From the official history on the
Santa Ana Fire Department's
website (part of the City of Santa Ana's
For a photo tour of
the SAFD's Firefighter's Museum, click here.
The year was 1869. The Civil War had ended
four short years before. The assassination of President Lincoln and the
abolition of slavery were still discussed in parlors and saloons across the
country. Hostile Indian raids occurred with some regularity in the great
Southwest. The Transcontinental Railroad was completed with the driving of
the golden spike at Promontory, Utah. The territory of Wyoming had passed
the first women's suffrage law in the nation. Almost unnoticed amidst other
events, William H. Spurgeon founded the Village of Santa Ana among vast
mustard fields in Central Orange County after purchasing seventy acres of
land from the Yorba family.
From 1869 to 1883 the Village of Santa Ana grew steadily, and by May 1883
civic leaders had fully recognized the need to establish a fire department.
On May 25, 1883, a group of concerned businessmen held a meeting in the
office of Judge George E. Freeman. By the end of the meeting, formalizing a
fire department had been affirmed as a Village priority. Spurgeon was named
Chairman of the formation group and Judge Freeman as Secretary. An election
was held, and the residents of Santa Ana approved a tax of ninety cents per
$100 of assessed valuation for the support of a fire department (net
Under the provisions of Section 3335 to 3343 of Chapter XIV, Title VII, and
Part 3 of the Political Code of the State of California, dated March 9,
1881, the Santa Ana Fire Department (SAFD) was finally organized on November
1, 1883. A three man Board of Fire Commissioners was established, consisting
of Spurgeon, L. Gildmacher, and Henry Neill.
The first SAFD roster showed the Chief as C. E. Berry, the first Assistant
Chief as D. C. Lyon, and the second Assistant Chief as Theo Cobler.
Thirty-two additional members were listed, and both Spurgeon and Judge
Freeman were honorary members. Moreover, the first fire house was erected on
the west side of Sycamore Street, between Third and Fourth Streets. The
operations of the SAFD went smoothly. They drilled regularly but were not
called often. After one year, Chief Berry resigned and the first Assistant
Chief, D. C. Lyon, was elected Chief on November 1, 1884.
In 1885, firemen were in need of a bell with a suitable tower to summon them
in the event of a fire. In July of that year an election was called to vote
on the proposition to purchase a bell, erect a bell tower, and provide the
funds necessary to operate the SAFD. The total cost of the project was $550.
When the ballots were counted, it was found that the proposition had failed
fifty-one to fifty-four. The SAFD was severely affected by the election
result. On July 28, 1885, a SAFD meeting was held, resulting in the
resignation of the entire volunteer department.
The "Village" of Santa Ana continued its rapid growth and thus, the "City"
of Santa Ana was born June 1, 1886. The original journal of the Secretary of
the Board of Trustees of the City of Santa Ana indicates the importance of
the fire protection issue. A meeting of the Board of Trustees held on July
21, 1886, resulted in the adoption of Ordinance #6, the first fire
prevention regulations. Section 5 of this ordinance stated that the Town
Marshal shall act as the Fire Commissioner (Fire Marshal). In Ordinance #15,
August 11, 1886, the Board of Trustees established the City Fire Department.
Section 1 provided for a Chief, an engine and hose company of at least ten
but not more than sixty-five men, and a hook and ladder company of at least
ten but not more than sixty-five men. Section 2 stated that the City Fire
Department was to operate under Sections 3335 through 3343 of Chapter XIV,
Title VII, and Part 3 of the Political Code of the State of California.
Section 3 established the Fire Chief's salary at "$8-1/3 per month." As a
result of these ordinances and the revival of the SAFD, on September 30,
1886, the Board appointed Trustee A. Snyder as Commissioner of Fire and
Water and Adam Forster as Chief of the SAFD.
The establishment of the Santa Ana Gas Company in August 1886 may have
hastened the Trustees in their efforts toward the reactivation of the SAFD.
Many were quite skeptical of this technological advancement, considering it
more of a fire hazard than a source of illumination. The equipment and
apparatus of the "new" SAFD were the same as that used by the original
department. Only a few of the "old" firemen elected to become members of the
"new" group. An old school building was donated by Spurgeon to house the new
SAFD at Fifth and Sycamore Street. Furthermore, in October 1888, an election
of the Fire Chief by SAFD members was held, and James P. Browne was elected
as Chief Engineer and the Trustees affirmed his selection.
On December 1, 1890, $60,000 was approved by the voters in an effort to
build and maintain a Municipal Water Department including "fireplugs". Up
until this time private wells or cisterns had provided all water, including
that for firefighting. With the fireplugs came "hose carts" -- large
two-wheeled vehicles with a reel of fire hose located between the two
wheels. These were first hand-drawn and later horse-drawn. Around 1892, a
total of two hose carts were placed in service. Large volumes of water could
now be applied, provided there was adequate pressure in the municipal water
system. This was put to the test in 1892 when a large fire struck the
Stern-Goodman's Store, located at 306 W. Fourth Street on Washington's
Birthday. After the fire, Chief Browne issued an order that residents should
not use water during a fire because not enough force could be obtained
through the fire hose to make a respectable stream. The Trustees agreed, as
they shortly thereafter voted to arrest and fine $25 to anyone caught
sprinkling during a fire.
Competition among the two hose companies and the hook and ladder company
surfaced with the hose carts. Each company wanted to be the first to reach
the fire since many of the firemen were also influential citizens and thus,
had persuaded the Trustees to pay $2 to each member of the first company
reaching the fire, $1.50 for the second company, and $1 for the third. This
only intensified the competition, with some firemen more interested in
winning the race than in fighting the fire. In February 1899, the Trustees
finally decided something had to be done to prevent absolute chaos in the
streets during a fire. They voted to pay $2 to each fireman who could answer
roll call at a fire but with no compensation given unless the firefighters'
services were needed. This action created a
furor within the SAFD, and talk of a second mass resignation began. The
Trustees, desiring to avoid such an action, voted in May 1899 to pay each
member $2 for a fire and $1 for a false alarm or a fire extinguished prior
to their arrival. This satisfied the firemen and no interruption in fire
After Chief Browne resigned to assume a position with the Municipal Water
Department, his first Assistant Chief, W. C. Young, was elected Chief
Engineer. The Trustees duly appointed him on February 23, 1900. Moreover,
with a new Chief Engineer in place, demand to build a new firehouse
surfaced. On December 16, 1901, the Firemen's Cooperative Association was
incorporated for the purpose of purchasing a lot to build a new engine
house. A lot was purchased across the street from the existing station at
307 North Sycamore.
During 1904, there was much activity within the SAFD. A new combination
chemical engine and hose cart was fabricated in Chief Young's blacksmith
shop. The two-story brick fire station on Sycamore was completed and the
fire alarm system was installed. Three horses with complete harness were
purchased, and Ike Fields, who operated a freight transit company and would
need to need to unhitch his wagon on the street and proceed to the fire at a
full gallop, was no longer required to do so. This team of three horses was
in service for approximately ten years before being replaced by motorized
fire apparatus. As soon as all firemen were convinced that the new horse
less apparatus could in fact replace the horses, the team was transferred to
duty in the Street Department. Perhaps the most important event was the
hiring of Monte Jackson as the first full-time paid driver. He was assisted
by Robert Moffitt, Theo Lacy, Joe Preston, and T. H. Newman. Jackson worked
a twenty one-hour per day and seven days a week shift.
One of the more sensational chapters in the history of the SAFD concerned
the burning of Chinatown. A leper was discovered living in one of the shacks
near Third and Bush Street. The area was covered with small, closely built
wooden structures, many of which were connected by a maze of underground
tunnels and inhabited by people of Chinese ancestry. After the leper was
found, a secret meeting of the Board of Trustees was held. It was decided
that the SAFD would raze the area by fire, thereby sparing the remainder of
the City from the dreaded disease. On May 25, 1906, the SAFD arrived to
surprisingly discover a crowd of several hundred people gathered to watch
the spectacle, since this plan was a closely guarded secret. The fire was
started with hose lines used to protect the exposures. These lines, along
with a light rain that was falling, prevented the fire from spreading beyond
the intended area.
At the end of 1916, Chief Young resigned as the Chief Engineer after more
than sixteen years as Chief and approximately thirty years with the SAFD.
During his career, the SAFD had progressed from hand-drawn and horse-drawn
equipment to motorized apparatus and from an all volunteer department to a
partially paid one.
The first paid member of the SAFD, driver Monte Jackson, was appointment
Fire Chief in January 1917. Chief Jackson's administration began with a
world at war. Times were uncertain, and political forces pulled in all
directions. Jackson served as Chief for only eighteen months, failing to be
re-elected by SAFD members. Thus, John Luxembourger was elected to succeed
Jackson and appointed Chief on July 27, 1918. Luxembourger's appointment
differed from that of his predecessors in that he was appointed as a
full-time Fire Chief. At the time of his appointment, Chief Luxembourger
assumed control of four paid firefighters and about thirty-five volunteers.
Shortly afterward, and at the forefront of other larger cities, the SAFD
went on the "two platoon" system. New York City would use this schedule
eighteen months later. This particular two platoon system meant an
eighty-four hour work week with every other weekend off.
In 1921, a new brick station was built on North Sycamore Street near Third
Street. This was the first station built to house two companies. Two more
stations were constructed in 1924 - one at 1314 West Third near Bristol and
one at 1204 East First Street. The station on West Third served the SAFD for
many years, but the East First Street site proved to have been a somewhat
poor location. It was replaced in 1926 by a station at 414 North Eastwood
(at Fourth Street). The 1904 fire alarm system was also replaced in 1924
with an eight circuit Gamewell System.
In 1927, Fire Station Number (No.) 4, located at 625 South Cypress, was
added. This station was the Communications Center and the receiving station
for the fire alarm system. As the City continued its growth and expansion,
Fire Station No. 1 was moved to 1322 North Sycamore (at Washington) in 1929.
It served as headquarters, containing the Fire Chief's office and the Fire
Prevention Bureau. The SAFD also expanded by eight members. Unfortunately,
with the country in the midst of the Great Depression all development came
to a virtual standstill during the early 1930's. The SAFD was no exception.
In 1937, a team from the National Board of Fire Underwriters visited Santa
Ana to review the progress made on their survey recommendations from a
previous evaluation (1929). Considering the economic climate of the
intervening years, considerable progress had been made. Nevertheless, the
City of Santa Ana and the SAFD responded to the evaluation issued by the
Underwriters. Assistant Chiefs John Garthe and Elmer Gates were added at the
urging of the National Board. Frank Corey, later of the State Fire Marshal's
Office, became the City's Fire Marshal upon Gates' promotion.
Additional apparatus and equipment purchases that had been planned would
have to be postponed, as the country was rapidly approaching World War II.
Not only was apparatus unavailable but many of the SAFD members answered
their country's call to military duty. The SAFDís expansion efforts were
again delayed due to circumstances completely beyond local control. In 1945
World War II ended, and in 1946 the beginning of the post-war "boom" began.
For more, read the complete history
SAFD's site on the City of Santa Ana's website.