San Antonio’s Fire Departments
By “Tex” Edmunds
Reprinted from the 1952 Program of the 76th Annual State Firemen’s and Fire Marshals’ Convention conducted on June 10 – 12th, in San Antonio Texas. This Article in part incorporates a very detailed history of the Fire Department that was written in the Program of the Southwestern Fire Chiefs 7th Annual Convention, convened in San Antonio on June 4 – 6, 1934. Both of these Programs were donated to The San Antonio Fire Museum Society by John Schindler, Grandson of Fred A. Schindler, who in 1934 was a Chauffeur assigned to Fire Station #17.
On November 13, 2009, Mr. John Schindler also gifted to Carlos Resendez, President of the Fire Museum Society, a picture of the Fire Department taken in 1926. Extensive restoration will be needed before this picture is accessible for public display.
On behalf of The San Antonio Fire Museum Society, we thank the Schindler Family and are forever grateful and thankful to them for their preservation of such significant historical documents which detail the creation of the Fire Service in San Antonio.
Carlos Resendez, President.
“At home or abroad when the native San Antonian recounts for the ears of outlanders the wonders of his City, the Fire Department is neither last nor least in his praise – not because he thinks it the best Department in Texas, but because he knows it.” Thus wrote Solon K. Stewart, in the San Antonio Express on Sunday, September 11, 1911, in a feature story that has more of the history of the San Antonio Fire Departments than anything the writer had found before, or since, Stewart’s story came to his attention.
It has never been recorded whether or not anyone ever challenged the San Antonian brag – but had they done so it is safe to say that the person challenged would have had to back up his brag with a wealth of personal, or first hand, knowledge of his subject since there early Volunteer records are lost in antiquity; or gone with the wind!, with only fragments remaining.
From the article of Solon Stewart; and one by Bill Freeman in 1951 that also appeared in the San Antonio Express; from the Souvenir Program of the 51st Annual State Firemen’s Association of Texas, which was held in the Alamo City June 14 to 17th, 1927; the program for the Southwestern Association of Fire Chiefs, published for their Convention in San Antonio of June 4 to 6th, 1934; and various other articles and sources this history has been compiled, in an effort to preserve for posterity that part of the available material that constitutes “history;” and the names of many San Antonians who served their fellow citizens through fighting fires, - to say nothing of providing present day San Antonians with authentic material to back their very justifiable brags on the merits of the San Antonio Fire Departments of the “good old days”, and today.
A Brief Ancient History
From the days of the Dons of the Spanish Empire who first penetrated San Antonio and Bexar County when Don Domingo Teran de los Rios camped along the San Antonio River on May 13, 1691 on his unsuccessful expedition to establish eight new Spanish Missions in East Texas to the present day – covers a span of two hundred and sixty-one years.
The next record of a visitation to the San Antonio area records that in 1707, Diego Ramon, Sgt. Major of the Presidio of San Juan Bautista, near Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras set out to investigate a report that hostile enemy Indians were camped on the San Marcos River. No details of his report remain, but in 1709 Padre Antonio de Olivares, Padre Isidro Felix Espinosa and Capt. Pedro de Aguirre headed an expedition with a similar objective that visited the San Pedro Springs and gave the San Antonio River its name.
In Padre Espinosa’s diary for April 13, 1709 he gives a flowing report of the fertility and water supply and records that they named the springs Agua de San Pedro and the river which they formed the River of San Antonio de Padua. He continues “a populous village of Indians of the tribes Sipuan, Chaulames, and some Sijames, numbering about 500 persons, young, and old was located near the spring.” It is believed that this expedition led to the founding of the first Mission in the San Antonio area and its settlement by Europeans in 1718 – some 136 years before the first efforts were made to form an organized group of firefighters, in the City of San Antonio.
The Volunteer Fire Companies
It was on June 6th, 1854 that a group of young San Antonians, twenty in all, met and organized the first Volunteer Fire Department. It was called the Ben Milam Company, or in later years No.1, and was a very humble beginning; only a bucket brigade with a lot of vim and vigor that was determined to do something about protecting life and property against the demon fire, but it should be remembered that the great City of San Antonio, despite its 136 years, was still in its infancy and only a small village and army post – 98 years ago.
Two years late, in 1856, No. 1 was “equipped with a two-wheeled Hood and Ladder truck and innumerable leather buckets with which to combat fires,” according to the reports recorded by Solon Stewart over forty years ago, and in 1858 the Ben Milam Company, No. 1 purchased the first hand operated Fire Engine placed in use in San Antonio, thus giving their City one of the best Fire Departments in the great southwest.
The apparatus of Co. No. 1 was lodged in a one-story adobe structure, a part of the old Spanish Presidio, or barracks, on Military Plaza – west of the River – and was later moved to a new building on Market Street.
This pioneer Volunteer Fire Department paved the way for progress in fire-fighting in the Alamo City and continued active until it was taken over by the City of San Antonio some 37 years after its organization.
Alamo Fire Association, No. 2
The burning of Eckenroth’s Store showed that the force of fire-fighters was inadequate to cope with conflagrations in the sprawling town that was the San Antonio of 1859 and resulted in a movement to organize a fire-fighting company on the east side of the river to be made up of citizens residing or having their business places “east of the River.”
“On December 21, 1859” – this from old records – “a meeting was called for the purpose of organizing an East Side Hose Company. The meeting was well attended, with M. G. Cotton in the chair.” They came right to the point in those primitive days and the records of that first meeting showed a refreshing dearth of parliamentary drivel. A Mr. Riall was chosen Vice-President and Daniel L. McGary, secretary. An announcement was then made by the Chair that $2,000.00 was already pledged the new organization.
Alamo Fire Association No. 2 was the name chosen for this new Fire Company and W. A. Menger, C. Byrne, H. D. Stumberg and D. L. McGary were appointed a committee on Constitution and By-Laws. Luckily, though there was $2,000.00 in the treasury, there was no budget to contend with; so not to be perplexed by financial matters the members met the following evening in the Menger Hotel, prepared for business. On a motion by a “Mr. Marshall,” Peter Gallagher was elected Chief; W. A. Menger, Assistant Chief; D. L. McGary, Secretary; Stephen Dauenhauer, Treasurer; and the Officers authorized to secure a Charter.
Mr. Menger presented a copy of an “Act of the City Council offering the new Company $1000” and Albert Persch, C. Byrne and a Mr. Campbell were appointed as a committee to solicit private subscriptions – and the organization of the Department was completed, December 22, 1859.
When the Engine of No. 2 arrived it was housed in a shed belonging to W. A. Menger, situated on the corner of Elm and St. Joseph Streets. Later a building was erected on Ave. C, where a Company remained until the construction of the old Central Station on Travis Street.
On July 6, 1860, Chief Peter Gallagher resigned after only six and a half months, nominating W. A. Menger, the assistant Chief to replace him. According to Solon K. Stewart, who had access to “the faded and tattered records of Co. No. 2” – “the Company was reorganized on September 14, 1860. The record is silent as to the reason for the “reorganization.” Requiescat in pace!
Alamo Fire Association, old No. 2 continued in service until absorbed by the City in 1891, giving the Citizens of San Antonio yeoman service for nearly 32 years.
Man Power Locomotion
These two Fire Companies were the Ante-Bellum Fire Department of San Antonio. The old hand Fire Engines, Hook and Ladder, and first Steamers had two long ropes stretched from the front of the apparatus with hand grips at intervals and since the Volunteer Fire Departments were an “all San Antonio Affair,” and everybody a helper, whether a member of a Company of not, every trade and profession might be seen represented as the Companies cavorted madly down the street, the engines of Ladder Trucks bouncing and clattering in the wake with mud, or dust flying in all directions.
The old HAND FIRE ENGINES were operated manually with 12 pairs of sinewy arms toiling lustily on the double handles of the engine – after the run to the scene of a blaze. The advent of the “Steamers” eliminated this phase of the fire-fighters toil but they still required “man power” to get them to the scene of the action. Bystanders of this Ante-Bellum days were prone to recall the fact that “it was particularly edifying to see the Companies responding to a night alarm in various stages on dishabille. Even more so on a night when a dance or reception was being held, when huaraches pattered side by side with patent leather pumps and boots; sombrero jostled scant-brimmed top hat; gaily colored “vandas” contrasting strangely with gleaming white shirt fronts; with here and there a nightshirt streaming in the wind, telling of some citizen less gay and festive disturbed form his restful couch.”
It lay within the province of the Foreman of an Engine Company to commandeer the nearest team of horses and attach them to the Engine, the owner being entitled for $5, for the service of his team, but all too frequently the Engine was well on its way – or at the scene of the blaze - before any on thought of horses.
Too Fast, Sometimes!
Those old Volunteers made good time. Indeed, on several occasions they were entirely too previous to suit the owner of an “endangered” store; thus losing together the contribution customarily made to the Company for their services because the owner felt “peeved” that his carefully planned illumination was shared in by a lot of officious Firemen and spoiled by them, and the Insurance Companies.
It seems that insurance Companies have always been extremely cautious when disbursing money; and Firemen not at all cautious in combating fires; so there were are, history repeating itself throughout the century, and the same peeves today that the old Volunteers encountered.
Ante-Bellum Water Problems
When the Padres first came to San Antonio they had many ditches dug to irrigate the lands lying about the new township. The greatest of these was the Pajalache, or Concepcion ditch. Dams were built across the river and a network of irrigation ditches combined with the sinosities of the River twining in and out gave San Antonio the appearance of a miniature new world Venice.
When an alarm sounded the engines were run to the ditch, river, creek or well closest to the blaze – the suction pipe was dropped and the hose, which was made up leather in 50 foot sections in those days, was stretched to the threatened building. In event the fire was too far from water for the hose to reach it, the water was “relayed.”
In the days of the hand pump engines the game was this: One Company got red in the face trying to make a barrel placed at the end of its hose overflow, with the other Company striving mightily to run the barrel dry – all to the sound of strange lurid words in Teutonic and Gaelic dialects, punctuated with many sibilant “Sapristi!” explosive “Carambe!” or suavely profane “Mon Dieu.”
One can almost fancy the smile or derision that this picture calls to the face of many a fireman of today, and of the uninitiated as well, but when folks of this generation learn that with 12 pairs of sinewy arms pumping on the double handles of the Fire Engine a one-inch stream could be thrown clear over a two-story building – despite the tremendous friction of the leather hose = they will not be quite as prone to sneer at that dirch – engine – barrel – engine – fire technique with which those old volunteers turned in many highly creditable performances.
This same technique was employed by the “Steamers” until July 3, 1878, when San Antonio acquired its first water system.
The First Steamer
San Antonio was rated as a precocious town back in the 1860’s and in 1867 during the “reconstruction days” began putting on metropolitan airs so Alamo Co. No. 2 decided that it would have a “Steamer” instead of its old “back-breaker”, and have a steamer it did. W. A. Menger, after several attempts, managed to evade the Yellow Fever quarantine, and various kindred nuisances that paralyze travel after the Civil War and made his way to Savannah form where he went to Europe late in 1867. Early in 1868 he returned to New York where he purchased in his own name a Silsby rotary Fire Engine in Williamsburg, New York and ordered it shipped to San Antonio. This engine came by water to Indianola and thence by wagon train to San Antonio, reaching the City in September, 1868.
The “Steamer” was tested on Main Plaza in front of San Fernando Church, water being pumped from the acequia that ran beneath the church steps, the entire population of San Antonio turning out to act as a volunteer inspection committee. It proved satisfactory and was installed in No. 2 Engine House and christened “W. A. Menger.” A second Steamer was purchased by the City and named “James H. French,” in honor of the then Mayor of San Antonio.
Two years later 1,500 feet of leather hose was purchased and added to the Steamer equipment. The ante-Bellum system of “relaying water” was still in use with large hogsheads at strategic points to feed the greater requirements of the Steamers. When the blaze was too far for one Engine’s hose to reach it the first engine on the scene would start pumping form the nearest available water supply into a hogshead located nearer the scene of the fire. The next arrival thrust their suction hose into the hogshead and sent the water further on its journey, in case their hose fell short of the blaze they too would pump into a hogshead where one of the old hand pump Engines would take over and pump the water at the blaze. It was not until 1877 – April 3rd, to be exact – that J. B. Lacoste and his associates received the original contract from the city of San Antonio providing for the installation of a water system and it was on July 3, 1878 that the City accepted the waterworks upon the recommendation of James P. Newcomb, Chairman of the Committee on Waterworks. From July 3, 1878 the Fire Engines drew water from “taps” or hydrants, no longer dependent upon the river and ditches when fighting a blaze.
Turner Hook & Ladder Co. No. 1
On January 28, 1869 a meeting of the San Antonio turnverein was held for the purpose of organizing a Hook & Ladder Co. to act as an adjunct to Engine Com No. 2 (Alamo Fire Assn.). Julius Dresen, President of the Turners, acted as temporary chairman. The meeting was adjourned, without any organization plan affected, to February 3, 1869.
At this second meeting, definite steps were taken toward organizing a Volunteer Hook & Ladder Company, with none but member of the Turn-Verein eligible for membership.
E. Pentenrieder was elected foreman; Louis Huth, Asst. Foreman; Gus Duerler, police captain, Hans L. Degener, second police captain; August Biesenbach, Treasurer; Paul Buberick, Secretary and B. J. Mauermann was appointed to look after the Company’s apparatus.
A uniform consisting of blue shirts and white helmets was adopted. The order for apparatus and uniforms was placed, and soon the company was supplied with a two-wheeled truck carrying hooks for wrecking, hatchets, axes, leather buckets, coils of half inch rope, and a three section ladder which when “run-up” enabled pipemen to gain access to the roof or a two-story building.
The Company’s apparatus was housed in a building on Nacogdoches Street but was later moved to a structure adjoining Engine Co. No.2 with which it worked. Sunday morning were set aside for “trials,” and the Hood & Ladder men quickly gained a great degree of efficiency. Every man being an athlete the truck always made good time to a blaze and their work with ladders materially enhanced the work of the pipemen from the Engine Company.
Additional Volunteer Companies
With the growth of the City and its division into four wards, which later on were subdivided into eight wards; more Fire Protection was needed. We find recorded three additional Volunteer Fire Companies prior to the organization of the present paid Department in March 1891.
SECOND WARD FIRE COMPANY
With Joe Beckman as Foreman and John Nuendorff the Assistant Foreman, the fourth Volunteer fire Department organized. Its station was at Romana Street and Main Avenue; (later Romana Plaza). When the old four wards were divided into eight wards this Company became know as FOURTH WARD HOSE COMPANY, the name it held when taken over by the City in 1891.
SUNSET HOSE COMPANY No. 1
This was the next Volunteer Department formed in the Alamo City. It was located on Grand Ave., near Avenue D, now North Alamo Street, Phil Manger was its foreman with a. F. Jacob, asst. foreman but we find no records beyond a scant listing of personnel regarding its activities. When the State Firemen’s Assn. met in San Antonio in 1927 the Sunset Hose Co.’s building still stood on its original site – converted into a private residence. Its apparatus and equipment was taken over by the City in March 1891.
MISSION HOSE COMPANY No. 4
The last of the Volunteer Fire Companies organized to serve the Citizens of San Antonio, entered the fire-fighting field on October 17th, 1885 and continued in service to March 1sst, 18981 when the City “took-over” all of the Volunteer Fire Companies equipment and ordered the volunteers disbanded at the direction of Bryan Callaghan, its Mayor, and created the present paid Fire Department. This Company’s name was changed to SEVENTH WARD HOSE COMPANY when the change in the City’s Ward’s was made. Its station was opposite old Mission Garden on the present site of Station No. 7 – Thomas Abbot was foreman and George Caen, Asst. Foreman of the old Mission Hose Company.
Volunteer Dept. Chiefs
First Chief of the Volunteers was Peter Gallagher. Their last was Chief G. A. Duerier who served for several years in that capacity and later became the second Chief of the present Department. Duerler was Chief of the Volunteer Fire Departments when they were taken over by the City. Others serving as Chief of the Volunteers were W. A. Menger, J. H. Kampmann and A. Karber.
Six Volunteer Fire Companies had been organized between Jun 6, 1854 and October 17th, 1885 – and all six were in active service when the volunteers were ordered disbanded on March 1st, 1891 and the present Department set up.
The following is a list of Volunteer Firemen who at different times aided in protecting the lives and property of the Citizens of San Antonio. It is not a complete list, far from it, but it is only because no more complete roster of names could be obtained that others are not recorded. These men lived to serve their fellow men and all are believed to have answered their last alarm.
Ben Milam Company, No. 1
H. Collman, E. Menger, Ed Braden Sr., G. Berrli, N. Cosgrove, Eugene Dietrich, H. Doerr, T. E. Dougherty, George Eckenroth, Ed Eckenroth, Wm. Eckenroth, J. Heitgen, Dan Heder, Wm. Heuschkel, H. Inselmann, John Illg, F. Krisch, Sr., F. Kirsch, Jr., A. W. Krempkau, Emil Labroche, G. A. Lingksweiler, M. Russi, M. A. Robin, A. P. Rivas, F. Schreiner, Alfred G. Childs, George Schmitt, Charles Wagenfuehr, S. Wolfson, G. Werner, E. Zinsmeyer, A. Zork.
Alamo Fire Association, No.2
Wm. Hoefling, Sr., J. C. Zuschlag, F. c. Haueisen, Charles Degen Sr., Jacob Schuehle, Wm. Hoefling, Jr., William Nixon, Wm. Wurzbach, Phil Conrad, C. Degen Jr., G. Dullnig Jr., G. Dullnig, Sr., A. B. Frank, B Fassnidge, Max Fues, G. Guezeit, Rud Hoefling, Albert Ludwig, Dan Marks, Julius Margraff, Wm. Piper Jr., F. Pollock, F. W. Puertz, George D. Roemer, Max Russ, Charles Rafoth, Adolph Scholz, John Stark, A. A. Wolff, C. Wesenberg, Wm. Stauss, O. Zimmermann, H. B. Adams, H. B. Andrews, G. H. Albrecht, W. Friedrich, L. Frank, Wm. Heiner, Phil Immicke, H. Karber, S. Koeningheim, M. Krakauer, F. J. Ludwig, F. I. Meyer, L. W. Manger, R. J. Nixon, F. Rummel, G. R. Stumberg, Ed Steves Sr., H. Schultze, M. G. Cotton.
Turner Hook & Ladder Co. No. 1
B. J. Mauermann, Eugene Staffel, J. Arnold, J. Baetz, C. Boelhauwe, John Bosshardt, C. H. Cotton, G. A. Duerler, J. L. Degener, Ed Dreiss, Ed Diesselhorst, Henry Elmendorf, E. Elemendorf, R. Froebel, Joseph Fribio, F. Fries, C. F. Griesenbeck, F. Herff Jr., L. Huth, August Huth, Charles Hummel, George Hilgers, L. J. Lacoste, Gus Mauermann, Joe Meny, H. Morris, Charles Ochse, Albert Persch, E. Richter, E. Rische, U. Rische, Albert Steves, J. H. Schaefer, H. Schuetze, E. Steves, G. Scholz, Henry Terrell, F. Villareal, Ad Wagner, M. Zimmermann, J. Zork.
Second Ward Fire Company
Fourth Ward Hose Company
Joe Beckman, John Neuendorf, George Morgan, Charles Slocowich, Henry Stumberg, F. Wesp, August Woerner, Henry Krohn, Henry Collmann, W. J. Illg, John Illg, Jr.
Sunset Hose Company No. 1
Phil Manger, A. F. Jacob, Phil Manger, Jr., Wm. Bertelme, John Cavanaugh, Ed Dillon Sr., Henry Frass, C. Gillespie, James Gilder, Joseph Hauck, Peter Jones, P. J. Staudt, George Staudt, Ed Zimmermann, August Frasch, Wm. Carr, Ed Sommers, Charles Hardley.
Mission Hose Company No. 4
Seventh Ward Hose Company
Thomas Abbot, George Caen, a. Baldus, George Rilling, A. Borchardt, Herman Heiligmann, E. O. Stevens, Joe Gast, George Icke, Wm. Neumann, Max Schroeder, Joe Cassiano, C. H. Muench, A. Wander, Charles E. Abbey, E. Niggli, Charles Reuchlin, Ed Steves Jr., Thomas Mullaly, Ed F. Guerlin, Charles Mullaly.
Requisat in Pace!
San Antonio Dept. Reorganized
It is a far cry from the man-drawn, hand worked fire engines and hose carts of the early days of the Volunteers to the glistening motorized Fire Apparatus of San Antonio’s modern and efficient Fire Department.
The Change to a fully paid organization may be said to have started in the 1880’s and we find that in 1888 Chief Engineer F. a. Duerler, last Chief of the Volunteer Fire Department, recorded in his printed report to the Mayor and Cit Council “The Department has ten paid men; two engineers and eight drivers.” This report also records the names of the Members of the San Antonio Department and lists a total personnel of 194 Men in the six companies.
On March 1, 1891, Mayor Bryan Callaghan ordered the Volunteer Fire Companies disbanded and appointed Jacob Weber, a City Alderman, Acting Chief to reorganize the Department as a part of the City Government on a paid basis. Weber was the first paid chief of the reorganized Department. The reorganization was accomplished in the course of the next few months and the Department was, then turned over to L. P. Peck, who became its first regularly appointed Chief late in 1891.
Since the establishment of the paid organization the following Chiefs have served the City of San Antonio as heads of the Department; L. P. Peck, 1891-93; G. A. Duerler, 1893; Emmett Kehoe 1894-95; John w. Tobin, 1895-March 1, 1897; J. W. Collins, 1897-99; Will Tobin, 1899 to Dec. 1905; Phil Wright, 1905-1911; W. P. Bishop, 1911 to Aug 1912; Phil Wright, 1912 to June 1917; W. P. Bishop, June 1st to Dec 31, 1917 (killed in action); A. J. Goetz, Jan 1, 1918 to April 24, 1923; J. G. Sarran, April 24, 1923 to May 31, 1939; C. A. Hart, Jun 1, 1939 to June 1950 (died in office); Marcus L. Butler, June 15, 1950 to date. Two of these Chiefs have died while in office, W. P. Bishop in 1917 and C. A. Hart who answered the last alarm in June 1950.
Records show that on March 1, 1891, when the City placed the Fire Dept. on a paid basis, the department owned two 700 gpm Steamers, 5 good and two old and unserviceable Hose Carriages, one new and one old Hook & Ladder Truck, 1 hand hose reel, 2 wagons and a dump cart and had a paid personnel of 45 men, at its six Fire Houses.
Two Decades Later, 1911
The San Antonio Fire Department’s early growth is shown in an article by Solon D. Stewart which appeared in the San Antonio Express on Sept. 17, 1911. Stewart writes: “For the size of the City there is no better Fire Dept. in the United States than that of San Antonio. The statement may appear boastful, but it is true, proven so by facts regarding apparatus and the efficiency of the men.”
During its first two decades as a paid organization the Department had been expanded to include 13 Fire Stations, a newly installed Gamewell Fire Alarm System, 25 pieces of apparatus (including three automotive) and 52 horses; a truly redoubtable array of fire-fighting equipment for a City of its size in those days with a population of approximately 100,000 souls.
The apparatus consisted of two new Combination Pumpers and Hose “motorcars” and a Chief’s car purchased in 1910; six “three-hitch” horse drawn Steamers; six horse-drawn Combination Chemical and Hose Wagons; six horse-drawn hose Wagons; Two horse-drawn Aerial Trucks (Hook & Ladder); two Assistant Chief’s Wagons and 52 Horses. Of the “Motor Fire Wagons”, Stewart wrote, “They are the embodiment of mechanical energy, of almost unbelievable power. It is enough to cause the pulses to leap and bring back the boyhood thrill of excitement to witness the flight of one of these motor fire wagons that literally fly through the streets and are at the fire before the start could be made twenty years ago.”
Stewart had only one complaint to register about San Antonio’s outstanding Fire Department, we quote it: “In fairness, however, it must be said that there is one grievous complaint to be made with the Department. It is the inalienable privilege of the American small boy to run with the engines to a fire. Now, when a motor wagon is going to a blaze at a 40 mile and hour clip, what chance, what earthly chance, has a feller got? “Taint reasonable to suppose he can keep up, keep two horses anyway and give a feller a break.” For the year 1911, Stewart’s Texas brag on the San Antonio Department was unquestionable supported by the facts.
Another Twenty Year Pass
From 1811 to 1931 many changes took place in the San Antonio Fire Dept., under the leadership of Chiefs W. P. Bishop, Phil Wright, A. J. Goetz, and J. G. Sarran.
Phil Wright was Chief when San Antonio acquired its first motorized equipment in 1910; and was again made Chief from 1912 to June 1917, following the tenure of office of W. P. Bishop who had succeeded him in 1911and who again became Chief in June 1917 and was killed answering an alarm on December 31st that year. Bishop was succeeded by Chief A. J. Goetz, under whose administration the two platoon system was inaugurated on Aug 1, 1919 – a system that materially increased the morale and efficiency of the Department.
Prior to the inauguration of the two-platoon system the men worked 24 hour daily, with the seventh day off, which gave them a 144 hour week on duty. The two-platoon system greatly improved this condition, the men working a 10 hour day shift and a 14 hour night shift, changing twice a month, vi: on the 1st and 16th – this gave all the men a half day and half night shift each month and reduced the working hours approximately by half.
With the advent of the automobile and motorized “Fire Wagons” the old Fire Horse was doomed and on April 4, 1927, Phil Wright, ex-Chief of the Dept., and then Fire and Police Commissioner of the City of San Antonio; went to Station No. 5 at 1101 Mason Street and drove away the last of the Fire Horses. According to Chief Henry Diehl there was not ceremony connected with the retirement of the last of the old Fire Horses, Wright’s only comment being “Well boys, this is the last of the horses.” The last of the old horse drawn Steamers is still on display at Station No. 5 where its gleaming brass is kept bright by the hands of the present members of the Department – many of whom never witnessed the thrilling scenes created by these smoke and spark erupting boilers careening madly down the streets behind a pair of trio of galloping Fire Horses intent upon reaching the scene of a blaze. Some of the spirit and most of the glamour of fire-fighting was lost when Fire Departments became motorized.
Two Steam Pumpers Survive
Old No. 5, of the horse-drawn Steamers is still in the possession of the San Antonio Fire Department which uses it occasionally for parades and keeps it quartered in its old station at 1011 Mason Street.
On August 4, 1939, the other surviving relic of the horse-drawn days we donated to the Witte Museum in Brackenridge Park by the Department. This Pumper, bought in 1881, is a enter of interest to the younger visitors to the museum, and to many of the adult visitors, and attendants say “it’s a bit difficult to keep the youngsters off the engine as most of them want to mount to the seat, or clamber up behind the boiler, as the Firemen who served the Steamer did in its days of glory.”
51st Firemen’s Convention
By 1927 the San Antonio Fire Department had about reached its peak of development for the third and fourth decades of its paid organization. In April it had retired the last of the horse-drawn apparatus and become 100% motorized; and from June 14th to the 17th, it was Host to the 51st Annual Convention of the State Firemen’s Association of Texas, with the Hon. Phil Wright, Commissioner and Fire Chief J. G. Sarran doing the honors.
San Antonio’s Fire Department had kept pace with the growing City and at this time there were 18 fire Stations housing 21 Fire Companies with a personnel of 257 men, and a Repair Shop capable of handling any job the Department needed done regardless of size or importance.
Its apparatus included a 5 passenger Packard chief’s Car, 5 Asst. chief’s cars, 13 Combination Hose and Pumpers; 6 Combination Hose and Chemical Cars; 4 Combination Hook and Ladder Trucks; 2 Tractor drawn Steam Engines and one Fordson Tractor to draw the Steamers when needed. In addition to this fire-fighting apparatus there were two Ford Roadsters and two One-tonTrucks used by the Department Mechanics and Repair Shop. Among this outstanding array of motorized apparatus we note the names of Locomobile, Packard, Reo, Ford, Dodge, A.L. F., Seagrave, Nash, Studebaker, Willys-Knight, White and four Ahrens-Fox combination hose and pumpers a truly representative showing of the latest and finest in motorized Fire apparatus of the roaring “twenties,” for the visiting Firemen to feast their eyes on and to talk about when they returned home, thus enhancing San Antonio’s reputation as one of the finest and best equipped Fire Departments in the Country.
It was during this period that the San Antonio Fire Fighter Academy was started. In Nov. 1914, Chief Phil Wright, established the School of Instruction better known as the “Drill School” where, following the pattern maintained by the New York City Fire Department, San Antonio’s Firemen were put through a rugged course of training in Firemanship and First Aid. By 1927 the “Drill School” had obtained a reputation among the finest in the United States and that reputation has been continued to the present time. The sole object of this school was to train men to become efficient fire-fighters; to teach them to behave with courage, discipline and certainty on all occasions and under every condition that a firefighter might encounter; and to qualify San Antonio’s Firemen to render “first-aid” treatment in case of accidents or emergencies.
Concluding Three Score Years - 1931-1951
J. G. Sarran served as Chief of the Department from April 24, 1923 to May 31st, 1939 – 16 years, 1 month and 6 days – the longest period of service a Chief of the present Department on record. His activities as Chief and as a member of the State Firemen’s Association; and the Southwestern Association of Fire Chiefs; helped materially to keep San Antonio in the forefront of Fire Department organizations in Texas, and nationally.
In June 1934 the San Antonio Fire Department, Fire and Police Commissioner Phil Wright and Fire Chief Sarran were hosts to the 7thAnnual Convention of the Southwestern Association of Fire Chiefs and from the history of the Department recorded in its convention program we learn that San Antonio had added two Reo, Motor Propelled, Triple Combination Hose and Pumping and Chemical Cars; and a Reo, M.P. Combination Hose and Chemical Car; and obtained some replacements in the Chief’s and Ass’t Chief’s cars.
The Department still had 21 Companies, housed in 18 Fire Stations, and its personnel lists showed 253 men – a decrease of 4 men since 1927. The two platoon system with 10 hour day shifts and 14 hour night shifts continued in force and the Departments efficiency was being maintained through a rigid training program. The San Antonio Fire Department Band was one of the largest and best in the State of Texas and added luster to this outstanding organization at Convention, on Parades, and by its concert performances.
Hart Becomes Chief
On June 1st, 1939, C. A. Hart became Chief of the San Antonio Fire Department and continued as Chief until his death in June 1950. During his entire administration he upheld the excellent records set by his predecessors and established new records in Public Relations, Fire Prevention and Inspection Services, the physical equipment of the Department and in its training program.
In 1941, Hon. Louis W. Lipscomb, Commissioner of Fire and Police; who had succeeded Phil Wright in that office; published an illustrated brochure showing San Antonio’s excellent fire fighting equipment and its fire-fighters in action. This 16-page booklet gives a graphic description of the Department’s activities and training program. It covers in plain language and pictorially apparatus, alarms, repair shops, training school, first-aid, and firemanship as exemplified in the Department; and its 60 piece Band, recreational and Santa Claus activities which have brought pleasure to many hundreds of San Antonians and aided in saving the lives and property of many more.
Commissioner Lipscomb writes in his introduction: “I am particularly proud of the far-reaching improvements we have made in 1940 in physical equipment and in our training program. The resulting efficiency of the Department permits San Antonio to enjoy the maximum credits of 25% and eh lowest Key Rate obtainable.” The Key Rate was .09c and is the rate still in force in 1951…
In 1941, the City and 19 Fire Stations and 42 pieces of equipment, including 19 Pumpers and 3 service Trucks, Chief’s and Asst. Chief’s cars, aerial trucks, etc. and in additional to having added a new station had one new Company bringing its strength to 22 Companies.
Heavy Fire Losses
By 1946 heavy fire losses had reduced the Good Credit Rating from 25% to 10% and additional losses in ’47, reduced it to a new low of 5%. This was increased to 10% during 1949 and 1950 and in 1951 rose to 15% with prospects of further improvement in 1952.
In Dec. 1947 Chief Hart offered Chief Fulbright the San Antonio Fire Department’s Public Relations Office and Fulbright welcomed the opportunity of returning to the Department where he had served 13 years prior to entering the Government Service at Duncan Field as Asst. Chief – the rank he held in the San Antonio Department when he accepted the Government’s job to direct an employee educational campaign in March 1942.
Alarmed by continuing heavy fire losses Fire chief Hart believed that an educational campaign among the citizens of San Antonio would be helpful and on Feb. 13, 1948 Fulbright inaugurated his now famous daily 5-minute broadcast over Radio Station KONO direct from the office of Fire Chief C. A. Hart. That this, and other Public Relations efforts directed at Fire Prevention in both the home and business establishments throughout the City, has been worthwhile is evidenced by the steady improvement being made and by the upswing of the “Good Credit Rating” from its low of 5% to 15% in 1951.
In June 1948, Chief Hart and the San Antonio Fire Department were Hosts to the 72nd annual Convention of the State Firemen and Fire Marshals’ Assn. of Texas and during this convention the newly created Public Relations Office and its work made a most favorable impression of the hundreds of Fire Chiefs and Marshals who attended the conventions which Has materially assisted many other Department in their efforts to reduce fire losses through public education.
With The Continued growth of the City the San Antonio Fire Department managed to keep pace during the ‘40’s and its facilities were expanded to include 27 Fire Stations housing 44 pieces of apparatus by 1951. Its personnel roster listing 432 officers and men.
Butler Becomes Chief
In June 1950, Fire Chief Hart answered his last alarm and Deputy Chief Marcus L. Butler was appointed Fire Chief on June 15.
Fire Chief M. L. Butler joined the San Antonio fie Department on Oct. 14, 1913 – going on the “extra Board”. He worked extra tricks until a vacancy occurred in Engine Co. No. 5 placing him on the permanent list as a wagon driver on December 15, 1913.
A year later, on Dec. 5th, 1914, Butler was put on the force as a regular fireman. At that time, Chief Butler recalls there were only 5 pieces of motor equipment – the Chief’s car and two pumpers purchased in 1910 and two service trucks purchased in 1912 – the balance of the apparatus being horse-drawn. The Fire Chief worked his way up through the ranks and in 1924 was appointed 6th Asst. Chief. In 1933 Butler was appointed First Assistant Fire Chief – his title being changed to Deputy Fire Chief during the Hart regime.
Carrying on in the tradition of Fire Chiefs Sarran and Hart, Fire Chief M. L. Butler, accompanied by Chief Garland Fulbright attended the 75th Annual Convention of the State Firemen and Fire Marshals’ Assn. of Texas at Dallas in June 1951 and returned to San Antonio with the 76th Annual convention to which the San Antonio Fire Department is host on June 9 to 12, 1952.
Chief Butler’s monthly report on the San Antonio Fire Department discloses the fact that his Department continues to keep pace with the City’s growth. The Department now has 27 fire Stations and a 28th is being built and will be ready for occupancy shortly after this goes to press. The Department has in active service in April 1952 – three 500 gpm Pumpers; Twenty 750 gpm Pumpers; Three 1,000 gpm Pumpers and one 1,300 gpm Pumper - a total of 27 pumpers that are capable of throwing 26,300 gallons per minute. There are two aerial Trucks, 4 Service Trucks and 7 crash Trucks supplementing the pumpers on the active list and on the Reserve List are 3 – 500 gpm Pumpers; 1 – 750 gpm Pumper; 1 – 1,000 gpm Pumper and 1 Service Truck and 1 crash truck. Two new pieces of apparatus were added in March and are included in the totals given in the April ’52 report with 473 personnel.
Additional equipment includes 2,560 feet of Ladders; 92 Salvage covers; t Electric Generators; 12 Flood Lights; 6 Spot Lights; 5 Smoke Ejectors and 6 Life-Saving Machines in Service; with 349 feet of Ladders and 3 salvage covers listed in “reserve.” As for Hose, the April report shows, 81,550 feet of 2 1/2”; 16,600 feet of 1 ½”; 1,300 feet of Semi-High-Pressure; 325 feet High Pressure and 400 feet of Booster hose in reserve.
When the City of San Antonio adopted the City Manager form of Government it brought increased problems to the Fire Department in additional “paper-work” and reports are now made on a monthly basis, as well as annually. Chief Milton Rogers, Secretary to Fire Chief Butler, demonstrated the efficiency of the Staff Officers by taking the new requirements in his stride and the Fire Department Monthly report are a model of neatness and accuracy unsurpassed anywhere.
The San Antonio Fire Department has attained its high rank and proficiency as a result of thorough training and discipline and its Chief is a graduate of this system. Under his direction the course of training and instruction that has proven so effective is being continued and expanded to meet the growing needs of the Department and discipline has been tightened up wherever it showed a weak spot and as long as this system is continued under the direction of the experienced Fire=fighters who heads the organization San Antonians can, as in the “good old days” justly “brag” on the efficiency of their Fire Department.