Austin Fire Museum - Preserving The History And Traditions Of The Austin Fire Department.

The Career Austin Fire Department

The official transition of the Austin Fire Department from a volunteer organization to a fully paid, career organization was voted on in May and took place on June 1, 1916. This was a rather late date in relation to other cities of relative size across the country. The reason for such a late transition was due to the efficiency and professionalism of the Austin Volunteers. The first fire chief appointed by Austin city administration was C.F. Millett back in 1866. At this time various fire ordinances were passed and strictly and effectively enforced by the volunteers, who were comprised of many of the city´s top merchants and businessmen. On March 3, 1874 an elaborate ordinance was enacted by the city council establishing a fire department with a chief, assistant chief, and recorder, fire commissioners, fire police, etc. Then, on May 31, 1886 a more extensive ordinance was adopted, which gave the entire departmental plan and fire company articles of organization. Around this time fire apparatus drivers became paid members who lived at the fire stations. Therefore, the Austin Fire Department actually became a combination volunteer/paid department as early as the 1880s. The first fully paid fire department created in Texas was the city of Galveston in 1885.

In short, the development of the career Austin Fire Department began in the 1870´s with a very formal volunteer program. The success of the volunteer organization delayed the need for a career department because many of the volunteers devoted their lives to the fire department. In the spring of 1916, due in large part to political pressure and not necessarily a city need, the citizens of Austin voted in support of the creation of a paid, municipal fire department. Overnight, the department went from more than 200 volunteers to 27 paid firefighters working six 24 hour shifts per week. Several volunteers were among the 27, but a majority of the firefighters were not from the volunteer ranks. Clarence L. Woodward, who had been a liquor dealer and volunteer since 1894, was appointed the first fire chief of the paid organization.

Washington No. 1 was the only fire company to disband without a continuation of service. Hook and Ladder No. 1 and Colorado No. 2 became Truck Co. 1 and Hose Co. 1 at Central Fire Station 1 along with the addition of Engine Co. 1 at the same station. Protection No. 3 became Hose Co. 2 at Station 2. North Austin No. 6 became Engine 3 at Station 3. West Austin No. 7 became Hose Co. 4 at Station 4. East Austin No. 4 became Hose Co. 5 at Station 5. South Austin No. 5 became Hose Co. 6 at Station 6. Tenth Ward No. 8 became Hose Co. 7 at Station 7. And Rescue Co. 9 became Hose Co. 8 at Station 8. This numbering system is still in effect today, although several of these stations have been rebuilt in different geographic locations.