Vistors to this part of town Sunday morning, March 5, 1882 found not many of the buildings erected after the great fire of 1871 still standing. It seems that about half an hour after midnight of Saturday, March 4, 1882, fire was discovered in the back room of the store on the corner of Desiard and Hart Streets, occupied by William Hamilton, a Baptist Minister. The alarm was promptly given, but an unroly horse delayed the arrival of the fire engine several minutes. Meanwhile, the flames had reached Dobson's Livery Stable and was threatening Hamilton's residents in the rear of his store. The fire engine finally made it to the cistern at Mr. Kuhn's residence and began putting water on the buildings. But by this time an estimated $32,000 worth of damage had already been done.
The Monroe Fire Department has risen from a handful of unorganized neighbors associated for mutual protection into one of the best organized, most modernly equipped and thoroughly efficient firefighting organizations in the country. It has developed from volunteer to part-pay, to full pay. Its equipment has evolved from bucket brigade to a hand-drawn, hand operated pump and hose reel, to horse-drawn steam engine, hose cart, hook ladder, then to the all motorized standard equipment of today.
In the process of improving fire fighting methods and apparatus, the old obsolete underground cistern was discarded and replaced with a municipally owned and operated water system with a network of water mains, which furnishes an abundant supply of water made accessible through over 2,700 fire hydrants conveniently located throughout the city.
The shouts of "Fire! Fire!" accompanied by the popping of firearms was succeeded by the telephone. In 1916, a fire alarm system was added with nearly 60 signal boxes located throughout the city, which was divided into three sections, each of which was supplied by fully equipped fire alarm transmission equipment. A PBX telephone switchboard at the alarm headquarters, which directed telephone lines to each of the stations, assured prompt response to all telephones alarms, as well as two ways for the stations to receive an alarm. This "ring-down" system from Alarm Headquarters to each fire station is still in place and maintained today as a backup to the now existing tone-alert system which uses pairs of wave-tones to alert radios at the stations, and pagers on the belts of responders.
Probably no period in the history of the Monroe Fire Department is as interesting as the long existence of the Old Fire Company No.1, which was the direct predecessor of the modernly equipped and highly efficient personnel of today. Membership in the old Company was considered an honor. Picnics, dances, barbeques, banquets, and early parades, events, in which the whole town was interested, were the old volunteer's reward of affection.
The first firefighting equipment purchased was man-powered pumps and a hand-drawn hose reel, the latter surmounted with a clanging bell upon the end of a strong coil spring. When a fire broke out, every man and boy available became a fireman, slowly dragging by means of long ropes, the heavy and cumbersome burdens down the dust-laden streets. When the fire was finally reached, the suction hose was let down into the most accessible cistern, serving as the water supply. Neighbors had generally removed all furnishings and fixtures from the endangered building before the arrival of the firefighters so that, if the occupant carried proper insurance, he might be able to start over in due season.
The next forward step in the provision of more modern equipment was made in 1872, during the administration of Mayor Fred ("Boss") Endom, himself an enthusiastic fireman, when a real steam fire engine was purchased by the city and presented to the fire department. Morris McKenny was made engineer, later to be succeeded by Albert Nawadney. A second engine was afterward purchased and Victor Nawadney (a son of Albert) was appointed engineer. It has been said that the two engines were rarely in good operation condition at the same time.
In those days no horses were kept at the fire station, which was situated just across the street from City Hall. John Rigsby, more affectionately known as "Uncle John" was appointed as a driver. When an alarm was tuned in, a team was secured from Endom's stable, or as frequently happened, a passing team was commandeered, either mule or horse.
Ouachita Fire Company No. 1 at this time was divided into a hose company and a hook and ladder company. A.J. Renaud was foreman of the hose company; C.G. Woodbridge was foreman of the Hook Company and Ladder Company, while Frank Moore was Chief.
Andrew Jackson Herring was the youngest Mayor of Monroe, taking office at the age of 31, in 1888 and serving until 1894, and again from 1896 to 1898. It was during these years that he organized the Ouachita Fire Company No. 1 Volunteers, the forerunner of the present day Monroe Fire Department. The Ouachita Fire Company No. 1 Volunteers became the first volunteer fire department in Monroe, succeeding the Old Bucket Brigade (1870-1877) and the famous Hook, Ladder, and bucket Brigade which served in the late 1800's. Their motto was "Our Lives We Risk; Our Friends We Save."
According to legacy, nowhere in the history of Monroe was there a greater spirit of loyalty to the people and the city than that of the first Volunteer Firefighter. Ouachita Fire Company No. 1 at that time boasted a membership of 60 men with every lawyer, merchant, doctor, and artisan capable of serving, being on the company roster. The courthouse bell was used to call volunteers for a fire. When they heard the bell, they left stores, offices, barber shops, and even the courtroom to answer the call.
In 1902-1903 the department employed Minute Men, who were paid $1.00 for each fire alarm answered. This was the beginning of the paid Fire Department.
After the election of Dr. Andrew J. Forsythe, who succeeded Andrew J. Herring as Mayor of Monroe, Ouachita Fire Company No. 1 and the city were unable to reconcile disagreement over several trivial matters, which resulted in the city asking that all equipment be turned back to the city. This was done, and shortly thereafter the old company ceased to exist as a separate organization, but continued for years to respond for service when needed. A.J. Renuad was appointed foreman by Mayor Forsythe and served in that capacity until the night that Millsap's & Company of West Monroe burned. The Mayor took exception to Mr. Renaud having taken the Monroe apparatus to the aid of our neighboring city, due to the risk taken in leaving this city practically unprotected, and Mr. Renaud resigned.
The first step toward motorizing the Monroe Fire Department was taken under the Forsythe administration with the purchase on February 8, 1912, of Kissel combination hose and chemical truck. The next forward step, and probably one of the longest, was the appointment of Frank J. Roddy as Monroe's first Fire Chief.
Additional motorized apparatus was added under the Apgar administration:
Under the administration of Mayor Bernstein the following apparatus was added to the Fire Department.
In October, 1926 another Fire Company was organized to be known as No.4. At first it answered alarms from the Central Station but in the fall of 1927 it moved into the newer No. 4 station built for it at the triple intersection of Lee Avenue and Forrest and Jackson Streets.
In 1933 Fireman L. H. Patrick took the chassis and motor off the obsolete type 20 truck purchased in 1920, and on it at a very small cost (less than $500.00) he built a water tower that was the equal in performance of factory machines selling for $15,000 or more at the time. This truck was tested and placed in service January 30, 1934.
In 1927, Dr. H.E. Carney, a friend of the fire department and himself an ardent fireman, conceived the idea of having an emergency or rescue truck. An old truck chassis was donated for the purpose and the doctor did most of the work of building up a truck himself. He was assisted by his fellow Legionnaires in this work.
In addition to improvements in apparatuses, equipment, and personnel, new discoveries in fire tactics led to a better level of firefighting service. In the old days the first thing that firemen did upon arriving at a fire was to break all the windows in sight. This created a draft and caused the fire to burn still more fiercely. They then stood outside and poured in tons of water, completely ruining all furnishings and the interior of the building.
Today's firefighting tactics dictate that the seat of the fire be located before the water is ever turned on, and then only enough water be used to put out the fire. If only a small portion of a building is involved, or if the fire is on an upper floor, all furniture is quickly moved to the center of a room, and then covered with waterproof tarpaulins to prevent water damage, which in the old days was responsible for most of the loss caused by fire.
The Monroe Fire Department has only had seven Fire Chiefs since its inception.
As stated earlier, Monroe's first Fire Chief was Frank J. Roddy. Chief Roddy served 1912 until 1945. Chief Roddy purchased several pieces of apparatus so that by 1945 Monroe had the following apparatus on line: One 900 GPM (gallons per minute) pumper and hose truck, four 750 GPM pumpers and hose trucks, one ladder tower, one water tower and one emergency "rescue" truck. Some of Chief Roddy's accomplishments included reducing the fire insurance premium by thirty-five percent, installing a fire alarm box system and instituting a second platoon of firefighters to allow time off between shifts. Chief Roddy worked closely with the State Fire College and the firefighting force was thirty-two members by the end of his term.
In 1946, Harvey Hales Sr. was appointed Fire Chief. Chief Hales served from 1946 until 1972. Under Chief Hale's administration fire stations 2, 3, 6 and 7 were built. Stations 4 and 1 were renovated and a drill tower was built behind Station 4 at the intersection of Lee and Jackson streets. Chief Hales relocated station 4 from the intersection of Jackson Street and Lee Avenue to the more southerly location of the 4100 block of Jackson Street. He also relocated Station 5 from the intersection of Powell Avenue at Harrison Street to its present day location at the intersection of Betin and Breard. Chief Hales managed to improve the city's fire insurance rating from Class 6 to a Class 3. Chief Hales added aluminum ladders to the fire trucks and purchased a "tillerman" ladder truck and a "snorkel" ladder truck. Chief Hales was also instrumental in the construction of Fire Alarm Headquarters, then located on Hudson Lane.
In 1972, C.A. Roddy was appointed as Monroe's third Fire Chief. Chief Roddy was the son of the first Fire Chief, Frank Roddy. Chief C.A. Roddy served from 1972 until 1977. Chief Roddy continued to make improvements to the department. Chief Roddy converted the gasoline engines to diesel power. He also purchased Monroe's first 1000 GPM (gallons per minute) pumper equipped with an automatic transmission. Chief Roddy was the first Fire Chief to appoint a "full time" Training Officer.
In 1978, B.R. Breland was appointed as Fire Chief. Chief Breland served from 1978 until 1988. Chief Breland was instrumental in reducing the fire insurance rating to a Class 2 rating. Chief Breland built a new Central Fire Station and added fire stations 8, and 9 and a new fire station 3. Chief Breland purchased a used ladder truck and purchased two new 1250 GPM pumpers as well as a new Aircraft Rescue Firefighting (ARFF) apparatus. The construction of the new fire stations also added a third district to the city. Chief Breland had Fire Alarm Headquarters moved from the location of Hudson Lane to the west side of fire station 1. Chief Breland also was instrumental in establishing a First Responder training program for all firefighters, which is the entry-level training program for Emergency Medical Services. Chief Breland was the first Fire Chief to hire women into the Fire Department. Chief Breland placed one female as a firefighter, hired two women in administration and placed four females in Alarm Headquarters.
George Douglas was appointed Fire Chief in 1988. Chief Douglas served from 1988 until 1995. Chief Douglas started a "First Responder" response program allowing firefighters trained as First Responders and EMTs to respond to medical incidents. Chief Douglas purchased a ladder truck, and a new ARFF truck. During Chief Douglas' administration, the department also acquired two rescue units and initiated the vehicle extrication response of the department, having several firefighters trained in vehicle rescue.
Chief Douglas separated Fire Investigations from the Fire Prevention Division and established a separate Fire Investigative Division staffed by two employees. Chief Douglas added a third Training Officer to the Training Division. Chief Douglas was Secretary Emeritus of the Professional Firefighters Association and served as a board member of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Chief Douglas also served on the Firefighter's Retirement Board.
Chief Douglas also acquired advanced EMS equipment for the EMTs and paramedics on the department, with ALS bags containing not just disposable basic supplies, but laryngoscopes and endotracheal tubes for advanced airway, and IV therapy supplies, emergency and cardiac drugs.
Under Chief Douglas' administration, two paramedic classes were conducted, allowing some of the department's existing Emergency Medical Technicians to be certified as Paramedics, able to perform more advanced life-saving interventions such as IV and drug therapy, advanced airway / intubation, and manual defibrillation. With Chief Douglas' leadership, these paramedics were allowed to function in their capacity while responding in service on the fire units, providing Advanced Life Support care to the citizens of Monroe
Monroe's sixth Fire Chief was B.L. Hampton. Chief Hampton was appointed from 1995 until 1998. Chief Hampton purchased two new pumpers, one new ladder and another new ARFF vehicle. Chief Hampton purchased Automatic External Defibrillators to be placed on the two rescue trucks to be used in case of sudden cardiac arrest. Chief Hampton created the positions of EMS Director as well as the Administrative Assistant to the Fire Chief. Chief Hampton served as board member on the Louisiana Fire Education Council and purchased new hand-held radios for the firefighters
Jimmie R. Bryant was Monroe's seventh Fire Chief and was appointed in July of 1998. Chief Bryant served from 1998 until 2013. Vehicles purchased under Chief Bryant's administration include four new pumpers acquired through a lease/purchase agreement, three ladder trucks and a vehicle to use as a mobile cascade unit for support of fire ground operations. Chief Bryant refurbished a donated bus to be used as a medical rehabilitation unit in support of fire ground operations and to be used as a command post during special events. Chief Bryant also refurbished a donated golf cart to be used at special events as a patient transportation vehicle and established a paramedic bicycle squad to assist citizens at events such as parades, fairs, festivals and the like. Chief Bryant formed a disciplinary review board and established an Internal Affairs Unit to investigate complaints against fire department personnel. Under Chief Bryant's leadership, the Fire Prevention Bureau was able to purchase and utilize the "Fire Safety House" to educate the public to the dangers of fire.
Additionally, the department received it's Class 1 protection rating under Chief Bryant's leadership. The first announcement was made on April 2, 2002 and has since been maintained. The rating has elevated Monroe to the lofty position of being one of only 46 other Fire Departments nationwide with a Class 1 rating.