History

The Mobile Fire-Rescue Department became a Paid Professional Fire Department September 1, 1888, but to better understand the history of the department we need to take a brief look at the years preceding 1888.


1819
Six years after President Madison ordered Mobile taken from Spanish West Florida to become part of the Mississippi Territory, Mobile began to organize itself to try to protect life and property.

Creole Steam Fire Company No. 1 is believe to be the first Volunteer Fire Company followed closely by Neptune Engine Fire Company No. 2.



Courtesy of The McCall Library, University of South Alabama

1825

A City Ordinance was passed that called for the election of twelve Fire Wardens annually, who would supervise the extinguishment of fires and regulate their duties. Compulsory service was demanded of citizens to relieve the members of the fire companies when subjected to lengthened labor, and strangers sojourning in the City were also made liable for duty.

1838
The Mobile Fire Department Association was formed and delegates from six existing companies were present. Laws and regulations were made to properly govern the Organization.

1839
A municipal Ordinance was passed establishing the Fireman's Benevolent Fund to help fire fighters that were sick and infirmed. Later in 1843 a State Law was passed giving the Organization its "Rights, Power, and Privileges."

April 9th of this year was the first Fireman's Day Parade and Celebration. This parade and celebration grew over the years to rival Mardi Gras in popularity.

Two major conflagrations occurred this year just two days apart. The first destroyed eleven squares or forty-four blocks. The second destroyed the Planters and Merchants Bank, Madison House, New Hotel and the Post Office.

It is suspected that the Notorious, Copeland Gang set these fires to divert attention away from them so they could remove a large cache of stolen property from Mobile.

1840
Previously in 1836, an attempt was made at a public water system to pump water from a fountain at the foot of Spring Hill, but proved unsuccessful. In 1840, the City entered into a contract with Albert Stein to supply water to the City. This is considered to be Mobile's first successful public water system.

1873
Mobile received its first Fire Alarm Telegraph. This system was an old system purchased from Syracuse, New York.

1888

New Era! The City of Mobile establishes its First Paid Professional Fire Department.

Psychologists say that human beings are very reluctant to make changes. This fact has been proven many times throughout history. The story of Mobile's Fire Department underlines this point.

Volunteer Fire Fighters in late 1800's were reluctant to change to a paid Fire Department, but in doing so, great growth took place. Without this growth, Mobile might have been denied the services and protection of one of the best Paid Fire Departments in the Country.

It was in April 1819 that the first Volunteer Fire Company was organized in Mobile. The City was served by the Volunteer Companies until a disagreement over funding arose in 1888. Mayor J.C. Rich terminated the agreement with the Volunteer Association, under the direction of Chief Mathew Sloan, the paid Department was organized as a regular branch of the City. The City purchased the engine equipment of Phoenix No. 6 Volunteer Company for $3,000.00. Creole No. 1, possibly the oldest of the Volunteer Companies, was found willing to continue service as part of the Professional Fire Department, and its offer was accepted. Many of the former volunteers came forward to offer their services for the new Department and it was quickly organized and commenced operating on September 1, 1888.

1888 Letter to Mayor Joseph C. Rich from Chief Matt Sloan:

Dear Sir:

In Compliance with your instructions, I have organized a Fire Department for the City of Mobile, consisting of one hook and ladder truck, three steam engines, three hose carriages in reserve, eleven horses and eleven sets of harnesses complete. I have also employed eighteen men to work same.

The grand total of the annual payroll was fixed at $11,990.00. Chief Sloan's salary was set at $1,200.00 per year and Assistant Chief Walter Soost received $400.00 per year.

Yes, the Volunteers of 1888 fought the changeover, but they would be proud of the Fire Department, as we know it today.

Proud , too, that they played an important role by providing a good foundation for a Fire Department dedicated to protecting the lives and property of its citizens in the most efficient way possible.

1888
The Mobile Fire Department Originated.
1901
State Convention - M.F.D. won award for Fastest Responding Fire Department.

1919
Conflagration - Eleven Squares or 40 blocks. - The Mobile Firefighters waged their greatest battle ever. On May 21, at 3:25 in the afternoon, a fire alarm was turned in for a fire that started in a trash pile in the rear of Howard Cunningham's Grocery Store located at Hamilton and Madison Streets. By the time Companies 3 and 6 arrived from the station at Franklin and Church Streets, the fire had already extended from the pile of trash to the grocery store and was out of control. The fire spread so fast that soon all Mobile fire equipment was committed, and a desperate appeal was made to Pascagoula and Biloxi Mississippi for assistance. Winds sent the fire from house to house, and from block to block. Frantic, but oftentimes, futile efforts were made by residents to save their belongings. A force of 1,000 men under the direction of Manuel Tapia, from the Alabama Dry Docks and Shipbuilding Company, helped prevent the blaze from reaching the water front area. The best efforts of the Officers and men of the Fire Department were to no avail. As darkness settled and the wind died, the fire burned itself out, having consumed everything it contacted. Forty blocks or eleven squares were left in ruins; 1,200 people were left homeless, and 200 homes were destroyed. Many people were injured during the fire, but not one life was lost.
1923
Last Horse drawn Apparatus retired and replaced with all Motorized equipment.
1939
Civil Service Board created by State Law.
1941
Fire Department Band abolished



Courtesy of The McCall Library, University of South Alabama

1942
Volunteer Fire Companies Organized through Civil Defense (World War II)
1950
Firefighters fired trying to organize union.
1951
First Radios installed in fire trucks.
1957
IAFF Local 1349 formed.
1961
MFD Hires first Black Firefighter.
1962
Bureau of Fire Prevention established.
1965
Work schedule changed from 72 hours per week to 56 hours. MFD Commissions Fire Boat "Lurleen" named for Governor Lurleen Wallace. Training Center and Drill Tower Built.
1966
MFD Decommissions Fire Boat "Lurleen".
1971
Integrated Fire Department.
1974
Fire Boat "Ramona Doyle" commissioned.
1975
Established Paramedic Program.
Changed uniforms from Khaki to Navy Blue.
Department patch designed and introduced.
1980
Firefighters Go On Strike!
1985
Gamewell System Removed.
Paramedics received Hospital Based Medical Control.
1986
Hazardous Materials Company/Unit Established.
1987
Computer Aided Dispatching Established.
First Female Firefighter hired and assigned to Fire Company.
1988
MFD Celebrates Centennial.
First fully enclosed fire apparatus purchased.
1989
Incident Command System adopted.
1991
New Ambulances Purchased and ALS Transport by Firemedics begins.
1992
High Angle and Confined Space Rescue Team established.
1993
Amtrak Disaster, 47 people killed.
1994
800 Megahertz Trunking Radio System Installed.
1997
Six New Fire Engines Purchased and Placed on Duty.
1998
New "Lloyd J. Freeman" Station 1 Opened.
Established EMS Bike Team.
Established Special Events Uniform.
1999
New "Frank J. Seelhorst" Station 7 Opened.
2002
Urban Search & Rescue Team (USAR) Alabama Task Force 1 Established.
2003
Fire Boat "Ramona Doyle" Decommissioned.
Six New Fire Engines and One New Ladder Truck Purchased and Placed on Duty.
"Matt Sloan" Station 2 Closed and Torn Down.
Engine 2 Taken Off Duty.

2004
Received Fire Act Grant to implement the Wellness/Fitness Program.
Received Fire Act Grant to replace all defibrillators with new Zoll units.
Department of Homeland Security Grant for USAR equipment.
Designated State USAR Team.
Monies approved to purchase new fireboat.
Bureau of Fire Prevention received new vehicles.
Over $150 thousand in Grants received from the Health Department.

2005
Revival of the Trumpet newsletter after a four year absence.
Triathlon team established.
Received new E-One Technical Rescue Truck (TR25).
USAR Takes delivery of two new tractor trailer rigs and one bus.

2006
New Fireboat “Phoenix” Commissioned.
Received three new E-One Squad Trucks.
Received new Ferrara Fire Apparatus (E-22).
Purchased new bunker gear to include traditional helmets for all personnel.
Purchased new furniture for all fire stations.
New Homeland Security/Special Operations Division created.
Central Station Historical room opened on 2nd floor.
Natural gas generators installed at stations.

2007
Received new E-One Aerial Platform Ladder Truck (T-10).
Citizens Academy program begins.
Replaced Chief Officers Ford Crown Vic fleet with Ford Expeditions.
Temporary Station 29 Opened, Engine 29 and Rescue 29 placed on duty.

2008
District 4 reactivated bringing back the number of fire districts in the city to four once again.
New 24’ rigid hull inflatable (RHI) boat placed on duty.
Fire Dog Andy Duke retires after 13 years of service.
Revival of Firefighters Ball
irefighters Safety Foundation established.

2009
Bureau of Fire Prevention and Supply move into new 25 thousand square foot warehouse/office Complex.
Drive Cams placed in vehicles.

MOBILE FIRE-RESCUE FIRE CHIEFS HISTORY
1888-1901
Chief Mathew E. Sloan
1901-1914
Chief Thomas F. Price
1914-1919
Chief Charles S. McCosker
1919-1924
Chief George W. Myrick
1924-1937
Chief Augustus Rehm
1937-1941
Chief Manuel Tapia
1941-1954
Chief L.L. Petrey
1954-1968
Chief C. Dan Sirmon
1968-1973
Chief Douglas A. Melton
1973-1981
Chief H.H. Edwards, Jr.
1981-1984
Chief Frank J. Seelhorst
1984-1989
Chief Lloyd Jesse Freeman
1989-1999
Chief Edward A. Berger
1999-2013
Chief Stephen A. Dean

The Mobile Fire-Rescue Department Shoulder Patch

In 1975 the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department changed its uniform from Khaki to the present navy blue. There was no insignia so the then Fire Chief, H.H. "Buddy" Edwards, Jr., commissioned Firefighter-Driver Joe Hannah to design an insignia for uniforms. Joe designed a patch with different figures that all meant something about the history of the department. The patch was later redesigned to incorporate the name change from fire department to fire-rescue department.

Foremost in the design is the Phoenix Bird with the Sun cresting over its shoulders. The Phoenix was a bird of Egyptian Mythology. The Phoenix lived for 500 years until it flew into the sun and burned. The bird then arose from its ashes and lived for 500 years more. The Phoenix was used as the Emblem because its story is an excellent example of Mobile's past.

The City of Mobile has had two major Conflagrations in its history:

The Fire of 1839 - This fire was actually a combination of four major fires. These occurred on September 29, October 2, 7, and 9. The fire which occurred on October 7 was the largest single fire in the history of Mobile, destroying eleven square blocks of the downtown area.

The Fire of 1919 - This fire occurred on May 21 and destroyed ten square blocks.

After these historical fires, Mobile, like the Phoenix, arose from its ashes.

Behind the Phoenix, are the Flags of the countries which occupied Mobile and which give it its rich history:

French 1702-1763
British 1763-1780
Spanish 1780-1813
American 1813-1861
Confederate 1861-1865
Republic of Alabama 1861-1861

The dates shown in the banners are:

1702 - The Year the City of Mobile was founded, which was the first Capital of the Louisiana Territory.
1888 - The Year the Mobile Fire Department was organized as a professionally paid department.

The only change in the patch was in 1996 when the name was changed to Mobile Fire-Rescue to better reflect the expanding role of the department.

To trade or obtain a Mobile Fire-Rescue Department Patch send a self addressed stamped envelope with your request to:

Mobile Fire-Rescue Department
Supply Division
701 Saint Francis Street
Mobile, Alabama 36602
E-Mail: mfdctrsupply@cityofmobile.org