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History of MFD

Old Fire Vehicles in Front of Original Fire Station on Calle Principal Street, now Montrio's Restaurant

The Monterey Fire Administration office has a small historic display in the reception office, displaying some of the fire departments early equipment and badge collection dating back to the 1800's. Also on display is a gallery of fire chiefs who have proudly served the City of Monterey. On display at Fire Station 2 on Hawthorne Street are some of the department's early hand drawn fire apparatus, and Fire Station 3 on Dela Vina Avenue is the home of the 1916 Seagraves — the Monterey Fire Department's first fire engine.

Acadia Publications released a book on the history of the Monterey Fire Department in July 2012, which covers the 129 years the Monterey Fire Department has been serving the community.
The Monterey Fire Department is always looking for early equipment or pictures of the department to be placed on display, including badges, awards and parchments given to its earlier members.

For more information, please contact retired Division Chief Mike Ventimiglia by email.

1800's - Founding of MFD
parker_shawThe Monterey Fire Department has been serving the citizens of Monterey since 1882 when the first brigade was established by a group of citizens to render aid as fires occurred. The fire department was chartered by the City in 1890; that is when it officially came under the City and Chief William E. Parker was appointed its first fire chief. Chief Parker would go on to become the oldest fire chief in the nation, serving in the position of fire chief from 1890 until his retirement in 1942.

Records indicate that on March 22, 1884, a group of citizens formed a fire fighting force to give fire protection to the rest of the town's citizens. Their equipment consisted of buckets and axes. During that same year, they received a two-wheel hose cart, which was pulled by hand. A volunteer force was formed consisting of 25 citizens.

City fathers organized the fire department. William E. Parker was selected as the city's first Fire Chief. He would go on to hold that position with the city for 50 years. Chief Parker would become one of the nations longest reigning fire chiefs. Chief Parker also worked for the Pony Express and Wells Fargo Company as a telegrapher.

Early 1900's
A bond issue was passed to construct a permanent fire station. The old fire station building is located on Calle Principal and houses a restaurant. The city installed its first Gamewell Fire Alarm system in this time period. The fire station was built for future expansion and provisions made for horses and horse drawn apparatus. However this never came to pass, although the fire department did purchase a horse drawn hose wagon. Fire fighting apparatus at this time consisted of two hand drawn hose carts, one hand drawn America La France Bicycle Racing Cart, a Hose Wagon, and a Ladder Wagon. The fire department also maintained a two - circuit fire alarm system and eight alarm boxes that were placed in strategic points throughout the city. The fire alarm system was completed and put into service in 1912.

The fire department volunteer membership continued to grow, numbering about 80 citizens. A second fire station was located in the Oak Grove area of Monterey and a third located in the New Monterey section of the city. Each fire station was equipped with a hand drawn hose cart and miscellaneous fire fighting equipment. Fire Station One, or headquarters, housed a hand drawn ladder wagon and a hand drawn hose cart. Large bells were placed in the towers of these fire stations. Fire fighters would ring these bells to summon other fire fighters to duty. The different fire companies would take great pride in getting to the fire first. It was a race from start to finish, and the best trained company would usually win. This type of competition still goes on today in the form of Fire Musters that are held throughout the state and nation. Fire fighters will gather together to compete in contests using old fashioned fire fighting equipment, and antique fire pumping apparatus.

A bond issue was passed for the purchase of additional equipment and fire apparatus. On August 6, 1916 the city received its first mechanized fire apparatus. A 1916 Seagrave 750-gallon/minute pumper, consisting of a chemical tank, hose bed, and ground ladders. The Seagrave came to the department painted gray, fire apparatus had not yet been associated with the traditional red. The Seagrave pumper cost the citizens $9,500 and it is still used today for parades and public education events.

The City purchased a Maxwell Truck making it into a hose and chemical unit and placing it in the New Monterey Fire Station. In 1929 this piece of equipment was converted into a lighting unit, it was powered by a 75 KW generator and would provide lights at the scene of a fire.

On September 14 lighting struck one of the 55,000 gallon storage tanks that belonged to the Associated Oil Company. The oil tanks were located on Presidio curve off the entrance to the now United States Coast Guard Pier. The fire would burn for three days, putting the Monterey Fire Department and surrounding fire departments to the test. Five additional oil storage tanks would also become involved adding to the raging inferno that blackened the sky of beautiful Monterey.

The fire was brought under control 72 hours after it started. The fire toll was great in terms of life, money, and the environment. Three soldiers from the Presidio at Monterey- Sergeant Beans, Corporal Evans, and Private Bolio volunteered their services to fight the fire. All three lost their lives during the fire. The fire loss was estimated to be in the area of one and one half million dollars. The effect on the environment was staggering. It will never really be known what effect the fire and oil had on the sea life and the creatures that lived there.

The 1916 Seagrave pumped the Associated Oil Tank Fire continuously for 72 hours and was dubbed the "Old Gray Mare". The color of the fire engine was gray and it worked like a horse non stop for 72 hours pumping water on the fire.

Two weeks later, September 27, 1924, fire struck the Del Monte Hotel, now the main building at the Naval Postgraduate School. Sparks from the chimney started the fire, which destroyed the magnificent main building of the Del Monte Hotel.

The fire loss was estimated to exceed 1 million dollars.

The City hired its first city manager, changing the governmental process under which the city would operate.

The city passed another bond issue for additional fire apparatus and fire equipment. On July 7, 1926 the fire department received its second fire apparatus, a 1926 Seagrave 1,000 gallon per minute pumper. The Gamewell Fire Alarm system was upgraded from a two circuit system to a six circuit system, which at the time had 50 street alarm boxes connected to it.

The fire fighters honored Chief W.E. Parker for his continuous years of service by presenting him with a 1926 red roadster automobile to ride to and from the fires.

The city faced substantial growth during this period in time. Industrial and residential areas grew at a rapid pace, increasing the number of city streets. Additional fire apparatus was required to handle the city's expansion. 

The Cannery Row sardine industry grew rapidly during this time. At one point there were approximately sixteen canneries operating on Cannery Row. These canneries were filled with the byproducts of the fish- fish oil and fish meal. The wooden building timbers quickly became impregnated with these byproducts. This oily condition would cause incipient fires to spread rapidly, and cannery buildings would become fully engulfed in flames within minutes.

On November 5, the fire department responded to a fire on Cannery Row, home to the city's sardine fishing industry, and playground of author John Steinbeck, and biologist Doc Rickets. Del Mar Canning Company was on fire. Flames were shooting 35 to 50 feet in the air. The city's two fire engines kept the fire from spreading to adjacent canneries. Fire loss was estimated to exceed one half million dollars.

The fire department at this time consisted of five paid personnel, 1-Chief, 3-drivers, and 1-electrician. 25-on call personnel assisted the paid staff when responding to fires.

The city would be plagued with numerous cannery fires during the next forty years. When the sardines were eventually fished out, the canneries shut down operations and were phased out. Tourism was becoming the main source of revenue for the city. Cannery Row, made famous by author John Steinbeck, was a lure to visitors from all over the world. Many of the fires that occurred on Cannery Row were considered to be arson, or suspicious in nature.

Cannery Row today is the home to hotels, restaurants, retail shops and the Aquarium.

Fire Museum Photos-Thanks to Mike Legeros

Historic Article for the 45 Year Anniversary of the MFD, 1890 - 1935


Historic Photos
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