Ordinance 175 Created Alameda Fire Department

File photo Members of Alameda Fire Department Station No. 1 on Webb Avenue stand in front of their hook and ladder truck and the station in 1910. The first wooden firehouse on Webb Avenue rose up in 1877 to house the Citizens Hook and Ladder Company. The building in this photograph went up in 1908. A hook and ladder apparatus required two drivers, one to steer and control the horses, the other to steer the rear wheels; both are in position in the photograph. Firefighters use ladders to gain access to fires
File photo

Ordinance 175 Created Alameda Fire Department

Pull up the Alameda Daily Evening Encinal edition of Sept. 29, 1891, and printed inside is a copy of the original text that created Alameda Fire Department (AFD). Ordinance 175 delinated how AFD would operate. Prior to this, Alameda had several unaffiliated fire companies.

The first section of the ordinance set the official name to AFD and deemed its leadership would consist of a chief engineer, two assistant engineers, a secretary and a treasurer. The text then provided a pathway to membership in AFD for any potential new fire companies. As long as a company was shown to follow the terms of the ordinance and all current and future city laws, with the recommendation of a Board of Foremen and Engineers of the Fire Department, it could be admitted to AFD.

This section also limited the total membership to eight companies with no less than 25 and no more than 65 staff members in a single fire company. Ladder company staff numbered at least 15 with a maximum of 65 while hose companies could number as few as 15 or as many as 25.

Section two divided the city into two fire districts with Grand Street serving as the dividing line.

Section three made the chief engineer an elected official chosen by the members of the department and approved by the Board of Trustees (City Council). Other salaried officials were appointed by the trustees and served only at their pleasure.

Section four described the Board of Foremen and Engineers and the powers of the chief and assistant engineers. The board would consist of the foremen of the various companies comprising the department. The chief and assistant engineers were given the power to govern the department, and hence set forth rules not described by the ordinance.

Section five designated that assistant engineers serve for one year after selection by the Board of Foremen and Engineers. Each assistant engineer represented one of the fire districts and was chosen from among the companies located there.

Section six described the secretary’s role. Elected by the Board of Foremen and Engineers, the secretary would serve one year or until a successor qualified and issue certificates of active membership and other clerical duties as necessary.

Section seven made the treasurer serve one year or until a successor qualified and responsible for the department’s receipts or any other financial duties as necessary.

Section eight designated that all officers and engineers must take a constitutional oath of office and have an endorsed certificate filed with the City Clerk. One year in service to the department was required before obtaining the role of engineer.

Section nine provided the Board of Foremen a way to remove officers after a fair and just hearing and trial. Five day notice of any charges against an officer were required.

Section 10 held the city harmless. No liability from AFD would be transferred to the city unless expressly ordered or approved by the Board of Trustees.

Section 11 dealt with the fact that the pre-existing companies would immediately comprise the new AFD. Every fire company would need to provide a document describing its foundation, members and organization to AFD’s secretary.

Section 12 set forth the chain of command. As one might expect, the chief engineer had command of any fire scene. If he wasn’t present, the assistant engineer assigned to that fire district took control, and if that officer couldn’t attend, the opposite district’s assistant engineer stepped in. All staff was expected to follow the orders of the commanding officer on scene.

Section 13 put the chief engineer in charge of all fire equipment while section 14 required him to report annually to the Board of Trustees on “the number, location and condition of cisterns, fire plugs and fire apparatus, the state of fire company houses and all property of the city in keeping of said department.” The chief was also expected to describe all accidents, loss of life and property as well as the causes associated with all fires.

Section 15 required the chief to report on and approve any repairs to AFD property prior to receiving the trustees’ approval. It also compensated him with a generous $65 per month salary.

Section 16 required fire companies to follow all future ordinance terms, while section 17 set the minimum age to serve in the department at 18.

Section 18 required all AFD equipment remain in the city at all times unless specifically ordered by the Board of Trustees, or in the case of a fire and then only by the order of the engineer in charge.

Section 19 set the date, time and place for the initial meeting of the Board of Foremen and Engineers to form the department.

Section 20 allowed for the public to file complaints against the department, providing a hearing after a formal statement had been filed with the secretary.

Section 21 allowed the public to contest the election of an AFD official. A formal statement had to be filed with the City Clerk and served to the individual within 30 days of election. The Board of Trustees would then hear the case.

Section 22 admitted all the existing companies into the department “under present management and officers without further formality.”

Section 23 repealed a previous ordinance regarding fire companies and Section 24 made the current ordinance take effect immediately.

Ordinance 175 passed on Sept. 28, 1891. Three trustees voted for it, one against and one didn’t even attend the meeting.

Keep in mind, much of this information no longer applies.

Eric J. Kos is a historian who has contributed to several published titles including Lost San Francisco and Bay Farm Island: A Hidden History of Alameda.