San Antonio Fire Museum

History of the San Antonio Fire Department

The following was printed verbatim from the Southwestern Fire Chiefs Seventh Annual Convention Program Convened in San Antonio, Texas, June 4 – 6, 1934. The Program of the Southwestern Fire Chiefs 7th Annual Convention, convened in San Antonio on June 4 – 6, 1934 and the 1952 Program of the 76th Annual State Firemen’s and Fire Marshals’ Convention conducted on June 10 – 12th, in San Antonio Texas-both provide a very detailed history of the Fire Department. Both the 1934 Program and the 1952 Program 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we thank the Schindler Family and are forever grateful and thankful to them for their preservation of such significant historical documents which detail the creation of the Fire Service in San Antonio-Carlos Resendez, President.

Click here to view an article written 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.

Almost over 80 years ago to a day, to be exact, June 6th, 1854, a group of young men, twenty in number, met and organized the first Volunteer Fire Department in San Antonio. It was called the Ben Milam Company, or No. 1. It was a very humble beginning; only a bucket brigade, but it must be remembered that our great city of today, was then in its infancy, and only a mere village.

Four years later, Dec. 21st, 1859, Fire Company No. 2 was formed; then ten years intervened before the hook and ladder company was organized, Jan. 29th, 1869. In 1870, the Volunteers acquired their first fire engine, a Silsbee steamer, and about this same time, the first fire station was built, occupying a portion of the site of our present Central Fire Station.

As time passed more fire companies were organized, and on March 1st, 1891, when the city placed the Fire Department on a paid basis there were six fire companies in existence, viz: two steamers companies, one hook and ladder, three 1-horse hose reel companies, with a personnel of 45 men.

Click here for a list of the locations of the original stations…

Mr. Jake Weber, who was a City Alderman at this time was designated Acting Chief, with instructions to organize the Fire Department, which was done in the course of a few months. He then turned the department over to L. P. Peck, who was appointed Chief.

Click here for a list of all serving Chiefs since 1891…

Naturally, in the early days there were not many fires and very few of any consequence, due to the fact that most of the houses were of ‘dobe construction or natural stone, and that all of these and the few frame houses were small and not crowded.

Recalling the early fire fighting days, when news of a fire was received at the station, the fire bell was rung, which after all the volunteers ran to the station, grabbed the apparatus and pulled to the scene of the fire. The city was divided into four wards at this time, and signals for the wards were as follows: One tap, Ward No. 1, two taps for the second, and so on up to four.

Click here for the story of the bells…

Arriving at the fire the hose was run to an acequia (ditch) after which the volunteers manned the pump. The work of running the hand pump was pretty strenuous, as well may be imagined, and the men in the company took turns about operating same.

The San Antonio Fire Department has kept pace with the natural growth of the city, and today has personnel of 253 men – 18 fire stations, housing 21 companies and a Repair Shop capable of handling any job that may need attention, regardless of size or importance.

Up to August 1st, 1919, when the two – platoon system went into effect, all members of the Fire Department worked 24 hours each day, and were allowed off every seventh day. Now conditions are much improved the men working a 10 – hour day shift and a 14 – hour night shift, changing twice a month, viz: on the 1st and the 16th. Until recently a shift worked a full month without change. The new arrangement is well liked be all the men, as it gives them half day and half nigh work each month.

No mention of the Fire Department activities would be complete without reference to the4 school of Instruction, which was inaugurated on November, 1914, by Hon. Phil Wright, the present Fire and Police Commissioner, but who was Chief of the Fire Department at that time. The “Drill School” as it was familiarly termed, is patterned after that maintained in New York City. It takes only men of the husky, fearless type to “graduate”. Every apparatus necessary for a thorough and complete course of training has been provided so that practice can go both day and night, enabling both shifts to take part in the work. The recruit of “extra – man” is started at the lighter, easier drills and is gradually worked into a team of experienced men – for the veteran firemen are also required to render assistance in case of accidents or emergencies.

The whole school has for its sole object the making of efficient firefighters, who can be depended upon when badly needed and to behave with courage, discipline and certainty, on all occasions. The San Antonio Fire Department has attained its highest rank and proficiency as a result of thorough training and discipline and as long as the present course of training and instruction is pursued, it will remain so.

Drill School 1934

Drill School 1934

Gamewell Fire Alarm System in Effect in 1934 in San Antonio, Texas

The Gamewell Fire Alarm System stands on a closed circuit, and operates on an open Electric Current. When a Fire Alarm Box is pulled by the public, it goes direct to the Central Fire Alarm Office and is transmitted trough repeaters to the various stations, from which all stations receive the Alarm at the same time.

There are 187 Gamewell non-interfering Fire Alarm Boxes in the City.

There are 308 Signal Stations Listed.

There is connected with the Gamewell Fire Alarm System, the Gamewell Fire Alarm Trip, Gone and Register.

1934 Evolutions for 30 Day Course of Department School of Instruction

Hose and Coupling practice, the proper use of hose, nozzles, shut-off and controlling nozzles, cellar pipes, cellar nozzles and other appliances.
The proper use of hose jackets and the replacing of a burst section of hose.
The proper way of rolling up a section of hose to carry up a ladder for the use of a Stand – Pipe System.
Instructions of Sprinkling System by setting off a 165 degree Sprinkler Head.
Taking a lone of hose to the top of building by use of hose and ladder roller and life line, the use of the rolling hitch to prevent the water from being shut off and the replacing burst section of hose along side of building.
Hose and Fire Escape Drill with the use of hose and fire escape hook, line of hose to the top of the building.

The proper way to catch Fire Hydrants, proper use of Combination Hose and Hydrant Wrench; proper signal for turning on water, for shutting off water and proper signal for pump pressure, no signal for disconnecting, only by word.

The proper way to catch all Motor Pumpers, Steam Pumping Engines and the proper way to handle nozzle under pressure and the use of shut – off and controlling nozzle under pressure.
The use of laying lines of hose into Turret Pipes, siameseing lines into Eastman Deluge Ste, etc.

The proper use of all ladders used in the Department, take Aerial ladders to different parts of the City placing the different kinds of ladders on buildings, sending the men over the top and the proper way to hold the National Life Saving Machine and the instructing the men how to jump into net and the proper way to send ladder to top of building by the use of life line, etc.

Pompier Ladder Drills, life line drills.
First Drill – Building a chain of ladders.
Second Drill – Straddling ladders.
Third Drill – Standing in sills.
Fourth Drill – Swinging from window to window.
Fifth Drill – Life line drill, all men down single, all men down double, all men slide from building to building and proper use of life line.

First Aid to the injured. The proper use of bandages and splints.
Teaching of artificial respiration – Schaeffer and Sylvester methods.
Controlling of arterial bleeding.
The proper use of Firemen’s lift and drag.
The proper use of H. & H. Inhalator and Vajen Approved Type Ammonia Helmet.
Examination of all tools and appliances used in the Department and proper names of all Apparatus and Pumping Capacity of all Pumps.
Teaching recharging and control of all chemical engines and extinguishers.
Teaching City Water Supply.
Teaching Fire Alarm System.
Fire Department Knots; Chimney Hitch, Clove Hitch, Timber Hitch, Bowline on the Bight or Chair Knot, Sheep Shank, Rolling Hitch, Single Sheet Bend and Double Sheet Bend.

Click here for a list of 1934 apparatus…

Equipment in Active Service

As of 1934, the following equipment was in active service in the Fire Department, 2 Centrifugal Pumps, 7 Reciprocating Piston Pumps; 7 Rotary Pumps; 1 Aerial Truck; 2 City Service Trucks and 3 Hose and Chemical Cars. There were 18 fire stations and 253 men employed

As of 1952, there were 28 Fire Station and 473 officers and men. The department has in active service three 500 gallons per minute (gpm) pumpers; twenty 750 gpm pumper; Three 1000 gpm pumpers; and one 1300 gpm pumper – a total of 27 Pumpers that were capable of throwing 26,300 gallons per minute. There were two aerial trucks, and seven crash trucks supplementing the active list of pumpers. Additional equipment included 2,560 feet of ladders; 92 Salvage Covers; five Electric Generators; 12 Flood Lights; six spot lights; five smoke ejectors; and six Life Saving Machines.

Click here for a list of personnel of the San Antonio Fire Departmant In 1934…

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