Fire Department NEW
In the late 1870’s and early 1880’s, Waxahachie had a volunteer fire department known as the “Salamander Fire & Hose Company.” The name Salamander was popular for firefighting companies during this era because a Salamander was believed to be able to resist fire. These volunteers had little, if any, financial support from the city.
In spite of the lack of fire hydrants and proper fire equipment, they heroically fought two famous fires, the first of which occurred on May 9, 1882. This fire consumed the Siddons Hotel which was located at the site of the present day Rogers Hotel.
On May 18, 1882, one of the most disastrous fires in Waxahachie’s history occurred around the County Square. When the fire started, it moved swiftly to the north. The north side of the square was consumed in flames and all of the buildings between Rogers and Washington Streets (present day College Street) to the creek were ablaze. The department’s only water supply was the spring fed creek between Rogers and Washington Streets.
Twenty-five homes were destroyed and the county jail was so heavily damaged that the prisoners were moved to the courthouse until repairs could be made. Even though the Salamander Fire & Hose Company was able to save some merchandise ahead of the fire, approximately 28 merchants lost their place of business. The only building left standing was the Citizens National Bank building on the northeast corner of Rogers & Main Streets. Mr. Getzendaner and Mr. Ferris of Citizens National Bank were so appreciative that the bank building was saved, they paid the firemen $500 for their efforts.
The total loss resulting from the fire was estimated to be $100,000 ($2,273,000 in 2014). Many of the citizens believed the fire was the work of an arsonist, but there was never any proof of how the fire started. Six days after the fire, the Board of Alderman created a committee to make recommendations for better fire protection. “Waxahachie Enterprise,” the city’s newspaper at that time, who also lost their building during the fire, reported that the Liverpool and Phoenix Insurance Companies were instructed to raise their rates and if no “satisfactory” arrangements were made for firefighting by August 1, 1882, the companies would no longer write insurance policies in Waxahachie.
In February of 1883, the fire committee recommended the city purchase a Remington steam engine. However, no action was taken at that time. On May 3, 1883, the city purchased a Silsby steam fire engine, 1,000 feet of hose and two hose carts for $4,775. The Aldermen also decided to fund the fire department. Thus, on July 4, 1883, under the name of Salamander Fire Company No. 1, the city chartered and funded its first fire department. In August of 1883, a meeting was held by the Board of Alderman to consider accepting and turning over the new pumper wagon to Salamander Fire Company No. 1.
During the late 1800s and early 1900s, independent insurance companies reviewed the firefighting capabilities of each city on a regional basis (a service that is today carried out nationally by the Insurance Services Office) in order to set the insurance rates that homeowners and businesses were to pay. The Sanborn Fire Insurance Company produced Fire Maps to make this determination for this area. According to the records of their 1885 review of the city’s fire protection services, all 22 members of the department were listed as volunteers. Therefore, the city’s funding of the Salamander Fire Company No. 1 in 1883 did not include the funding of firefighter positions.
In October 1883, the city accepted bids for a new engine house to be built at the corner of Rogers and Water Streets. This site was chosen because it had good access to the spring fed creek and it was near the heart of Waxahachie’s downtown area.
Sanborn’s 1890 review listed 35 volunteer members of the fire department. The earliest known listing of paid firefighters was in 1893 when the Sanborn review listed 4 paid firefighters and 73 volunteers. It should be noted that according to the 1893 review performed by Sanborn, the 73 volunteers were split between two departments as 35 were listed as members in Salamander Fire Company No. 1 and 28 in the James S. Davis Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 (which was evidently formed sometime between 1890 and 1893).
In 1892, the City of Waxahachie opened a new City Hall/Fire Station on the corner of Elm and Main Streets. The two-story building, which originally housed the fire department on the first floor and the municipal offices on the second floor, took six months to construct. A bell tower was located on the roof to notify police officers and volunteer firemen to return to the station. During World War II, the bell striker was electrified to serve as a Civil Defense Warning System. When the present day Ellis County Courthouse was under construction, county officials made City Hall their home until their new building was completed.
The review by Sanborn Insurance Company in 1898 listed 70 volunteers and 4 paid members. The records of their 1904 review listed 1 Fire Chief, 3 full time paid, 3 part time paid and 50 volunteer members. However, it does not state which company reported to the Fire Chief or if both companies reported to him. The 1909 review contains records of 2 paid drivers, 2 part time men and 70 volunteers. Including the 1893 review mentioned above, none of these 4 reviews state which of the departments the paid members belonged to. However, it is clear that the city had at least 1 combination department from sometime between 1890 and 1893 until 1922.
According to Sanborn’s 1914 review of the city’s fire protection services, a third volunteer fire department was added to the city’s fire protection capabilities sometime between 1909 and 1914. This third fire organization was known as the W.H. Getzendaner Hose and Engine Company No. 1. Between the 3 companies, there were 2 paid and 3 partly paid firefighters and 64 volunteers. However, the Sanborn review did not clarify the number of members in each of the 3 fire departments or which department employed the paid personnel.
In 1922, the City of Waxahachie combined the 3 separate organizations into a fully paid department known as the Waxahachie Fire Department. The newly formed department consisted of 1 partly paid and 4 fully paid firefighters, a Fire Chief and an Assistant Chief. The firemen worked six 24-hour shifts with one day off per week. If there was a fire, the large bell located in the bell tower on top of the fire station could be heard from a great distance. Therefore, during their shift, one firefighter at a time could go home for lunch for one hour. They were also allowed to walk around the downtown area and go to the movie theater.
It is unknown who the first paid chief of the department was. It is known that Carl Blevins began as Fire Chief in November 1923, a position he held until his retirement in 1952. At that time, Willie Noel became the Chief of the Department and served in that capacity until 1956. Chief Noel was replaced as Fire Chief by Otto Crow. Under Chief Crow, the city built two new stations in 1963. Present day Station 1 was opened at 408 W. Main Street. What was then known as Station 2 was opened at 109 John Arden Drive.
With the opening of these two new stations, the station at Elm and Main was closed and the building was demolished in 1964. The bell from the original station now resides in front of Fire Station 1 and the cornerstone is located at the Firefighter Memorial in front of Fire Administration (407 Water Street). The 3 Waxahachie firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty are honored in the Firefighter Memorial: Henry Erby on November 11, 1900, Tom Hatfield on August 1, 1924 and Herman “Ricky” Tidwell on January 8, 1983.
In 1984, Wendell Presley became Fire Chief of the Waxahachie Fire Department. In 1986, as David Hudgins became the city’s Fire Chief, Station 3 was opened at 200 YMCA Drive. However, when Station 3 opened, Station 2 was closed. Today, old Station 2 serves as the ambulance station which is operated by East Texas Medical Center EMS. Shortly before the retirement of Chief Hudgins in 2012, a new Station 2 was opened at 1601 Cleaver Street.
Today, Waxahachie Fire-Rescue responds to a wide range of fire, EMS and rescue situations with 3 engine companies, 1 truck company and a Battalion Chief from 3 fire stations strategically located throughout the city. The 51 members of the Operations Division work a 24-48 schedule with 17 assigned to each of the 3 shifts. The minimum manning of the department is 13 per shift. The other 5 members of the department are assigned to Administration.
The American fire service is built upon tradition, respect, honor, and dedication to the service of others. From our roots as several volunteer organizations with little funding to our present day department, Waxahachie Fire-Rescue has developed a reputation of excellence and professionalism. As it has been since the beginning of the fire service in Waxahachie, our members are our most important asset. Today, the 56 dedicated members of this department strive daily to carry on the tradition of those who served in the past in order to provide a safe environment for the citizens, visitors and businesses of the city.
**Pictures courtesy of The Ellis County Museum.