History of the Tracy Fire Department
Tracy was established in 1878 at the junction of two railroad lines and was named after a Central Pacific Railroad official, Lathrop J. Tracy. The City of Tracy incorporated in 1910 when its population was 2,000. The town was a booming railroad hub surrounded by farms and ranches. Several devastating structure fires struck downtown Tracy and prompted the City to organize a fire department in 1912.
The newspaper headline read, “Heart of Tracy Eaten by Flames!” On the night of June 19, 1898, a major fire occurred. The fire, believed to have started in Ms. Minnie’s Restaurant at 6th and “C” Streets, quickly spread to an adjacent saloon. The only firefighting that was done consisted of a single hose line run from the Southern Pacific Rail Yard, but it was a futile effort. The fire was unstoppable. It grew into a huge conflagration, wiping out homes, a drugstore, saloons and other businesses over a four-block radius, including the Tracy Hotel. All the years of hard work that had been put into building the town was destroyed on that fateful night. After this tragic incident, the citizens of Tracy knew there was no way the town would have a future without adequate fire protection. Another 12 years would pass, along with more devastating fire loss, before an organized fire department was established.
After the incorporation of the city in 1910, it was determined that there was a need for the establishment of an organized fire department. The City of Tracy Fire Department was established under Ordinance Number 12 by the City of Tracy Board of Trustees on November 3, 1910. This ordinance also established the city’s fire district boundaries. Tracy’s firefighting force initially consisted of nothing more than “bucket brigades” from volunteers summoned during a fire. A city owned building on 7th Street, just west of Central Avenue, was utilized as Tracy’s very first firehouse. Today, the building still stands next to the original Tracy Hall of Justice, and is in fact part of the new Grand Theatre building.
Tom Eagan served as the city’s first Volunteer Fire Chief. He was later appointed as the first paid Fire Chief in 1918. In 1912, the city purchased its first hose cart, which could be used to tie into cisterns that were linked to the city’s evolving water system. The firefighters received no pay for their service and had to drag hose carts to the fire. On August 16, 1916, the city passed a $19,000 bond that provided for a new firehouse and fire engine. The engine, an American La France, was purchased in September of 1916 for $6,000. The firehouse, located at 835 Central Avenue, was a multi-use facility. It was also the City Hall, housed the City Clerk, and also served as the City Jail. The Council Chamber was located upstairs, along with the sleeping quarters for the volunteer firefighters. It was dedicated at a public ceremony on April 27, 1917 and served as the municipal headquarters until the city offices were moved in 1947.
City Ordinance Number 60 was adopted on July 11, 1918, which created the formation of a paid fire department in Tracy. The newly created fire department was to consist of 14 members, including a fire chief and truck driver. At the time, the fire chief was paid a monthly salary of $10.00 and the truck driver was paid $75.00. All other members of the department received $2.00 per month for their services.
The Tracy Fire Department continued to serve its citizens from the centrally located firehouse downtown. During the late 1930’s to early 1940’s, the department was running out of space to store its equipment at the Central Avenue station. A city owned building, located on 6th Street, just east of Central Avenue, was remodeled to provide a kitchen and sleeping quarters for the men who were on-duty. This building became known as Fire Station 2. A few years later, after renovations of Fire Station 1 provided more room for storage and equipment, the use of Fire Station 2 was no longer necessary. In fact, there is no record of its use after the late 1940’s.
In the early 1950’s, as the World War II era was coming to an end, Fire Chief Charles E. “Roxy” Hudson was able to secure new and more modern equipment with the purchase of two new pumper trucks, both built on Dodge chassis. By the late 1950’s, when Fire Chief Herb Peters was the top brass, the department’s force had grown to employ 15 paid firemen and 13 volunteers. With the increased staffing, the department was able to become more involved in the community by conducting fire safety inspections in businesses and residences.
Throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, the Tracy region began to experience significant growth. At the same time, the city and rural departments began to emerge as strong, professional forces and worked hard to better equip their personnel. It was also in the 1970’s that the first talks of department consolidation began. Like many departments throughout California, both organizations also started using such innovations as self-contained breathing apparatus, Hurst rescue tools, ladder trucks, and water tenders.
In the early 1980’s, Fire Chief Dan Watrous had the vision to see that additional fire protection resources and personnel would be needed due to the city’s rapid growth. Chief Watrous saw to it that two more firehouses were built and placed in strategic locations for better response times throughout the city. Fire Station 2 (now Station 96) was built to protect the north end of the city at a cost of $335,000 dollars. It opened for service on February 18, 1983. Fire Station 3 (now Station 97) was built to protect the south end of town and was officially dedicated on April 9, 1986.
In 1989, after the Loma Prieta Earthquake, Fire Station 1 was deemed uninhabitable due to structural damage. A temporary mobile home was moved onto the property and served as the fire company’s living quarters until 2005. The damaged firehouse would still be used for training and housed several pieces of fire apparatus. Fire Administration offices were moved to City Hall on 10th Street. The late 1980’s and 1990’s also saw the use of automated external defibrillators (AED’s), positive pressure ventilation, and a modernization of fire apparatus.
Tracy experienced a few major fires that would change the way it did business. The True Value Hardware fire of 1987 and the Opera House fire of 1991 would force Tracy to adopt better fire attack methods, a personnel accountability system and the Incident Command System (ICS). In 1994, Tracy Fire and the Tracy Rural entered into an automatic-aid agreement, which would call for the closest fire engine to respond to a call, regardless of which fire protection boundaries it happened to be in. Both departments also began to train together on a frequent basis and adopt the same standard operating procedures.
In 1999, following years of talks, an official merge between the City of Tracy Fire Department and the Tracy Rural Fire Protection District became official.