 1924 the Richmond Volunteer Fire Department was created through a reorganization of the already established Phoenix Hose Company No.1, of Richmond, Texas. The members of the new department appointed Walter H. Hinson the first fire chief. T. B. Wessendorff, then mayor, gave the appointment the official stamp of approval by buying Hinson a fire chief’s hat. Chief Hinson proved to be a good choice as head of the Fire Department. He demanded loyalty and action from his men and got it by giving more of himself than he asked from anyone else. On November 28, 1924 the Fire Department responded to a large fire at the Richmond Cotton Company. This was a large hit to the town of Richmond due to the heavy reliance on cotton production.

In 1925 Richmond purchased its first piece of motorized equipment, a Model "T" Ford fire truck for approximately $2,000, known as "Old Tinsides". The new truck was shipped on August 20th of the same year. "Old Tinsides" was given the name No.1 and was equipped with a Waterous Type A 250 gpm pump with all standard equipment, including a 50 gallon booster tank. In 1926 a new siren fire whistle was put in service to use in the event of a fire to alert the community. In the case of a fire the whistle was blown in seven second intervals. It was installed on top of the Davis Building.

On March 26, 1928, the Queen Theater caught on fire, sparking one of the most disastrous fires in department history.  It was a Monday evening shortly before 7:30 as the projector operator loaded the first reel of film into the machine that a film box is thought to have exploded.  As the patrons exited the building flames were said to have burst from the roof.  Richmond Firemen battled the blaze along side Rosenberg and Sugar Land until it was necessary to call in Houston Fire Department.  At the time they had larger equipment that would later make easy work of the fire.  In the meantime pumper No. 1 had been run for so long and so hard that it was damaged.  Some have said the engine was “cherry red” at one point, though the claims cannot be proven. The firemen stayed on scene until 4:30 am the following day. When it was all said and done fire had damaged not only Queens Theater but adjacent general merchandise store, Smith and Reinke grocery store and the offices housed above, and the Red Front Market. Thousands of dollars in damage was done but luckily no lives were claimed.

Years later in 1935, Richmond installed a modern water system and in the mean time Sam Nordhausen was promoted from Captain to Fire Chief.

In 1937, a homeowner complained to the city commission when a fire destroyed their home causing thousands of dollars in damage. On February 9, 1937, Richmond Volunteer Fire Department, was reorganized, resulting in a more defined membership of volunteers. During the reorganization, the city commission, led by Mayor G.D. Birdwell, declared and designated that the Richmond Volunteer Fire Department as the duly authorized fire department for the City of Richmond, Texas. The commission created the office of Fire Chief of the City of Richmond, who shall be appointed by the mayor and approved by the city commission. Membership of the redesigned department were limited to twenty men of at least 21 years of age. The reorganization of the department, also led to the city purchasing a 1937 Dodge Fire Truck for $4,236 from Buffalo Fire Apparatus, based in Buffalo, NY. This pumper was delivered on September 14, 1937 and was quickly recognized as No. 2. The new vehicle was equipped with a 500 gpm Hale pump and a 100 gallon booster tank. This improved the ability of the fire department to provide fire protection and lowered the community insurance rates greatly. Under Mayor John M. Moore a city hall/fire station was built in 1940. The new building was constructed at 402 Morton Street and is presently used as Richmond City Hall.

In 1943 E.O. Bender was voted Fire Chief, a position he would hold for 13 years. He saw the purchase of the department’s next fire truck, another Dodge Pumper, purchased in 1951. It was purchased from the General Detroit Corporation, who mounted the new fire fighting equipment on a large Dodge chassis. The truck's body was listed as a General Model 90C equipped with a 500 gpm series parallel Waterous two stage centrifugal fire pump with triple combination accessories. This truck, known as No. 3, allowed the department to retire its first truck, the Ford Model-T, since insurance regulations required the city to keep two fire trucks maintained. Due to the new fire apparatus, the fire department was able to sell the Ford Model-T in the early 1950s. It was not until the mid to late 1970s that the department was able to reacquire the vehicle from a private collector in Woodville, Texas for $2,500.

Upon E. O. Bender’s departure as fire chief, Milford Gless was called upon to take the position in 1956. Nearly a year into his new position, a fire broke out in the Northside Elementary School on Sunday, December 13, 1956. Throughout this early windy morning, fire spread to nearby homes very quickly. Two blocks from the school the flames fueled by swift winds engulfed the home of Maudine Johnson, two blocks away. Firemen from the towns of Rosenberg, Wharton, and Sugar Land assisted the volunteers from Richmond control the fast moving fire and eventually extinguished the fire.During his tenure the city saw the purchase of a tank truck, referred as No.4 in 1963. This was the first of Richmond’s fleet to carry a 1000 gallons of water. This would help immensely in rural firefighting where water is not readily available.

This was followed shortly by moving into a new building housing both police and fire departments, in 1964. This building had four bays, offices and a jail cell. This building was later renovated , in 1974, to have seven bays, a meeting room and a dispatch center. In 1986, the police department moved to a new location, giving the fire department its own building and room to expand. This is the same building presently being used as Station 1 at the corner of Jackson St and South 2nd St.
              


In 1967 Keith Crawford took over as Fire Chief. He led the department to the purchase of two pumpers, No. 5 in 1968 and No. 6 in 1974. In 1973, Homer Sharp was hired as the station attendant to keep the stations and trucks operable.  In October 1974, the first two paid firemen were hired to staff the station through separate eight hour shifts during the day. On November 13, 1975, No. 4 was involved in a roll over accident at the intersection in front of the fire station. Though the truck was a total loss, nobody was seriously injured. To replace this truck, a new tank truck was purchased in 1976, known today as Tanker 4.

In early 1977 Bobby Fishbeck was named Fire Chief and held the position for almost 2 year and was later replaced by Frank Fishar in late 1978. During his first few years the Fire Department made a huge leap in shaping the department that we have today by hiring it’s next set of firefighters that would replace the first two. This included in 1979, Stephen Noto and David Anderson, in 1980, Victor Torres and Mark Todd, and in 1981 Mike Hafer and Tom Walleck. Once these six came on board, the department began 24 hour shifts, consisting of three shifts of two firefighters. These early firemen would go on to shape the backbone of the Richmond Fire Department for the next several decades. Their contributions to the department earned them the designation as the ‘Original Six’.


On Thursday, January 26, 1983 a fire started in a local business. Schultze Home Furnishings provided appliances and appliance parts to the community for over 50 years. The Winston Home made up the original portion of the store that was built in the early 1900’s by Sidney Winston, great-grandson of Jane Long. On this winter morning some 40 fire fighters from three departments, Richmond, Rosenberg, and Sugar Land, responded to a call from a man living in an upstairs apartment. When they arrived there was heavy smoke and fire. The fire began in the upper floors and spread throughout the building, During the blaze, fire fighters released a number of ducks, chickens, pheasants, quail, geese, and peacocks that Arthur Schultze kept as pets. The pets were kept next to the building in outside cages. Once released the animals roamed the streets of Richmond until the fire was extinguished. The fire burned for hours and firefighters were on the scene well into the day putting out spot fires. This was one of the most memorable fires in department history.

              


In 1984 Stephen Noto was appointed as Fire Chief, a position he would hold for 26 years.  In the following years the department grew to 37 full time employees including firefighters, arson investigators, inspectors, and administration staff.  Richmond would see the addition of two fire stations the latest being built in 2008 as well as the first aerial apparatus of any department on the west side of Fort Bend County.

        

The department has maintained a high regard for customer service through its growth and is well known for its activity within the community. As Richmond Fire Department moves to the future, customer and community service will continue to be a fundamental principle and serve as the foundation for the department.




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