In 1910, Garden Grove was a bustling agricultural village with a population of 1,200. A spectacular $50,000 Knapp Chili warehouse fire occurred in May 1922, gutting three packing houses, two boxcars, and damaging a refrigeration car. Later that year, another major fire saw the Hogue Barber Shop and an adjoining bakery destroyed for an $8,000 loss. In November 1924, another Knapp chili house burned, this time taking with it five drying houses, four warehouses, and 25 tons of chili peppers representing $30,000 in losses. Fire protection was one of the most urgent utility needs of the community in the early days, but it was among the last to be satisfied.
E.J. "Toby" Tobias, who had been a firefighter in Mansfield, Ohio before making Garden Grove his home, was particularly sensitive to the urgency of the need for fire protection. When asked at a Lions Club meeting what he thought was the most important priority for the rapidly developing town, without hesitation he replied, "a fire department."
In October 1926, the Garden Grove County Fire Protection District No. 1, also called the Garden Grove Volunteer Fire Department, was formed. The new department protected 1,700 people and property with an assessed value of $278,000 and an area of approximately four square miles. E.J. Tobias was appointed the first fire chief in early 1927; a position which he was to hold for 25 years. The department was administered by a Board of Fire Commissioners who were later replaced by the Orange County Board of Supervisors. The department's first roster of 25 firefighters was drawn principally from the ranks of the local American Legion. An electric siren activated from the local telephone station and mounted on the city water tower behind the depot sounded the alarms.
Garden Grove Engine No. 1, an American La France pumper equipped with a six-cylinder Continental engine and 400-gallon capacity, rotor pumps, 100-gallon booster tank, and 1,000 feet of 2 1/2 inch hose, arrived on October 10, 1927. The purchase price was $5,892.75. It was delivered to H. E. Dungan's Service Station and Garage located on the northwest corner of Euclid and Stanford Avenue. The La France Engine No. 1 was quartered here until the first fire station was constructed.
The following year, in 1928, a modern fire station was constructed at 10811 Garden Grove Boulevard. It was 32 feet by 52 feet and included a dormitory, locker room, kitchen, apparatus room and hose tower. It was built for a cost of $3,000. This building served the city as the fire department's headquarters until February, 1972. (Home Depot is now located on this property.)
By 1930 Garden Grove has swollen to a full-fledged township with a rapidly developing commercial/industrial sector and a resident population of over 5,000. In 1938, a Red Cross First Aid Station was established at the fire station. It was not until 10 years later, however, that the department purchased its first resuscitator. As medical aid calls increased with the population growth, the need for a rescue vehicle was apparent and Rescue and Salvage Truck No. 1 was added to the department in 1954. It was a one-ton Chevrolet panel truck, specifically modified and equipped for rescue, salvage and overhaul operations.
During the Garden Grove County Fire Protection District No. 1's first two decades of existence, alarms had soared dramatically, reflecting the town's flourishing development. Records indicate that there was a total of 12 alarms in 1930, 15 alarms in 1940, and 38 alarms in 1950. By 1955, however, total alarms had increased to 225.
In September 1955, the Fire Department hired its first roster of full-time firefighters and then Chief Marion Umphress thus became the first full-time Fire Chief. These six firefighters included S. Beitler, J. Dossett, G. Fuller, R. Honold, F. Parry, and S. Sparks. For the first time in Garden Grove's history, it had a fully manned fire department operating on a 24-hour, seven-days-per-week basis. In 1953 and 1956 additions were made to the station as the department expanded to meet the town's needs.
The year 1956 was an eventful one, as it marked the town of Garden Grove's official incorporation as the "City of Garden Grove." The Garden Grove County Fire Protection District No. 1 took over fire protection duties for all city areas not previously included in the district's boundaries. A Fire Prevention Bureau was created and Captain S. Beitler was chosen to head it as the first Fire Marshal. On January 1, 1958, however, the City of Garden Grove took over the reins of the Fire Protection District and the "Garden Grove Fire Department" was officially born. The new city proudly approved the appointment of Chief Umphress and 18 firefighters into the "classified service" of its fire department.
As the city's population continued to soar, reaching 84,238 in 1960, new fire stations were being added at a rapid rate in order to keep up with the mushrooming growth and its effect on the community- Station No. 2 in 1958; Station No. 3 in 1959; and Station No. 4 in 1960.
By 1960, the Garden Grove Fire Department was responding to nearly 1,100 alarms annually. Total fire losses for that year were $159,245, with 45 percent of the alarms listed as fires and 29 percent as rescues. December 1961 brought an end to the era of the Volunteer Fire Company. The city had maintained a small group of volunteer firemen for emergency service. After 35 years of outstanding community service, this unit was officially dissolved.
Fire Chief Eugene Mahoney, who later became Public Safety Director, developed a plan to convert residential homes to fire stations. This concept was implemented when Station No. 6 (1971) and Station No. 7 (1972) were built. Van Pelt pumpers were housed at these locations.
In 1972, the fire department headquarters and Station No. 1 were moved to the City's Public Safety Building, located at 11301 Acacia Parkway, which it shared with the Police Department. In January, 1979, the Garden Grove Fire Department headquarters moved into a separate facility added to the Public Safety Building. This addition was designed by the firm of Anthony & Langford Associates - the designer of the Net 4 Joint Powers Fire Training/Communications Center (Anaheim, Garden Grove, Orange), which opened in May, 1978. This facility is located at 2400 E. Orangewood Avenue and is the site of the major portion of the department's current training activities.
The year 1974 was a very significant one, not only for the Garden Grove Fire Department, but also for the city's residents, as well. In that year, citizens overwhelmingly approved a small tax increase to provide the necessary base funds for initiating fire paramedic services in Garden Grove. By the end of 1974, eight veteran firefighters had entered paramedic training at Orange County Medical Center (now U.C.I. Medical Center). Station No. 5 was constructed in the heart of a planned industrial park in 1974 and housed the second paramedic unit.
In early 1975, two specially equipped Dodge vans arrived and the city's first paramedic unit, Medic 4-1, went into service in March of that year. After only one month of service, Medic 4-1 had responded to nearly 200 medical aid calls along with engine companies. The second paramedic unit, Medic 4-2 went into service in January 1976, and by the end of that year, medical aid calls jumped to more than 300 per month.
In early 1979, the 1974 Dodge paramedic vans were replaced by 1978 model Horton modular units. At the time of their retirement from service, medical aid calls were averaging 450 calls per month and accounted for approximately two-thirds of the department's total alarm incidents.
The year 1980 saw the Garden Grove Fire Department operating seven fire stations geographically situated throughout the city serving 120,000 residents. First-line equipment and apparatus included: one 85-foot Snorkel; three Van Pelt 750-G.P.M. pumpers; one 1250-G.P.M. Seagrave pumper; two 1250-G.P.M. Beck pumpers; two 1978 Horton modular paramedic trucks; and one 1980 model 1250-G.P.M. Crown paramedic engine. Auxiliary power and lighting, as well as an air bottle filling station for emergency operations, are being provided by an American-Bristol Mobile Air Compressor ("M.A.C.") unit. Statistics indicate that the department had responded to more than 9,700 alarms annually, and was constantly manned by 99 sworn personnel with staff support provided by 5.5 civilians.
The last decade of the Twentieth Century, 1990's, a period that was dedicated to protecting our environment. Environmental compliance concerns included hazardous materials disclosure, developing safe methods of handling and disposing of hazardous substances, underground tank regulations, and air quality, etc. Even air quality on the apparatus floor was addressed and vehicle exhaust ventilation systems (PLYMOVENT) were installed in each fire station. In July 1994, management responsibilities for the communications center transferred to the City of Anaheim, with a physical relocation to a modern 5,000 square foot facility on the third floor of Anaheim's City Hall West. In 1996, the fire chiefs of Anaheim, Fullerton, Garden Grove, and Orange met with the fire chiefs of Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach and Newport Beach. They agreed that there would be cost savings benefits in combining the communications operations of the Central and North Net Fire Communications Center. Through negotiations, the Metro Net Fire Communications Center was formed using a Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) System. From 1977 to 1994, the communications center was located in the basement of the North Net Training Center.
In 1996, a volunteer fire prevention program was developed as a career opportunity for those interested in a career in the fire service. As a Fire Prevention Intern, individuals learn skills, gain experience, and are part of the team. The department has utilized and benefited from the professional development and promotional opportunity of this program. To date seven former interns have successfully been hired by Garden Grove Fire Department and five others obtained employment with other agencies.
As we look back on an admirable history, an achievement of "Garden Grove Pride" is reflected in the original Fire Engine No. 1. As a joint project of the Garden Grove Fire Fighters Local 2005, Fire Engine No. 1 has been restored after several years of work. The City's first fire engine rolled down the streets of Garden Grove once again, 61 years after it was purchased by the City, making its debut at the Strawberry Festival Parade on May 28, 1988. This award-winning unit is now stored in a replica of the original fire station at the Garden Grove Historical Society's Heritage Park. Recently one of Garden Grove's last remaining strawberry fields was developed into a residential area with a street named after the first fire chief, Eugene Tobias Drive.
Through these pictures our past reflects the changing face of the fire service. Compared to how we started years ago - Technology has brought self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), protective clothing and lightweight hose, high-speed cutting saws, hydraulic rescue tools, airbags, and Paramedic Assessment Units with trained personnel that can deliver Advanced Life Support (ALS), defibrillators, etc. Recently bulletproof vests were acquired to protect firefighters during emergency calls and fire investigations.
The essence of this fire department has not changed, but the methods, technology, equipment, and level of training have changed dramatically. From the past, we now move into the Twenty First Century. The City of Garden Grove is experiencing an upsurge of growth and development, which includes upscale high-rise hotels and restaurants located in the Chapman Avenue/Harbor Boulevard area. Garden Grove Fire Department will continue to respond to meet the needs of the community and will continue to do so with the resources made available.