While preparing the story of the history of the Mesquite Fire Department, literally thousands of photographs were sorted, labeled, and scanned. By chance, one photo captured the interest of this committee. It was an old photo, most likely taken mid-1940's, at what appeared to be a Fourth of July celebration. On a banner, painted on the stage were the words, “Mesquite Volunteer Fire Department, organized 1916, reorganized 1939." Could this be? Local tradition has told us that our department was officially organized in 1939 when 13 men got together to form a more efficient fire fighting group. Upon the rediscovery of this old photo, imaginations ran wild and the painstaking task of research began.
The core of the search of this “new" history began in the Mesquite Public Library, scrolling through years of microfilm of The Texas Mesquiter, now The Mesquite News, the longest continuously running newspaper in Dallas County. Much to the dismay of the researchers, a close inspection of the 1916 news produced little useful information. Several stories in the news that year mentioned fires, but not about the men who fought them or any insight as to the origin of our department. But the search continued, hoping to find something that could be useful for this project.
The big break came while looking through the 1962 news. Headlines read, “Mesquite Fire Department celebrates 50 years of service. This would place the beginning in 1912, not 1916 as the old photo had suggested. A review of the 1912 news included several stories about the town purchasing fire equipment and the need to organize a fire department, but no proof of any such department was found. One article in the news that year even asks the question, what happened to the lost fire department that was scheduled to be organized earlier that year. But the 1962 news article indicated the information we were looking for could be found in the minutes of the Mesquite City Council meetings.
Our focus then turned to the City Secretaries office. As we began looking through old council minutes, we found reports that the aldermen discussed the need for a fire fighting apparatus in the December 1909 meeting and again in February 1910, but no vote was recorded. At the second meeting, a committee composed of A.H. Cooper and W.W. Bennett was appointed to investigate the different fire fighting apparatus with view of buying.
The question of fire protection came up again at the September 1, 1910 meeting. A committee consisting of A.W. Summers, J.W. Bovell, W.O. Parker, and R.S. Kimbrough was appointed to investigate the Eureka Company, which was placed before the council by Mr. Newbegin. It is recorded that his product, the Phoenix Extinguisher, consisted of a tube with soda acid inside. It was so affordable that every business and resident could afford to purchase one or two to have on their property. This would be the first record of fire extinguishers being introduced into Mesquite.
On May 2, 1912, the mayor introduced to the council, Mr. Hamblin from the Southern Apparatus Company. After explaining his proposition to the council, “There were several discussions in regard to an outfit for the town. A motion was made by A.W. Summers and seconded by N.A. Holley for the mayor to appoint a committee to investigate his proposition. Motion carried and J.R. Scott and A.W. Summers were appointed.
The town council met on May 10, 1912 in special session for the purpose of considering the proposition of purchasing a fire fighting outfit for the town. After having it thoroughly explained by representatives from the American LaFrance Company and the Southern Apparatus Company, the council carefully investigated and considered this purchase. A motion was made and carried that the town purchase a double tank unit. “The same to be bought from the Southern Apparatus Company and said company to give demonstration to the entire satisfaction of the council and upon such satisfaction the above mention apparatus becomes the property of the town of Mesquite for which they agree to pay the agreed sum... The price was not included in the minutes, but an earlier article in the news suggested the price would be between $250.00 and $300.00. The article said this engine would hold 70 gallons of water and when mixed with soda and sulphuric acid would generate a pressure of 200 pounds and was expected to throw water about 30 feet. Records were not located to confirm the style of apparatus but this was most likely a hand drawn cart. This would prove to be the first piece of fire fighting equipment the City of Mesquite would purchase.
In the July 11, 1912 council meeting, J.R. Scott was instructed to buy 100# soda acid for the fire engine. Mayor Bennett then appointed Alva Summers as the first fire marshal for the city. His salary was set at $25.00 per year, making him the first paid fireman in Mesquite.
The council met on July 18, 1912 in special session for the purpose of organizing the fire department. The following men were present: Mayor W.W. Bennett, aldermen N.A. Holley, J.R. Scott, Alva Summers, and L.C. Stewart. Those appointed to the first Mesquite Fire Department were:
A. F. Gross
J. U. Bovell
W. R. Stamps
James S. Lawrence
O. B. Kimbal
E. B. Cullum
Other early important dates and events for the Mesquite Fire Department include April 17, 1913, when the city council passed the first fire ordinance. This ordinance had been read at previous meetings, but was voted down. Sarcasm was detected by the council secretary when recording the minutes by writing, “The third and final reading was approved. Finely passed.”
In April 1916, the account of $25.00 to Alva Summers for his services as fire marshal was deferred and the council ordered the fire marshal to make a report of his work. No report was ever recorded in the minutes and on February 1, 1917, Alva Summers’ services were discontinued. Joe Asberry was then appointed as temporary fire marshal.
January 1918, the council passed a resolution to authorize the mayor to pay $100.00 from the general fund for information leading to the arrest and conviction of any party or parties guilty of arson within the city limits. Record of this practice being discontinued has not been found.
In the April 1919 council meeting, the fire marshal was instructed to make inspections of the residence district of the city and was to be allowed the expense incurred in doing so. This would become the first home inspection.
April 1921, A.J. Miller was appointed as the third fire marshal and immediately reported to the council with the first recorded fire marshal’s report. The report included ten notices including flue repair, gas pump repair, trash removal, removal of coppers from fuse sockets, and removal of kindling from under stairway. It also shows there were four fire alarms during the year for a total loss of $1200.00 including $250.00 caused to the property of Mrs. M.R. Gross and $40.00 loss to the property of Mr. J.F. McCullough that had started from a grass fire.
Alderman L.C. Ebrite made a motion in September 1923, and was seconded by N.J. Porter, to organize a city fire department. The motion carried and the council authorized the secretary to begin organizing. No other record was found of this reorganization.
Fire marshal A.F. Tosch reported several fires during the April 1925 council meeting. The report showed a loss of $8800.00 in property damages for the year. The fire department laid 2800 feet of hose fighting these fires. The first fire was caused by a bad flue, the second by carelessness, third and forth was an unknown cause, the fifth was caused by electrical wiring, and the sixth and seventh by gross negligence. The key rate had been reduced by 15% that year. At this meeting, A. F. Tosch was paid the sum of $25.00 for the year for his services as fire marshal.
A council meeting was called on December 20, 1926 for the purpose of assisting in the reorganization of the fire department. The men chosen were;
Chief A.F. Tosch
1st Assistant Chief W.E. Lawrance
2nd Assistant Chief O.B. Kimble
The citizens of Mesquite that were present at this meeting selected these men for the department. These new officers were given the authority of complete the organization since they were in touch with those efficient in fire fighting and were to report to the council when the organization was completed. Two days later, a meeting was called and a committee was appointed to investigate and submit a proposition to the council concerning the purchase of a fire truck. The committee was C.M. Pruitt-chairman, B.F. Galloway, and Jack Walker. The committee went right to work locating a truck suitable for the needs of the city. On January 6, 1927, a special meeting was called for the purpose of looking at the equipment. Those on the committee requested the entire council and mayor drive to Grand Prairie and look at their REO fire truck. After a thorough inspection, the council decided to purchase a new REO truck chassis for $500.00 and equip it with a pump and equipment as nearly the same as possible to the one in Grand Prairie. At the January meeting, the council drove to Love Field to inspect the work of the Southern Fire Equipment Co. When they returned, they inspected the Raney and Tobey Co., the American LaFrance Co. and the F. & S. Body Works. Each of these companies was requested to submit a proposition for the city. February 2, the council held a special meeting to open bids for the fire equipment. The Southern Fire Equipment Co., American LaFrance Corp., and the Raney and Tobey Co submitted bids and after due consideration, it was decided by vote to award the contract to Raney and Tobey Co. for the amount of $2150.00 to equip the new REO truck with pump and equipment. In April, after a demonstration and test of the fire truck and pump by the Raney and Tobey Co. dealers, the council was satisfied and ordered the equipment bought. The total price of truck and equipment being $2650.00. (Side note) REO stands for Ransom Eli Olds, founder of the Oldsmobile.
On November 18,1927, the council agreed to pay B.F. Galloway $8.50 per month as rental on his building near the corner of Main and Galloway for housing the fire truck. The area of the building to be used by the fire department was approximately ten feet by twenty-six feet in size. The building was to be walled with shiplap and roofing paper so as to make it as nearly freeze proof as possible. This would be Mesquite Fire Departments first fire station. Prior to this date, fire equipment was housed at various locations, wherever anyone had room in their shed.
Few fire department records were located between 1927 and February 1938 when a committee was formed to buy a truck chassis and make a trade to overhaul the pump and equipment and have it installed on the new chassis. On May 13, 1938, the front page of The Texas Mesquiter included a picture of the newly excepted fire truck. The truck was a 1938 Chevy with a 200-gallon booster tank with a 350-gpm pump. Current fire marshal, C.G. Parker was seated at the wheel. The city paid $1100.00 for the rig but it was estimated at being worth $3500.00. F.I. Walker paid $15.00 for an old fire truck chassis at the June council meeting. The minutes recorded that there were no bids above that amount. Records did not indicate the manufacture of this equipment but this sale was most likely the REO.
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