History of the California Volunteer Fire Department

     The present California Volunteer Fire Department was born in December of 1907.  It had its home in the old Borough Building at 321 Fourth St..  The only equipment they had was a hand-drawn hose cart and 1200 feet of fire hose. In 1909, the department moved into a frame building at the corner of First and Wood St..  This was donated, along with a whistle, a nozzle, coats, boots and a hose cart by the late R.B. Drum, then general Superintendent of the Vesta Coal Company.
    The old Borough Building was completed in 1914 and the Fire Department moved into its new quarters.  Provided for them in this building was a hose tower.  At the same time, the department bought its first motor-driven fire engine, a two-cylinder chemical truck, comically called “The Peanut Roaster” for $1,300.00. In 1924, a disastrous fire struck California.  The entire block adjoining the now National City Bank was destroyed.  With the ruins still smoldering, the firemen put on a fun-raising drive.  Within 10 days, they had collected $12,500.00 and purchased a 750-gpm American LaFrance pumper.

    In 1945, after standing still for 20 years due to the depression, the department was able to buy its second truck, another 750 gpm American LaFrance pumper. In 1953, a third American LaFrance pumper was purchased, this time a 500-gpm unit. With the increase in equipment, the department had outgrown its quarters in the old Borough Building.  The firemen, doing labor themselves, constructed the present Fire Station on the site of the 1909 Fire Station.  They built the engine room, the following year; the remainder of the building was constructed.

    In 1958, due to the amount of boating on the Monongahela River, the department felt it necessary to purchase a motor boat for use in water rescue. In 1960, the department decided that the maintenance costs of the 1945 truck warranted the purchase of a new one.  In May, the 1945 truck was traded in on the latest of American LaFrance equipment, this time a 750 gpm Pumper costing $28,000.00.

    Due to the increase of assists with Greenlief Funeral Home (Greenlief’s ran the only ambulance service in California at that time until the Citizens Ambulance Service was formed in 1975), the department purchased a 1963 Ford Squad truck.  Greenlief had a few men who assisted him and when they needed extra manpower they called the Fire Department.  The Fire Department would run automatically on all cardiac arrest calls.

    In 1965, the department bought a 1952 American LaFrance Aerial. The Aerial had a height of 65 feet.  At the time of the purchase, it was high enough to protect the town and University.  To make room for this Aerial, a bay had to be added to the station.  The firemen built this bay for the truck with help from the members of the department. In 1968, due to the increased number of field fires, the department bought a ½ ton, four-wheel drive pick-up truck. Members of the department made a Brush Truck out of this unit.

    With the town and the University continuing to grow, the pumping capacity of the Fire Department’s Pumpers (2 – 750 gpm) was inadequate to fight a major fire in California.  In 1971, the department purchased another American LaFrance Pumper for $52,000.00.  The pumping capacity of this pumper is 1250 gpm.  The 1971 pumper replaced the 1953 pumper (which was sold to Rices Landing VFD).  The late Harold Gregory, past Chief of the California Volunteer Fire Department later purchased this truck. His son, Lee, now has the truck and still takes it to parades today.

    During the Nations Bicentennial Year of 1976, the department undertook two major changes.  They had a contractor remodel the Fire Station.  They had a rear wall in the Engine room removed and added 22 feet to the Engine room.  The department also had the 1960 pumper repowered and repainted.

    California’s Borough Council Members and citizens of California formed a Citizens Ambulance Service in 1976.  The state had passed to many regulations for Greenlief’s to man and furnish the Community with an Ambulance Service.  The only problems with the Citizens Ambulance Service were there was no place to house them and no one to make the runs.  Due to the community devotion of the members of the department, they housed and supplied the personnel to run the Ambulance until they took delivery of a Tanker in 1978.

    After much deliberation among the members, it was decided in 1977 that the department needed a Tanker to fight Structure fires in the country.  The department, in 1978, took delivery of a 1978 Ford Tanker truck built by Four Guys Inc. for $58,000.00.  The members of the department designed the jet system on the Tanker, which is used to empty the water out of the tank faster.  The Tanker carries 2500 gallons of water, and also carries a 2500-gallon drop tank on it.

    The 1968 Brush truck was becoming outdated and was replaced in 1980 with a 1974 ¾ ton four-wheel drive truck.  The department members again turned this unit into a brush truck. This time, they added two portable pumps for drafting out of ponds, pools and cisterns for rural firefighting, and for pumping water out of basements. In 1983, the 1960 pumper was replaced with an American LaFrance 1250 gpm pumper for $131,000.00.  The 1960 pumper was sold to Crucible VFD. 

    The department decided to adopt red and silver as our colors and the 1983 pumper was designed after it.  At this time, this truck is our second out pumper in California today. Due to the increased difficulty in extricating victims from vehicle accidents, in May of 1984, the department decided to purchase a Hurst Tool and various other rescue equipment.  The department now has over $20,000.00 in Hurst Tool equipment, and various other specialized rescue equipment.  The department said it was a lot of money to spend on a few hydraulic tools, but if it saved one life, it would be worth it.  The second time they used it in August of 1984, it saved the life of a young woman who literally had the car crushed in all around her.

    California was hit by a major disaster in 1985 (Election Day Flood). California Firefighters spent 320 hours straight on duty, pumping basements of stores and homes, rescuing trapped people and disconnecting utilities as the river came up.  The station had 33 inches of water in it, and the station was temporarily moved to the corner of Third and Wood St. until the river receded.  The Fire Station incurred $14,000.00 in damages due to the flood.

    In 1987, the department added 30 pagers for $12,000.00.  The members to alert them when there is an emergency carry these. We now have 45 pagers, which are close to being needed to be replaced.

    In 1989, the 1952 Aerial was replaced by a 1972 American LaFrance 100-foot Aerial.  The upward construction of the community and University made the 65-foot Aerial inadequate for fire protection.  This truck was purchased for $75,841.00.  
In 1992, the department replaced the 1963 Ford Squad truck with a 1992 International Custom Rescue Truck.  The members of the department again designed this truck.  This truck is used to carry all the specialty rescue equipment such as the Hurst Tool, various rope/high-angle rescue equipment, water rescue equipment and medical supplies.  This truck was purchased for $100,000.00.

    In 1994, the department replaced the 1974 brush truck with a 1994 Ford F-350 four-wheel drive truck.  Again, the members of the department designed this truck, and also built it themselves.  This truck carries 200 gallons of water, is capable of pumping 200 gpm, carries 150 feet of 1 ½ attack hose, 100 feet of 2 ½ supply hose, 2 – 350 gpm portable pumps and various tools for field/forest fires.

In December of 1999, the 1971 pumper was replaced by a 2000 Pierce Dash Heavy Pumper.  This truck carries 1000 gallons of water, has the capability of pumping 2250 gpm.  This is a state of the art apparatus and was delivered on December 3rd, 1999.  This truck cost $289,000.00.  The 1971 American LaFrance is currently used as a reserve apparatus.

    As you can see, the price of equipment continually rises. Due to the increase in federal and state regulations the department now must get involved in Hazardous Materials equipment and training.  All members are trained to the level of Haz-Mat R&I, also 8 members are trained at the Operations level, and one member trained at the Technician Level.  We also have one member, which is a member of the Washington County Hazardous Materials Team.

    The department now runs 6 trucks out of our station, 2 heavy pumpers, a 100-foot aerial, a rescue, a tanker and a brush truck.  Along with our boat for water rescue, and the 1971 American LaFrance as a reserve piece. In January of 2000, the department adopted a program, which allows university students, who belong to a department in their hometown, to join our department.  From this program, we now have three members, which are full-time students.

    In the spring of 2004, we anticipate breaking ground for our new station.  We will be located in a more centralized location for our response area. More details will be listed as the progress continues on the new station.