History of the Turlock Fire Department
The Early Years
founded in the 1870’s when the railroad was established through the San
Joaquin Valley. Due to the lack of an organized fire
department, several large fires decimated the town between 1893 and 1907. In 1907, when the newly built Turlock
Hardware store burned to the ground in less than an hour, local merchants
banded together to organize the Turlock Fire Department.
The new fire commissioners traveled to San Francisco and
bought a wagon mounted, cylinder-driven fire pump, a hose cart, and a chemical
wagon. Edward Osborn served as the first
fire chief, partially due to the fact that his store was used to house the
city’s first fire equipment. A fire bell
was purchased and put on a tower and was used to notify volunteers when there
was a fire. Volunteer firefighters would
rush to the store and pull the equipment to the fire, either by a horse team or
When the Turlock Hardware Company rebuilt, a 5,000-gallon
water tank was added for fire protection.
Wells were also drilled at strategic locations in the business
A suction hose would be dropped into one of the 5 wells to
bring water to the pumper. In 1910 the Minaret Street water tower was built by
Chicago Bridge & Iron Works and placed at Well #1. It was part of the original town water
system. A second water tower was added
three years later at the corner of Florence and Orange streets. These water
towers were built to add water pressure for better fire streams.
On February 2, 1910, a large fire struck the businesses
between the St. Elmo Hotel and Sahlberg’s shoe store. The businesses destroyed were three real
estate offices, the Turlock Tanning Company office, a tailor shop, a pool hall,
a rooming house, a veterinarian’s office, and a meat market. The fire started in the tailoring shop when
the janitor started a fire in a wood stove and the pipe was loose in the
flue. The top fell out and toppled into
a rack of clean clothes and ignited them.
The janitor burned his hand badly while trying to extinguish the
fire. He ran for the fire bell and only
woke a few people. A writer was staying
in the rooming house and was awakened by the bell. He then realized that the fire was next to
the rooming house and roused the boarders and got them outside. The volunteers arrived with the fire
equipment and worked to stop the fire.
They were able to save the St. Elmo by using water from a 15,000 water
tank located on its roof. There was a
25’ lot in between the businesses on fire and the shoe store, which helped in
confining it to the range. The Union
Block building was built to replace the destroyed buildings and continues to
On June 21st, 1915, the Wonderland Theater fire
occurred. The fire started in the
projection room and was extinguished by the TFD. But the fire had spread to a space between
the ceiling and roof and the building burned to the ground. The building was a total loss.
On March 15th, 1916 a stove fire spread and
heavily damaged the second story of the Denair-Gall building located at Front
and East Main Streets. Chief Osborn had
recently incorporated his store delivery trucks into part-time service as fire
trucks and were used to ferry firefighting equipment to fire scenes. This fire in the Denair-Gall building was one
of many fires that struck between 1912 and 1917.
The Fire Department Grows
The years between 1912 and 1917 were busy ones. The all-volunteer department continued to add
members, keeping membership to around 30 members. The department was organized with a Chief
(Ed Osborn), a 1st Lieutenant, 2nd Lieutenant, Hose Cart
Team #1, Hose Cart Team #2, Fire Truck #1, Fire Truck #2, and a Chemical Engine
team. Each team and engine was lead by a
captain. All officers were nominated and
voted on each year by members of the department.
Fire pull boxes were established around town. These pull boxes were connected to the
Gamewell fire alarm system. The city was
split into districts to which the horn could activate codes. Cards were printed for TFD members that
showed the locations of fire hydrants and deciphered the codes into common
street intersections for help in locating the fire incident. A general alarm was one bell. Three bells rang at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. for
The fire department established official quarters with the
addition of Fire Station #1, located on Front Street near the Carolyn Hotel.
In 1918, the 1917 Model T pumper* was purchased and put into
In 1922, the LaFrance Pumper* was purchased and was
nicknamed “The Frog”. The engine was
equipped with mechanical brakes on the rear wheels which required all of the
engineer's strength to push the brake pedal down to stop it. When this occurred
the pumper would hop all over the roadway like a frog.
In 1925, Charles Lundahl was elected fire chief after Chief
Osborn retired. Lundahl served until
1941. The organization at this time
consisted of a fire chief, an assistant fire chief, three captains, an
engineer, a fire commissioner, a secretary and a treasurer. All positions were voted on yearly.
In 1925 the Front Street firehouse was remodeled, allowing
“sleepers” to spend the night in a dormitory for better preparedness.
In 1927, the LaFrance Ladder truck* was purchased. The ladder truck carried multiple ladders and
was able to pump water.
In 1929, the Sacred Heart Church fire occurred, completely
destroying the structure.
*All three of these units are still in possession of the
Turlock Fire Department Incorporated.
The Model T and the Frog have been nearly restored and the Ladder Truck
will be the next big project.
On September 20th, 1932, the Union Oil Company
fire occurred after a gasoline tanker overfilled the underground tanks and
ignited. Flames blazed skyward upwards
of 70 feet. The heat was so intense that
firefighting efforts were directed at saving adjacent buildings and a creamery
across the street.
On December 20th, 1932, a large fire occurred at
the Knudsen (Fred) Warehouse Packing Sheds on North Front Street. Firefighter Lavon New was injured and was
rescued. He suffered critical smoke
inhalation. The fire caused $15,000 in
damage and took nine hours to bring under control.
On July 21st, 1933, a fire struck the Osborn and Son
store, causing $75,000 in damage.
The Turlock Fire Department continued to host annual
Firemen’s Balls, which raised money for the fire department equipment and
In 1941, Chief Lloyd Cunningham became fire chief after
Chief Lundahl retired. Cunningham served
as chief until 1956. The organization
consisted of a fire chief, assistant chief, two hose captains, a ladder
captain, a treasurer and a secretary.
World War II started and the home front became active,
including the Turlock Fire Department.
The department raised money for the Fort Ord day rooms, assisted
training in air raid wardens, and received training in incendiary bomb
firefighting after viewing footage of the London Blitz. Drills were increased to twice a month.
Several new pieces of equipment were purchased including a
hose trailer, a hose cart, an auxiliary pumping unit and a 1946 La France
On April 4th, 1944, Jack Freitas became the
city’s first paid firefighter.
On July 25th, 1946, a large fire struck the
Turlock Theater located at North Broadway and Olive Streets.
In 1950, Fire station #1 was moved to its new quarters at
271 Minaret where it remains in service today.
Fire station #2 was built at the intersection of Orange and Florence
On August 12th, 1954, the TFD Rescue Truck and
Rescue Squad went into service. A rescue
squad was created and consisted of 13 paid and volunteer members trained in
In 1955, two LaFrance fire engines were purchased for staffing
the two fire stations.
On February 2nd,
1956 a fire occurred in the Bank of America building at Center and East
streets. The fire was difficult to
control because it was in hidden crawl
the second floor ceiling and the attic. First floor stores such as Richard
were damaged when their roofs caved in.
In 1956, Joel Nikolauson was named Fire Chief after the
retirement of Lloyd Cunningham.
In 1957, Carol Chittock was hired as chief from the Santa
Ana fire department where he was a captain.
He was the first full time fire chief and served until 1977.
The Turlock Fire Department continued as a recourse and
partner to the community during the Christmas of 1959 by assisting 59 families
of which 243 children received toys.
This proud tradition continues to this day.
In 1962 training props were built including a concrete
bunkhouse used for fire training and a propane fueled fire ‘tree’ used for
natural gas fire training.
By 1963, nine members of the fire department were full-time
In September of 1963, the Stockton Box fire occurred causing
$500,000 in damage. The fire destroyed
the Hume Company receiving station and machinery storage building, the Stockton
Box Company plant, and the Roy Day warehouse.
The cannery to the south was saved along with the old grange
buildings. The fire caused sparks and
embers to rain down on nearby neighborhoods, causing several small roof
fires. Over 200 citizen volunteers
helped fight the largest fire in Turlock’s history.
On January 15th, 1964, the Snorkel Ladder truck
was purchased at the cost of $38,000.
On July 24th, 1964, the Turlock Fruit Co. fire
occurred. The fire at Broadway and B
Street started in a lidding machine area and caused $500,000 in damage to the
structure and 12 boxcars. Five
firefighters went to the hospital with heat exhaustion. Low water pressure kept the snorkel dry due
to industry in the area operating at full swing, and many residential
sprinklers being used on the hot day.
In December of 1967, firefighters began licensing bicycles
at fire station #1. This tradition
continues to this day.
On December 17th, 1968, a fire occurred at the
Carolyn Hotel. Other businesses involved
included the Grand King Restaurant and the Carolyn Tavern. Turlock Rural assisted and the fire was
brought under control the next day. The
building was declared a total loss with nearly $200,000 in damages
On April 16th, 1975, Turlock Fire Station #3 was
officially dedicated. The station was
built at 501 East Monte Vista Avenue to provide protection to the city’s
northern residents. The modern station
was equipped with a hose tower that would be used for all hose washing, drying
and storing hose. The station continues
to serve residents today.
On May 1st, 1975, Turlock Fire Fighters Local
2434 became affiliated with the Federated Fire Fighters of California (later to
be known as California Professional Firefighters).
In December of 1977, Fire Chief Carol Chittock retired and
Larry Hughes was hired as the new fire chief.
On June 8th, 1978, a fire swept through the then
under construction Brentwood apartments, completely destroying most of the
units being built. Several completed and
inhabited apartment buildings were saved.
On November 13th, 1979, a large fire occurred at
the Turlock High School Auditorium, nearly destroying the old building. Nearly 20 years later the auditorium was
reopened for business.
In 1981 the fire department removed the city’s fire pull
boxes and went to a new paging system.
Firefighters were issued electronic pagers by which dispatch could alert
firefighters to respond.
In May of 1981, the new Fire Station #2 was opened,
replacing the old firehouse on Orange Street.
In October of 1985, Chief Hughes resigned to take the
position of fire chief in the city of Lodi.
On March 15th, 1986, Chris Carlson was hired as
fire chief to replace Larry Hughes.
On December 20th, 1986, a large fire occurred at
the Turlock Hotel, located at West Main and Broadway. The fire was contained to the upper story.
In 1991, Chief Chris Carlson resigned to take the position
of fire chief in the city of Las Mesa, California.
In 1992, Robert Carlson was promoted to the position of fire
In May of 1993, Turlock Fire Station #4 was opened at 2820
North Walnut road. Station #4 would
cover the ever-growing northwest corner of Turlock. Six additional full time firefighters were
hired to staff the new station.
In 1996, Chief Robert Carlson retired. Mark Langley was promoted to the position of
In 1997 a large fire occurred on West Main Street,
destroying three businesses, including the old Woolworth’s building. Multiple Stanislaus County fire agencies
responded as mutual aid. The fire burned
throughout the night and was declared out the next day after firefighters were
able to contain the fire to the middle of the city block. The fire was later determined to be arson and
a suspect was apprehended, tried, and jailed.
2000 and beyond