Pearland Volunteer Fire Department

 
     
 

History of the Pearland Volunteer Fire Department

 
     
 

In January 1944, fire destroyed Pearland Elementary School. There was no organized fire department at that time, so fire fighting was done by neighbors using buckets. Residents were determined not to let this happen again, and so, in 1946 Pearland’s Volunteer Fire Department was formed. By February 1947, there were 20 members.

The first Fire Chief was Clyde Oblinger, who lived at and operated Monarch Welding and Supply. He donated the use of his shop, on North Main Street just across from Pearland State Bank, as the first fire station. The first fire truck was built by the members themselves. They acquired a truck chassis, built and added a water tank, then added the pump and hose.

In August 1947, a Ford model fire-pumper truck was obtained from the Brazoria County Association. Chief Oblinger would pull the fire truck out of his shop in the morning, then go ahead with his daily routine of providing welding services, and at closing would park the truck back inside for the night.

Through the many long hours of hard work by the firemen and by the contributions of local businesses and citizens, the department was kept running during these first years. Sometimes it became necessary to do a complete over-haul job on the equipment overnight. It was, of course, hoped there would be no fire so the truck and equipment would be operational by the next morning.

The first protective fire helmets were acquired for the department in the early 1950’s when two of our past Chief’s, G.H. “Ham” Haskins and Huey Raney, Sr., walked into old Fords Café with one in hand. After sitting down and ordering a cup of coffee, they started discussing just how they were going to raise enough money to purchase twenty of these fire helmets. A group of four men sitting at another table close by was approached by Ham Haskins, who placed the helmet in the middle of their table and asked, “Do you want to buy that hat and donate it to the fire department?” The question was asked, “How much does it cost?” “Eighteen dollars.” Was Ham’s answer. Well, the first man said, “Yes, I’ll buy one.” And in turn, the three remaining men also bought one each and donated them to the department. Upon leaving Ford’s Café, Haskins and Raney discussed the incident. Both men decided to take opposite sides of Main Street and approach all the businesses. When they reached the end of Main Street, enough money had been raised to purchase fire helmets for every fireman.

Also in the early 1950’s, land was obtained from the Commissioners Court of Brazoria County to build a fire station. The land was in the forty foot esplanade in the center of South Grand Boulevard at the intersection of F.M. 518. The building consisted of a small office area, an adjoining single bay opening to the front, and two side by side bays opening to the rear. The building faced the north and sat on the south side of 518 or Broadway as it is known today. A water district had been formed also and shared the space in this building.

A new Chief was elected, H.D. “Buck” Johnston, to head the department in its’ new building. An emergency car, a 1953 Chevy Panel Car, (called the “Flower Wagon” by the firemen because of its resemblance to one) was acquired and used to make all first aid calls. First aid classes were taught by an outside instructor to help train the men in the proper manner of treating a victim. The instructor was Ransom Bill, of the Mercy Corp. in Houston. Ransom Bill instructed Pearland’s firemen in the correct procedure of using the respirator on heart patients or anyone having difficulty in breathing or who had stopped breathing.

The first alarm system for alerting the firemen in Pearland was a phone number which was answered by a telephone operator in the Pearland telephone office. Upon receiving the call, the operator would push a button which would start the siren to blow atop the fire station. When the siren blew, all the men would respond to the station to man the truck and equipment and respond to the scene of the fire.

The Pearland Volunteer Fire Department was issued a charter by the Secretary of State to incorporate on January 8, 1954. The six members listed on this charter were H. D. Johnston, D. L. Smith, Jr., D. W. Scott, D. A. Perrin, T. P. Alexander, and M. E. Ellis.

The department had tough times because they were under-manned, under-equipped, and under-trained in fire fighting techniques. However, in 1956, through the contributions of businesses and citizens, firemen were sent to the University of Texas A & M at College Station to attend the Fire School held every July. There, they participated and learned new techniques in fire suppression and then returned to Pearland to teach their fellow firemen who were not able to attend the school.

By 1957, the department was in desperate need of a new truck; however, money was a problem. The new cab and chassis would cost $2,500.00 and the department only had $65.00 as a down payment. Arrangements were made with Alvin State Bank to borrow enough money to purchase the new truck with payments to be set up on a yearly basis. The firemen took part of the money received from their annual barbecue to pay on the new truck, and within two years the department owned the 1957 Chevrolet which was equipped with a 1,000 gallon capacity tank and a 250 gpm pump.

Even though the firemen were all volunteer, they did receive some special fringe benefits. As noted in the official minutes of January 6, 1958, a Mrs. Richards, owner of the European Import Co., sent candy to the firemen in appreciation for their saving her home in December 1957. Also, the minutes of April 6, 1959 indicate that a Mr. Drake sent each active member of the department a case of figs.

Pearland incorporated in December 1959 bringing new businesses and families to the area. As the city grew, fire hazards increased and the fire department was faced with added responsibilities. By June 1960, the Humble, Gulf and Sinclair Gas Stations agreed to donate 10 gallons of gas each per month to help keep the fire trucks fueled and ready to go. Then in September 1960, Pearland was growing rapidly and it was necessary to place a map of the City in the fire station to aid in responding to new locations. Also, it was during that month that it was decided to take the emergency truck, containing the portable oxygen tank and mask, to all home football games to be used to revive injured players. On October 21, 1960, Cub Scout Pack 463 sent Dens 1, 2, 4, and 5 to tour the fire station. According to the minutes, a grand time was had by all and the scouts ended their tour by singing to the firemen.

In November 1961, the firemen met and agreed to purchase a spittoon for Chief Johnston for Christmas.

During the summer of 1962, Brookside formed its owned fire department. Firemen who served with the Pearland Fire Department but lived in the Brookside region resigned from Pearland and then joined the Brookside Fire Department.

Huey Raney, Sr. was elected Chief on August 20, 1962. That year, Chief Raney, with the help of the Brazoria County Fireman’s Association and County Judge Arnold, acquired a new 500 gallon pumper truck for $15,000.00. This new unit was received on December 19, 1962 and was a big help to the existing 1957 model tank truck as it replaced the old 1946 American La France which the department had when it was formed. In January 1963, Pearland State Bank donated a jeep truck to the department.

Chief Raney also saw a Chief’s car (a 1958 Chevy Sedan) added to the department in May 1964 as well as a surplus weapons carrier truck. After many hours of work, this weapons carrier truck was cut down and converted into a 4 wheel drive, 250 gallon tank carrying vehicle which was to be used as a grass fire fighting unit.

In April 1965, it was decided to change the election date of officers to January of each year. Elections on January 3, 1966 brought another new Chief to the department, G. H. “Ham” Haskins. Under Chief Haskins direction, first aid training and fire fighting help was increased even though they were still using a panel type car which carried the respirator, oxygen, and other items needed for first aid use.

The department at this time had increased its alerting system to nine phones. One being at the station with the others being in each of the officer's homes. Each phone had a button also installed on it so that the first man to answer could push the button and, in turn, the siren would start to blow its familiar three blows to alert the rest of the firemen.

The department continued to respond to fires in this manner until the late sixties at which time Plectron Receiver Monitors were purchased and installed in each fireman’s home.

During Chief Haskins last years as Chief, the need for another new fire truck became evident. One night a fire broke out in the McGinnis Subdivision on the east end of town. Upon arriving at this fire, another alarm sounded for a fire back in town. Chief Haskins had to send half of his equipment and men with the Assistant Chief back into Pearland to fight that fire while he remained with the other half of the equipment and men to extinguish the first fire.

City Council was approached the following day and the department requested $30,000 to be added to an upcoming bond election. Council turned that figure down, but offered $25,000 instead. The bond election passed and a new truck was ordered for just over $20,000. This new truck had a 500 gallon tank capacity with a 500 gpm pump and is still in operation today as Engine 10. This addition brought the total fire trucks in the Pearland Volunteer Fire Department to two 500 gpm pumpers, one 1,000 gallon capacity tank truck with a 250 gpm pump and one 250 gallon capacity truck with a 250 gpm pump used for fighting grass fires. Also, a new Chief’s car, a 1968 Plymouth Station Wagon, was purchased through donations from citizens.

In 1968, the City Service Center was built at Orange St. and Old Alvin Road. Two “L” shaped commercial steel buildings housed the business offices of all city government, a maintenance facility, and Fire Station 1. After construction was completed, the existing facility on Grand and 518 was razed. Construction on two sub-stations was started in 1968 and finished in 1969. Station 2 is on McLean Road on the west side of town, and Station 3 is located on East 518, near Woodcreek. Because of these three new fire stations, the fire department men and equipment were divided and proportioned throughout the city which resulted in a better response time to a fire scene.

Escue Harris, who worked for the City of Pearland as Director of Public Works, became the new Chief on January 6, 1969. Chief Harris stepped up training and schooling by sending more firemen to the fire school located at the University of A & M. Also, many new pieces of equipment were purchased to aid the firemen in fighting fires. In December 1969, it was decided that the officers would serve two year terms.

It is fortunate that the department has never lost a fireman while fighting a fire; however, the year 1970 brought tragedy to the Pearland Volunteer Fire Department. Four firemen were killed in a traffic accident coming home from a Brazoria County Firefighter Association meeting. Fred Blunt, James Matlock, W. Elmer Payne, and Howard Stanford were all killed. Fire Department Chief Escue Harris was treated for his injuries and released. The results of an investigation revealed that the driver of the other vehicle had crossed the center line causing the head-on collision.

The 1970’s brought changes to the department. That decade saw modern fire fighting equipment, technology, and rigid training requirements added to a growing fire suppression organization. Funding was given a hefty “shot in the arm” by means of a city maintenance budget being provided when the community became a “Home Rule” city. Under the Charter, the City was to own all fire equipment and apparatus, and was to provide the fire department with a yearly operating budget. The Charter holds the City responsible for maintenance, insurance, and liability for the department’s equipment. These funds were incorporated into the yearly budget along with any equipment or necessary items the department needed to better perform its duty of suppressing fires.

The quality of the fire department increased greatly with this new City furnished budget. The department solicited donations each year to help in purchasing items and equipment that the budget committee could not include in the City budget. Through these donations from the citizens of Pearland and businesses, many old pieces of equipment were replaced.

In 1972, another Chief took office, Earl D. Raney. Chief Raney, while serving two terms, updated fire fighting practices. Training at A & M University and training locally continued and is still continuing today. Near the end of Chief Raney’s second term, the need for an Assistant Fire Marshall for the City became evident. Chief Raney, who also worked for the City in the Water & Sewer Department as a Foreman in charge of maintenance and new installation, resigned his position as Chief and took on the position of Assistant Fire Marshall to aid the existing Fire Marshall, M.E. “Buddy” Ellis.

The resignation of Chief Raney early in 1975, brought the Assistant Chief, Thomas L. Crawford, to the position of temporary Chief. A new hose washer and hose dryer were purchased under Chief Crawford’s tenure. This new equipment aided the firemen by cutting down the time it took to return a fire apparatus back to service with a full load of hose for the next run.

A special election was held May 5, 1975 at which Tom Crawford was elected Chief and Doyle Granad elected Assistant Chief.

The department really prospered with the acquisition of a new fire apparatus. It was an International Cab and Chassis on which a 1,000 gallon capacity tank and a 250 gpm pump was installed. The cab and chassis were purchased through the City budget. The fabricated tank was paid for from donations received from citizens of the community.

On January 3, 1977, Doyle E. Granad was elected Chief. The department was able to retire the old 1957 Chevrolet Tank Truck and replace it with a new 1976 International Cab and Chassis holding a 1,000 gallon tank and a bed designed with ample storage compartments. The 1957 model truck was equipped as a wrecker type unit to be used in the City fleet as well as for use by the fire department. The new truck was funded solely by donations from the citizens of Pearland. It was designed and built by members of the department and Koenig Iron Works, who actually built the body from a combination of ideas and designs that would be most beneficial to the department.

A new Chief’s vehicle, a 1976 Chevrolet Suburban, was also purchased with donated funds. This new vehicle replaced a 1973 Plymouth Fury (a former police car) that was mechanically costing more to keep operational than was practical for the department. This new vehicle was used to travel to training sessions outside of Pearland such as the annual Fire School at A & M University, and all Brazoria and Harris County Fireman’s Association meetings.

The “Jaws of Life” tool came into being and the department purchased and took delivery of one in November 1977. Shortly after being put into service, the “Jaws of Life” tool was put to good use. December 27, 1977 at about 7:00 pm, an explosion occurred at the Port of Galveston grain elevator and a mutual aid request came from the Galveston Fire Department for men and equipment. Pearland responded with Support 1, Engine 32 and Rescue 51 with 6 men, Doyle Granad, John Munsch, Paul Jamison, Larry Steed, John Holmes and George Gabriel. The Jaws tool was used to extricate a victim pinned between sheets of 8” concrete. Lighting was provided from R51 and because the water mains were severed, E32 was used to relay water in a drafting operation that originated from the salt water at the Port of Galveston.

  On January 3, 1978, L. E. Reagan was elected Chief. During late 1978, the department’s first true “Rescue Truck” was delivered. It was a one ton, four-wheel drive Chevrolet Cab and Chassis, built by Emergency One, purchased through City funds and then equipped with funds from donations. For emergency care, a “Rescue Team” had been formed and special training was provided to those who wanted to participate. The Pearland Volunteer Fire Department provided all first aid assistance to accident victims until the formation of the Pearland Emergency Medical Services, but prior to that, ambulance service was private and came from Houston and Alvin.

Chief Reagan resigned, and on April 2, 1979, Larry J. Steed was elected Chief. During his tenure in the 1980’s, the department took delivery of an American LaFrance pumper in 1983 capable of supplying water at a rate of 1,250 gpm. A new pumper furnished by the County in 1986 replaced the vintage 1962 model. Three, used four-wheel drive units were purchased and transformed (by Fire Department Members) into brush trucks, replacing older units. A state of the art “Heavy Rescue” truck was purchased and put into service in 1987. Communications equipment and protective clothing were greatly upgraded in the early era of this decade. A used ladder truck (1960 Duplex, 60’ ladder) was purchased and refurbished, then placed into service.

The 1990’s have brought a totally new concept to the department. Laws and rulings have changed regarding the safety of firefighters and equipment. Greater focus has been aimed toward “Hazardous Materials” and fire fighting techniques have changed. In 1992 the department took delivery of one class “A” pumper capable of supplying water at the rate of 1500 gpm. In January 1994, H. John Munsch was elected Chief. New equipment was purchased and plans were drawn up for a training field that would include a drill tower enabling firemen to receive advance training locally. Ground breaking on this new training facility was August 1997 with the Grand Opening Day held on June 6, 1998.

January 1998, Paul Jamison was elected Chief. At a March Business meeting, City Manager Paul Grohman gave a slide presentation about the changes in the in the city of Pearland. He showed the progress and growth that the city was making and how the long and short term plans of the city would involve the Fire Department, such as new roads, sub-divisions, street names, residential and commercial addresses and the land purchase for a fire station/public safety building to be constructed on the west side of Pearland near Highway 518 and Cullen. Ground breaking for Station 4 was in June 2001 and the station went into service August 2002. The Fire Department put into service, two 75’ multi purpose ladder trucks called Quints in February 2002. These trucks replaced the retired 1960 – 60’ ladder truck and in August 2002, a new class “A” pumper was put into service. The Fire Department in 2003 went high tech with the purchase of thermal imager cameras and the ability to control intersection signal lights from a Fire Apparatus running emergency lights and siren.

In October 2003 an Explorer Post was formed and chartered by the Boy Scouts of America. Charter members are, Executive Officer Fire Chief Paul Jamison, Post Advisor Assistant Fire Chief Darrell D. Ferguson, Advisors Fire Captains David Schneider and Eddie Hanzik, Fire Lieutenant Cathy Williams, Firefighters Sean Frederick, Craig Armstrong, and Michael Jaimes, and Associate Advisor parent Robin Rodriquez. The Explorers choose 1946 as their Post number, the year the department was formed. There are currently nine explorers, six female and three male.

In January 2004 the department elected its first female officer, Station 2 Lieutenant Cathy Williams. The department going into 2004 is operating with an all-volunteer force of 68 members, responsible for a 75 square mile area with a population of about 79,000 people. Plans are underway for Station #5 to be located on Glosson Road off West Broadway near the Shadow Creek area and Station #6 to be located in the Savannah development. These stations are anticipated to be constructed around 2007 or 2008.

The single element that has not changed since the formation of the department 58 years ago; is the continual support from the community in its provision of yearly donations that help the growth of the organization and allows the department to provide the community with the finest fire and rescue service available.

 

 
     
 

Sources:

Ferguson, Rosalie B. The History of Pearland 1993 Taylor Publishing Company, Dallas

Gabriel, Jr., George W. Volunteer Fireman (Retired)

Minutes, Notes, and Records of the Pearland Volunteer Fire Department

Munsch, H. John Chief, Pearland Volunteer Fire Department (Retired)

Steed, Larry J. Chief \ Fire Marshal, City of Pearland (Retired)