History of Jacksonville Fire Department

Jacksonville's first fire department was started in 1906. O.B. Fox ran it, at the request of Mayor M.L. Earle. At that time, Jacksonville had no public water, but Mayor Earle felt that some fire protection was necessary, since he had been a volunteer fireman in Lufkin. Mr. Fox retired as Chief in 1910, then Gene Davis was named Chief and he served until 1912. The following Chiefs were:Joe Phillips (1912-1914) W.B. Fry (1914-1930) L.B. Haberle (1930-1933) Carlton Odom (1934-1941) Arch Robertson (1941-1943) Charlie Williams (1943-1972) Howard Martin (1972-1984) Clem Cecil (1984-1987) Rodney Kelley (1987-2008) Paul White (2008-Present).

A member of the fire department, named Joe Pressley, built the first piece of equipment in Jacksonville that was motor driven. O.B. Fox helped by doing all of the ironwork on the truck. Charlie Marshall and Mr. Whitaker built the next motor driven vehicle; once again O.B. Fox did the ironwork.

Jacksonville Fire Department
Old Fire Department View

For many years, Jacksonville had two fire trucks that were kept at Kiesow's Garage. The two trucks were later moved to the City Hall building. In 1964, when the Municipality and the Texas Bank and Trust traded locations, the first fire station was built in City Park with a garage designed to hold four fire trucks.
In 1965, Station #2 was built on North Bolton Street, with a truck and crew available on both sides of the Missouri Pacific Railroad. Station #2 was closed in March 1984, after completion of the overpass and the city was no longer receiving credit for it on the key rate.

On April 28, 1980, Station #3 was opened on the Loop with expected growth on the East Side of town.
While a pull cart was in service, Frank Collins fell and was run over by the cart. He died from his injuries. Only two other people besides Mr. Collins had been hurt while on duty before 1953. In 1939, Gerald Jay sustained an injury while fighting a fire at an old warehouse. During 1952, Shepherd Scogin, who served the J.F.D. in both a paid and voluntary capacity sustained severe injuries when the fire truck he was riding on was hit by a train at the Cotton Belt crossing on Canada Street. He eventually recovered from his injuries.

Jacksonville has had many dangerous fires in its history. When Howard Martin was serving as Chief, he recalled that the worst fire that he responded to was at the Lone Star Builder's Supply. A 2,000-gallon gasoline truck that was pumping gas into a tank apparently started the blaze. A welder's torch ignited the fire. He served as volunteer Fire Chief and city Fire Marshal for 11 years and was a fireman for 31 years.

In October of 1976, the department had five trucks. Two trucks were kept at the station on North Bolton Street and the other three were housed at the main station. On April 24, 1973, Jacksonville placed a new six-passenger station wagon in service. The station wagon was used to carry emergency breathing equipment, protective clothing, and air packs to the fires and emergencies. The first 1,000-gallon per minute pump truck that the department has, arrived on November 14, 1975. Four people brought the new American LaFrance truck to Jacksonville from New York. Two of those people were Howard Martin and his wife. Since the truck had to be driven that far without any water, Mrs. Martin said, "It was one bumpy ride." When water is in the truck, it makes it heavier and it doesn't bounce all around. That truck cost the Jacksonville Fire Department $54,886.

The Jaws of Life that is used to open automobile doors when people are trapped inside was a major goal for Howard Martin, while he was Chief. He was trying to raise enough money to buy the Jaws for several months. Many people and businesses in town contributed to help the department. Finally, he was successful in raising the $8,806.10 needed to purchase the Jaws. When the Jaws of Life arrived in Jacksonville, Mr. Martin put on a demonstration for whoever wanted to see what the city had helped them buy.

The Fire Department now has two 1,000-gallon per minute pumper trucks. There is one booster truck that is used for house fires in the county; it is equipped with a Jaws of Life rescue tool, also. They are trying to equip the booster truck with a new set of Jaws, except this time it is going to cost them abut $15,000.

There is one 1,500-gallon tanker truck that is used for fires in areas where there is no available water system. The communications truck is used on large fires and other incidents, such as hazardous chemical spills, that may require the use of other agencies. There are two trucks in service at the Fire Department used specifically for grass fires, or if extra water is need for a large fire. Each truck carries approximately 500 gallons of water.
There are four ambulances that are all certified with ALS, which means Advanced Life Support. Each ambulance has M.I.C.U. (Mobile Intensive Care Unit) capabilities. A new ambulance is on order and is expected to be delivered sometime in March 1998.

There are twenty full-time, paid Firemen working three 24-hour shifts at the present date. Two men work Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on the ambulance making EMS calls and transfers to and from Nursing homes to the Hospital. The Fire Department has one paid Chief, one Fire Marshal, one Training Officer, and one full-time billing clerk who does all of the EMS billing. The Fire Department made over 3,100 EMS calls in 1996 and 1,400 fire calls.
The Fire Department still utilizes 10 volunteer Firemen who are able to respond to emergencies of all types. All of the Firefighters are cross-trained to be EMT (Emergency Medical Technicians). Of the twenty full-time Firefighters, eight are trained as EMT-Paramedics.

Rodney Kelly was the EMS Coordinator when the city took over the ambulance service from Newburn Ambulance Service in 1983. he came to work for the city and was promoted to Assistant Chief after the completion of his Fire Certification. Ronnie McCollum was promoted from a shift Captain to Fire Marshal in October 1984, which is the position he holds now. Rodney Kelly was promoted to Fire Chief after the death of Chief Cecil on August 9, 1987, and served as Fire Chief until November 1, 2008.
That is everything about the Jacksonville Fire Department and it's Firemen from 1906 to the present date. Now you have had a glimpse into a Fireman's life, it is lot more than it seems to be. Firemen and Fire Departments are vital to each and every city. They will always be there for you whenever you need help.

Story by Bryan McKinney