A History of the Denton Fire Department
(A note from the editor: I found this unsigned manuscript in some old files about Denton History. It was written around 1971 but I am not sure by whom. I offer my apologies to the author for expropriating his work but feel it is important to share historical information with as wide an audience as possible. If you are the author or know who it is please contact the webmaster.)
The Denton Fire Department had its faint beginning in the old William Minor Blacksmith Shop located on the site of the present post-office building in 1874. At first they only equipment was a collection of buckets. These buckets were made of leather and were three gallon capacity. If they had a fire, they would pick up their buckets and go to the scene of the fire. Then, two human lines were formed between the burning structure and the nearest source of water. One line was used to pass the full buckets of water up to the blaze, while the other line was used to return the empties to the source of water.
In 1876 W.J. Lacy had built a hand-drawn hook and ladder truck and in 1878, a hand pump was added. About 1880 or 1882 four water storage cisterns were provided, one behind each side of the square, the water to be used only for fire fighting.
In 1882, more substantial improvements were made. A tax levy was voted to provide for purchase of a six thousand dollar La France steam fire engine. A horse-drawn coal burning machine, it could throw a stream of water probably 150 feet high. The purchase of this equipment was probably influenced by two more costly fires that occurred in the year of 1882. One damaging the west end of the square, north side, the other breaking out in the middle of the south side. Also during the year of 1882 were dozens of residences and private buildings that burned. Also in the year of 1882, Denton's first real fire station was located in the northwest angle of the intersection of North Locust and McKinney streets.
Denton's la France steam fire engine won its first award at the state fireman's meeting in Fort Worth by throwing a stream of water twenty feet higher than the lightning rods on the old Tarrant County Courthouse. This occurred during the year of 1886. This award was somewhat of an accomplishment as most other departments were still using the bucket brigade method.
The Denton Fire Department was on the volunteer basis until- the 1900's rolled around. As a volunteer department, it was self-supporting. Their funds consisted of dues paid monthly by its members an donations made by appreciative people that had received services by the department. Also, a rule was made to fine any member fifty cents if they were heard swearing. Each time they were absent from a fire or a drill they were also fined fifty cents. The money received for the dues, fines, and other sources was kept by the department treasurer until enough was accumulated to buy new rubber boots or coat. This is how they accumulated their equipment.
Not just anyone could be a volunteer fireman. If a man wished to join the department, he had to submit his name to the Chief. The Chief would bring the name before the department and then it would be voted on by the members. The volunteer fireman not only fought fires but were the coordinators of the July Fourth celebration. They planned the annual fire works show and picnic.
The volunteer department had its own rules and regulations. It seems they were having problems of false alarms being reported. The elected fire policeman was faced with the problem. Through much questioning, he soon 1earned that these alarms were being turned in by some of the wives of the volunteers. The reason for the wives turning in these false alarms, was that they felt their husbands were spending too much time at the fire hall. So they would turn in an alarm and break up their session at the fire hall. The fire policeman reported this at the next monthly meeting. A motion was made, "Each and every member of this department, in the future, who turns in a false alarm or is responsible for an alarm being turned in shall have charges preferred against said member and if found guilty by trial before a jury, composed of members of this department will be punished by not less than twenty and not more than one-hundred lashes with a new rubber boot." The motion was carried.
In the early 1900's, the city hired the first paid drivers. They were Billy Woods, and Hub Bates. These men were officially on duty all the time. Only a few years after they were hired, tragedy struck in the department. On the night of June the twenty second, nineteen hundred and eleven the cry of fire awoke the citizens of Denton. Just when the fire was under control a tragedy occurred. This fire took the lives of two men, Joseph J. Turpin and Ernest Bushey. Silas Grant's life was spared. These three men advanced to the fiercest part of the fire to put out the blaze. Without warning a wall fell and buried them under the remains. Firemen and other citizens worked fast and hard to get them out. This was a hard task because they didn't have the equipment needed to do so Silas Grant hung between life and death for weeks. Turpin and Bushey were less fortunate. Joseph Turpin was thirty years of age and Ernest Jennings Bushey was sixteen years of age.
In the year of 1913, student fireman were hired. These were young men going to college and working as a fireman. They were paid twenty one dollars a month and were required to live at the station. They were not allowed to go home on holidays and could seldom leave on week-ends. Because of this rule, the annual Christmas Party was begun. Eugene Cook was chief at this time. He asked the wives of the fireman to plan a Christmas Party for these boys as they would have to be away from home for Christmas. This tradition is still being carried out.
The alarm system that was used during this time was the phone system. The Fire Department number was eighty-four. When this number was called., the operator would ask if they had a fire. If the answer was yes she would take the information and ring the department. When the operator rang the department, they would the ring the bells on the square the bells at the chiefs house, and at each drivers house, which was located behind the station. The next step was to ring the bell in the bell tower above the station. Upon hearing the big bell, the fireman would call the operator to find where the fire was located. They had to give the operator the password of Bluebird or Coca-Cola or they would not be given any information.
In 1916 the first motorized pumper was purchased. It was built by American La France. This truck was a demonstrator model. It was odd looking because the steer-wheel was on the left side. Hub Bates was the driver and also the Fire Marshal.
In 1916 rules governing the care and maintenance of the uniforms of the department were made. they were as follows.,3 "The uniforms of the Denton Fire Department are the property of the department. Members of the department are not to wear uniforms only on such occasions as are hereafter enumerated. Any member of the department in possession of a uniform is to be held responsible for the same as long as it is in his possession and is to keep same in perfect order at his own expense and any injury caused by carelessness must be born by suck member. It is resolved that no volunteer fireman shall be permitted to take his uniform suit out of town except while acting as a delegate or in some official capacity for the department. Members shall attend the regular monthly meetings in full uniform unless excused by the chief."
In 1917 the members of the department voted to change the name of the department to Engine Hose Co. It had in the past been called Hose company No.1 . They also voted to drop any member from the roll if three successive meetings were missed without lawful excuse. They also voted to accept six Boy Scouts in the department to do any duties assigned by the chief.
In 1927 the department voted to ask the city commissioner for fifteen rubber coats, fifteen hard hats, and fifteen pair of rubber boots. Floyd Graham, assistant chief suggested that a standing committee go before the mayor and city commissioner and ask for equipment that was needed. This committee was also to ask in regard of purchasing another pumper and also about the need of a sub station in the west side of town.
In 1928 the Central station was moved from the corner of West Oak and Bolivar to the basement of the new City Hall located on the corner of North Elm and McKinney. The Central Station is still located in the same place.
In 1930 the city built two new sub stations which were located at 1515 North Elm and at 117 Avenue B. The stations were built with living quarters for the captain and his family upstairs. This is the year the department hired more students and more paid drivers in order to man these stations.
The department-being made up of paid men and volunteers made it necessary for the men that were volunteers to report back to Central Fire Station after each drill and fire in order to get credit for being present. This vas necessary in order to stay on the active 1ist of the department.
In 1940 the department had a zoo on the south lawn of Central Fire Station. They had a monkey named "Charlie", a squirrel, coons and all sorts of small animals. The fireman were in charge of taking care of the animals and the cleaning of the zoo. The minutes of November twentieth, 194o show that the department paid the hospital seven dollars for treatment of a little girl's hand because of a monkey bite. It has been told that later the monkey "Charlie bit the masters hand. The master, as referred to, was Carl Castleberry, a driver in the department. When this happened, the monkey was given to another zoo. The moral of this story was "Never bite the hand that feeds you."
It was also in the 1940's that the annual department barbecue was originated. This tradition is still being carried out. It is held during late August. In the early 40ts the fire department would invite the city policeman and their families, but are no longer able to do this because of the growth of the fire department.
In 1941 the department voted for volunteer and paid firemen to pay into the Texas Fireman Relief and Retirement fund, the trustees of Denton to have the authority to hear and determine all applications for retirement and disability. The men elected as trustees were Eugene Cook for three years, Webber Farris, two years, and Marion Smith for one year. It would be two years before the department could be eligible for compensation of any kind. The paid fireman were to pay one per cent of their salaries. The volunteers were to pay three dollars per year or twenty five cents per month.
In 1942 the department members attended Defense Class because of the war. These classes were held at the North Texas State Teachers College. This course was for civilians so that those attending could learn how to protect themselves and others in case of emergency.
In December of 1947 Eugene Cook had to resign as Chief after twenty one years as elected chief and thirty years of service. He then took the position of fire marshal. The reason for his resignation as Chief was because of bad health. Morris Smith was elected to succeed. Eugene Cook. Morris Smith resigned as Chief in 1948 because a head of the department could not work with relatives. Floyd Graham was appointed acting Chief.
In February of 1949 the Fire Department changed to the Civil Service Plan. Tom Robinson was the first paid Chief of Denton replacing the Volunteer Chief, Floyd Graham.
In the 1950's the department grew with more paid men being hired, Denton has three stations. Located at the Central Station is the Chief's office, two Assistant Chiefs working on alternating shifts, the Fire Marshal's office and the dispatchers booth. Equipment at the Central Station is the Chief's car, one American La France Seven hundred and fifty gpm engine, one 1950 Chevrolet Rooster truck, one 1937 Chevrolet Booster truck and one 1935 Pirsch Hook and Ladder truck. At each of the sub stations, there was an American La France Pumper. In 1954 another new pumper was added.
In 1958 Chief Tom Robinson resigned as Chief to accept an instructor position at the Texas Fireman Training School at Texas A and M. Jack Gentry was named Chief and is still serving in that capacity. In 1964 the department was forced to drop all volunteer fireman because the pension benefits could not be raised if it had volunteers. Volunteers agreed to step out but still give help when needed.
In 1965 Fire Marshal Eugene Cook's death took the department by surprise. In this year Joe Erwin was named Fire Marshal.
In 1966 a new sub station was built. It is located on the corner of Sherman Drive and Kings Row.
In 1970 the city closed the substation on North Elm in order to strengthen the manpower in the other stations.
In the present year, 1971, a new station is being built at Avenue A and Underwood to replace the number three sub-station located at 117 Avenue B. The present day Fire Department has forty five men and these stations and equipment listed as follows; Central Station located on the corner of North Elm and McKinney Streets houses one 1965 American La France 1000 gallons per minute engine, one 1970 American La France 1000 Gallons per minute engine, one 1965 Ford Booster truck, one Chiefs cars, one Fire Marshal's car, one 1965 Ford Pick-up. Station number three has a 1969 Mack 1000 gallons per minute engine. Station four has a 1966 Ford Booster truck and a 1954 American La France 756 gallons per minute engine. Also the department has in reserve a 1935 Hook and Ladder truck and a 1958 International Booster truck. Each station has a Captain that is in charge of each shift. Each shift has an Assistant Chief located at Central station supervising all three stations.
The department has an operation division that suppresses the fires. The men work in two shifts. They work seventy two hours per week. This means twenty-four hours on duty and twenty-four hours off duty.
The Fire Marshal's office is responsible for prevention education inspection and investigation of fires. The Fire Marshal works forty hours per week but is subject to call at all times.
Denton also has a training division that is responsible for training men on the job what they must know about fire fighting. The department has grown so much since it started with just a collection of buckets, to a fire fighting force on men that are dedicated to stop the dreaded enemy of fire to the public.
Fire Chiefs of Denton
1880 William J. Austin
1893 M.T. Huyley
1895 L.L. Taylor
1896 Joe Vann
1897 J.W. Massey
1898 Jed Schultz
1899 Ben Key
1900 W. Foreman
1901 Jed Schultz
1902 Mac Richardson
1903 Jed Schultz
1906 Jed Schultz
1907 W.L. Foreman
1932 P.J. Beyett
1912 P.J. Beyett
1917 Clarence Smith
1918 Clarence Smith
1919 Clarence Smith
1920-1926 Clarence Smith
1927-1947 Eugene Cook
1948 Morris Smith
1949 Floyd Graham
1950 Tom Robinson
1951 Tom Robinson
1952 Tom Robinson
1953 Tom Robinson
1954 Tom Robinson
1958-Present Jack Gentry
Notes: "Centurama" History of Denton, Page 53 Fire Department Official Minutes