1886 – 1986



John W. Cowart

NOTE: Contains text only; the photographs will be added to this site as soon as I can afford a scanner. – jwc

              In 1850, Jacksonville citizens took two crucial steps to protect the city from fire:

              First, they dug three strategically located wells.

              Second, they chased Samuel Gibson out of town.

              The wells stayed dug.

              Gibson came back two years later.

              He came into town "Armed to the teeth, as if to bid defiance to the people," said a contemporary newspaper1.

              Gibson was a suspected "Incendiary" as they called arsonists in those days.

              He arrived back in Jacksonville on Wednesday, May 26, 1852, aboard the paddlewheel steamer Florida -- the same ship which was to cause a major Jacksonville fire a few years later.

              The docking of the Florida was always a major social event because the steamer brought the US Mail from all points north. It also brought news, goods, gossip and strangers into Jacksonville, which was still a small town.

               Everyone turned out to see the steamer dock, to learn the latest news, to buy the newest northern goods -- and to look over any newcomers.

              When Gibson walked across the gangplank, people recognized him.

              They did not welcome him back.

              "A warrant was immediately issued at the instigation of numerous members of the Committee of Vigilance..."

              Gibson ran to a nearby house.

              "Manifesting a determination not to be placed in the hands of an injured and excited people," he climbed a ladder into the attic -- onto the roof.

              The mob surrounded the house.

              The town marshal arrived on the scene.

              Gibson refused to descend "No doubt feeling that with the aid of his heavily loaded revolvers he was monarch of all he surveyed."

              More people gathered.

              The mob threatened to demolish the house.

              They chanted, "Bring him down! Bring Him Out! Anyhow! Very Soon! Immediately! Dead or Alive!"

              Somebody started shooting.

              Having every able-bodied man in Jacksonville, trying to shoot him off the roof "seemed to bring the man to a realizing sense of his situation," the newspaper said.

              He surrendered to the Marshal for his own safety's sake.

              "Little ceremony was exercised in transporting him to the public lock-up where the bird was safely caged to await the first means of transportation from the limits of the State," a Jacksonville newspaper of the day reported.

              Thus, community effort had saved Jacksonville from the threat of a fire-bug.

              Though not as dramatic, the three wells probably saved more lives and property from fire through community effort than the near lynching of Samuel Gibson.

              The three wells were located at the intersections of Washington and Forsyth, Forsyth and Newnan, and Newnan and Adams St.

              In those days, individual homes had their own wells for kitchen and washing, and there were a few public wells.

              The wells earmarked for fire fighting had five-story towers with alarm bells beside them with a shed where buckets and ladders were stored.

              Once, a 7-year-old girl, Lilla Longston, and some friends climbed one tower to play. When one shouted the police were coming, the children scrambled down -- except for Lilla. She stumbled, pitched between the rails and fell four stories.

              She landed in deep sand at the foot of the tower and survived. But she had learned not to play on fire towers2.

              In the days of the bucket brigade, the sound of the fire alarm touched off pandemonium. All able-bodied men were expected immediately to drop whatever they might be doing, grab their buckets and rush to the scene of the fire. Parallel lines formed from the building to the nearest well -- or the river -- and people passed full buckets toward the fire and empty ones back.

              Often, the original site of the fire was given up and the bucket brigade concentrated on wetting down other structures to keep the fire from spreading3.

              The first fire apparatus arrived in Jacksonville in 1852. It was a wheeled water pump operated by teams of men see-sawing long handles on each side.

              It did not last long.

              On April 5, 1854, while Jacksonville was in the midst of a Scarlet Fever epidemic, the Florida, a paddle-wheel steamer, docked at her wharf. A spark from the ship's smokestack drifted into a nearby hay shed which caught fire.

              The fire "extended with astonishing rapidity in every direction, spreading first along the block of stores on the south side of Bay Street between Newnan and Ocean," reported a local newspaper4.

              Shop owners threw their inventory into the center of the street hoping to save their goods.

              Unfortunately, many of these riverfront businesses dealt in Naval Stores.

               "The intense heat from the first block was so great that that of itself ignited the squares on the opposite side and on the east and the immense amount of goods thrown from the stores along the whole of Bay street, formed from the same cause an immense conflagration of spirits, oil, paints, &c...

              "Every exertion was made by the citizens, firemen, and even the ladies, who were found here and there lending assistance to arrest the fire...

              "But the fire became unmanageable, and as the intense heat extended itself, confusion and exhaustion rendered human exertion less efficient. A portion of the fire apparatus unfortunately fell into a situation which brought it in contact with the flames and it was lost," the daily paper said.

              Seventy buildings were destroyed including 23 stores. "All the business portion of the town was in ruins."

              The Florida pulled to the middle of the river and suffered no damage.

              Jacksonville rebuilt.

              As before the fire, builders favored heart-pine walls with cypress shingle roofs -- the most abundant local construction materials. Incidentally, the yards around private homes contained no grass; people hoed their yards down to bare sand to make snakes easier to spot!

              Everyone heated their homes with wood, and women cooked over massive cast-iron wood burning stoves. Whale oil burned in lamps provided interior lighting.

              Is it any surprise that house fires were common -- or that the business district burned again in 1856?

              The city's original 1822 charter imposed severe penalties for the careless use of fire and mandated regular sweeping of chimneys  -- "Always to be done when no ash or ember glowed with the residual red-orange of heats5."

              But no ordinance or effort could prevent the next fires to destroy Jacksonville; they were set deliberately and no one tried to put them out.



              Northeast Florida has often seen the fires of war.

              Warring tribes of Indians burned each other out before Europeans arrived. French Huguenots on St. Johns Bluff burned Indian villages. Spaniards burned out Indians and French. England's General Oglethorpe burned the Spanish. Roving cattle thieves called Banditti burned and pillaged plantations belonging to everybody -- all this happened in the area before there was even a town called Cowford.

              Our town's name was changed from Cowford to Jacksonville in 1822 to honor the great Indian fighter, Andrew Jackson -- who never set foot in the place.

              The city was famous -- sort of:

              An 1843 visitor quipped:

              "Start a cow thief where you will;

              "He'll bend his way to Jacksonville."

              The nature of Jacksonville's citizens can be guessed by observing their voting record. When the issue of statehood for Florida was on the ballot, Duval County voted against it 174 to 31. Citizens in other portions of the state outnumbered the dissidents and territory of Florida became a state on March 3, 1845.

              During the Seminole Wars of the 1830s and 40s, Americans burned Indian villages -- when they could find them. Seminoles attacked in Mandarin, Switzerland and Baldwin.

              Terrified, the citizens of Jacksonville built a blockhouse at Ocean and Monroe streets.

              Indians never attacked the city proper, but outlying farms suffered.

              When the Rev. Tilman D. Peurifoy, a Methodist circuit rider, returned home to his farm from preaching the gospel of peace, he discovered a horror.

              In a letter dated Feb. 12, 1839, he described what he found:

              "My precious children, Lorick, Pierce and Elizabeth, were killed and burned up in the house. My dear wife was shot, stabbed and stamped, seemingly to death, in the yard.

              "But after the wretches went to pack up their plunder, she revived, and crawled off from the scene of death to suffer a thousand deaths during the dreadful night which she spent alone by the side of a pond bleeding at four bullet holes and more than a half dozen stabs--three deep gashes to the bone one her head, and three stabs through the ribs, besides a number of smaller cuts and bruises.

              "She is yet living and O help me pray that she may still live... Pray for me. When I think of the wickedness of the people of this country, the flood of vice that sweeps over the land from the Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico, I cannot be surprised that it streams with blood; but why this upon my precious family I am not able to resolve6."

              Jacksonville had served as a military supply depot during the Indian Wars and when the Civil War came, both sides realized its strategic importance.

              When Confederate forces realized the city would fall to the Yankee invaders, they torched the city burning any materials they thought the enemy would find useful.

              When the Yankees left, they burned anything they thought the Rebels might need.

              The city see-sawed back and forth between opposing armies several times.

              Dr. Alfred Walton, medical officer of the Eight Maine Regiment, kept a diary during his tour of duty in Jacksonville, the third Federal occupation of the city. Here is one entry:

              "Sunday, March 29, 1863: Before we were ready to embark, the boys began to set fire to the city, and soon we had to hurry up for the smoke was getting rather uncomfortable. On my way down (to the wharf) I ran into St. Johns church and groping through the smoke and fire I took from the altar a large guilt-bound prayer book ... Farther down I saw some (soldiers) setting fires and from their songs and shouting they appeared to be having a good time7."

              Unlike some Yankee looters, Dr. Walton returned the stolen property to the church after the war.

              A correspondent for the New York Tribune newspaper viewed the troops' burning of the city from the transport ship  Boston anchored in the St. Johns:

              "From this upper deck the scene presented to the spectator is one of most fearful magnificence. On every side dense clouds of black smoke are seen. A fine south wind is blowing immense blazing cinders right into the heart of the city.

              "The beautiful Spanish moss, drooping so gracefully from the long avenues of splendid oaks has caught fire and as far as the eye can reach, through these once pleasant streets, nothing but sheets of flame can be seen, running up with the rapidity of lightning to the tops of the trees and then darting off to the smallest branches.

              "The whole city is being lapped up and devoured by this fiery blast.

              "One solitary woman, a horse tied to a fence between two fires, and a lean, half-starved dog are the only living inhabitants to be seen on the streets.

              "Is this not war, vindictive, unrelenting war?"8

1868 to 1886

              Finally the war ended.

              Jacksonville started over.

              "The general condition of the country coming under the jurisdiction of this post is prosperous," wrote Col John T. Sprague, military governor of Florida, who was in Jacksonville. "The freedmen are working faithfully and industriously. There is a large class from the North who are seeking investments in lands and sawmills. The citizens belonging to the city are laboring to obtain a living and to collect what little remains of their property after a desolating war."9

              Many of the buildings burned in the war were rebuilt -- with a difference.

              "Bay street was lined a portion of the way with creditable brick stores, two, and in a few cases, three stories high... The principal business was the lumber business... By 1875, three large hotels had been built here and about every fourth house was a boarding house. The railroad accommodations were two incoming and two outgoing passenger trains daily... A lot on Bay Street in the business part of town was valued at $10 a front foot."10 10

              Sailing ships and steamers filled the river. They carried lumber north from the renovated Jacksonville sawmills.

              "These vessels usually came South 'in ballast'. This ballast consisted of red brick, field stone or mined granite and river (or lake) ice... The brick were quite hard, dark red, and were used largely for sidewalks and also for a few residences and of course 'downtown' store and warehouse buildings."11

              Having buildings constructed of brick instead of heart pine improved the city's fire protection; however, as the buildings grew taller, bucket brigades became impractical.

              New equipment and better organization was needed to protect the city from fire.

              January 10, 1868 brought a new era to Jacksonville firefighting; the Friendship Hook and Ladder Company, the city's first volunteer fire company was formed.

              The Mechanics Steam Fire Engine Co. was organized on February 3,1870.

              They purchased a new steam fire engine capable of throwing a stream of water 200 ft. at a rate of 250 gals. per minute.  It was the first piece of apparatus of its type in the state.

              The Mechanics fire house was located on Adams St. between Main and Laura Streets. The Engine Co. listed their officers as Foreman T.E. Buckman; 1st Asst. Foreman, James C.Crews; 2nd Asst. Foreman, C. Mahoney; and Engineer P.T. Crowley.

              On May 5,1870, the Aetna Steam Fire Engine Co. took over the quarters of the Friendship Hook and Ladder Co. at Forsyth and Ocean Sts.

              Each volunteer company was a separate unit within the umbrella organization of the Jacksonville Volunteer Fire Department. They cooperated to a certain extent -- but competition was fierce.

              In the early part of 1870, there was a reorganization of the volunteer fire department of the city. The new leaders were Chief William Baya; 1st Asst,. Chief, A. Zacharias; 2nd Ast. Chief Seymore Hovey; and A.J. Russell, Chairman of the Fire Dept. Board.

              The reorganization of the Volunteers failed the test on December 19, 1870.

              That night, fire broke out in a wooden building on a wharf off Bay St. between Pine (Main Street) and Laura Streets. The building housed a grain and hay warehouse and a mattress factory.

              In no time, burning tufts of mattress stuffing and bits of flaming hay and straw carried to other structures.

              Several blocks along Bay St. were gutted including the offices of the Fla. Union newspaper, Colombus Drew's Book Store and hardware stores of S.B. Hubbard and R.T. Masters.

              Jacksonville rebuilt.

              By 1871, Jacksonville boasted of six volunteer fire companies: Friendship Hook & Ladder Co., Mechanics Steam Fire Engine Co., Aetna Steam Fire Engine Co., Alert Hose Co., Phoenix Hose Co., and the Americus Hook & Ladder Co.

              Officers were:

              A.J. Russell ,Chief Engineer and Chairman of the Fire Board; T.H. Willard, First Assistant.

              Mechanics Steam Fire Engine Co., T.E. Buckman, Foreman; Aetna Steam Fire Engine Co., J.J. Holland, Foreman; Alert Hose Co., Bryon Oaks, Foreman; Phoenix Hose Co., H.A. L'Engle, Foreman; Americus Hook & Ladder Co., Joseph Margych, Foreman; and Mechanics Hose Co., William Margych, Foreman.

              The volunteers soon proved their worth as a March 25, 1871 letter from Chief Albert Russel shows:

              "Firemen of Jacksonville,

              Your Chief cannot refrain from congratulating, as well as complimenting you upon the heroic and effective manner in which you discharged your duties last night at the burning of Harely & Co's. Mill. You have established beyond the shadow of a doubt your heroism and effectiveness as a Fire Department, and your City should be Proud of you."

              Another undated letter is addressed to the Friendship and Mechanics Fire Company, and the Alert and Phoenix Hose Companies:

              "GENTLEMEN: Allow us hereby to tender you our thanks for the gallant and victorious manner in which you fought the devouring element last night. By the promptness with which you arrived, over the heavy roads, at the scene of the fire, and the well directed energy which you displayed, a large amount of property has been saved from destruction, and a feeling of security established in the hearts of our citizens..."

              But volunteer fire companies did more than fight fires.

              Nationally and locally, membership in a volunteer fire company was a badge of honor and a source of pride.

              Since members paid for their own uniforms and equipment, it took a substantial citizen to afford membership. Some companies restricted their membership to the community’s leading, most eminent, socially prominent citizens12.

              The distinctive company names gave members a great sense of identity. You were somebody when you could say you were a member of the Mechanics; at one time, Jacksonville's mayor, chief of police, marshal, and several members of the City Council all were Mechanics. They owed their political office to the fact that they were!13

              Every young man aspired to becoming a member of a volunteer company. Where else could a bank clerk rub elbows with a bank president as an equal?

              "Before anybody realized it, the volunteer firefighter had become a uniquely American institution. Nowhere in the world was there anything like him.," said Paul C. Ditzel, author of many firefighting history books.

              "The firehouse was his private club. Firefighters carpeted their bunkrooms and meeting rooms, planted gardens, put in libraries, and hung pictures -- all the better if these showed the men at their flamboyant best. There were more amenities at the local firehouse that in their drab homes, and the volunteers had all the more reason to congregate there for camaraderie, a few songs, and reminiscences of fires fought...

              "Once accepted, he became a member of what would later be called the establishment. Friendships forged at fires were stepping stones to better jobs, higher social standing, and political office. No longer was a man an anonymous bench worker doing humdrum work in some dingy shop14".

              Shared dangers in fighting fires, the social atmosphere of the firehouse, the feeling of belonging, all knitted the men into a proud brotherhood, a political force, and a fiercely competing unit.

              Companies strived to out do each other.

              They sported resplendent uniforms during annual parades.

              On July 4, 1876 -- the day the United States became 100 years old -- firemen scheduled a spectacular parade.

              The Alerts wore blue shirts, white pants, plenty of brass buttons and topped the outfits off with white straw hats. Flowers and a Centennial Flag decorated their hose cart.

              They even chained a wild cat to the top!

              Crowds lining the parade route cheered and ladies waved white lace hankerchiefs.

              CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!

              In the middle of the festivities, the fire alarm sounded.

              A hotel fire!

              Fire companies broke ranks and rushed to the Seaview Hotel, by then a mass of flames.

              A 17-year-old girl, Ella Knowles, screamed from a 4th floor window; she was trapped by the flames.

              Firemen raised a ladder, but the girl panicked.

              "She leaped into space. Her body thudded into the ground before the horrified crowd. Miraculously, she survived her terrible injuries15

              Other parades, though not with such dramatic ends -- were just as spectacular.

              The makeup of the 1882 parade16 was:

              Americus Hook and Ladder Co.; 16 men marched pulling their brand new truck wearing green helmets, red shirts and black pantaloons.

              Next came the Mechanics Steam Fire Engine & Hose Co; 22 men sporting red helmets, red shirts and black pantaloons. They marched beside their brightly polished Silsby engine and hose jumper.

              "The Silsby engine was of the rotary design as opposed to the piston or reciprocating type pumps used by other manufacturers. This simpler construction was thought to make the engines more trouble-free and produce less friction loss in the hose. The Silsby firm and its successor, the American Fire Engine Co., sold more that eight hundred engines17.

              Twelve pieces of the Jacksonville Cornet Band marched next in the parade.

              The Alert Hose Company, 14 men, followed. They wore red helmets, blue shirts and black pantaloons.

              The 16 men of the Aetna Hose Company drew a new Silsby hose carriage.

              The 22 black firefighters of the Duval Fire Engine & Hose Company wore red helmets, red shirts and red pantaloons. They drew "an old fashioned hand engine and nearly new hose jumper."

              Often events at the annual parade included contests of skill between rival companies. Teams of men worked hand pumps with all their might to see which team could squirt a column of water highest, fastest, farthest.

              Water was a problem for firefighters in those days.

              So were horses.

              "When an alarm was sounded from one of the city's fire bell towers, the volunteers had to borrow horses to pull their equipment before they could respond.

              "When there were no horses available, the men had to tug their engines by hand -- a procedure that often bogged down in the sand of the city streets.

              "Once on the scene, if they arrived in time, the firemen had to find a water source within reach of their hoses... Bucket brigades might be useful as a last resort while the powerful fire engines stood by idly, but hand-hauled pails of water were no longer adequate in a city where multi-storied buildings were becoming standard18."

              When the newly built St. Lukes Hospital caught fire, just a few days before it was scheduled to open, firemen faced the same dilemma:

              "The first volunteer unit answering the alarm on July 23 (1876), the only horse-powered unit in town, went in the wrong direction and then its engine bogged down in Bay Street sand.

              "The horses were whipped to a frenzy in an attempt to pull the engine free. This broke the harness...

              "Other volunteer units managed to get to the scene with firemen substituting for horses -- pushing and pulling their engines as best they could...

              "Two units did get to the fire in time to play their hoses on it.

              "Their efforts were futile.

              "It was later explained that even if all the fire engines arrived promptly, only one of the pumpers could have been used since the only source of water was the St. Johns River, and from the point where the hospital stood at that time, it would have taken all the hose of the various companies strung together to reach the river19."

              Just about every two or so years, fire continued to wipe out Jacksonville's downtown business district all during the 19th century.

              The city finally realized that a water supply was a must.

              Jacksonville's Water Works opened on April 26, 1881. The system included 92 fire hydrants, "whereby an inexhaustible supply of creek water was channeled through water works pumps for firefighting purposes during extraordinary emergencies." It was able to supply 1,250,00 gallons of water daily.

              Also, the city's first fire-alarm telegraphy system was installed. Six miles of wire connected a 40-cell battery to 15 alarm boxes and eight bells.

              The fire plugs caused trouble.

              It was a matter of pride for the volunteers to be the company to get "first water" on a fire.

              "One day I was standing near Ocean and Ashley streets when a fire alarm was turned in from the neighborhood. When the fire department arrived, they found a man with his arms wrapped around the fire plug, trying to hold the fort until his company got there!." said William Hawley, a Jacksonville resident of the 1880s20.

              When an alarm sounded the biggest meanest man in the company would race to the plug closest to the fire and guard it for his company's use. This happened all over the country and gave rise to a new word in the language -- Plug-ugly.

              In some places fights broke out between rival companies battling over use of a plug. While the building burned, firemen slugged it out in the streets.

              Bystanders often looted the homes while they burned and the firemen fought.

              "The insurance companies had a patrol system, or salvage system," Hawley said.

              Insurance patrols with wagon loads of tarpaulins followed the fire companies to a blaze. They carried out household goods or merchandise and covered it with the tarps and stood guard while the firemen put out the blaze.

              On December 16, 1885, Henry J. Bradley became the first Jacksonville fireman to die in the line of duty.

              Again a fire broke out in the downtown area with several blocks of businesses, warehouses and wharves burning.

              As Bradley fought to save Jacksonville, a blazing wall collapsed on him.

              At his funeral, "Many citizens filed past the casket to look for the last time on the calm and silent features of the heroic dead."

              Jacksonville rebuilt.

              Public sentiment over Bradley's death and pressure from insurance companies forced the Jacksonville City Commission to consider a professional paid fire department.

               Insurance companies complained about losses and raised their rates a whopping 25 per cent!

              A Times-Union editorial said:

              "The protection of such vast interests as are now imperiled by fire in Jacksonville should not be left to the volunteer efforts of men who are already busy with their own affairs and who have no time to acquire the proficiency that comes alone from discipline and drill...

              "Nothing that we have said is to be interpreted as endorsing the insurance company president's attack upon the Jacksonville firemen.

              "Everyone who witnessed their efforts on that anxious night admits that they worked with a zeal and energy worthy of a much better reward than any they are likely to get.

              "But we believe Jacksonville has outgrown the period when the protection of its vast property can be safely left to volunteers who get nothing in the way of pay and little in the way of thanks21."   

              Although The Mechanics lingered (mostly as a political/social organization, until their firehouse burned down while they were away fighting another fire that was on August 18, 1891), the colorful day of the volunteer fireman was over in Jacksonville.


              Peter Jones, a former six-term mayor of Jacksonville, became the first chief of the paid fire department on July 15, 1886.

              Jones lived at Main and Beaver streets.

              The city had paved Main Street by laying layers of palmetto leaves over the sand.

              Jones rode a pony to answer alarms; he was so tall his feet plowed furrows through the palmettos!

              The total manpower of the division was 20 officers and men divided into three hose companies, one steamer and one hook and ladder.

              The companies were located at 100 East Forsyth, Station One (this was the original site of the Aetna Company's fire house); Main & Ashley, Station Two; and in the 500 block of East Bay Street, Station Three.

              Chief Jones earned $125 a month; his assistant chief, $75. A foreman received $50 a month; privates, $45; and substitutes, $40.

              Each man had to buy his own helmet and uniform.

              Work demanded that regulars be on duty 24 hours a day with 30 minutes for lunch and dinner. If a man wanted to take a day off, he was responsible for finding someone willing to work in his place.

              The new, improved Jacksonville Fire Department even had horses to pull the equipment. Chief Jones estimated that equipment and food for the horses would cost $2,300 more a year than the salaries of all department personnel.

               The first call for the new department sounded on July 21, 1886 -- a false alarm. The first real alarm came in on August 10th.

              The whistle at the water works -- called BIG JIM -- sounded the alarm for all fires; the number of blasts signaled which section of the city the fire was in.

              Because there was normally not sufficient pressure in the lines, when Big Jim blew, the water works engineer increased the pressure by 30 pounds.

              Insurance companies arranged a test for the fledgling fire department the year after it was founded. Jacksonville historian Richard Martin described it:

              "On April 19 (1887), at the request of representatives of the Southeastern Tariff Association, Springfield Fire and Marine Insurance Company of Columbia, the Southern Board of Fire Underwriters, and the Continental Insurance of New York, the Jacksonville Fire Department staged special exhibition drills.

              "An alarm was sent in from Box 23 at the corner of Hogan and Duval Streets at a few minutes past 8 o'clock.

              The chief arrived in 35 seconds, the Western Division in one minute and 15 seconds, the hook and ladder truck in one minute and 40 seconds, and the Central Division in one minute and 30 seconds.

              "The first stream of water was turned on in two minutes, and the second stream five seconds later.

              "The insurance officials expressed unqualified admiration of the department's efficiency and allowed additional rate reductions that amounted to a $30,000 annual savings to Jacksonville property owners and businessmen22."

              The professional fire department was paying its own way already!

              Strange duty faced firemen during the summer of 1888 -- building fires to chase Yellow Jack out of the city.

              Yellow Jack was the personification of yellow fever. No one living at the time knew what caused the epidemic and people believed that fires purified the air.

              Barrels of tar were placed on city street corners and ignited. A pall of smoke hung over Jacksonville as over 400 citizens died because of the dread killer.

              One of the first people Yellow Jack killed was a city fireman. Mrs. Caroline P. Standing, matron of St. Lukes Hospital in 1888, described his death:

              "One of the most pitiable instances of the epidemic occured in the morning (of August 25) on Forsyth Street when William Craugh was found sick in the middle of the street, in the last stages of the fever. He was lying prostrate, with his head down; his face red and yellow, showing the marked characteristics of the fever. He was partially delirious and apparently in a dying condition, with symptoms of the fatal black vomit. He was a fireman at the Central Station ... Feeling the increase of the fever, he endeavored to return to the station for help...23 "

              Craugh died the next morning.

              Yellow Jack controlled Jacksonville until the first freeze of the winter killed city mosquitoes, the -- then unknown -- vector of the disease.

              Peter Jones died on January 22, 1891.

              Our second Fire Chief was J.H. Stephens. He died after a little over a year's service.

              On September 9, 1892, Capt. Thomas W. Haney came from the Atlanta Fire Department to become Jacksonville's third chief.

              He ushered in a new era.


              At night, the windows of Jacksonville homes glowed with the soft warm  flicker of kerosene lamps.

              They improved lighting; they increased danger.

              Headlines in the Sunday, March 31, 1895, Florida Times-Union read:

              QUEER CAUSE OF FIRE





              Horseplay started the fire.

              Tom Imus was filling a gas (kerosene) can when Gene Hernandez hit him with a stick. Tom threw gas at Gene's stick. Gene set a match to the stick to use it as a torch to tease Tom. He set his own arm on fire and dropped the stick in a pool of gas on the floor.

              Both boys ran.

              The work shop caught fire and ignited buildings on either side.

              Bystanders ran into one of the houses and threw furniture out the windows -- they also "threw out"  $1,000 in bills, $300 in twenty dollar gold pieces, a diamond ring, and a gold watch.

              Nobody bothered the furniture.

              "An alarm was turned in from box 24 to which the department responded promptly, and when it arrived on the scene all three buildings were aflame and the fire was burning briskly, while great clouds of smoke rolled straight up in the air. Chief Haney and his men soon had lines of hose out, and in a very few minutes had the flames under control. It was a superb piece of work on the part of the firemen and words of praise for them could be heard on all sides...

              "The magnificent residence of J.S. Fairhead and Leopold Furchgott were both in danger, and flames were licking so close to them at one time that they appeared to be doomed, but neither was so much as scorched," the newspaper said.

              Why is this incident important to Jacksonville firefighters today?

              A few days after the fire, this headline appeared in the paper:

              "FOR THE BOYS"

              Mr. Fairhead sent Chief Haney a $50 check, " a token of his appreciation of the fine work of the fire department".

              "Chief Haney says... that the money (will) be made the nucleus of a relief fund. The boys have been talking of a protective association among themselves for some time..."

              Not all Jacksonville homes were mansions like Mr. Farihead's.

              John Thomas, his wife, and their two children died when their home collapsed.

              "The Thomas's and the children were suffocated by the saplings and the tons of dirt and palmetto leaves which were thrown over the shack to keep out the cold," the Feb. 11, 1895, newspaper said.

              Chief Haney had progressive ideas for equipment as well as men.

              "If a fire should start in Jacksonville today," he said on Feb. 9, 1895, "And get a good headway in a thickly settled portion of the city, ten chances to one, it would sweep everything in its path."

              "I am not discounting the efficiency of the fire department, but no matter how alert and energetic and skilled your men are, they can't fight fire without water -- and that's just what we have not got!"24

              Chief Haney campaigned for an improved water works system.

              Until that could be done, he wanted more powerful pumpers.

              "In fact, with two good fire engines, it would make but little difference to the department what the condition was at the waterworks," he said.

              He campaigned for anything which would increase fire safety -- such as paved streets so engines would not bog down in sand. Soon Bay Street was paved with cypress blocks.

              Each fire station was equipped with Hale's Patent Swinging Harness. The huge fire horses could be hitched up in seven seconds!25

              Here's how it worked:

              At the sound of the alarm, men tugged on their boots, pulled on their heavy coats, strapped on their helmets, and slid down the brass pole.  Horses trotted into place beneath the spread-out tackle which dropped from the ceiling to the animal's backs in an instant.

              While some of the men pushed the station's massive double doors open, drivers cinched the girth straps.  As the pumper dashed through the door, firefighters grabbed rails and swung aboard.

              The massive pumper billowed clouds of smoke as it raced through the streets.  A stoker fed coal to work the steam pump which forced water through the hoses onto the fire26.

              Haney also spearheaded a drive for a better fire alarm system. His 1898 Annual Report revealed that the city's alarms were wired in a single circuit; any interruption of power stopped the whole system.27

              He got a new system. The March 17, 1898 Florida Times-Union tells about it:

              "The electrical connections of the town clock on the city building with the fire alarm system have been completed, and Chief Haney tested it yesterday afternoon by "pulling" the alarm at the corner of Forsyth and Main Streets. Everything worked satisfactorily. He failed to notify the police that he intended to pull the alarm, and in accordance with their duties the patrol wagon responded to the alarm."

              Well, almost everything worked satisfactorily.

              Haney's devotion to improving the department brought Jacksonville firefighting into the modern age. But the department could not keep pace with the city's growth. Jacksonville's population increased from 15,000 people in 1891 to 30,000 people in 1901 -- 50% in just ten years.

              By May 3, 1901, the fire department consisted of 36 permanent men.


              Shortly before Easter, 1901, the March 13th Florida Times-Union carried these items:

              * "It takes the dears to make a stag party what it really ought to be."

              * "The burning out of a flue in the United States Hotel at 5:55 o'clock last night caused the entire fire department to be called out. Smoke was seen issuing from the hotel at that time and an alarm was sent in from box 16, corner Bay and Newnan Streets. There was no damage.

              * "A small shed and a pile of weeds at the foot of Hogan Street... was destroyed by fire shortly after 5 o'clock yesterday morning. An alarm from a box corner of Bay and Cedar streets called out the entire department and the flames were extinguished in a few minutes. The loss will amount to $25.

              * "An absent-minded drug clerk was asked the other day if he kept Lent and he replied: No, but we have something just as good.

              * "All fire alarm boxes in this city are now in working order and the system is complete. This announcement was made by Chief Haney last night. Six new boxes being of the Keyless pattern have been added to the number already in use. These are on Bay Street. With the addition of these new boxes there are fifty-two in service and every portion of the city is covered by them."

              Alas, all the technological advances Chief Haney had instituted proved to no avail. The new boxes all burned six weeks later in the Great Jacksonville Fire of May 3, 1901.

              When that day was over, 2,368 buildings had burned; 466 acres covering 140 city blocks smoldered; 10,000 homeless people camped out; at least seven bodies were found.

              Heat from the fire created a waterspout in the St. Johns.

              The statue of the Confederate Soldier in Hemming Park glowed red hot and its concrete column cracked.

              The cypress paving blocks on Bay Street burned. Moisture in porous bricks exploded them.

              Everyone who lived through that day remembered it.

              Here are some of their experiences:

Chief Haney28

               "On May 3d at 12:39 p.m. this department received an alarm by telephone that there was a fire at the Cleaveland (sic) Mattress Factory...

              "The Department responded promptly, and immediately upon my arrival at the fire I sent out a general alarm calling all the apparatus in the service; the Department was put to work on the east, south and west sides of the fire...

              "After some very hard work, the Department had the fire under control in the blocks adjoining the one in which it started, when to my surprise and, I might say, horror, I was told that there was a fire at the corner of Bridge and Church streets. I immediately sent a hose company and the hook and ladder company to this fire.

              "From this time it was one report after another that this house or that one was on fire from one to five blocks away.

              "I sent the hose wagons back to the houses for more hose with instructions to return to the fire farthest east and make a stand...

              "I then called... Mr. B.F. Dillon...with a request to telegraph for all the assistance that he could get possibly get as the city was doomed.

              "The Department was making the best fight possible, but with the wind against it and the light material that was burning, and a large number of the buildings frame structures with shingle roofs, their best efforts were of no avail.

              "About three o'clock in the afternoon I became overheated and had to be carried home. After resting a while I returned to the fire, to again become so faint I could not keep up, and was again taken home where Dr. Durkee came and gave me the necessary medical attention. After a short while, and against the wishes of the doctor, I again started for the fire, but my strength gave way and I was taken home again, and then sent word to the assistant chief that he must take charge.

              "From what I saw before I became incapacitated, and have learned from the citizens of this city, there was never a more noble or braver fight made than was made by the little band of men that constitute this Department."

E.J. Wendt, Mattress factory foreman29

              "We made fiber from the palmetto leaves and also made excelsior, cured feathers and moss for making mattresses and upholstering...

              "The day of the fire I had shut down the machinery and after the help... had lunched as usual, they lay down somewhere in the fiber, moss or near the cotton gin to nap.

              "I was lying down on a couch in the office resting when the yard foreman gave the fire alarm. I ran for the first fire hose just outside the office door but had to drop it and run along the shed to wake up the (workers)...

              "The burning moss was rolling in waves like ocean combers.

              "The whole factory force had to jump down the trash hole near the back of the factory...

              "The fire started about 12:30 from a spark from one of the houses on Beaver Street on the south. It started near the ramp and rolled toward the factory and in the doors and windows where we had bags of feathers and horse hair hanging from the ceiling drying."

Mrs. Clarence Maxwell30

              "We ate our dinner and Mr. Maxwell returned to town while Reba and I returned complacently to our sewing. We could hear explosions and from the window see flames leaping above the tree-tops. I suggested that we get our hats and go to it.

              "As we walked over to Riverside Avenue we met a colored man who said 'Madame, the whole city is burning up and these two children and few clothes is all I got left. I'm going to the woods...'

              "The whole avenue was lined with vehicles loaded with goods and people. Private carriages were piled high and rushing in all directions...

              "We hastened on, appalled at the spectacle. flames were enveloping everything on all sides. The fire advanced as rapidly as a person could walk.

              "Women were even seizing vehicles standing on the streets where they had been hauled out of stables for protection and loading them up themselves and then getting between the shafts and pulling them.

              "Little children were fleeing, some with dolls in their arms, some with cats or bird cages. I saw one woman leading her cow up the middle of Bay Street...

              "Inside of five minutes the places we had just left were a seething mass."

Fireman W.G. Smedley31

              "I was eating lunch in a boarding house down the street from the No. 1 fire station when the alarm came in at 12:35 p.m.

              "I ran back to the station and caught the end of the wagon just as it went out the door.

              "Nobody had any idea, of course, of what we were in for...

              "Moss being dried at the fiber factory had caught fire. A sudden wind blew up out of the west on what had started as a calm hot day.

              "We thought we just about had the fire under control when the wind blew burning moss onto the tops of about two dozen houses along the street...

              "I looked down the street (Jefferson) and couldn't see anything but a wall of flame.

              "The fire zigzagged from Beaver Street to Bridge Street. It went on to Adams and along the north side of Adams to Laura. With the exception of a small blacksmith shop, everything east of Laura to Hogan's Creek burned..

              "I saw a woman running down the street carrying a bird cage. The cage was empty...

              ""I saw another woman frantically stuffing newspapers into a trunk. She must have been so excited she didn't know what she was doing."

Fireman Stephen A. Weeks32

              When Chief Haney's telegram calling for help reached Savannah, firemen there loaded their engine on a railroad flat car and speed south "122 miles per hour on 60-pound rail".

              Stephen Weeks was a stoker on a steam fire engine from Savannah.

              When his crew got here, Jacksonville resembled a city under bombardment. Escaping refugees got in the way of firemen trying to get into the city.

              "Horses with wagons burning like comet tails behind them panicked and ran blindly through the streets...

              "Bricks used to pave the streets leaping 10 or 15 feet in the air to burst into countless fragments in the heat...

              "It was so hot that fire hoses burned off at hydrants with water running through them," he said

              Weeks helped evacuate a new orphanage -- "They had just dedicated it at 12:30, about the same time the fire broke out," he said.

              Some fire units from other cities which came to help, got lost in the city and were boxed in by the flames and had to abandon their equipment to escape.

              "Some departments, which sent every bit of equipment they had, lost it all that way," Weeks said.

              Only seven lives were reported lost. Weeks believed there were many more.

              "The number lost will never be known but to God; it was impossible to determine how many were burned or drowned in the river where they fled for safety," he said.

Schoolboy Richard D. Oldham

              First-grader Richard Oldham had just come home from school for lunch when the fire started; in later years, he recorded what happened:

              "We were real scared.

              "The sparks were everywhere.

              "Sparks were all over the place.

              "My mother was just praying.

              "I guess, my father was at work helping people downtown," he said.

              His father owned a livery stable. His drivers were picking up furniture from homes and stacking it in a vacant lot where they hoped it would be safe.

              A driver brought in a piano and one of the crew sat at it and over and over played "It's a Hot Time in The Old Town Tonight".

              "I think there were two ships in port, the Commanche and the Apache, and they put the ships out in the middle of the river to keep them from burning," Oldham said.

              "We had a great big 10-room house and we kept people. We had to help because they had nothing. All their clothes were burned and everything else, see. They lost everything...

              "After that, I didn't go to school for a long time, about a year and a half or two years," he said.

Attorney David Mitchell33

              "I had been over in town in the morning, and as I left to catch the boat across the river where a dray awaited me to take the trip to Alexandria Villa, I passed the fire station (Central)...

              "The alarm sounded and Chief Haney streamed out in the big red go-devil of a fire truck, drawn by the two handsome bay horses of the fire department...

              "I went home -- four miles from the Jacksonville Ferry, and as dinner was being served, I said to the butler, 'Pearson, what makes it so dark? Is there an eclipse of the sun?'

              "He went to the north window and looked across towards Jacksonville and rushed back with a tense face -- 'Fore God, Master David, It sure looks like the end of the world! Come Look!'

              "There was a clump of imported bamboo at least forty feet high growing on the lawn ... and above that was a sheet of flames from the burning Jacksonville, lurid and roaring, fanned by a high wind, and above that a pall of black smoke that obscured the sun and make it dark as night at our place."

              Mitchell took the ferry boat back into Jacksonville to see about his Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Root.

              He saw, "That wharf -- filled with precious belongings of Jacksonville citizens, who hoped in vain to gain transportation to the south side of the river. There were family portraits, clothing, bric-a-brac, baskets of silver, trunks filled with heirlooms and precious documents and papers, and the people with their panic-stricken faces as the fire leaped by bounds to the water's edge, destroying the wharf itself!"

              He fought his way to the Root house.

              "From there saw -- two big hotels--the Windsor and the St. James--flames shooting from every window, flames high in the air from the roofs, a million dollars going up in flames,  but what a magnificent sight the two big buildings made as they yielded their greatness to the fire!"

A Fireman's Heroic Wife34

              Six-year-old Erma Zoller's father served as assistant fire chief during the Great Fire. Years later, she told about what happened.

              The Zoller family lived on Church Street.

              Her mother had his lunch ready when she heard Big Jim blow that day.

              "Well, we better sit down and have dinner because he's going to be late coming on account of the fire," Mrs. Zoller said.

              The daughter remembered, "She fixed his meal and put it on top of the stove to keep warm. The little warmer oven was there. I guess about an hour later we heard the whistle blow again about three or four times...

              "Mother said, 'Oh, my goodness, he's going to be very late getting home now. They must have a tremendous fire someplace. They're calling help.

              "After a while people started running through the street hollering, 'The city's on fire!'

              "We went out on the porch and we could see just big clouds of smoke going up, and everybody was hollering and telling everybody they'd better pack up and get out because the city was burning up. So Mother had a large trunk and she started to pack what valuables that she had in the trunk.

              "We went out again and watched. When we saw the Immaculate Conception Church a block-and-a-half or two blocks from our house burning, Mother said, 'Well, this is serious. I'll see if I can't get somebody to move the trunk down.'"

              Mrs. Zoller had to pay a man $25 to carry her trunk down and set it in the middle of Church Street.

              "I was terribly frightened. My mother was frightened. We were worried about my father because we heard people telling all kinds of things, that Chief Haney was dead, and the other chiefs were dead, and they were overcome in the streets, the fire hoses were burning up in the streets, and they couldn't make any headway. Oh, we heard all kinds of reports, don't you see..."

              Mrs. Zoller, her daughter and her 3-year-old son stood in the street watching their house burn.

              "She took me by the hand and my brother. He was younger than me. I had a little dog on a string, a little fox terrier on a string and we stood over on the corner and we were watching the trunk to see whether anybody would take it off..."

              No one would help the fireman's wife move her trunk of valuables.

              "And so we saw the house burn and Mother said, 'Well, we better move on before you get a spark in your hair and set your hair on fire.'

              "She saw the trunk burned up in the street. She didn't cry. She just took me by the hand and we just started walking.

              "After we saw the house go, we were worried about my father. We didn't let the house worry us too much, but Mother was so afraid that something had happened to him."

              They walked blocks and blocks following the crowds away from the fire.

              "All along the way, we asked people, inquiring about the fire department. Was anybody hurt, did they hear of anybody, the chief or the fire chiefs. A lot of people said no, they didn't hear and some people -- well, they'd tell us some weird stories...

              Exhausted, they arrived on Talleyrand Avenue. They asked at stores and homes if they could rest.

              No one would take them in.

              "Everybody told her they were full up and my mother said, 'Well, I simply can't sit in the street with my two children....

              "So the lady said, 'Well, all I can do is rent you a chair.'

              "So Mother rented a chair from her, a rocking chair... We spent the night there. I just sat on the floor and rested my head against my mother's knee."

              The next day, an uncle found Chief Zoller; he had been overcome by smoke and was in a home across the city from where his family was.

              The uncle "took us to where Dad was on the other side of town. Oh my lands, we were so happy to see Poppa.

              "Mother finally broke down and cried.

              "And she thanked God that we were reunited again."


              Jacksonville rebuilt.

              Mayor J.E.T. Bowden said, "The loss of Jacksonville is greater than was ever before inflicted by fire upon a city of the South, but her best wealth survives in her people and through them she will soon sit resplendent once more with increased glory as the metropolis of the state.35 "

              Chief Haney issued the first building permit -- for a grocery store -- within days of the fire.

              The U.S. Government sent tents to house thousands of homeless people.

              Five days after the fire, the city issued 49 marriage licenses. The newspaper said, "Evidently many young men who found their sweethearts without a home thought it best to provide for them."

              A barn served as a temporary fire house. Other cities donated their used equipment to make up for the engines and horses Jacksonville had lost.

              A newspaper editorial exonerated the Jacksonville Fire Department, "Fire Chief T.W. Haney is a good commander, as has been demonstrated a thousand times here. The firemen did all that human beings could do under the circumstances but had to give up. "36

              Local newspaper accounts said:

              "Funds poured in from all over the United States and thousands of dollars soon went to the relief of the stricken.

              "None of the larger cities declined to lend a helping hand...

              "Many trains and steamboats brought supplies to us from all over the United States, as well as large sums of money..."

              One out-of-town newspaper man saw the relief effort a bit differently:

              H.L. Mencken covered the aftermath of the fire for the Baltimore Morning Herald.

              "When I arrived by train.. there seemed to be nothing left save a fringe of houses around the municipal periphery, like the hair on a friar's head.

              "Only one hotel was left standing, and, so far as I could discover, not a single other public convenience of any sort, whether church, hospital, theatre, livery-stable, jail, bank, saloon, barber-shop, pants-pressing parlor, or sporting house37."

              The buildings had burned. But by and large the people were fine. Everyone had lost property. Everyone had been excited. Everyone had been scared. But virtually no one had been seriously injured.

              In the beautiful May weather (temperatures in the mid to high 80s), everyone was camping out, eating in the open, swapping tales, swimming in the St. Johns -- instead finding the gaunt disaster victims he came to write about, Mencken found that Jacksonville resembled a giant community picnic!

              Bigger disappointment confronted Mencken.

              "Not this scene of desolation, but the imbecility of public effort to aid its ostensible victims. In every American community of Christian pretensions, North, East, South and West, busy-bodies began to collect money and goods for their succor the moment the first bulletins came in, and by the time I reached what was left of the Jacksonville railroad station the first relief shipments were on the way...

              "The boys at the Pimlico race-track had contributed 100 second-hand horse blankets ... the saloonkeepers of Baltimore had matched them with 100 cases of Maryland rye...

              "The Mayor was amused, but not surprised, for he had telegrams on his desk showing that many other Northern cities were even more idiotic than Baltimore. St. Paul, it appeared, was sending a couple of bales of old fur coats, and Boston was loading a car with oil-stoves. Even some of the nearby towns, though they should have known better, had contributed supplies almost as insane. Thus a large box of woolen mittens had come from Montgomery, Ala., and Winston-Salem, N.C., had sent a supply of the heavy, sanitary red underwear for which it was then famous."

              Mayor Bowden and the reporter discussed hiding the rye under the 100 horse blankets. The one thing Jacksonville needed less than any of the other stuff was liquor.

              A new telegram came from Baltimore -- another boxcar was on the way "loaded mainly with medical and chirurgical(sic) materiel(sic), including a bale of splints, five gallons of sulphuric ether, half a ton of bandages, a crate of wooden legs and twenty Potter's Field coffins...

              "Inasmuch as... survivors were in robust health and excellent spirits, this shipment seemed somehow irrational," Mencken said.

              The Mayor told him that since the State Militia -- from the Everglades -- was on the scene, they "would undoubtedly begin shooting one another anon, and it would be handy to have the splints and coffins, if not the wooden legs".

              That night Mencken camped underneath a grand piano to sleep. State militiamen guarding the smoldering ruins of a nearby bank thought they saw something and opened up with a machine gun.

              "With the sounding-board of the piano directly over my head, I got the full force of the reverberation," he said.

              After days of looking for the shipment from Baltimore, Mencken finally found the cars on a siding.

              (I) "spent the next morning writing a long piece describing the grateful gloats and sobs of the starving and shivering Jacksonville populace as the cars rolled in, and the supplies were distributed," he said.

              The reporter really felt "The fire had been the luckiest act of God in all (Jacksonville's) history."


              Near the corner of Bay and Market, stood an old feed company warehouse with a cellar packed tight with wheat, corn and oats.

              After the warehouse burned, the fire ate underground into the compressed grain.

              For months and months after the fire, the pit full of grain continued to smolder and break into flame periodically.

              At 12:30 p.m. on May 3, 1902 -- one year to the minute after the fire started, Chief Haney ordered a pumper and hose down there again.

              He told the men to start pumping and not stop until that cellar was full to the top.

              That's what they did.

              The Great Fire of Jacksonville was finally out.


              Jacksonville rebuilt -- again.

              "The rebuilding of Jacksonville began within a few days of the fire. Many businesses destroyed by the blaze were soon operating out of tents and temporary wooden structures. Architects, builders, and entrepreneurs flocked to the stricken city.

              "Seven months after the fire, buildings underway in Downtown equaled nearly half the number destroyed by the fire. Within three years, the number of new buildings constructed exceeded the number which had been burned...

              "The fire brought unprecedented urban renewal. Jacksonville had the unique opportunity to build a modern city, based on 20th Century technology and design. Where the majority of the buildings burned were of wooden construction, the new city that rose from the ashes was made of stone, brick, concrete, and steel.

              "Ordinances required fire-proof construction, resulting in metal, tile, slate and gravel-covered roofs replacing the former wooden ones.

              "The development of steel-skeleton framing, reinforced concrete, and the electric elevator in the late 1800s allowed the construction of skyscrapers38.

              Before the fire, residences clustered amid downtown businesses; the fire influenced many people to build their homes a bit further out. Suburbs like Springfield and Riverside flourished around the downtown core -- each extension of the city limits increased the Fire Department's sphere of responsibility..

              Before 1902 was over, new fire stations -- replacing the ones burned in 1901 -- were at Ocean and Adams streets, and at 12 Catherine Street.

              A few days before Christmas, 1904, Fireman Dick Bleckman fell through the pole hole at No. 2 Station and died from his injuries.

              That was the year of the Great Fire Of Baltimore; Jacksonville then repaid her debt to her sister city.

              Reporter Mencken said, "When, in 1904, Baltimore itself had a big fire, they (Jacksonville) proposed to send up enough oranges (some of them almost fresh) to supply 500,000 people for 100 days, but Baltimore authorities declined them39."

              Lightning once struck a trolley car on Main Street. It burned a hole in the roof. Therefore, on June 10, 1910, Engine Co. # 2 became the only Jacksonville fire company to ever put out a trolley car.

              CONTRACT LET FOR SKYSCRAPER ON LAURA STREET, the headline of the March 13, 1911 Florida Times-Union said.

              Architect Henry J. Klutho designed the ten-story building between Forsyth and Adams Streets.

              "It was the intention at first to erect a seven-story building, but realizing the wonderful growth and development of the city, it was decided later to add three more stories," the contractor said.

              "The building will be absolutely fire-proof, and will contain every modern convenience. It will contain two high-speed passenger elevators, and will be provided with the most modern system of plumbing."

              After 1901, "fire-proof" buildings made more and more sense in the light of new building codes.

              Years later, after the Roosevelt Hotel, a supposedly fireproof building, burned, Lt. F.V. Herlong said, "You can build a building today that is fireproof in every respect, but the minute you start moving in furniture and equipment, then let people in, that building is no longer fireproof.

              "People themselves are not fireproof -- they carry matches, many of them smoke, and some of them are careless40."

              Chief Haney continued his technological crusade to make Jacksonville safe from fire -- New improved alarm systems. high-pressure engines, new fire stations, more and better trained men, a motorized department.

              The city installed a high-pressure water system in the downtown district in 1909.

              In 1912, the department bought its first motorized equipment, two engines and a 65-foot aerial ladder truck.

              By 1921, the Jacksonville Fire Department consisted of 125 men. That same year, on December 17, Rock and Sanko, the last two fire horses in Jacksonville, retired from Station 7 on Kings Avenue.

              That same year, the Acosta Bridge opened linking Jacksonville with the town of South Jacksonville. In 1932, the City annexed South Jacksonville and Engine Co. No. 12 was placed in service.

              At the age of 78, on July 19, 1939, Chief Haney died.

              His obituary41 said: "He retired in 1926 at the age of 65 having seen his department grow from a small organization with a central station and three sub-stations to one of the finest in the country...

              "Haney was chief during the period when there was more romance, less science, to fire fighting than there is today. Hardly a boy lived in Jacksonville during the first half of the century who didn't want to be a fire chief 'like Chief Haney is' when he grew up."

              Among the Chief's last words were these, "If any firemen attend my funeral, have them do so in uniform."

              Chief Haney's obituary ran with a photograph of him holding a brass speaking trumpet while directing firemen. The photo caption notes, Jacksonville "Firemen no longer use speaking trumpets, dash to fires in swaying horse-drawn wagons. Radios and loud speakers have supplanted the trumpet, sleek trucks and automobiles have taken the place of the wagons."

              Fire Chief Thomas W. Haney had made the difference.

World War II!

              The same day Hitler's own staff tried to assassinate him with a bomb in the Fuehrer's headquarters, two U.S. Army fighter planes collided in the air over Jacksonville.

              "Hardley a structure on the north side of Post Street, from 2845 Post to 2935 Post, where Willow Branch Avenue intersects, escaped the flaming, bouncing, crashing planes as they zoomed to destruction," said the July 20, 1944, Jacksonville Journal.

              "Poles and trees were felled, roofs caved in, walls were shattered and tangled debris was hurled within a radius of five blocks."

              The P-51 Mustangs exploded in midair and crashed in Riverside damaging three apartment houses, three garage apartments and 12 homes.

              The crash killed both pilots and one person on the ground.

              It was Jacksonville's worst air disaster up to that time.

              Jacksonville fire fighters responded to the emergency at Post and Cherry streets.

              Mrs. J.P. Morris, a resident, said "The brick garage apartment behind the main building apparently was hit directly by a plane. For a while it was on fire. I saw firemen drag a child from the debris."

              Live wires dangled from trees and sheared off poles making firemen's rescue work hazardous. One wire, "sputtered and spattered sparks everywhere sending on-lookers scurrying for cover."

              Well they might because the midair collision ruptured the fuel tanks of the aircraft and sprayed it all over the neighborhood.

              One lady, "badly shaken, told of having stepped out of the bathroom door when a motor came crashing through the bathroom, ripping a hole in the outside wall and demolishing everything in its wake."

              Three alarms had been sounded and virtually all available fire equipment and men were on the scene. But once the fires were extinguished, the job was not over:

              "Firemen poked at loose bricks and removed dangerous hazards (such as a plane's loaded machine gun from a burning garage) as policemen roped off areas and pushed the excited crowds back. Everywhere there seemed to be efficiency, kindness, and aid blended with pitiful bewilderment as Red Cross workers from the Motor Corp (sic) helped the shocked and injured..."

              Oddly enough, although the Mustangs were on a training mission out of St. Petersburg, one of the pilots was a graduate of Lee High School; his parents lived just a few blocks from where he crashed42.


              In 1946, the Jacksonville Fire Department added two portable iron lungs and two resuscitators to the equipment carried on chiefs' cars.

              New equipment was added as it was needed and as technology made it available.

              One piece of equipment which proved its worth was the fire boat John B. Callahan

              In 1946, lightning struck a gasoline tankship, the Homestead which was unloading aviation fuel at the Standard Oil Terminal on Talleyrand Avenue.

              Three men were killed.

              The fireboat and land-based equipment fought the fire for eight days before bringing it under control.

              One of the Chief Haney's innovations had been bringing a fire boat to protect Jacksonville's waterfront.

              John B. Callahan joined the fire department in 1922; Chief Haney had lobbied for a fire boat for years. The Callahan was a converted 110-foot subchaser used in World War I.

              The Callahan  cost $100.

              The city got its moneys worth; the Callahan worked on the Jacksonville waterfront for 41 years. The "temporary" fireboat station where the Callahan docked was in service for at least 42 years43!

              On April 30, 1951, the Richard D. Sutton came into the department. It served for 20 years, then was cannibalized for parts.

              In 1972, Jacksonville Shipyards converted a tug into Jax No. 1, a 75-foot, 136 ton vessel with two water turrets capable of pumping 2,000 gallons a minute.

              The pumps, turrets and an emergency radio were all salvaged from the Sutton44. The steel cabin of the Sutton45 ended up as a deck on top of a building at 8063 Buffalo Avenue -- it's still there.

              The Eugene Johnson came into service in 1971. It originally cost $240,000. It has three turrets, each capable of spraying 2,000 gallons a minute.

              In September, 1985, the Eugene Johnson fought a fire caused by an explosion aboard the Balder Strand, a 400-foot ship at Blount Island. The Johnson laid lines to the dock to supply water to ground units battling the ship fire.

              John D. Callahan, Jacksonville's first fireboat, had been taken out of service in 1963 -- the year of the Roosevelt Hotel Fire.


              Smiling and waving to cheering fans, Miss America, 21-year-old Donna Axum of El Dorado, Arkansas, appeared during half-time festivities at the 1963 Gator Bowl Game.

              The North Carolina Tar Heels defeated the U.S. Air Force Academy Falcons.

              After the game, winners celebrated and losers consoled each other late into the night.

              Many people, including Miss America, football team members, sports reporters from out-of-town and many fans in town for the Game, stayed at Jacksonville's luxurious Roosevelt Hotel.

              At 7:45 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 29, a fire started on one of the lower floors; dense smoke rose through ventilator shafts to the upper floors of the packed hotel.

              "When I woke up (I) heard a screeching siren extremely loud, said hotel guest Ernest Prevatte46. "I popped up in bed and said to my wife that someone was having a wild party in the place or there is a fire.

              "She sprang up and said, 'MY God, is it us?'"

              "The question didn't need answering. Smoke was filtering under the door, just a slight trace. I opened the door and smoke burst into our fourth floor room in great volumes...

              "Like everyone else we began tying sheets together to make a rope...  tying the sheets to the bed... But we didn't have to use them.

              "About 8:30, firemen got a ladder to us from the roof of another building... we made it down.."

              Not everyone was as fortunate as the Prevattes; another guest later said, "I saw a woman trying to climb down from a 12th floor window on a rope sheet. She fell past our window and landed on the street beneath us. I think the sheets broke."

              A spectator on the ground said, "Firefighting equipment was arriving fast. Some ladders were up and the people in the windows were shouting for them. Sheets dangled helplessly from most of the windows. In some cases they seemed like surrender flags..."

              Since fire department ladders were not long enough to reach above the seventh floor of the building, firemen took two measures:

              First they called in a Navy helicopter to rescue victims from the roof. "It was horrible," said airline stewardess Carlo Faulk, "We tried to get off the 11th floor down the stairs and the smoke was so bad we couldn't get through."

              Up was the only route. Miss Faulk, her roommate and about 15 other people were hoisted from the roof by the helicopter.

              At the same time the call went out for the helicopter, teams of firemen were climbing the dark smoke-filled stairwells to lead victims out.

              "HE DIED TRYING TO SAVE OTHERS" read a Jacksonville Journal headline the next day. The newspapers often have used this same headline to describe fire department heroes over the years.

              "Assistant Fire Chief James R. Romedy, 49, was doing his job -- saving lives -- when he lost his own," the paper said.

              "We were breaking open doors getting people out of their rooms," said Capt. N.E. Hagen. "The Chief said he had too much smoke and headed downstairs; the eight floor was one of the worst."

              He stopped to rest a moment then headed back up.

              "I met him on the sixth floor working my way up," said Private Bill O'Neal. "We went up to the 10th floor or 11th and he stood inside the back stairwell..."

              The pair directed four other trapped guests down the stairs and Romedy collapsed -- victim of an apparent heart attack. Romedy had been a fireman for 22 years.

              That Sunday morning, the pastor of Snyder Memorial Methodist Church was preaching on Philippians 2 -- "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God... took upon him the form of a servant... He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."

              The pastor cut his sermon short and opened the church as a refugee center for fire victims.

              "Rescue operations had swung into full gear and there was no stinting," the newspaper said.

               "Firemen risked their lives. Policemen risked their lives. Helicopter pilots risked their lives. Just plain people risked their lives. The nerve and muscle of Jacksonville was strained toward one objective -- Get those people out of that hotel!

              "While firemen grimly battled to douse the blaze inside the dark, smoke-filled lobby, others worked on the outside taking people down 100-foot steel ladders from the windows to safety...

              "All of the heroism shown this day will never be completely recounted for it seemed to be commonplace."

              Officers on the scene estimated that about half those rescued were brought down ladders extended from the fire trucks.

              The manager of the downtown May Cohens opened the store and supplied clothing and shoes to dress fire victims. Many had escaped with only blankets wrapped around them.

              After the fire, "Among the jam of police cars, emergency vehicles and fire trucks parked in front of the hotel was Miss America's 1964 white convertible. She was taken to Baptist Memorial Hospital for treatment for smoke inhalation."

              Of the 500 guests registered at the hotel that night, 21 died -- 479 were rescued.

              When fireman finally lead Ned Huffman's family down from their 12th floor room, a reporter asked how long they had been trapped up there?

              "About three years," Mr. Huffman said, "It was about three years."


THE '50s and '60s

              Was the Roosevelt Jacksonville's worst fire?

              Lt. Mose Bowden fought the fire at the Roosevelt and was at the Triangle Tank Farm Fire.

              "There's no such thing as a good fire," he said. "Every fire is bad. Any one you respond to could be the worst."

              Contrary to department rumor, Bowden, now curator of the Jacksonville Fire Museum and an expert on local and Fire Department history, did NOT fight the Great Fire of 1901.

              The 1950s brought a new era in firefighting.

              When Station 17 opened in December, 1950, a newspaper article said:

              "After the firemen get their petunias out and the rest of the landscaping done, they will have one of the handsomest stations in town."

              During the 1950s and '60s, men of the Jacksonville Fire Department more and more often found themselves fighting fires characterized by the era's new technology. New building materials which produce toxic fumes, industrial products, dangerous chemical compounds confronted firefighters more and more often.

              Better trained men with specialized equipment met the challenge.

              For instance, on March 16, 1953, Apperson Chemicals Inc., 2903 Strickland St., exploded.

              The 8:39 p.m. fire drew huge crowds of spectators.

              More than a hundred 55-gallon drums of various chemicals blew up periodically as seven engine companies and two hook and ladder companies fought the blaze.

              When asked what chemicals the blazing plant contained, a plant official  said, "Just about everything!"

              Fire Chief J.B. Chancey later determined the tanks held sulphuric acid, alcohol, carbon, acetylene gas, carbide, ammonia, etc.

              They popped according to their individual contents and temperature and scooted like rockets, plowing furrows along the ground amid the fire fighters.

              "High pressure oxygen and acetylene tanks with steel a quarter of an inch thick were ripped apart like flimsy paper," a newspaper said47

              As tanks and drums exploded, firemen and spectators alike jumped for cover underneath the fire trucks.

              The blasts sent steel tanks hurtling hundreds of yards away from the site..

              Firemen 250 yards away from the plant "worked amid a shower of steel, metal and glass that fell around them like shrapnel on a battle field," the paper said.

              The newspaper does not tell how the petunias were doing that soft Spring night.

              In 1957, Jacksonville's 345 firemen answered 2,949 in-town alarms and 143 out of the city. Their equipment included seven 1,000 gallon-per-minute pumper engines, a 100-foot aerial ladder truck, two 75 and two 65-foot aerial trucks, two high-pressure trucks. Hose inventory included 4,650 feet of booster hose; 10,900 feet of 1-inch hose; 43,000 feet of 2 inch; and 6,600 feet of 3-inch hose.

              By 1960, the Jacksonville Fire Department fielded 495 men and went on the three-platoon system.

              Before 1968, volunteer firemen served areas outside the city limits. When the city government consolidated with the entire county that year, the Jacksonville Fire Department became responsible for protecting 840 square miles. Its previous area had covered just 26 square miles.

              This caused the greatest spurt of growth the department had seen since the Great Fire of 1901. It increased personnel to 759. Equipment increased to 43 engines and 14 rescue units.

              During the racial unrest of 1969, police officers protected firefighters as they put out fires.


              Jacksonville firefighters have a long tradition of doing just a little bit more than the job required. They have collected toys for needy children around Christmas time. They have collected clothing for fire victims. Since 1957, they have filled their boots with money collected from motorists at intersections raising funds for the Muscular Dystrophy Association over Labor Day.

              Firemen care.

              As far back as June 22, 1962, Assistant Fire Chief James Dowling Jr. appeared before a special meeting to the State Committee on Trauma of the American College of Surgeons. He said that Jacksonville ambulance companies were in "vicious competition and some are more concerned with getting funerals than getting injured persons to the hospital."

              At that time, funeral homes used hearses to respond to accident calls as ambulances. The city covered just 39 square miles then and they divided the city into zones.

              "Competition was so bad then... that funeral homes were fighting over bodies in the ditch48."

              Mayor Hans Tanzler put emergency ambulance service in the care of the Jacksonville Fire Department on November 6, 1967.

              "The fire department was plunged in with one phone call from the mayor's office and 55 minutes later we were answering out first call," said Jay Crawford of the Public Safety Department.

              "We started with one red fire chief's station wagon.. and borrowed stretchers."

              Soon five station wagons were equipped with first aid kits and resuscitators. Within six months, six new rescue vehicles were manned by 36 firemen round the clock.

              Workers on the ambulances soon noticed that calls to help heart attack victims came proportionately more than any other call.

              The firemen began taking advanced training, using better equipment, and saving more lives. By the early '70s, Jacksonville became known as the safest city in the world to have a heart attack.

              Rescue units added 14 new cardio-pulmonary machines at a cost of $45,000 in May, 1979. At that time, Rescue Units were responding to an average of 16 heart victims a day.


              Reading old newspaper clippings makes you think hair was a burning issue for firefighters during the early '70s.

              "The City is going to start firing and laying off firemen unless the board changes its policy on hair style," says one article.

              "The Civil Service Board reversed itself and voted 5 to 1 that it did not have jurisdiction over the matter of firemen's hair length," said another.

              "Baseball caps with the JFD insignia on them are being ordered and will be made an authorized article of uniform," said another.

              A March 22, 1971 paper announced, "Circuit Court Judge Major B. Harding signed a consent order restraining the city of Jacksonville from negotiating with or commencing negotiations with or in any manor officially discussing or bargaining with any person or association other than Local 1834 of the International Association of Firefighters."

              "Paul Dinkins, vice president of the fireman's union, predicted massive suspensions unless the Civil Service Board does something to liberalize the fire department's hair code. Fire Chief W.E. Smith argued he is worried about safety saying, 'Hair that is stringy, fuzzy or bushy is much more susceptible to catching on fire,'" said another paper.

              A June, 1971, paper announced, "A special mayor's and citizens' committee is recommending that long and short-range goals be set for hiring more black firemen."

              "The first nine blacks hired under a federal court ordered policy aimed at increasing the number of blacks in the fire department began their fire academy training today," said a Jan. 17, 1972 paper

              The clipping books at the Jacksonville Fire Museum contain many similar articles -- but even in those troubled years, the main business of fire fighters continued to be saving lives and property from fire -- even at great risk, even the ultimate sacrifice.

              Eighteen shoppers browsed in the aisles of the A&P Supermarket at San Juan and Hershel streets on a July afternoon in 1970.

              They left their buggies and scurried for the door when a stock boy ran from the back of the store shouting fire.

              It was Lt. Gene Johnson's first day at Station 14; he was a roving officer who filled in for vacationing, sick or injured officers at which ever station he was needed.

              The fire was in an open space between the ceiling and the roof of the store.

              "The roof caved in before we could really attack it," said one fireman.

              Lt. Johnson and a team of firefighters were at the rear of the store.

              The collapsed roof at the front of the store "produced a great quantity of flame and black smoke which completely filled the closed-in area at the rear...

              "It was so dark that we had to shine our flashlights on the fire hose to find our way back to the door."

              Lt. Johnson never made it out.

              The fireboat Eugene Johnson is named for the fallen firefighter.

              On April 6, 1973, the city displayed the first of 13 new diesel pumpers in front of City Hall. Authorities said the color was more visible than the traditional red. Jacksonville schoolboys universally called the new color "Yucky Yellow".

              The city retained at least one red truck -- Ladder Truck 1, a 55-foot, 44,000 pound fire engine -- so big it required a "tillerman". That's a second driver who steers the rear end of the long rig.

              "Black. Pitch black, hot and smoky ... a tangled maze of wires, plumbing and noxious fumes."

              Thus eyewittness described the interior of the burning barge in Jacksonville Shipyards on May 25, 1979.

              A gas line ruptured and a welder's torch ignited the fuel. Nine men were reported trapped in the hole.

              Jacksonville firefighters went down to bring them out.

              Lt. Joseph Francis Stichway died trying to save others.

              "With his final act of heroism, he gave up his life for his fellow man," read a Times-Union editorial.

              The following year, the 100-foot aerial ladder truck he had served on was named in his honor.

              At the memorial service, the department received two variable height stretchers donated by an anonymous Jacksonville businessman whose life had been saved by City Rescue personnel. At the time, the $1,000 stretchers were the largest donation the department had ever received from a private individual.

              They represented a solid technological advance.

              Others were soon to follow.

              As far back as 1971, Department officials were looking at systems to change traffic lights in favor of fire apparatus.

              They chose Opticom.

              Emergency vehicles were equipped with an emitter, or high intensity pulsating light. A detector is located in the traffic signal and it causes the light to change to green in the direction of the advancing vehicle49.

              Our men and equipment kept pace with the times.



              Labor pangs hit Deilliah (sic) Williams.

              On December 13, 1980, her first baby was two weeks overdue.

              A rescue unit from Station 10 responded to her call for help.

              An inexperienced man helped carry her out on a stretcher for transport to the hospital -- Governor Bob Graham was in Jacksonville for a "Workday" as a firefighter.

              One big fire and a lot of "fires" that were not fires characterized the actions of the Jacksonville Fire Department during the early '80s.

              The Hazardous Material Team was just getting cranked up on June 7, 1979, when the Kenco Chemical and Manufacturing Co. caught fire.

              The plant made Rid-A-Bug insecticide.

              The fire caused the evacuation of a four-square-mile area and sent 44 people to the hospital.

              Toxic wash-off from the fire killed millions of fish in the Cedar River the next week.

              There was no fire, but the fire department rushed to the scene when a forklift punctured a single 55-gallon drum of paranitraniline at P*I*E on May 12, 1986.

              Again the Hazardous Material Team proved their worth as 21 people were hospitalized and over 50 decontaminated.

              City Hall may not always agree with firefighters about pay and such, but City Hall employees were glad to see the Hazardous Material Team on December 4, 1986.

              That day a pair of tanks of anhydrous ammonia -- used to make blueprints -- sprang a leak on the eighth floor of our 15-story City Hall.

              Firefighters evacuated about 150 city employees.

              On October 3, 1982, the Jacksonville Fire Museum opened in old Station #3 on Catherine St. It is one of the few fire museums in the country and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Exhibits preserve the heritage and traditions of Jacksonville fire fighters through the decades.

              Museum curator Lt. Mose Bowden won the 1969 Fireman of the Year award from the F.O.O.F. for heroism during the race riots of that era.

              All during the early '80s, new training and new equipment kept the JFD abreast of the times.

              In 1986, the 9-1-1 emergency telephone system went into effect.

              That year the Public Safety Department began to use computer terminals for dispatch.

              "Under this mechanism, we were able to dispatch nine pieces of equipment in seven seconds," one official said50.

              Seven seconds -- that's the same amount of time the firefighters of the 1890s took to hitch up a horse with the Hale's Patent Swinging Harness!

              A set of the harnesses is on exhibit in the museum.

              We could have used computers, engines, foam -- all the king's horses and all the king's men -- to fight the biggest fire of the Eighties -- so far.


              A severe thunder storm moved through the city on the afternoon of August 18, 1984.

              At 4:14, p.m. a lightning bold struck Tank 16 at Triangle Refineries' Ocean Terminal, 2470 Talleyrand Ave.

              Tank 16, a bulk storage tank with a double-layered floating roof,  contained 980,000 gallons of premium unleaded gasoline.

              A tremendous explosion rocked the area. The blast lifted off more than half the pontoon's top cover exposing half the roof's cells which were quickly infiltrated by burning fuel.

              Responding apparatus immediately reported heavy involvement of the tank and requested two special foam units.

              In the first attack on the fire, the foam blanket appeared to smother the flames, but suddenly the pontoon roof shifted and sank.

              Flames broke out worse than before.

              Division Chief G.F. Keys Sr. assumed command.

              He called for more foam from the Navy and Jacksonville International Airport through the Inter-Agency Hazardous Materials Agreement.

              He requested three additional engines and ordered the recall of 50 additional firefighters from off-duty shifts.

              "The integrity of the tank appeared to be deteriorating minute by minute. Steel above the level of the product was glowing bright red and appeared in some places to be transparent, even in the face of thousands of gallons of water being poured onto the sides... The tank turned red hot like a fireball, then became so white it seemed to be transparent. The steel buckled in a number of places, and only the wind girder seemed to hold the plates erect."

              The tank ruptured!

              A ditch eight feet deep and 25 feet wide surrounded the tank. In 30 seconds, the fire spread to the entire dyke area and filled the ditch.

              Flames three-stories high rolled across the four lanes of Talleyrand


              The fire covered 24 acres -- the equivalent of seven city blocks!

              At 6:41 a.m. the command post called a general alarm.

              Shortly after 7 a.m., the fire appeared as if the worst had passed but as the smoke cleared, firefighters discovered a rimfire burned on Tank 14, a 45,000 storage tank fully loaded with unleaded gasoline.

              The fire was declared under control about 20 hours after it began.

              More than 250 firefighters using 22 engines, four ladders, four crash trucks, two special foam units, three tankers, and six rescue units fought the blaze. The help of Navy personnel and volunteers also proved invaluable.

              The fire cost the city $300,000; damage to the tank farm ran into the millions.

              The fall of 1984 marked the beginning of a new era of management in the Public Safety Department in general, and the Fire Department in specific. Dale T. Beerbower and Miles R. Bowers were appointed Director of Public Safety and Deputy Director/Fire Chief, respectively.

              The Jacksonville Fire Department was renamed the Fire/Rescue Directorate.



              The first winner, in 1973, of the Jacksonville Fire Department's new Certificate of Merit was -- a policeman!

              Mayor Hans Tanzler presented the award to Patrolman L.H. Sweeney citing him for, "outstanding performance the morning of April 29th, 1973, which resulted in the prevention of serious injury or death to several firefighters52".

              Sweeney commented, "I just didn't want to write any Signal 7 reports."

              That year, EMT Kenneth R. Ivey was named Fireman of the Year by the Jacksonville Jaycees. His rescue vehicle was in a head-on collision with a passenger car. Though injuried himself, Ivey pulled trapped victims from the burning car and administered first aid to them.

              Fire privates Paul Porter and Larry Sloan received letters of commendation at the same time.

              Porter suffered second and third degree burns rescuing an unconscious person trapped in a burning building. Sloan voluntarily climbed into a gas-filled storm drain to stop a gas leak.

              Lt. Lindy Jackson received the Jaycee's award for 1974.

              E.E. Wood was saluted as Fireman of the Year in November 1975.

              At the same time Mayor Tanzler presented awards to Capt. Gary F. Keys, Lt. Morgan Kraan and Lt. Carl R. Hough53.

              Keys rescued two workers from a broken window-washing conveyor 165 feet above the ground on the control tower at Jacksonville International Airport.

              Lt. Kraan helped police capture two auto thieves.

              Lt. Hough was instrumental in the rescue of a 2-year-old from a burning mobile home.

              In Sept., 1976, Lt. George W. Fitts received the Fireman of the year Award from VFW Post 6922 for his efforts in promoting fire safety programs in hospitals and nursing homes54.

              That same year, Mayor Tanzler presented a Fireman of the Year award to volunteer fireman Randy White who saved a 2-year-old child from drowning.

              R.L. Mosier received a Silver Life Saving award for his efforts atop a 100-foot ladder preventing a woman from jumping from a building55.

              The 1977 Fireman of the Year award went to Capt. Ronald G. Gore for his efforts organizing the Hazardous Material Team.

              At the same ceremony, Lt. E.M. Holsenbeck and fireman J.D. Clemons received Gold Medals for saving the lives of two men trapped under a six-foot pile of wood chips at Alton Box Co.

              When workmen were digging a hole at 8th and Talleyrand, the walls collapsed burying them in mud. Rescue Lt. Herb Sellers III got into the hole and held one man's face abovge the mud for over an hour while they were being dug out.56

              Seventeen other Fire Department Heros were recognized in the 1977 ceremony.

              On October 24, 1978 Harry "Gil" Mixson was named Fireman of the Year. A man on a boat stranded on a sandbar near Talbot Island had a heart attack. The Coast Guard cutter responding to the distress call drew too much water to get close. Mixon swam through crashing waves and undertow to the stranded boat, tied a line to it to a jeep on shore and the fishing boat was winched to land. Awards Committee chairman M.M. Hendrix Jr. said the rescue, "reflects and upholds the highest traditions of fire service57."

              The 1979 Gold Medal went posthumously to Lt. J.F. Stichway, who died in the barge fire; 22 other firefighters were recognized for their actions in that same fire58.

              A van loaded with a family ran off the Main Stree Bridge over the Trout River a few days after Christmas in 1979.

              Responding to the 4 and 53, firefighter Andrew Graham found that two civilian passers-by had pulled some of the victims from the van.

              Graham leaped into the icy water.

              Standing atop the submerged van , with water up to his chest, Graham performed CPR on a child til she could be lifted to a rescue unit on the bridge.

              "I thought there was no hope," he said. "No. I take that back about no hope. We always try no matter what we think."

              Graham was named Fireman of the Year by the Bold City Jaycees59.

              The Bold City Jaycees presented the Fireman of the Year award to Lt. Howard Davidson in May of 198160.

              During a fire at 4801 Moncrief Road, when other firefighters could not get inside the childrens's bedroom because the window was too small, Davidson rescued first the mother then went back inside for the two children.

              When he brought them out, both were already dead.

              Fireman of the year for 1982 was Rick Darby, Station 10.

              "When there's a fire, everyone is running away from it. Except us, we're always the ones running right into it," he said.

              A 1,000-gallon liquid propane tank at Anchor Hocking sprang a leak; a vapor cloud surrounded the tank.

              Darby's citation said, He voluntarily exposed himself to almost certain death. He went into a vapor cloud without protection. His actions prevented a major fire61."

              In a Fireman of the year citation read at a luncheon of the Association for Independent Insurance Agents, Parender Farmer was honored.

              During a mobile home fire near Mayport, Farmer broke through a back window to rescue one of two brothers trapped inside.

              "The heat was so bad, my equipment was smoking," he said. "I was disoriented but I found the boy lying on the floor next to the bed. I handed him out the window and kept looking for the other boy, but I couldn't find him."62

              Engineer Bret Thomas Pickett was named Firefighter of the Year on January 30, 1985, at a ceremony hosted by Mayor Jake Godbold63.

              During the Triangle Tank Farm Fire, Pickett managed to start the department's $250,000 hazardous materials fire truck as flames threatened to engulf it.

              When Tank 16 ruptured and everyone retreated, the truck would not start. With a sea of flame rolling toward him, Pickett leisurely babied it a bit -- then got the hell out when it finally started.

              Pickett also won the American Legion Statewide Firefighter of the Year Award for 1984. He was the first Jacksonville Firefighter to win this award.

              On December 16, 1985, Mayor Jake Godbold awarded Firefighter of the Year honors to Lt. Richard P. Morphew for keeping fire from igniting a 1,200-gallon propane tank64.

              Mayor Godbold honored six other firefighters, R.E. Daniels, J.R. Williams, M. Johnson, T.J. Yost, M.W. Keane and T.P. McCrone for their bravery in the same fire -- which a newspaper editorial described it as "a flaming gas leak that had great potential for creating a disaster and killing or maiming them65.

              A November, 1986 newspaper headline once again said of a Jacksonville firefighter, "He gave his life trying to save others."

              The story told of Engineer E.A. Cowart who drowned when Marine 3 capsized answering a distress call near the Hart Bridge.

              On January 13, 1987, Engineer Eddie Cowart was posthumously selected as the 1986 Fire Fighter of the Year.

              On June 29, 1987, Mayor-elect Tommy Hazouri helped dedicate the new Station One and the Fallen Fire Fighters' Memorial.

              During the ceremony, Deputy Director/Fire Chief Miles R. Bowers struck the old one and a half ton brass bell in the memorial 14 times -- tolling once for each of Jacksonville's 14 fire fighters who have died in the line of duty.

              No memorial -- no book -- can record all the acts of bravery of Jacksonville fire fighters over the years.

              Perhaps the words spoken by a Fire Chief  back in 1908 express this bravery best:

              "Firemen are going to be killed right along. They know it, every man of them ... Firefighting is a hazardous occupation; it is dangerous on the face of it, tackling a burning building. The risks are plain ... Consequently, when a man becomes a fireman, his act of bravery has already been accomplished”66.


                  Most of the information in this history came from materials collected at the Jacksomnville Fire Museum by Lt. Mose Bowden, curator. The history section of the 1973 JACKSONVILLE FIRE DIVISION Yearbook compiled by Jim Porter proved to be the backbone of this history.

                  Newspaper clippings from Museum scrapbooks and from the Florida Collection at the Hayden Burns Library do not always carry the name of the paper or the date; these notes indicate such information when they do.


John W. Cowart


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 1 -- FLORIDA NEWS, May 29, 1852.

 2 --. FLORIDA UNION, June 8, 1876

 3 -- Ditzel, Paul C. FIRE ENGINES & FIREFIGHTERS. Crown Publishers, 1976.

                    Pages 37 and 52.

 4 -- FLORIDA REPUBLICAN, April 6, 1854.

 5 -- Mallnow, Fran, TIMES-UNION, October 3, 1965.

 6 - Cowart, Jo-hn W. TIMES-UNION, April 28, 1984


      1513 to 1924 St. Augustine. Florida Historical Society. 1925. p.132

 8 -- Ibid., p. 132.

 9 -- Ward, James R. OLD HICKORY'S TOWN. Jacksonville. Florida Publishing

      Co., 1982. p 155.

10 -- Davis. op. cit. pp. 153 and 154.

11 -- Ward. op. cit. p. 157.


      1978. p 27.

13 -- Brown, S. Paul. STORY OF JACKSONVILLE. n.p.

14 -- Ditzel. op. cit. p. 75 - 77

15 -- Porter, Jim. op. cit. p 71.

16 -- Bowden, Mose. FIRE DEPARTMENT HISTORY. unpublished paper. p.2.

17 -- Ditzel. op. cit. p. 113

18 -- Porter. op. cit. p. 69.

19 -- Ibid. p. 71.

20 -- Duval County Historical Papers. Vol. IV. unpublished papers. p.216

21 -- Bowden. op. cit. p.5.

22 -- Martin, Richard A. "Firey Road To Progress" JACKSONVILLE MAGAZINE

      Spring, 1964


      1873 to 1973 p.90.

24 -- TIMES-UNION, Feb. 9, 1895. p.8

25 -- Brown. op. cit. n.p.

26 -- Cowart, John W. "History Comes Alive In Old Station No. 3".FOLIO

      WEEKLY. June 9, 1987

27 -- Bowden, Mose. JACKSONVILLE FIRE DEPARTMENT. unpublished paper. p.2.

28 -- Haney, Thomas W. ANNUAL REPORT - 1901

29 -- TIMES-UNION, March 25, 1951.

30 -- TIMES-UNION, July 10, 1951

31 -- TIMES-UNION, March 3, 1952

32 -- TIMES-UNION, May 25, 1951.

33 -- Duval County Historical Society, op. cit. p. 263.

34 -- JACKSONVILLE JOURNAL, April 30, 1981.

35 -- TIMES-UNION, March 25, 1951.

36 -- TIMES-UNION, July 2, 1987.

37 -- Mencken, H.L. NEWSPAPER DAYS 1899 - 1906. Knopf. 1941 p. 94ff.

38 -- Jacksonville Historical Landmark Commission. PRESERVATION PLAN

      Appendix III.

39 -- Mencken. op. cit. p. 105.

40 -- TIMES-UNION, Jan. 15, 1964.

41 -- JACKSONVILLE JOURNAL, July 20, 1939.

42 -- TIMES-UNION, July 21, 1939.

43 -- Caldwell, Joe. "Station Headed For Last Pileup", JACKSONVILLE JOURNAL,  Feb. 8, 1984.

44 -- TIMES-UNION, Jan. 7, 1972.

45 - -TIMES-UNION, May 20, 1974.

46 -- JACKSONVILLE JOURNAL, Dec. 30, 1963.

47 -- TIMES-UNION, March 16, 1953.

48 -- Tovar, Evelyn "Rescue", TIMES-UNION, March 17, 1980

49 -- JACKSONVILLE JOURNAL, March 12, 1979.

50 -- TIMES-UNION, Aug. 8, 1986.

51 -- Bowden, Mose. Ibid. n.p.

52 -- TIMES-UNION, May 12, 1973.

53 -- TIMES-UNION, Nov. 5, 1975.

54 -- JACKSONVILLE JOURNAL, Sept. 4, 1976.

55 -- JACKSONVILLE JOURNAL, Dec. 6, 1976.

56 -- JACKSONVILLE JOURNAL, Oct. 13, 1977.

57 -- JACKSONVILLE JOURNAL, Oct. 24, 1977.

58 -- TIMES-UNION, Sept. 13, 1979.

59 -- JACKSONVILLE JOURNAL, March 27, 1980;

       and TIMES-UNION, March 28, 1980.

60 -- JACKSONVILLE JOURNAL, May 7, 1981.

61 -- TIMES-UNION, March 18, 1983.

62 -- TIMES-UNION, Feb. 9, 1984.

63 -- JACKSONVILLE JOURNAL, May 24, 1985.

64 -- TIMES-UNION, Dec. 17, 1985.

65 -- TIMES-UNION, Dec. 18, 1985.

66 -- Smith. op. cit. p. 146.

1  FLORIDA NEWS, May 29, 1852.

2   FLORIDA UNION, June 8, 1876

3  Ditzel, Paul C. FIRE ENGINES & FIREFIGHTERS. Crown Publishers, 1976.

4 -- FLORIDA REPUBLICAN, April 6, 1854.

5  -- Mallnow, Fran, TIMES-UNION, October 3, 1965.

6  Cowart, John W. TIMES-UNION, April 28, 1984


8  -- Ibid., p. 132.

9 -- Ward, James R. OLD HICKORY'S TOWN. Jacksonville. Florida Publishing      Co., 1982. p 155.

10 -- Davis. op. cit. pp. 153 and 154.

11  -- Ward. op. cit. p. 157

12  -- Smith, Dennis HISTORY OF FIREFIGHTING IN AMERICA. Dial Press.      1978. p 27.

13 -- Brown, S. Paul. STORY OF JACKSONVILLE. n.p.

14 -- Ditzel. op. cit. p. 75 - 77

15 -- Porter, Jim. op. cit. p 71.

16 -- Bowden, Mose. FIRE DEPARTMENT HISTORY. unpublished paper. p.2.

17 -- Ditzel. op. cit. p. 113

18 -- Porter. op. cit. p. 69.

19 -- Ibid. p. 71.

20 -- Duval County Historical Papers. Vol. IV. unpublished papers. p.216

21 --  Bowden. op. cit. p.5.

22 Martin, Richard A. "Firey Road To Progress" JACKSONVILLE MAGAZINE, Spring 1964.


      1873 to 1973 p.90.

24 -- TIMES-UNION, Feb. 9, 1895. p.8

25 -- Brown. op. cit. n.p.

26 -- Cowart, John W. "History Comes Alive In Old Station No. 3".FOLIO      WEEKLY. June 9, 1987

27 -- Bowden, Mose. JACKSONVILLE FIRE DEPARTMENT. unpublished paper. p.2.

28 -- Haney, Thomas W. ANNUAL REPORT - 1901

29 -- TIMES-UNION, March 25, 1951.

30 -- TIMES-UNION, July 10, 1951

31  -- TIMES-UNION, March 3, 1952

32 -- TIMES-UNION, May 25, 1951.

33 -- Duval County Historical Society, op. cit. p. 263.

34 -- JACKSONVILLE JOURNAL, April 30, 1981.

35 -- TIMES-UNION, March 25, 1951.

36 -- TIMES-UNION, July 2, 1987

37 -- Mencken, H.L. NEWSPAPER DAYS 1899 - 1906. Knopf. 1941 p. 94ff.

38 -- Jacksonville Historical Landmark Commission. PRESERVATION PLAN       Appendix III.

39 -- Mencken. op. cit. p. 105.

40 -- TIMES-UNION, Jan. 15, 1964.

41 -- JACKSONVILLE JOURNAL, July 20, 1939.

42 -- TIMES-UNION, July 21, 1939.

43 -- Caldwell, Joe. "Station Headed For Last Pileup", JACKSONVILLE JOURNAL,  Feb. 8, 1984.

44 -- TIMES-UNION, Jan. 7, 1972

45 - -TIMES-UNION, May 20, 1974.

46 -- JACKSONVILLE JOURNAL, Dec. 30, 1963.

47 – TIMES-UNION, March 16, 1953.

48 -- Tovar, Evelyn "Rescue", TIMES-UNION, March 17, 1980

49 -- JACKSONVILLE JOURNAL, March 12, 1979.

50 -- TIMES-UNION, Aug. 8, 1986.

51 -- Bowden, Mose. Ibid. n.p.

52 -- TIMES-UNION, May 12, 1973.

53 -- TIMES-UNION, Nov. 5, 1975

54 -- JACKSONVILLE JOURNAL, Sept. 4, 1976.

55 -- JACKSONVILLE JOURNAL, Dec. 6, 1976.

56 -- JACKSONVILLE JOURNAL, Oct. 13, 1977.

57 -- JACKSONVILLE JOURNAL, Oct. 24, 1977.

58 -- TIMES-UNION, Sept. 13, 1979

59 -- JACKSONVILLE JOURNAL, March 27, 1980; and TIMES-UNION, March 28, 1980

60 -- JACKSONVILLE JOURNAL, May 7, 1981.

61 -- TIMES-UNION, March 18, 1983

62 -- TIMES-UNION, Feb. 9, 1984.

63 -- JACKSONVILLE JOURNAL, May 24, 1985.

64 -- TIMES-UNION, Dec. 17, 1985.

65 -- TIMES-UNION, Dec. 18, 1985.

66 -- Smith. op. cit. p. 146.


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