Facts and Figures
- Fire Department Budget for FY2018: approximately $145 million
- Budgeted positions:
- 925 Civil Service
- 61 Civilian
- Estimated population served: More than 854,000 (2012 U.S. Census data); Fifth largest city in the State of Texas, 13th in the nation.
- Square miles covered: 345
- ISO Rating: 1 (1 highest/10 lowest)
- Work week for Operations personnel: Average 56 hours; three rotating shifts of 24 hours on duty/48 hours off duty.
- Facilities: 43 Stations in 6 Battalions
- Front-line Apparatus: 39 Engines, 11 Quints, 4 Trucks, 6 Aircraft Rescue, 15 Brush (4x4) Units, 2 Utility/Light & Air, 3 Water Tankers, 1 Command Unit, 1 HazMat/Rescue Squad, 2 TRT
- Reserves Apparatus: 19 Engines, 5 Quints
- Responses: More than 110,000 incidents annually, 60% related to Emergency Medical Services.
- As a minimum, all civil service personnel are trained as Emergency Medical Technicians-Basic. The department operates as a first responders with patient transportation provided by a third party service owned by the City of Fort Worth.
- Specialized areas include:
- Air Shop (SCBA maintenance and repair)
- Aircraft Rescue Firefighting
- Bureau of Fire Prevention (Inspections / Investigations / Explosive Ordnance Disposal)
- Communications / Fire Alarm Office
- Dive Team / Swift Water Rescue
- Fire Apparatus and Equipment Services
- Hazardous Materials Squad
- Office of Emergency Management
- Technical Rescue (high angle / confined space / heavy rescue / structural collapse / trench rescue)
- Training Division (Continuing Education / Fire Trainee Academy / Recruitment)
- Response agreements: 17
- Arlington,, Burleson, Crowley, Denton, DFW Airport, Euless, Forest Hill, Haltom City, Hurst, Keller, Lockheed Martin, NAS JRB Fort Worth, Richland Hills, Saginaw, Westover Hills
The plans for the Texas and Pacific railroads in 1872 fueled a boom that nearly doubled Fort Worth's population. Fort Worth had boasted four square miles when the Texas legislature enacted a bill incorporating it into a city. Destructive fires were commonplace due to the construction of flimsy wood buildings and small tent cities heated by fireplaces and wood stoves.
Organized fire protection might have remained nonexistent for many years if not for Captain Buckley B. Paddock. Paddock was a self-taught lawyer and Confederate officer of the Civil War when he arrived in Fort Worth. He believed in Fort Worth's potential for commerce and culture, while clearly recognizing that a city defenseless against fire had no future.
In 1873, Paddock took over as editor of the city's lone newspaper, The Fort Worth Democrat, and publicly mounted a campaign to organize a volunteer fire brigade. Paddock's plans were met with great resistance, as city fathers saw no reason to deplete their municipal funds in order to pay for equipment or volunteer services. The townspeople of the era were unsympathetic to fire victims and considered fires as acts of nature. After much persuasion, Captain Paddock's vision of a volunteer fire company became a reality on May 2, 1873.
Hook-and-Ladder Company # 1 began with 60 members mostly made up of merchants and community leaders, who had special interests in protecting their business from the ravages of fire. Proud and independent from city government, as was the tradition of early volunteer companies, Hook-and-Ladder #1 was badly in need of funds. The volunteer company was unpaid and expected to purchase their own equipment. The firefighters staged fund raising events; ice cream socials and local dances were organized to produce badly needed funds to pay for a hook-and-ladder wagon that had been ordered at. a cost of $ 600.
The hook-and-ladder wagon arrived in Dallas by rail and was pulled 40 miles to Fort Worth by a proud group of volunteers, whose fund raising events had proved fruitless in acquiring the money needed to pay for the city's first fire apparatus. Reluctantly, the volunteers sold the newly named M. T. Johnson Hook and Ladder Company to the city at a cost of $1,000 with the stipulation that the company would appoint their own officers and use a newly devised system designed to combat fires.
The volunteer company's one critical piece of apparatus was hand pulled and lacked any devices for extinguishing fires.The firefighters had little hope of dousing the flames in time to save the original structure involved, instead they focused on depriving the fire from fuel before it could engulf adjacent structures. Using large grappling hooks and ropes, skilled firefighters could pull down a burning structure in minutes.
The hook-and-ladder wagon's chief role was to deliver these hooks to the fire, along with ladders to rescue victims trapped on upper floors, and to transport leather buckets used for carrying water to the fire from a nearby well or horse trough. This system of firefighting was effective and relied on the firefighters abilities to organize and respond quickly when duty called.
The gallant volunteers were considered local heroes, membership in the fire company enabled you intangible benefits of glamour and prestige.
Fire Chief Bios
- Chief Ben U. Bell: 1872-1873 (Last Volunteer Chief)
- Chief John C. Cella: 1893-1901
- Chief Jim Maddox: 1901-1905
- Chief W.E. Bideker: 1905-1919
- Chief Standifer Ferguson: 1919-1939
- Chief Coy C. Killian: 1939-1945
- Chief Claude L. Ligon: 1945-1948
- Chief Paul C. Fontaine: 1948-1962
- Chief H. A. Owens: 1962-1969
- Chief L. R. Himes: 1969-1980
- Chief H. Larry McMillen: 1980-2002
- Chief L. Charles Gaines: 2002-2006
- Chief Rudy Jackson: 2006-2018
- Chief Jim Davis: 2018-present
Chief Ben U. Bell: 1872-1873 (Last Volunteer Chief)
Fort Worth’s great expectations for prosperity were soon cut short in September by the Panic of 1873. Crushing financial crisis and nationwide depression caused railroad construction to come to a halt. Texas and Pacific Railroad stopped laying tracks 30 miles from Fort Worth’s boundaries. The population dwindled rapidly, mercantile and homes were abandoned, the grass literally grew in the streets. A Dallas Times Herald story written by Robert E. Cowart characterized Fort Worth as “a town so sleepy that he once saw a panther napping on the steps of the courthouse”. Cowart’s jab was turned to the city’s advantage adopting “Panther City” as its nickname.
A new spirit arose in Fort Worth as panther madness became the rage. The volunteers adopted a panther masthead for their second fire company along with a live panther mascot. Prominent citizens launched a bootstrap effort to complete the remaining rail lines leading to Fort Worth. A local finance company was organized and citizens worked around the clock to construct a railroad before the deadline set by Texas legislature. A jubilant crowd cheered the arrival of the first train to Fort Worth on July 19, 1876.
The railroad boom increased Fort Worth’s population drastically. Meanwhile, public outcry called for more fire protection. On October 3, 1876, a Silsby steam pumper was ordered at a cost of $6,250 and Panther Engine Company # 1 was organized to man it. Four minutes after a fire was ignited within the steamer’s fire box, a whistle blew to announce that a good head of steam was ready to power the pump. One minute later the first signs of water appeared from 100 feet of rubber hose. The steam powered pump sent a 100 foot stream of water skyward. This impressive sight was not to be exaggerated. It was now possible to deliver a large deluge of water into the heart of a fire without relying on inadequate man-powered pumps.
As one problem was resolved another arose, such as the lack of a reliable water works system for fire suppression. The city council allocated $1,025 for the construction of three water cisterns, which when combined held over 63,000 gallons of water. These cisterns provided water for fire suppression until 1882 when the first water mains were constructed. The ever-present threat of change was combated with the volunteers long standing traditions. The notion of their new Panther steamer being horse drawn to a fire was an insult to their manhood.
Only after embarrassing attempts to pull the massive 4-ton steamer through the city streets did they realize it was futile. The city adopted a policy of renting horses. The sum of 10 dollars was paid to the man who would hitch his horses to the steamer in the event of an alarm. Mayor R. E. Beckham was elected in 18 7 8 and campaigned for improvements of Fort Worth’s volunteer companies. The city purchased its first team of horses at a cost of $427.
The 1880’s brought growth and advancement to Fort Worth and to its fire department. The city boasted a population mark of 6,500 residents, horse drawn street cars, major thoroughfares, a water works system with six miles of main and hydrants flowing a water capacity of 4 million gallons a day. The fire department received the state’s first electrical fire alarm system and 11 Gamewell pull boxes were installed, increasing the fire company’s response times.
Significant fire department improvements on equipment and apparatus had begun to put a strain on the city funds. Despite enthusiasm generated by improvements in equipment, the volunteer department soon faced their greatest challenge. The rage during the era of the Panther City was to construct a palace and Fort Worth was certainly with the times. In 1889, the Texas Spring Palace was playing host to the nation, with a huge structure that was “built to burn”. The Spring Palace was constructed entirely of agricultural products from Texas. A framework of large timber pine from east Texas was constructed and covered with wheat, corn, cotton, oats, Spanish moss, and any organic materials available. Captain Paddock was quoted as saying “the Texas Spring Palace is easily the most beautiful structure ever erected on earth.” The great civic pride generated from its construction soon turned to tragedy.
On the night of May 30, 1890, while 7,000 people were dancing on the second floor, a fire broke out. Within 11 minutes, the building was engulfed in flame as guests leaped for their lives from second floor windows. An Englishman, Al Hayne, was killed after he rescued several guests. Miraculously, he was the only fire fatality. Today, at the intersection of South Main and Lancaster, stands a statue that salutes that Englishman, and dedicated to the brave firefighters of the City of Fort Worth. Because of the Spring Palace Fire, it became painfully clear that further progress was needed in fire equipment and personnel.
The Fort Worth Volunteer Fire Department stood against a salary proposal. For years the hardy men had valued their fire operation and celebrity status among the citizens whom they served. City politicians, more interested in balancing financial accounts rather than preserving a romantic tradition in existence for 20 years, began to push for a salaried department. On November 30, 1893, Fort Worth’s first salaried fire department, with 34 members, reported for duty. The beginning of one era marked the end of another. The proud volunteer brigade quietly stepped into the background, proudly carrying with them the knowledge that Fort Worth, Texas, may not have existed without them.
Chief W.E. Bideker: 1905-1919
Chief Bideker was recorded to be one of the finest chiefs ever known to Fort Worth. Chief Bill, as his men commonly knew him, was a self-proclaimed conservationist, which played an important role during his administration. Bideker was also known for his dry sense of humor and innovative leadership, which in his fourteen years as chief transformed the Fort Worth Fire Department into a professional firefighting team.
When Chief Bideker assumed command, the department held 38 men, 7 stations, and was fully horse drawn. Salaries ranged from $50 to $125 a month. The work schedule consisted of 147 hours per week with a full day off each month. Bideker’s administration was the first to appoint a Fire Marshall, in addition to passing several progressive fire prevention ordinances.
Bideker was a strong supporter of water conservation and actively participated in the construction of Lake Worth, which brought an end to the reliance on artesian wells for water.
In July of 1909 the city purchased the first car for Chief Bideker at a cost of $2,140.00. This topless, doorless, Maxwell passenger car came complete with spotlight and fire extinguisher. It became the first step toward a motorized department.
The romantic days of horse drawn hook-and-ladders and shiny brass steamers were soon to become a memory. During the height of the horse era thirty draft horses had filled the fire department stables. By 1919 the department’s transformation from horse drawn steamers to motor driven auto pumpers was complete. The city had purchased ten La France trucks painted bright white with gold lettering and stripes.
Chief Bideker fought hard for labor reform, better salaries, training, and modern stations. When he resigned on November 25, 1919, he left behind a modern fire department complete with thirteen stations and one hundred firefighters. The department was organized into an 84-hour work week with increased off-duty time. The new schedule developed firefighting into a career, making it possible for men with families to pursue this noble occupation.
The Great South Side Fire
A great devastating fire visited the City of Fort Worth on April 3, 1909. The fire started when two boys decided to experiment with smoking. One barn began to burn leading another barn to catch fire. When the fire department arrived on the scene of the incident, several homes were burning. Before the firefighters could set up to extinguish the fire, the blaze had already outdistanced them. The fire began to spread from one wood shingle roof to another aided by 40 mph winds. Chief Bideker attempted a third alarm, but the pull box was unable to transmit due to intensive heat melting the copper telegraph wires. Chief Bideker located a phone and requested a general alarm. The fire was outrunning the firefighters, and to make matters worse, Engine No. 8 had crashed into a telephone pole, killing the lead horses while veering to avoid a collision with a pushcart peddler.
Hose Company No. 5 also met with misfortune when one of the horses slipped on the pavement breaking its leg and putting No. 5 out of service. Company No. 1 Panther Engine answered the general alarm and prepared to attack a wall of flame, but radiating heat began to burn their rubber hoses before water could be pumped through the lines. In a heroic effort the men of Company # 1 managed to pull the Panther Engine from the blaze before it was lost.
The fire was consuming everything in its path. Texas Pacific Railroad’s roundhouse and adjacent shops formed a natural barrier between the downtown area and the Southside of Fort Worth. The railroad roundhouse and shops were consumed by fire, but allowed firefighters to gain control of the blaze and breathe a sigh of relief. If not for this natural barrier, the downtown area would have surely perished. Only one fatality was reported, but more than 290 homes and businesses lay in smoldering ashes in an area that covered 26 square blocks.
Chief H. Larry McMillen: 1980-2002
H. Larry McMillen took command on May 19, 1980, and became the first chief ever appointed from outside the department in it’s 107 year history. Chief McMillen had served with the Phoenix Arizona Fire Department for 20 years before retiring with the rank of Deputy Chief. While most officers expressed a concern for such an appointment, McMillen was met with overall acceptance. The department prepared for the winds of change and they were not disappointed.
Within McMillen’s first three years as Chief, he had accomplished most of his newly projected goals. A first responders program was initiated and all firefighters became certified Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT’s). This program tripled the number of fire department calls, and a fire ground command concept was established as practiced in Phoenix. A new hazardous material team was established with extensively trained squad members who devoted many hours to the study of “haz-mat”. A newly “state-of-the-art” hazardous materials vehicle was ordered “haz-mat” truck along with crew were put and placed into service. They are unit is recognized as among the nation’s best in dealing with hazardous material incidents suppression.
Innovative techniques were being implemented in the training division as great strides were made to prepare our department members to deal with any situation. A mandatory physical fitness program, which includes an annual medical examination, was established influencing many firefighters to be more conscious of their health, agility, and strength. To this date each member is required to complete an annual physical at the department’s expense. Modern technology and new apparatus became the rule of the day. Updated tools, nozzles, air packs, and 4-inch supply lines were employed. In 1980, Fire Safety Education had began to focus on three programs. The “Learn Not to Burn” program in schools, “Fight Fire With Care”, and “Smoke Alarms Save Lives”. These programs and others have met with great success.
Another first in the department’s history was the employment of women firefighters. Controversy arose, as it often does with drastic change, and the walls of tradition began to fade. In time, the women firefighters were accepted through the ranks. In the absence of significant funds, McMillen’s plans for reorganization called for no major increases in the number of personnel. In 1981, the appropriation of $2.1 million for new apparatus was the largest ever requested and approved in the city’s history. The control of apparatus maintenance was recaptured and a maintenance section was installed within the department. As the first responders program began to unfold, a new system was designed to handle the overload of calls on the present dispatch operation. A bond election raised $3.3 million to fund the new Computer Aided Dispatch system. It went into effect in 1985, and is in use today with great success. Seven modern stations were constructed during Chief McMillen’s administration, and there are still more on the drawing board. The newest of bold concepts in EMS became the AED or Automated External Defibrillator. Every apparatus was outfitted with the device, with extensive training provided to fire personnel, to further enhance a person’s chance for survival in cases of a heart attack.
Chief McMillen’s administration continued to make great strides through its progressive attitudes on training, equipment and fire service to the residents of Fort Worth. Under his leadership the Fort Worth Fire Department established itself as one of the finest in the nation.
On May 31, 2002, McMillen retired after serving 22 years as Fire chief. His years of service give him the distinction as the longest tenured Fire Chief in the History of the Fort Worth Fire Department.
Chief L. Charles Gaines: 2002-2006
After a nationwide search Charles Gaines, a Deputy Chief with the Oklahoma City Fire Department was selected to become the 11th professional fire chief, and first African-American, to head the department. His selection was confirmed by the City Council on Oct, 22, 2002
During his tenure he was instrumental in improving the collection of data relating to the daily operations of the department. Two new stations were opened, one in 2003 and another in 2005, while three additional stations were being built or planned for the expanded areas of city to the north.
Unfortunately, his time as fire chief was tragically cut short when he succumbed to a heart attack at the age of 49 on Sept. 23, 2006.
The department is currently led by Chief Jim Davis.