CALL: From reel carts to modern fire trucks

Democrat photo / David A. Wilson
The new custom-built 2013 Pierce Saber fire truck shown by Fire Chief Allen Smith is the latest addition to the City of California Volunteer Fire Department.

Democrat photo / David A. Wilson The new custom-built 2013 Pierce Saber fire truck shown by Fire Chief Allen Smith is the latest addition to the City of California Volunteer Fire Department. Photo by David Wilson.

— The new City of California custom-built 2013 Pierce Saber fire truck brings the Volunteer Fire Department the latest of small town fire fighting technology.

It's a long trek from the fire department which started on Jan. 5, 1911, not long after the water tower at the corner of Owen and Patrick Street was built and water mains were installed.

Before that time, volunteer bucket brigades didn't save much from fires.

After starting the new fire department, Fire Chief George Stegner, three Ward Captains and Chief of Fire Police C. G. Howard began fire drills right away. They learned how to use the latest in small town fire equipment - hand-drawn reel carts with hose and hook and ladder wagons in each of the three fire wards. There were three fire houses for equipment storage and training. They were located at the water tower, the California City Hall at the corner of Stella and High Streets and a location on Main Street.

The first call was late in the winter of 1911, and the fledgling fire department was able to hook to the nearest fire hydrant and extinguish the fire in the shingle roof of the house. The house was reroofed and replastered and the residents moved back in.

In the years since, the training of the firefighters and the equipment they have available has changed. What hasn't changed is the dedication of the volunteer firefighters in the pursuit of serving the community.

The rell carts and hook and ladder wagons served the community until about 1925 when the fire department acquired a "motor truck." The equipment was consolidated in a single location and the old reels were gone.

The California Fire Department continued to advance and in 1954 a new Chevrolet fire truck was purchased and stored centrally at the Stella and High Street location. That new fire truck is still owned by the city and used in parades.

In 1993, the new California Fire Station was built at the intersection of Highway 50 and Industrial Drive. The work of the fire department and the duties of the fire chief continued to increase. The department now has two engines, a ladder truck and a rescue truck. The new state of the art engine has been in use since January.

Communications have long been a problem for the fire fighters.

In 1911, volunteers were called by the "wildcat whistle" at the woolen mill. There was a single blast for Ward One, two blasts for Ward Two and three blasts for Ward Three.

While that system worked with the "new" technology of the time - the telephone - it is now considered very primitive.

The present day volunteers are called via a paging system operated by the 911 Emergency Dispatch Center. In addition, they are trained not only in firefighting, but also as First Responders and in vehicle extrication.

The personal equipment now includes protective clothing and gear, even to self contained breathing apparatus allowing a firefighter to enter a burning building for possible rescue. Originally the best that could hoped for was gloves and leather coats, over fire proof wool shirts and pants.

The chief's job eventually grew to where it required a lot more than a part-time person. So much time was taken up by city requirements that it made it nearly impossible for the chief to hold a regular job and be chief on a part-time basis. The job of the fire chief became a full-time position in 1999 and Allen Smith, who had been chief since 1984, was appointed to the position. He continues to serve the community as fire chief.

The training and equipment of the volunteer fire fighters of California have been tested many times. Equipment continues to be updated as funds are available and firefighters continue regularly monthly training sessions.

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