Historical Blog Series: Redwood City Fire Department Part I: 1861–1987

Department History

In September of 1861 community members called a meeting to organize which later became known as “Redwood City Fire Company №1.” Twenty-three volunteer firefighters enrolled with an initiation fee of $1 and monthly dues of 25 cents. They attended monthly meetings to discuss training, fire safety measures and operations.

The following year the Company took their efforts to the next level by purchasing a man-powered hand pumper fire engine from Cowing and Company of Seneca Falls, New York. The engine cost $616.70 and fired the community up with pride for its modern approach to firefighting. Community women dedicated the sleek engine, made of mahogany and shining brass, with a special banner made of satin and trimmed in gold.

On April 7, 1864, the Fire Company fought its first major fire, which despite their best efforts destroyed the American Hotel. However, they saved the Eureka Hotel next door by pumping water from a nearby cistern. As the town grew, fires became more frequent. In 1889 the Fire Company asked the town trustees to take over the Fire Company as they were unable to maintain it. The town trustees agreed and immediately ordered a hook-and-ladder wagon and a hose cart, starting what would become the Redwood City Fire Department (RCFD) as it is known today.

In 1915, Mark E. Ryan was elected Fire Chief of the Department and a new era began. The first motorized fire engine was ordered and delivered, featuring a chemical engine with a body for carrying hoses built by the Schnerr Company in San Francisco.

Chief Ryan combined all the fire companies into one organization and in 1920 the firehouse on Middlefield Road was built. The Department hired its first six paid firefighters in 1931 Chief Ryan became the first paid Fire Chief. In 1936 volunteer firefighters also began to receive pay. In 1958 the Department purchased a fireboat, paid for by the Port and maintained and staffed by the Fire Department. It protected the Port and boaters until it was sold in 1978. Its most memorable moment came in 1969 when it sailed up Redwood Creek to help fight the Franks Tannery fire.

In 1961 the Redwood City Fire Department celebrated its centennial. It was a week-long celebration kicked off with a proclamation by the Mayor and the City Council, a banquet at headquarters, and a grand parade. A museum was also established in a vacant store on Broadway, which wives and friends operated for many months. The artifacts are now dispersed between the City Library, County Museum, and Fire Station 10.

Fire Stations

The first firehouse was built on Main Street in 1862 and its fire bell was purchased in 1864.

The next firehouse was not built until 1920. This was Station 1 on Middlefield Road (our current library!) In 1933 the first drill tower built outside of San Francisco was added to its rear.

Later in 1933 City Hall staff occupied the top floor of Station 1 while City Hall was being expanded (previous to the late 90’s construction of the modern day City Hall). After City Hall staff moved back to their building, the top floor of Station 1 was converted into a dormitory for the firefighters.

In 1947 a $1 million bond initiative was passed, with the bulk of the money used to upgrade the City’s water system, add a third station and enlarge Station 1 — which was done in 1953.

In 1984 Station 1 was declared unsafe in the event of an earthquake. Personnel moved to temporary quarters while a new Station 1 was planned and built. The crew and equipment moved out of the station to trailers on Franklin Street, where they operated from for three years — two years longer than planned. In 1987 the Station 1 crew moved into their new fire house on Marshall Street (currently Station 9).

Tune in later this month for part tw in the series, which takes us into present day.

Learn more

Want to know more about the Redwood City Fire Department (RCFD)?

Follow them on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter. You can also lookup the hashtag #RCFDPrevention throughout the month of October to learn about the Department, Fire Prevention Month, and fire safety tips.

To learn more on our website go here.