History of the Fredericksburg Fire Service
While there were some organized attempts at a fire service in Fredericksburg since shortly after it was formed in 1728, most of those attempts were short-lived and didn't provide the necessary results to protect the citizens from the effects of unwanted fire. Volunteer companies with names like Vigilant, Hope and Union were organized between 1788 and the early 1800's. Like many other cities with volunteer fire companies, fires were frequent and often led to fistfights among the companies on who was going to extinguish the flames. By the time the Civil War broke out in 1861, all of these companies had been disbanded.
After the war, there was no organized fire protection in the City until the Fredericksburg City Council authorized the purchase of a hook and ladder truck with equipment on December 15, 1882. The total purchase price for this equipment was $400.00. Shortly thereafter, the Fredericksburg Volunteer Fire Co. #1 was formed under the leadership of Captain Terrance McCracken and consisted of 30 men. The equipment was originally kept at the City Courthouse until a fire station was erected on Princess Anne Street in 1890. The two-story brick structure feature a belfry in front to hold the fire bell and allow for drying of fire hoses.
All fire apparatus the City owned was pulled to the fires by either manpower or horses up until 1915, when the first motorized piece of fire apparatus was purchased from the Seagrave Corp. of Columbus, Ohio. This unit could pump 350 gallons per minute and had a small chemical tank and ladders. The Fire Department was also placed under the management of the City Manager in the same year, except when attending to fires or in training sessions. The Volunteer Chiefs were given a small stipend for providing organization and supervision of the company.
The first full-time paid men were hired in the early 1920's to operate the fire trucks and keep the station in good repair; they were called "truckmen". They worked 7-days a week, 12-hours a day for the sum of $17.00 per week. With the city becoming large and more populated, the need for a second fire truck became apparent and a 2nd unit was ordered from Seagrave on June 9, 1931 and arrived in Fredericksburg on August 17th of 1931. The truck had a 90hp motor and could pump 500 gallons of water per minute. In March of 1942, a third fire truck was order, again from Seagrave, and had a 750 GPM pump and 100 gallons of water. The arrival was delayed due to shortages in World War II and the unit showed up March of 1943. The fire station was also changed to allow the addition of a third truck bay and removal of the belfry where the fire bell was housed.
The beginnings of the modern-day Fredericksburg Fire Department started in 1945. After several re-organizations of the volunteer fire company and arguments about who would be elected fire chief from among the volunteers, the City Council's Fire Committee met and recommended sweeping changes to the Fire Department. A. Herman Stone was appointed the first full-time Fire Chief in September of 1945 and placed in charge of the seven paid truckmen and the volunteer fire company when they were in training or on fire calls. Also in 1945, the Council approved the purchase of a pumper/aerial with a 65 foot ladder. This unit was delivered in January of 1947 again due to delays in getting the proper materials during the war. The unit had a 1000 GPM pump and was manufactured by American LaFrance. This unit would continue to serve the city until the early 1980's when it was replaced and donated to Steamer Co. #5, a historical fire society in Richmond, VA.
As the city continued to grow and expand the Fire Department grew and expanded with it. Additional paid "truckmen" were hired to provide coverage in a rotating shift format and additional pumpers, again Seagrave units, were delivered in 1955 (due to annexation of a portion of Spotsylvania County) and in 1959. In August of 1967 the first pumper with a roof on it was delivered again by Seagrave, up until then all the City units had featured "open" style cabs.
In 1973, an 85-foot Snorkel on an Oshkosh chassis was delivered to help with increasing the city's ability to reach taller buildings and provide better elevated master streams. This unit would remain in service until replaced in 2003. In 1981, another Seagrave pumper was purchased to replace the 1955 unit. In 1983, a 100-foot rear mounted aerial ladder truck was purchased to replace the 1947 unit. Also in 1983 a Chevy pick-up truck with a pump skid load was purchased to fight brush and woodland fires and the City annexed more land again from Spotsylvania County and this area was fairly rural at the time. This also required the hiring of four (4) additional paid "operators" to meet the requirements of the annexation agreement. These four personnel were brought on in November of 1983 and the first recruit school was held. In 1985, the Fair Labor Standards Act [FLSA] requirements moved the City to leave the 2-platoon system it had in place for years and add a third rotating shift of personnel. Seven (7) personnel were hired in early 1986 and put through recruit school. Upon completion, the department personnel were divided up into the three rotating shifts still used today.
With call volume increasing and the expanded city area, a second fire station was desperately needed and it was built and complete in 1988. The station was named for longtime volunteer firefighter, rescue squadmen and former City Council member Samuel E. Perry.
The ever expanding scope of the firefighters job never became more apparent when in 1988, the City and its' Fire Department entered into an agreement with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management to train, equip and staff one of the Regional Hazardous Materials Response Teams that cover the Commonwealth. The team has grown from a handful of members to a group of over 20 well-trained and equipped technicians to handle the entire gamut of Hazardous Materials Incidents including CBRNE materials.
In 1990 with the Fredericksburg Rescue Squad having a difficult time in finding volunteers to handle calls during the daylight week day hours, the Fire Department again expanded and hired four (4) EMS personnel to staff two ambulances at the Rescue Squad building during the week days. The Fire Department's EMS Division has increased over the years to provide more coverage hours and currently staffs two Medic units, one out of each fire station covering the week day hours.
Currently the Fire Department is comprised of 56 uniformed personnel and four civilians. The Fire Department operates a modern fleet of pumpers, aerials, ambulances and other associated vehicles to meet its' mission of protecting the life and property of those who live, work or travel through our city.