Records indicate that on March 22, 1884, a group of citizens formed a fire fighting force to give fire protection to the rest of the town's citizens. Their equipment consisted of buckets and axes. During that same year, they received a two-wheel hose cart, which was pulled by hand. A volunteer force was formed consisting of 25 citizens.
City fathers organized the fire department. William E. Parker was selected as the city's first Fire Chief. He would go on to hold that position with the city for 50 years. Chief Parker would become one of the nations longest reigning fire chiefs. Chief Parker also worked for the Pony Express and Wells Fargo Company as a telegrapher.
A bond issue was passed to construct a permanent fire station. The old fire station building is located on Calle Principal and houses a restaurant. The city installed its first Gamewell Fire Alarm system in this time period. The fire station was built for future expansion and provisions made for horses and horse drawn apparatus. However this never came to pass, although the fire department did purchase a horse drawn hose wagon. Fire fighting apparatus at this time consisted of two hand drawn hose carts, one hand drawn America La France Bicycle Racing Cart, a Hose Wagon, and a Ladder Wagon. The fire department also maintained a two - circuit fire alarm system and eight alarm boxes that were placed in strategic points throughout the city. The fire alarm system was completed and put into service in 1912.
The fire department volunteer membership continued to grow, numbering about 80 citizens. A second fire station was located in the Oak Grove area of Monterey and a third located in the New Monterey section of the city. Each fire station was equipped with a hand drawn hose cart and miscellaneous fire fighting equipment. Fire Station One, or headquarters, housed a hand drawn ladder wagon and a hand drawn hose cart. Large bells were placed in the towers of these fire stations. Fire fighters would ring these bells to summon other fire fighters to duty. The different fire companies would take great pride in getting to the fire first. It was a race from start to finish, and the best trained company would usually win.
This type of competition still goes on today in the form of Fire Musters that are held throughout the state and nation. Fire fighters will gather together to compete in contests using old fashioned fire fighting equipment, and antique fire pumping apparatus.
A bond issue was passed for the purchase of additional equipment and fire apparatus. On August 6, 1916 the city received its first mechanized fire apparatus. A 1916 Seagrave 750-gallon/minute pumper, consisting of the following equipment- chemical tank, hose bed, and ground ladders. The Seagrave came to the department painted gray, fire apparatus had not yet been associated with the traditional red. The Seagrave pumper cost the citizens $9,500 and it is still used today for parades and public education events.
The City purchased a Maxwell Truck making it into a hose and chemical unit, placing it in the New Monterey Fire Station. In 1929 this piece of equipment was converted into a lighting unit, it was powered by a 75 KW generator and would provide lights at the scene of a fire.
On September 14 lighting struck one of the 55,000 gallon storage tanks that belonged to the Associated Oil Company. The oil tanks were located on Presidio curve off the entrance to the now United States Coast Guard Pier. The fire would burn for three days, putting the Monterey Fire Department and surrounding fire departments to the test. Five additional oil storage tanks would also become involved adding to the raging inferno that blackened the sky of beautiful Monterey.
The fire was brought under control 72 hours after it started. The fire toll was great in terms of life, money, and the environment. Three soldiers from the Presidio at Monterey- Sergeant Beans, Corporal Evans, and Private Bolio volunteered their services to fight the fire. All three lost their lives during the fire. The fire loss was estimated to be in the area of one and one half million dollars. The effect on the environment was staggering. It will never really be known what effect the fire and oil had on the sea life and the creatures that lived there.
The 1916 Seagrave pumped the Associated Oil Tank Fire continuously for 72 hours and was dubbed with the nickname the "Old Gray Mare". The color of the fire engine was gray and it worked like a horse non stop for 72 hours pumping water on the fire.
Two weeks later, September 27, 1924, fire struck the Del Monte Hotel, now the main building at the Naval Postgraduate School. Sparks from the chimney started the fire, which destroyed the magnificent main building of the Del Monte Hotel.
The fire loss was estimated to exceed 1 million dollars.
The City hired its first city manager, changing the governmental process under which the city would operate.
The city passed another bond issue for additional fire apparatus and fire equipment. On July 7, 1926 the fire department received its second fire apparatus, a 1926 Seagrave 1,000 gallon per minute pumper. The Gamewell Fire Alarm system was upgraded from a two circuit system to a six circuit system, which at the time had 50 street alarm boxes connected to it.
The fire fighters honored Chief W.E. Parker for his continuous years of service by presenting him with a 1926 red roadster automobile to ride to and from the fires.
The city faced substantial growth during this period in time. Industrial and residential areas grew at a rapid pace, increasing the number of city streets. Additional fire apparatus was required to handle the city's expansion.
The Cannery Row sardine industry grew rapidly during this time. At one point there were approximately sixteen canneries operating on Cannery Row. These canneries were filled with the by products of the fish- fish oil and fish meal. The wooden building timbers quickly became impregnated with these by products. This oily condition would cause incipient fires to spread rapidly, and cannery buildings would become fully engulfed in flames within minutes.
On November 5, the fire department responded to a fire on Cannery Row, home to the city's sardine fishing industry, and playground of author John Steinbeck, and biologist Doc Rickets. Del Mar Canning Company was on fire. Flames were shooting 35 to 50 feet in the air. The city's two fire engines kept the fire from spreading to adjacent canneries. Fire loss was estimated to exceed one half million dollars.
The fire department at this time consisted of five paid personnel, 1-Chief, 3-drivers, and 1-electrician. 25-on call personnel assisted the paid staff when responding to fires.
The city would be plagued with numerous cannery fires during the next forty years. When the sardines were eventually fished out, the canneries shut down operations and were phased out. Tourism was becoming the main source of revenue for the city. Cannery Row, made famous by author John Steinbeck, was a lure to visitors from all over the world. Many of the fires that occurred on Cannery Row were considered to be arson, or suspicious in nature.
Cannery Row today is the home to hotels, restaurants, retail shops and the Aquarium.
At present, the department has 66 paid personnel and 2 part-time Fire Inspectors and four fire stations. The Fire Department responded to 5,033 incidents in 2008 an increase of 10% over 2007. See our Response Statistics.
The Monterey Fire Department provides fire protection to the U.S. Army Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center at the Presidio of Monterey, Naval Postgraduate School and their housing located at La Mesa Village, as well as the cities of Sand City, Carmel-by-the-Sea and Pacific Grove.
Staffing is 18 personnel per shift, 3-platoon system, 48-96 schedule, and minimum staffing of 15 personnel per shift.
Administrative staffing: 1 Fire Chief, 1 Assistant Fire Chief, 5 Division Chiefs (3 assigned shift work, 1 Training Division Chief, 1 Fire Marshal Division Chief), 1 Deputy Fire Marshal and 2 Part-Time Fire Inspectors. Support personnel in the office include 1 Administrative Analyst, 1 Fire Prevention Technician, 1 Executive Assistant.
The population of the city is approximately 30,000. Due to fire service contracts, and tourism, the fire department services a population exceeding 70,000.
Fire apparatus include: 7 pumping engines, 1 100' Quint Aerial tractor-drawn Tiller Truck, 1 Rescue truck, 1 Type 3 Wildland Unit, 1 Urban Search & Rescue Trailer with equipment, 1 Hazardous Materials trailer, 1 Command vehicle, 5 Staff vehicles, 1 Air Compressor Trailer, and a Fire Boat moored at the breakwater.
The Monterey Fire Department prides itself as being a customer service organization by providing excellent emergency services as well as additional public safety support through Fire Prevention education and Urban Search and Rescue operations.