Reedley Fire Department
Since its founding in 1888, Reedley has had a community-based volunteer firefighting force. For more than 124 years now, from the bucket brigades to today’s modern firefighters, community volunteers have served with Duty, Honor, Faith and Tradition to protect life and property in Reedley.
Those people who formed the bucket brigades in the early years included anyone who could walk, run and tote a bucket full of water. A devastating fire in 1892 nearly destroyed the town, but the perseverance of nearly every able-bodied person helped save several of the old wooden structures in the downtown area. Other large fires in the early days really put the bucket brigades to the test and in 1908, an effort was made to organize a fire department in the city.
Although the city was not yet incorporated, a fire department was organized by citizens and Manuel Enos was named Chief.
Donations from businessmen accounted for the purchase of much needed supplies like hose and hose cart, buckets, axes, pipe and a fire hydrant. The hydrant was placed on the corner of 10th and G Street, in fairly close proximity of the water tank. Pressure was by gravity only.
Because of the ruinous fires, many buildings in Reedley were now being built of bricks to minimize the devastation from fire. The brick construction would stop the fire from spreading out along an entire city block.
Upon incorporation in 1913, the fire department was formally chartered by Ordinance No. 27 in the Reedley Municipal Code. Alerting the volunteers of a fire was a challenge in itself, and early day fire alarms were sounded by the bell at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church. A town siren was installed later and was then blown to signal a fire. Alarm boxes were installed in 1913 to help indicate the location of a fire. A new siren and compressed air whistle were installed in 1916. It was said the siren could be heard for three miles, and the whistle could be heard for five miles!
With the advent of the telephone, the first firefighter to arrive at the station would call the police department for the location of the fire. He would then write the location on a chalkboard so the responding firefighters would know where to go once they were ready. There were still times when the information was not written down and they were “looking for smoke”.
While the fire department members are now using pagers and radios for notification, the siren is still in use to alert the citizens of a structure fire in town, and to also alert citizens and motorists that firefighters will be responding to the fire station in their personal vehicles. And of course, one cycle of the siren is always blown to signal 12:00 noon.
In the early years, hose carts and chemical wagons were great additions to fight fires. A real change came when the horse and buggy days were finally over. In 1928, the city purchased a Model T chemical hose wagon. Additionally, a volunteer fireman, Grant Gregg, who happened to be a great mechanic, converted a Hudson into a pumper fire truck. And thus the advent of modern-day firefighting technology had arrived!
Another large fire consumed the top floor of the Grand Hotel in 1929. Recognizing there were still many shortcomings with the current firefighting equipment, a fund drive was started to purchase a new all-purpose fire truck. The new Seagrave fire engine arrived in 1932. It had a 500 GPM midship mounted pump, two 4 1/2 inch valves and three 2 1/2 inch outlets, a reel line with 200 feet of ¾ inch booster hose, a 12 and 24 foot ladder, a 500 gallon water tank, a hose bed capable of carrying 1200 feet of 2 ½ inch hose and 400 feet of 1 ½ inch hose, a soda extinguisher, nozzles and the like. It continued in service until the mid-1970’s. The Reedley Fire Department has continued on the path of progress in many ways, continuously updating equipment and apparatus. In 1981, after serving forty years, with the last ten years as Chief, Wilbert “Bozo” Aalto organized a fund drive and was able to purchase a Jaws of Life tool set. This tool was also used by Mid Valley Fire District who shared space at the Reedley station. We currently employ three modern sets of these specialized life-saving tools.
In the early 1990’s, a Fire Explorer program was developed for youth ages 14 to 20. Today, there are more than a dozen Explorers who learn and train side by side with the Reedley firefighters. This program is mentored by senior RFD members, holding the Explorers accountable for their actions, participation and appearance while maintaining a minimum GPA of 2.0. Several Explorers have become Reedley firefighters and many have pursued higher education and/or careers in the fire service .
In 1994, SERT (Swift water Emergency Response Team) was formed to respond to the Kings River and other waterways in the area to perform search and rescue operations. The SERT Team is highly trained in technical rescue systems and methods, ensuring safe and timely results should a water rescue become necessary. Due to the growing demands for service, administration and training, Reedley’s first-ever full time Fire Chief was appointed in 2005. In 2005, the Fire Department also became responsible for municipal code enforcement activities and employs one full-time Life Safety/Code Officer. In 2009, a full-time Battalion Chief was hired to oversee suppression operations, training and fire prevention activities. The position is funded by voter-approved Measure G.
Current fire department equipment includes 3- Type 1 pumper engines, 1-Type 3 urban interface engine, 1-75ft. Ladder, 1-Squad, 1-Technical Rescue Vehicle, 1-Utility, 2-Rescue Boats and 2-Command Vehicles.
Today, just like in 1888, the Reedley Fire Department relies on members of the community to respond to calls. The dedication and professionalism of our responders is second to none. They are your friends, your neighbors, and your relatives putting their knowledge and skills to use in order to protect life and property, no matter what time of day or night. The Duty, Honor, Faith and Tradition of the Reedley Fire Department and its’ loyal members is enduring.