"Another matter of vast importance which took its start in 1853, was the establishment of means to prevent conflagrations. The first notice that we find of a Fire Department is on August 27, 1853, when an ordinance was passed relative to the purchase of a fire-engine, to effect which Mr. Staples and the Clerk of the Board of Trustees were appointed a Committee, who, on December 24th, were authorized to pay two thousand dollars therefor. On the 8th October, John Scott and others petitioned for the organization of a regular Fire Department to comprise the Empire and Washington Engine Companies and the Oakland Hook and Ladder Company. This organization was effected in 1854; John Scott elected Chief Engineer; and an engine-house built. On March 25, 1854, eight hundred dollars was allowed for the purchase of hose, necessary fixtures, and painting the engine-house; while, in his first message, Mayor Carpentier recommended the organization of a more efficient Fire Department."1 2
The Oakland Fire Department was established on March 13, 1869, which at the time consisted of the Phoenix Engine No. 1, which was located at 5th and Washington Streets, in Oakland, California. Before the first Oakland fire company began, fires were fought by all white volunteer brigades which operated within separately within each of the East Bay townships. With the expansion of Oakland, neighboring volunteer brigades were absorbed into Oakland's fire department.
In 1887 G. H. Carleton was the Superintendent Fire Alarm and Police Telegraph for the City of Oakland.
At that time the Fire Department consisted of four steam fire engines in service, and one relief engine, six hose carts, two hook and ladder tracks, 21 horses, 6,450’ of hose (of which 4,700 feet was in actual use), along with 550’ on the Relief Hose Cart.
The number of hydrants throughout the city total 207, with two cisterns, one of which was located at Broadway and 8th Street, and the other at Broadway and 13th Street.
As of June 30, 1887, the annual account by the Chief Engineer reported that the Fire Department responded to a total of 103 alarms, of which 73 were "bells" and 30 which were "stills." Of the 103 alarms, twelve were false, seven were for brush fires and two were fires located outside the city limits, leaving a total of 82 actual fires within the city limits. The estimated loss for these 82 fires was $829,000, compared with the previous years shown below:
- In 1884-85 there were 52 alarms, with losses totaling $855,000
- In 1885-86 there were 60 alarms, with losses totaling $26,000
- In 1886-87 there were 82 alarms, with losses totaling $29,000
Expenses for operating the Fire Department were $831,903, the number of man hours worked 246_ [unable to read the last number] and the total distance traveled was 1,304 miles.
Fire Company Names and Locations as of 1887
Company No 1 — N, A. Ball, Foreman. Locatad on Fifteenth Street, in rear of City Hall. The engine is a third-class Amoskeag, one hose cart carrying 750’ of hose
Company No. 2 — Austin Bailey, Foreman. Located on 6th Street, between Broadway and Washington Street. The engine is a second-class Alliens, one hose cart carrying 750’ of hose.
Company No. 3 — James Galavan, Foreman. Located on 8th Street, between Campbell and Willow. The engine is a second-class Silsby, one hose cart carrying 750’ of hose.
Company No. 4 — Wm. C. White, Foreman. Located on East 14th Street, between 12th and 13th Avenues. The engine is a second-class Amoskeag, one hose cart carrying 750’ of hose.
Relief Engine — A second-class Silsby, is at the repair shop, City Hall, and is held in readiness to aid or relieve as necessity demands.
Hose Company No. 1 — Joseph Flannery, Foreman. Located on 6th Street, between Broadway and Washington Street, one hose cart carrying 650’ of hose.
Hose Company No. 2 — William Branch, Foreman. Located on San Pablo Avenue, at the junction of Market Street, one four-wheel hose cart carrying 1,000’ of hose.
Hook and Ladder Co. No. 1 — J. W. Bankhead, Foreman. Located on 6th Street, between Broadway and Washington Street.
20th Century History
The first motorized vehicle was bought for the Fire Chief in 1908. By the early 1920s, the Fire Department was fully motorized.
In the 1920's, Oakland was one of the first Fire Departments in the nation to hire African American firemen, but were segregated apart from the white firefighters in overcrowded and under-equipped fire stations.
In June 1955, John Sweeney was appointed Fire Chief, and within two months of taking the position, Chief Sweeney ordered the racial integration of all Oakland Fire Stations, making Oakland one of the first Fire Departments to desegregate in the nation.
Chief Sweeney also oversaw the construction of 13 new Fire Stations.
The first Asian American firemen were not hired until 1972, and women were not hired as firefighters until 1980.
Samuel Golden was appointed on May 1, 1981, becoming Oakland's first African American Fire Chief.
Pages tagged “fire history”
Links and References
- Oakland, Alameda and Berkeley City Directory (1887)
Brief History of the Oakland Fire Department City of Oakland
Oakland Fire Department by Captain Geoffrey Hunter, Arcadia Series
Oakland Fire Department archives maintained by Captain Dave Hector