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History of the Tempe Fire Medical Rescue Department

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Below is a history time line of the Tempe Fire, Medical, Rescue Department that the Tempe History Museum developed for its exhibit, "Fighting Fires: The Story of the Tempe Fire Department." This time line includes information from the Museum's research files, oral history interviews, community advisors, and from the book, For Whom the 'Town Bull' Tolls: A History of the Tempe Fire Department, 1894-2000 by Shirley Randolph Blanton.

May 19, 1888 The Tempe News, the town’s local newspaper, states that "town ditches should be kept full of water. The lack of this essential fluid was severely felt at our late fire." This is the earliest mention of fire in the young town of Tempe.

1890 The Hayden Flour Mill burns for the first time.

March 10, 1894 The Tempe Hotel is destroyed by fire. A bucket brigade prevents the fire from spreading to other buildings. This is the earliest major Tempe fire on record. The hotel is rebuilt and is later named the Casa Loma Hotel.

April 1896 The Arlington Hotel and the adjoining Peter’s Hall are destroyed by fire.

July 1901 Tempe residents meet at the Atwood Hotel (later named the Casa Loma Hotel) and organize an official "bucket brigade" for fire protection.

October 1901 The town of Tempe begins efforts to build a waterworks system. The new water system eventually includes a reservoir on Tempe Butte and fire hydrants, providing for better fire protection.

February 27, 1902 A large fire destroys several buildings, including the Birchett Grocery Store, on the east side of Mill Avenue between Fourth and Fifth Streets.

January 19, 1903 The Tempe City Council passes Ordinance No. 67 creating a fire department.

January 28, 1903 Dr. G. A. Scroggs becomes Tempe’s first fire chief. B. J. Stehlik becomes the assistant chief. Dr. Scroggs resigns his position in April 1903 to go to California.

November 1903 Carl Hayden, son of prominent early Tempe resident Charles Trumbull Hayden, becomes fire chief. Carl Hayden resigns in June 1904 to become Maricopa County Treasurer.

February 1906 The Town Council passes Ordinance 75, which establishes a territory limit on fire service and a construction code for building more fire-resistant buildings.

October 27, 1906 The Department acquires a new bell for calling firefighters into action. This is Tempe’s first formal fire alarm system.

May 20, 1910 Tom Wing is killed when a fire destroys the building housing his laundry business. This is Tempe’s first recorded fire-related death.

April 11, 1911 The Town Council orders a "chemical cart." It is an improvement in fire-fighting technology, complete with ladders. The cart cost $730. [2003 purchase value: $14,600].

May 28, 1915 Shocked by the Fire Department’s poor response to a fire, the town reorganizes the Department. A new chief, Price Wickcliffe, is appointed. He sets up several fire companies, recruits veteran volunteers, and provides training for all the firefighters.

June 18, 1915 Hispanic residents establish Hose Company No. 1 of the Tempe Fire Department. Fifteen Hispanic men join the company that provides fire protection to Tempe’s Hispanic neighborhoods.

July 11, 1917 The Hayden Flour Mill burns for the second time. The completely destroyed structure is rebuilt in 1918.

November 7, 1917 The Tempe Cotton Exchange is destroyed by fire. Several volunteers are injured fighting the fire. Poor water pressure from the town’s water system makes things difficult. As a result of this, the water system is later rebuilt.

September 22, 1920 Volunteer firefighters start to get paid for responding to calls. The chief gets $50 a month and the assistant chief gets $25 a month. All other volunteers get $5 a call. [2003 value: $45]

January 19, 1921 The Fire Department gets a new fire truck. This truck is a "Deluge" Ford Chemical and Hose Truck. The truck greatly improves the town’s fire protection. It cost $2,920. [2003 purchase value: $26,306]

November 8, 1923 The Town Council decides to install a new fire alarm system that can be used by telephone.

September 1929 Tempe votes to change its status from a town to a city.

February 1932 Responding to the poor economic conditions of the Great Depression, the City Council reduces the compensation paid to volunteer firefighters to $3 per call. [2003 value: $39.47]

November 22, 1933 The City Council decides to build a new, up-to-date firehouse next to City Hall. The City takes advantage of federal New Deal money to build the new firehouse.

February 11, 1934 The formal dedication of the new firehouse takes place. A large crowd of Tempe residents attends the dedication.

October 17, 1936 The Department gets a new, two-ton Dodge fire truck.

July 22, 1937 Local mechanic Carl Spain is named fire chief. Spain serves until December 31, 1953.

August 1939 The Tempe Volunteer Fire Department joins the National Fire Protection Association. This is a nationwide organization of 15,000 firefighters that share information with each other.

April 18, 1940 The City installs a new Gamewell fire alarm system. Due to its deep tone, it is nicknamed the "Town Bull." The alarm can sound a code that tells firefighters which part of the city the fire is in.

1942/43 The Department converts a 1940 Chevy dump truck into a fire truck. The conversion gives the Department more resources to use in the community.

July 1, 1946 The City Council raises the firemen’s pay from $3 to $5 to "give the boys a chance to come out even on clothing ruined fighting fires." [2003 value: a change from $27.78 to $46.30]

November 1948 The City orders 20 new fireplugs to be installed in the newly developed areas surrounding the city limits. Tempe is growing quickly and the town is struggling to provide fire protection.

January 1950 Tempe extends the city limits. The City Council instructs the Fire Department to stop servicing areas not within the city.

February 29, 1952 The City gets a new 750-gallon Seagreaves Pumper fire truck. This is another step forward in technology. It cost $17,600. [2003 purchase value: $131,343]

May 5, 1953 Fire Station #2, located at 1639 East Apache Boulevard, opens. The City now has two fire stations. The station closed in 1969, and is now the Fire House Restaurant.

1953 A devastating fire outside of Tempe city limits forces a reevaluation of the policy not to go outside of Tempe’s boundaries.

January 1, 1954 Frank Reeves is elected fire chief of the Tempe Fire Department. He calls for 75 reserve firemen as part of the City’s new Civil Defense program, in case of an attack on the United States.

January 13, 1955 The old Tempe Union High School burns. This is one of the most memorable fires in Tempe history. Most residents, and the responding firemen, had a connection to the building.

March 24, 1956 Ira D. Payne Training School, on the campus of the Arizona State College, is completely destroyed by fire. The damage is estimated at around $300,000. [2003 value: almost $2 million] Both this and the Tempe High School fire create support for a professional, paid fire department. This fire also increases cooperation between the City and the college.

July 1, 1957 Wally Filger becomes the first paid, full-time fireman. Wally is paid to bring the fire truck to fires. He and his wife move into the Fifth Street station.

July 14, 1957 The Phoenix Citrus Packing Company plant is destroyed. This is another devastating fire, with the loss estimated between $75,000 and $125,000. [2003 value: $480,000-$800,000]

December 16, 1958 A house fire kills four small children in their sleep. This is the deadliest fire in Tempe’s history.

November 24,1959 Arizona State University fraternity students set a fire. About fifty ASU male students throw stones at the responding firefighters and fire equipment. One firefighter is injured.

January 5, 1960 The City receives a new Van Pelt 1250 Specia fire truck. It cost $27,206. [2003 purchase value: $165,890]

April 6, 1960 The Tempe Daily News, Tempe’s local newspaper, states that Tempe needs a professional fire department.

September 1, 1960 The City Council agrees to create a professional fire department and seeks a new fire chief. This decision is very controversial. Some long-time residents are resisting growth in their town and some new residents want better services.

October 28, 1960 The City Council hires William "Bill" Hanna as the new fire chief. Hanna is a former Ferndale, Michigan firefighter and Mesa police officer. His first assignment is to organize a new department.

December 14, 1960 Hanna hires eleven applicants to the Department. Some are former volunteers.

January 2, 1961 The newly organized Department starts service. Hanna divides the firefighters into two shifts.

September 5, 1962 Ray Cognasi and Don Calloway become the first sergeants of the Department.

January 3, 1963 Ralph Blanton receives the first Tempe Fireman of the Year award. He had saved the life an eight-day-old baby on September 11, 1962.

June 21, 1963 Four new volunteer firefighters are added to the Volunteer Department, now known as the Auxiliary Organization. The City still needs volunteers to support the professional firefighters.

February 2, 1964 The Department receives a Howe 85-foot aerial ladder truck. With ASU building new multi-story dormitories, the Department needs this technology. It cost $39,926.03. [2003 value: $232,128]

July 1964 A regional fire defense plan is developed to provide more assistance and cooperation throughout Maricopa County.

December 8, 1965 Wives of Tempe firefighters form the first Tempe Firefighters Association Auxiliary, called the "Fire Angels." This group aids fire victims.

July 27, 1966 Twenty-five Tempe firefighters organize a union and affiliate with the International Association of Firefighters AFL-CIO.

September 13, 1966 The new Fire Station #1 opens at 1000 East University. The "Town Bull," first heard in 1940, is heard for the final time. Tempe’s two existing stations are consolidated into this state-of-the-art station, improving Tempe’s fire protection.

January 10, 1967 A dedication, parade, and an open house are held for the new Fire Station #1.

April 19, 1967 Fire engine #4 is retired and presented to the Guadalupe volunteer fire department.

May 10, 1967 The Fire Department begins a strategic planning program to increase their efficiency in combating fires.

October 6, 1967 Don Martin is named the first fire captain of the Fire Department.

January 30, 1968 The Department begins door-to-door fire inspections of all Tempe residences.

March 14, 1968 Arizona Governor Jack Williams signs the Public Safety Pension Bill, setting up a separate retirement system for Arizona police and firefighters.

June 7, 1968 Dean E. Filer is named the new assistant fire chief.

November 15, 1968 Eight firefighters are promoted to lieutenant.

1971 Cliff Jones is hired by the Tempe Fire Department. Growing up in Tempe, he spent a lot of time at the fire station and later became a volunteer firefighter. He is the last firefighter hired by the City that is not required to go through a formal recruit-training academy.

April 17, 1971 The Fire Department introduces microfiche as a way of studying areas for fire prevention.

August 21, 1972 Wally Filger, the first "paid" fireman, retires. Filger’s City employee number is 00001.

March 28, 1973 John Curry retires. He became a volunteer in 1922.

February 10, 1975 Geraldine Atkinson tries unsuccessfully to become Tempe’s first woman firefighter.

January 1974 The workweek for the Fire Department is lowered from 67 to 63 hours.

May 6, 1975 Twelve new firefighters are added to the force, upping its full-time membership to 92.

August 5, 1975 The formal dedication of Station #3 is held.

September 23, 1977 Fire Chief Bill Hanna retires. The Fire Department now has 110 employees.

January 26, 1978 William A. Hayes is appointed as the new Tempe fire chief.

January 15, 1980 Edward Gaicki is killed by a roof collapse in the Jumbo Bagel Deli Fire. He is the first Tempe firefighter to die in action.

September 30, 1980 Don Martin, the Department’s first fire marshall retires.

January 31, 1981 Ralph Blanton, last of the original Department members, retires.

March 1981 The Tempe Fire Department announces that all 96 firefighters passed the state requirements to become Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs).

April 9, 1981 Fire Station #4 is opened.

February 22, 1982 The Tempe Fire Department switches to a computerized dispatch system.

March 12, 1987 The Tempe Fire Department’s Hazardous Materials Response Team begins service.

January 5, 1988 Fire Chief Bill Hayes retires.

January 16, 1988 Gaicki Park is dedicated for fallen firefighter Edward Gaicki. Retired and current firefighters meet at the park every year on the anniversary of Gaicki’s death.

February 15, 1988 Cliff Jones becomes the new fire chief.

May 1991 A new ladder truck is purchased. This and other new fire apparatus include improvements such as enclosed sitting space for all crewmembers, which provides additional protection. The ladder truck cost $430,000. [2003 purchase value: $569,536]

February 1993 The Tempe Fire Department-Arizona Public Service (APS) Joint Fire Training Center opens. Both organizations combined their fire training facility budgets to build the state-of-the-art facility.

May 1994 The City begins construction of Station #5 on Curry Road in north Tempe.

1996: Tempe Fire Department, Tempe Police Department and Community Services form a ground breaking partnership and go live with the new program and behavioral response unit CARE 7.

July 26, 1996 The Tempe Fire Department delivers a baby in the carpool lane of the I-10 freeway.

August 1997 Tempe becomes the first internationally accredited fire department by the Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI).

February 26, 1999 The Department opens a new Fire Station and Administration Offices on East Apache Boulevard. The new facility is named Fire Station #1.

2000 The Fire Department responds to a total of 16,285 calls: 71 structure fires; 2,349 non-structure fires; 12,125 emergency calls; and 1,740 other emergency responses.

2001 The Fire Department begins installing mobile computer terminals on all of its trucks. Each truck has access to up-to-date city address information, including aerial photographs.

2002 Ground is broken on Station #6, near Ash Avenue and University Drive.

October 1, 2002 The old Hayden Flour Mill burns for the third time in its history. The Fire Department saves the 1918 portion and the 1951 grain silos.

2004 Station #6 opens on Ash Avenue and University Drive.

2010 Chief Cliff Jones retires and Mark Simmons becomes the new fire chief.

2011  Support Services Facility located at 1425 S. Clark is opened.

April 2012 Chief Mark Simmons retires. Greg Ruiz named Interim Chief.

August 2012 Tempe becomes re-accredited by the Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI). 

March 2013 Greg Ruiz becomes fire chief.

January 2014 Tempe Fire Department changes its name to Tempe Fire Medical Rescue Department.

2016  Awarded Certificate of Necessity (CON)

2017  Converted ladder companies to Advanced Life Support (ALS)

2017  Began Emergency Medical Transportation Service with M271/M276

2019  Addition of M272/M274 to Emergency Medical Transportation Service