History of the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department
1850- At this time, the standard for fighting fire in Jacksonville was the use of the “Bucket Brigades”. When a fire started, two lines would form at the St. Johns River and stretch to the fire. Buckets filled with water would be passed from the river to the fire by members of the brigade in the first line. An empty bucket was sent back to the river by the second line.
Wells were dug at the intersections of Washington and Forsyth, Forsyth and Newnan, and Newnan and Adams. Bell towers were also constructed with small sheds to hold the buckets.
1852- The first piece of firefighting equipment arrived in Jacksonville. It was a wheeled water pump operated by teams of men see-sawing long handles on each side.
April 5th, 1854- A spark from the steam ship “Florida” ignited a fire that started on Bay Street between Ocean and Newnan Streets and devastated Jacksonville’ Business District. Even Jacksonville’s only fire apparatus burned after being too close to the fire. 70 buildings were destroyed.
November 15th, 1856- Jacksonville burns to the ground again. Many of the buildings built after the 1854 fire were destroyed.
March 11th, 1862- As Union soldiers approached Jacksonville, Confederate soldiers realized they could not hold the city and proceeded to burn strategic points in the city. Upon orders from their commander, eight of the nine sawmills were torched, along with eight million feet of lumber, an iron foundry, a machine shop, and a gun boat that was being built for the Confederate Government. Also burned in the destruction was the railroad depot and the Judson House Hotel.
April 10th, 1862- After occupying the city for one month, Union soldiers leave the city and burn it once again.
March 29th, 1863- After occupying the city for a third time, union soldiers once again torched Jacksonville as they were leaving.
January 10th, 1868– Jacksonville’s first volunteer fire company, the Friendship Hook and Ladder Company, was formed. They were housed at the intersection of Forsyth and Ocean Streets.
February 3rd, 1870– Jacksonville’s second volunteer company, The Mechanics Steam Engine Company, was formed. They purchased the State of Florida’s first steam engine. The new steam engine could throw a stream of water 200 feet at a rate of 250 gallons per minute. The Mechanics firehouse was located on Adams Street between Main and Laura Streets. They were led by:
Foreman T.E. Buckman
1st Asst. Foreman James Crews
2nd Asst. Foreman C. Mahoney
Engineer P.T. Crowley
May 5th, 1870– The Aetna Steam Engine Company took over Friendship Hook and Ladder at Forsyth and Ocean.
Spring of 1870– Jacksonville’s Volunteer Fire companies were brought under one umbrella organization known as the Jacksonville Volunteer Fire Department. Each company maintained independence, but operated under this umbrella. Their first leaders were:
Chief William Baya
1st Asst. Chief A. Zacharias
2nd Asst. Chief Seymour Hovey
Chairman of the Fire Board A.J. Russell
December 19th, 1870– Jacksonville burned once again as a fire raged for several blocks in the Bay and Pine (Main) Street area. A building housing a mattress factory and grain and hay warehouse caught fire and spread to two adjacent buildings. When all was said and done, the offices of the Florida Union, Columbus Drews Book Store, and the hardware stores of S.B. Hubbard and R.T. Masters.
1871– The Jacksonville Volunteer Fire Department now has six companies– Mechanics Hose Company, The Mechanics Steam Engine Company, the Aetna Steam Engine Company, Alert Hose Company, Phoenix Hose Company, and the Americus Hook and Ladder Company. They were led by:
Chief Engineer and Chairman of the Board- A.J Russell
First Assistant: T. H. Willard
Mechanics Steam Engine: T.E. Buckman, Foreman
Aetna Steam Engine Company: J. J. Holland, Foreman
Alert Hose Company: Bryon Oaks, Foreman
Phoenix Hose Company: H.A. L'Engle, Foreman
Americus Hook and Ladder: Joseph Margych, Foreman
Mechanics Hose Company: William Margych, Foreman
January 8th, 1874- A young brother of Mr. Delaporte, the Confectioner on Bay St., went into the back garden of the confectionary store to drive out a cow that had broken in. He saw a fire on the back part of the adjoining premises, occupied by a Mr. O.C. Livingston as a furniture store, and heard someone jump over the fence. He immediately gave the alarm, but the building, being a wooden one, had flames spreading too quickly. The fire leapt to an adjoining wooden building used by Mr. E. Westgate, the Undertaker, and then to the Delaportes Confectionary.
The fire engines, under the command of M.W. Parcells, arrived on scene preceded only by the Phoenix Hose Company. However, the buildings were old and made of wood, so there was no chance to save them. Fire companies turned their attention to the neighboring buildings, an endeavor in which they worked heroically. Jones and West Pant Shop, west of Delaportes, was pulled down to prevent further spread of the fire. A dead body already in the Undertaker’s office was mistaken for a fire fatality.
In the wake of the blaze, which destroyed four business houses, Delaporte and others observed shavings piled up against the building where the fire began, evidently the work of an incendiary. The perversity of the arsonist was best illustrated by the report of an unidentified police officer, who stated that when he went to ring the bell on the fire tower, he found the rope gathered up and wound around the clapper, preventing its use.
January 5th, 1876- A half million dollar fire started along Bay Street. Luckily, a steamer docked nearby provided two powerful streams of water that were used to fight the fire.
Followed by rioting and looting, the blaze pinpointed a major community problem- The city had inadequate fire equipment and a poor water supply.
When an alarm was sounded from one of the city’s fire bell towers, the volunteers had to borrow horses to pull their equipment before they could respond. When there were no horses available, the men had to tug their engines by hand, a procedure that usually bogged the engines in the sand of the city streets. Once on scene, if they arrived in time, the firemen still had to find a water source within reach of their hoses. There were only three municipal wells and the St. Johns River. Smaller waterways such as Hogan Creek were likely to be clogged with refuse and the pumpers would not function. Bucket brigades were used as a last resort while the powerful engines. However, the days of an effective bucket brigade in Jacksonville were over. Jacksonville was growing, with its multi-storied buildings becoming more common. The lack of adequate fire protection made Jacksonville an easy target for arsonists.
January 30th, 1876- An “Elegant Cottage" built by the Marquis dle Talleyrand on the Shell Road, three miles outside of Jacksonville, burned to the ground more out of carelessness than of arson.
March 27th, 1876- Three houses in the vicinity of Cedar and Adams Streets burned. The fire was charged to the work of arsonists. One of the structures might have been saved, but the lines coming off the Aetna Hose Company could not reach from the railroad wharf and the St. Johns River. One hose line was eventually brought into play. However, but a squabble developed between competing fire companies. On the very same morning, the New England House burned. Two boarders of the Ocean House nearby were awakened when a mysterious figure slipped into the parlor and struck a match and attempted to set the lace curtains on fire. The culprit was frightened off before he could do any damage. Two nights later, he might have been the person who thrust a blazing pine torch under a barn in the western section of town. The barn was saved.
March 31st, 1876- A fire bug attempts to start a fire at the house of banker D.C. Ambler’s house at Hogan and Adams Street. An investigation revealed a pile of kerosene soaked shavings under the corner of a house, which officials said were “Obviously the works of incendiary devils”.
April 4th, 1876- 17 year old John Dunn was caught with matches and kerosene soaked kindling in his pockets as he stood yelling “Fire” altogether too gleefully near a threatened house on Adams St. The first wisps of smoke from a fire were just beginning to curl out from under the lattice work when Dunn started yelling. The blaze was extinguished and Dunn’s arrest for incendiarism brought a stop to the rash of fires.
1876- A group of 22 African Americans organized the Duval Hose Company. Their station was located at Pine (Main) Street and Ashley Street. The Duval Hose Company was one of the most active of the volunteer companies in Jacksonville. They wore red shirts and helmets, along with red pantaloons. They drew their bright red and gold hand engine in many parades and social functions.
July 4th, 1876- Ground was broken for a new station on Adams Street, between Main and Laura Streets. The new station would house both the Mechanics Steam Engine Fire Company and the Mechanics Hose Company. The event was held in conjunction with the 4th of July celebration and parade.
At the end of the day, the grand centennial fireman’s ball was held in Metropolitan Hall. The parade went off as planned, with firefighters parading in an assortment of uniforms. First came a detachment of police, looking more like soldier son dress parade followed by firefighters from the Americus Hook and Ladder Company, the Mechanics Steam Fire Engine Company, the union brass band, the Mayor, Alderman, and other notables. Following them were the Aetna Steam Engine Company, the Alerts, and Phoenix Hose Company, and the Independent Fuel Cart Company. The Alerts, wearing blue shirts, white pants, and straw hats were described as the favorites of the ladies and their hose cart resplendent in blue and gold, ornamented with a centennial flag and flowers featuring a grinning wild cat perched on the top, keeping guard.
More typical of the fireman's’ uniforms, all of which varied from company to company, were those of the Mechanics Steam Fire Engine Company. The Mechanics wore red shirts with white fronts, black pants, and black fatigue hats, the saucy head gear, military style, carried over from the Civil War. The glittering brass of the Mechanics steam engine gleamed through a virtual blanket of flowers. Even the wheels and suction hoses of the machine were decorated so that the company looked the very flower of pride and chivalry.
Shortly before 11pm, at the heart of the festivities, the fire alarm sounded. A red glare hit the clouds over the city. By the time fire apparatus got to the scene, the Seaview Hotel was a mass of flames. All of the occupants were evacuated safely with the exception of 17 year old Ella Knowles, who somehow got left behind.
When she was spotted at the window of a fourth story attic with a hale of fire around her, a groan went up through the crowd of spectators on scene. A ladder was raised while flames licked at the girl. Firemen shouted for hr to wait; help was coming. But Ella Knowles panicked and leaped into space. Her body thudded into the ground before the horrified crowd. Miraculously, she survived, but with terrible injuries.
July 23rd, 1876- St. Lukes Hospital burns to the ground only a day or two before it was scheduled to open. The first volunteer unit answering the alarm went in the wrong direction and then got its engine bogged down in the Bay Street sand. The horses were whipped to a frenzy in an attempt to pull the engine free. This broke the harness, causing a further delay. Other volunteer units managed to get to the scene with firemen substituting for horses, pushing and pulling their engines a best they could. It was something of an achievement that they got to the fire at all. Two units did get to the fire in time to play their hoses on it. Their efforts were futile. It was later explained that since the only source of water was the St. Johns River and, from the point where the hospital stood at the time, it would have taken all of the hose strung together to reach the river.
A number of smaller fires erupted through the end of 1876 and in many of them, arson was suspected. There was a general hunt for incendiaries and citizens took to patrolling their own neighborhoods as a fire precaution.
1876- The Duval County Fire Department became the Jacksonville Fire Division.
December 30th, 1877- A fire breaks out at the intersection of Hogan and Union Streets. In all, six houses are destroyed.March 18th, 1881- The Post Office, the Federal Court, 250 bales of high-grade tobacco, along with an ammunition store filled with dynamite, went up in flames, once again threatening the city.
April 26th, 1881– The City of Jacksonville installed water mains and a water works capable of pumping water under pressure to strategic mains for firefighting purposes. Ninety-two fire hydrants were installed. The trustees devised an ingenious plan whereby an “inexhaustible supply” of creek water was channeled through the water works pump for firefighting purposes during extraordinary emergencies. 1.25 million gallons of water could now be supplied daily.
The trustees also installed the city’s first fire-alarm telegraphy system consisting of 15 alarm boxes and eight bells strung together by six miles of wire and powered by a 40 cell battery. Interestingly enough, the alarms were operated with keys provided by police on duty and also left with “responsible persons who lived in the vicinity of the alarm boxes.” The alarms themselves were located in the city’s several engine houses, at police headquarters, at the water works, and at the residences of the Fire Chief and Superintendent of the waterworks.
1882- An explosion and fire destroy the steamboat Volusia.
November 26th, 1882- Word is spreading around the city of a possible mutiny by the volunteer firefighters. The firefighters are unhappy about the selection of J.J. Holland as Chief.
1883- The citizens of Jacksonville had become concerned about the fire protection afforded by the Fire Department. Following a fire on the “Palace Steamer” Frederick de Bary, the ship was burnt to the waterline while docked at the foot of Laura St. The Firefighters arrived in time to save the burning ship, but could not find hydrant connections that would fit their hose. There was insufficient water pressure and not enough hose to enable the streams of water to reach the blazing ship with effective force.
Downtown property owners have considered buying their own fire hose and of establishing a paid professional fire department rather than the “Politically Controlled” volunteer department. Businessmen and property owners also were thinking about the benefits of the paid professional department and how it would effect the fire insurance rate. Fire insurance rates have continued to rise in the city despite construction of the waterworks and installation of water mains with the fire hydrants and an electric alarm system.
January 6th, 1884- The Alert Hose Company disbands upon orders from the Jacksonville City Council. They refused to answer a fire alarm. The disbanded members later reunite to form the Jacksonville Insurance Patrol. Their uniforms were blue shirts and helmets with black pantaloons.
January 12th, 1884- The Cleveland Hose Company was organized. Harry B. Lee was elected foreman of the sixteen man company. The station house of the Cleveland hose Company was located on Adams St. between Clay and Cedar St. (Now Broad St.). It was the one just recently vacated by the Alert Hose Company. The uniforms of the Cleveland Hose Company were blue shirts, red helmets, and black pantaloons.
November 28th, 1884-A $60,000 fire claims Hart’s Feed Mill at the foot of Liberty Street.
December 16th, 1885– Downtown Jacksonville bursts into flames once again. Several blocks of business buildings, warehouses, and wharves were destroyed along Bay Street. The firemen arrived late and got bogged down in confusion trying to set up their equipment. None of them apparently knew how to operate the new “Fire Engine.” The fire loss was estimated at $250,000. Three firemen were injured and Henry J. Bradley, a volunteer, was crushed to death under a blazing wall when it collapsed. Bradley becomes the first Jacksonville Firefighter to die in the line of duty.
December 21st, 1885- Fireman Henry J. Bradley is laid to rest. He was saluted with a public viewing from Noon-3pm at the O.Z. Tyler and Company Funeral Home. With public sentiment being very high, many citizens filed past the casket to look “for the last time” on the calm and silent features of the heroic dead.
It is in the days after the death of Jacksonville Firefighter Henry J. Bradley that several fire insurance companies serving Jacksonville threatened to withdraw their coverage from the city unless a paid fire department was organized.
1886- As a result of the recent rash of fires in the city that have destroyed thousands of dollars worth of property and merchandise, the fire insurance companies added 25% to their fire insurance rates, making the cost so high that it was having a paralyzing effect on the city’s development. The increase amounting to $30,000 annually until a paid fire department was formed.
April 20th, 1886-The Jacksonville City Council passes an ordinance creating a paid fire department and imposing a levy of five mills to pay the initial cost. At that time, however, the five mills would only bring in $15,000. Because of the importance to the city, four banks advanced $10,000 to put the fire department into operation. The banks were listed as the National Bank of the State of Florida, The First national Bank of Jacksonville, Bank of Jacksonville, and the firm of Ambler, Marvin, and Stockton. The local newspaper said of the banks advancing the money that they were saying “it takes money to make the mares go.”
The Board of Fire Commissioners was formed. Their members were:
President: Dr. John L’Engle
Treasurer: D.G. Ambler
Members: Gen. W. M. Ledwith and J.E. Hartas
July 15th, 1886– The Jacksonville Fire Department became a fully paid professional department. Peter Jones, a six time Mayor, was the department’s first Chief. Jones was elected to an Alderman position in 1869 and then Mayor in 1870. During his term, he was known as the “Carpetbag Mayor.”
The new fire department had a total of 17 men and three companies. They were located at:
Station 1: Fire Station 1 was originally located at 100 East Forsyth Street. Previously, it was the home of the Aetna Fire Company. Assistant Chief Hooker was in charge of Hook and Ladder #1. The four privates assigned were George Heinz, J.J. Perkins, E.S. Griffin, and John A. Brown. The Hook and Ladder was pulled by two horses, Logan and Mack. Hose Company #1 was a wheeled hose reel carrying 500feet of 2 ½ inch hose. This apparatus was pulled by one horse named Buck. Foreman Sidney F. Smith was in charge of Hose Company #1 along with three Privates- J.L. White, George Roberts, and Alex Dean.
Station 2: Station 2 was originally located at Pine (Now Main Street) and Ashley Street. The apparatus assigned to the station was a hose reel carrying 500 feet of 2 ½ inch hose and drawn by a horse named Cleveland. Frank Enters was the Foreman and the three Privates assigned Thomas B. Lucas, H. Squires, and J.E. Norman
Station 3: Station 3 was originally located at 500 East Bay St. Henry Butler was the Foreman. Louis M. Kelly and J. Sirmans were the Privates. The apparatus at the station was a hose reel carrying 500 feet of 2 ½ inch hose pulled by a horse named George.
All of the personnel at Station #3 were African Americans.
In 1886, all firemen were allowed three hours off for meals each day and one day off duty. Seven days vacation time was given annually. Each man had to buy his own uniforms and firefighting gear. The salary schedule in 1886 was : The Chief- $125, Assistant Chief- $75, Foreman- $50, Privates- $45, and Subs- $40 a month.
July 21st, 1886– The Jacksonville Fire Department responds to its first alarm. It turns out to be a false alarm.
August 10th, 1886- The first official fire for the Jacksonville Fire Department.
1887- A boiler explosion at the T.V. Cashen Lumber Mill in East Jacksonville claimed the life of an African american Volunteer Fireman, 35 year old Sam Friar.
September 21st, 1887- Central Fire Station Number 1 opens on the northwest corner of Adams and Ocean Streets.
August 1888– Yellow Fever overtakes Jacksonville. One of the first to die is Jacksonville Firefighter William Craugh. Jacksonville Firefighters set fires to try to rid the city of the disease.
June 5th, 1889- Fire destroys five blocks in downtown Jacksonville. The fire consumed several businesses along Main Street.
1891- Jacksonville’s population now exceeds 15,000 people.
January 22nd, 1891– Peter Jones, the first Chief of the Jacksonville Fire Department, dies. He is replaced by J.H. Stephens.
August 18th, 1891- A store stocked with dynamite explodes at the intersection of Ocean and Adams. The fire burns all the way to the river, destroying the Mechanics Firehouse in the process.
September 5th, 1892- Jacksonville’s second Fire Chief, J.H. Stephens, leaves after only a year and eight months as Chief of the Jacksonville Fire Department.
September 9th, 1892– Thomas Haney, a Captain with the Atlanta Fire Department, is named as the third Chief of the Jacksonville Fire Department.
February 9th, 1895– During his push to modernize the Fire Department, Chief Haney proclaims “If a fire should start in Jacksonville today and get a good headway in a thickly settled portion of the city, ten chances to one, it would sweep everything in its path.”
1895- At Chief Haney’s request, some streets in Jacksonville are paved to keep fire apparatus from bogging down in the sand.
1897- Fire Station Number 4 opens in the LaVilla section of downtown Jacksonville. The station is located on Adams Street between Broad and Jefferson Streets. The opening of Number 4 places two more hose companies into service.
1897- There were 170 fires with property damage valued at $500,000. Fire loss was $10,544.
1897– Fire Station 5 opens at the intersection of Riverside Avenue and Forest Street. They would spend the next 111 years at this intersection.
1898– A more modernized fire alarm system is placed into service.
1898- Jacksonville Fire Chief Thomas Haney is the highest paid official in the city of Jacksonville. He earns $2,400 annually, doubling that of the Mayor and Police Chief.
1900– The City of Jacksonville has an estimated population of 30,000 people. The Jacksonville Fire Department employs over 30 members.
History of the JFRD– 1850-1900 provided by:
“Heroes All: A History of Fire Fighting in Jacksonville, by John Cowart
History of the JFRD, 1995-2002 Yearbook, courtesy of Jason Jones
Information compiled by Fire Museum Curator, Linda Treadwell