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TFD History
Updated On: Nov 11, 2004
History of the Turlock Fire Department

History of the Turlock Fire Department

 

 

The Early Years

 

Turlock was founded in the 1870’s when the railroad was established through the San Joaquin Valley.   Due to the lack of an organized fire department, several large fires decimated the town between 1893 and 1907.  In 1907, when the newly built Turlock Hardware store burned to the ground in less than an hour, local merchants banded together to organize the Turlock Fire Department. 

 

The new fire commissioners traveled to San Francisco and bought a wagon mounted, cylinder-driven fire pump, a hose cart, and a chemical wagon.  Edward Osborn served as the first fire chief, partially due to the fact that his store was used to house the city’s first fire equipment.  A fire bell was purchased and put on a tower and was used to notify volunteers when there was a fire.  Volunteer firefighters would rush to the store and pull the equipment to the fire, either by a horse team or by hand. 

 

When the Turlock Hardware Company rebuilt, a 5,000-gallon water tank was added for fire protection.  Wells were also drilled at strategic locations in the business district. 

A suction hose would be dropped into one of the 5 wells to bring water to the pumper. In 1910 the Minaret Street water tower was built by Chicago Bridge & Iron Works and placed at Well #1.  It was part of the original town water system.  A second water tower was added three years later at the corner of Florence and Orange streets. These water towers were built to add water pressure for better fire streams.

 

Early Fires

 

On February 2, 1910, a large fire struck the businesses between the St. Elmo Hotel and Sahlberg’s shoe store.  The businesses destroyed were three real estate offices, the Turlock Tanning Company office, a tailor shop, a pool hall, a rooming house, a veterinarian’s office, and a meat market.  The fire started in the tailoring shop when the janitor started a fire in a wood stove and the pipe was loose in the flue.  The top fell out and toppled into a rack of clean clothes and ignited them.  The janitor burned his hand badly while trying to extinguish the fire.  He ran for the fire bell and only woke a few people.  A writer was staying in the rooming house and was awakened by the bell.  He then realized that the fire was next to the rooming house and roused the boarders and got them outside.  The volunteers arrived with the fire equipment and worked to stop the fire.  They were able to save the St. Elmo by using water from a 15,000 water tank located on its roof.  There was a 25’ lot in between the businesses on fire and the shoe store, which helped in confining it to the range.  The Union Block building was built to replace the destroyed buildings and continues to stand today.

 

On June 21st, 1915, the Wonderland Theater fire occurred.  The fire started in the

projection room and was extinguished by the TFD.  But the fire had spread to a space between the ceiling and roof and the building burned to the ground.  The building was a total loss.

 

On March 15th, 1916 a stove fire spread and heavily damaged the second story of the Denair-Gall building located at Front and East Main Streets.  Chief Osborn had recently incorporated his store delivery trucks into part-time service as fire trucks and were used to ferry firefighting equipment to fire scenes.  This fire in the Denair-Gall building was one of many fires that struck between 1912 and 1917. 

 

The Fire Department Grows

 

The years between 1912 and 1917 were busy ones.  The all-volunteer department continued to add members, keeping membership to around 30 members.   The department was organized with a Chief (Ed Osborn), a 1st Lieutenant, 2nd Lieutenant, Hose Cart Team #1, Hose Cart Team #2, Fire Truck #1, Fire Truck #2, and a Chemical Engine team.  Each team and engine was lead by a captain.  All officers were nominated and voted on each year by members of the department.

 

Fire pull boxes were established around town.  These pull boxes were connected to the Gamewell fire alarm system.  The city was split into districts to which the horn could activate codes.  Cards were printed for TFD members that showed the locations of fire hydrants and deciphered the codes into common street intersections for help in locating the fire incident.  A general alarm was one bell.  Three bells rang at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. for testing purposes. 

 

The fire department established official quarters with the addition of Fire Station #1, located on Front Street near the Carolyn Hotel.

 

The 1920’s

 

In 1918, the 1917 Model T pumper* was purchased and put into service.

 

In 1922, the LaFrance Pumper* was purchased and was nicknamed “The Frog”.  The engine was equipped with mechanical brakes on the rear wheels which required all of the engineer's strength to push the brake pedal down to stop it. When this occurred the pumper would hop all over the roadway like a frog. 

 

In 1925, Charles Lundahl was elected fire chief after Chief Osborn retired.  Lundahl served until 1941.  The organization at this time consisted of a fire chief, an assistant fire chief, three captains, an engineer, a fire commissioner, a secretary and a treasurer.  All positions were voted on yearly.

 

In 1925 the Front Street firehouse was remodeled, allowing “sleepers” to spend the night in a dormitory for better preparedness.

 

In 1927, the LaFrance Ladder truck* was purchased.  The ladder truck carried multiple ladders and was able to pump water. 

 

In 1929, the Sacred Heart Church fire occurred, completely destroying the structure.

 

*All three of these units are still in possession of the Turlock Fire Department Incorporated.  The Model T and the Frog have been nearly restored and the Ladder Truck will be the next big project.

 

The 1930’s

 

On September 20th, 1932, the Union Oil Company fire occurred after a gasoline tanker overfilled the underground tanks and ignited.   Flames blazed skyward upwards of 70 feet.  The heat was so intense that firefighting efforts were directed at saving adjacent buildings and a creamery across the street. 

 

On December 20th, 1932, a large fire occurred at the Knudsen (Fred) Warehouse Packing Sheds on North Front Street.  Firefighter Lavon New was injured and was rescued.  He suffered critical smoke inhalation.  The fire caused $15,000 in damage and took nine hours to bring under control.

 

On July 21st, 1933, a fire struck the Osborn and Son store, causing $75,000 in damage. 

 

The Turlock Fire Department continued to host annual Firemen’s Balls, which raised money for the fire department equipment and operations.

 

The 1940’s

 

In 1941, Chief Lloyd Cunningham became fire chief after Chief Lundahl retired.  Cunningham served as chief until 1956.  The organization consisted of a fire chief, assistant chief, two hose captains, a ladder captain, a treasurer and a secretary.

 

World War II started and the home front became active, including the Turlock Fire Department.  The department raised money for the Fort Ord day rooms, assisted training in air raid wardens, and received training in incendiary bomb firefighting after viewing footage of the London Blitz.  Drills were increased to twice a month.

 

Several new pieces of equipment were purchased including a hose trailer, a hose cart, an auxiliary pumping unit and a 1946 La France Pumper.

 

On April 4th, 1944, Jack Freitas became the city’s first paid firefighter. 

 

On July 25th, 1946, a large fire struck the Turlock Theater located at North Broadway and Olive Streets. 

 

The 1950’s

 

In 1950, Fire station #1 was moved to its new quarters at 271 Minaret where it remains in service today.  Fire station #2 was built at the intersection of Orange and Florence streets.

 

On August 12th, 1954, the TFD Rescue Truck and Rescue Squad went into service.  A rescue squad was created and consisted of 13 paid and volunteer members trained in rescue skills.  

 

In 1955, two LaFrance fire engines were purchased for staffing the two fire stations.

 

On February 2nd, 1956 a fire occurred in the Bank of America building at Center and East

Main streets.  The fire was difficult to control because it was in hidden crawl

spaces between the second floor ceiling and the attic.  First floor stores such as Richard

and Chambers were damaged when their roofs caved in. 

 

In 1956, Joel Nikolauson was named Fire Chief after the retirement of Lloyd Cunningham. 

 

In 1957, Carol Chittock was hired as chief from the Santa Ana fire department where he was a captain.  He was the first full time fire chief and served until 1977.

 

The Turlock Fire Department continued as a recourse and partner to the community during the Christmas of 1959 by assisting 59 families of which 243 children received toys.  This proud tradition continues to this day.

 

The 1960’s

 

In 1962 training props were built including a concrete bunkhouse used for fire training and a propane fueled fire ‘tree’ used for natural gas fire training. 

 

By 1963, nine members of the fire department were full-time paid members.

 

In September of 1963, the Stockton Box fire occurred causing $500,000 in damage.  The fire destroyed the Hume Company receiving station and machinery storage building, the Stockton Box Company plant, and the Roy Day warehouse.  The cannery to the south was saved along with the old grange buildings.  The fire caused sparks and embers to rain down on nearby neighborhoods, causing several small roof fires.  Over 200 citizen volunteers helped fight the largest fire in Turlock’s history. 

 

On January 15th, 1964, the Snorkel Ladder truck was purchased at the cost of $38,000.

 

On July 24th, 1964, the Turlock Fruit Co. fire occurred.  The fire at Broadway and B Street started in a lidding machine area and caused $500,000 in damage to the structure and 12 boxcars.  Five firefighters went to the hospital with heat exhaustion.  Low water pressure kept the snorkel dry due to industry in the area operating at full swing, and many residential sprinklers being used on the hot day.

 

In December of 1967, firefighters began licensing bicycles at fire station #1.  This tradition continues to this day.

 

On December 17th, 1968, a fire occurred at the Carolyn Hotel.  Other businesses involved included the Grand King Restaurant and the Carolyn Tavern.  Turlock Rural assisted and the fire was brought under control the next day.  The building was declared a total loss with nearly $200,000 in damages

 

The 1970’s

 

On April 16th, 1975, Turlock Fire Station #3 was officially dedicated.  The station was built at 501 East Monte Vista Avenue to provide protection to the city’s northern residents.  The modern station was equipped with a hose tower that would be used for all hose washing, drying and storing hose.  The station continues to serve residents today.

 

On May 1st, 1975, Turlock Fire Fighters Local 2434 became affiliated with the Federated Fire Fighters of California (later to be known as California Professional Firefighters).

 

In December of 1977, Fire Chief Carol Chittock retired and Larry Hughes was hired as the new fire chief.

 

On June 8th, 1978, a fire swept through the then under construction Brentwood apartments, completely destroying most of the units being built.  Several completed and inhabited apartment buildings were saved.

 

On November 13th, 1979, a large fire occurred at the Turlock High School Auditorium, nearly destroying the old building.  Nearly 20 years later the auditorium was reopened for business.

 

The 1980’s

 

In 1981 the fire department removed the city’s fire pull boxes and went to a new paging system.  Firefighters were issued electronic pagers by which dispatch could alert firefighters to respond.

 

In May of 1981, the new Fire Station #2 was opened, replacing the old firehouse on Orange Street.

 

In October of 1985, Chief Hughes resigned to take the position of fire chief in the city of Lodi.

 

On March 15th, 1986, Chris Carlson was hired as fire chief to replace Larry Hughes.

 

On December 20th, 1986, a large fire occurred at the Turlock Hotel, located at West Main and Broadway.  The fire was contained to the upper story.

 

The 1990’s

 

In 1991, Chief Chris Carlson resigned to take the position of fire chief in the city of Las Mesa, California.

 

In 1992, Robert Carlson was promoted to the position of fire chief.

 

In May of 1993, Turlock Fire Station #4 was opened at 2820 North Walnut road.  Station #4 would cover the ever-growing northwest corner of Turlock.  Six additional full time firefighters were hired to staff the new station.

 

In 1996, Chief Robert Carlson retired.  Mark Langley was promoted to the position of fire chief.

 

In 1997 a large fire occurred on West Main Street, destroying three businesses, including the old Woolworth’s building.  Multiple Stanislaus County fire agencies responded as mutual aid.  The fire burned throughout the night and was declared out the next day after firefighters were able to contain the fire to the middle of the city block.  The fire was later determined to be arson and a suspect was apprehended, tried, and jailed. 

 

2000 and beyond

 

 

 

 

Turlock Professional Firefighters
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