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Department History

In 1875 a group of civic-minded men organized a volunteer fire department which, in the years that followed, did its very best with primitive equipment and meager water pressure to cope with the many serious fires that plagued the city.

In the days before cities like Modesto had professional firemen and modern fire equipment, the volunteer fire department was an honored civic organization. The men of highest standing in the community…judges, lawyers, mechanics, merchants and clergy men…took pride in their membership.

In 1881, nearly all the business houses on Ninth Street (The Front) were destroyed by fire. In 1884, all the properties between 9th and 11th streets were burned, and in 1899 another fire would have destroyed a large part of the business district except for the fact the city had finally installed fire hydrants with enough pressure to keep the fire barely under control.

The last big fire of old Modesto occurred in 1901 when the wooden shacks on and near the corner of 11th and I streets were destroyed, and the last vestiges of the original business district were wiped out.

Fire Chief George E. Wallace

George E. Wallace was prevailed upon to join the Volunteers in 1909. In 1910, he became a regular-paid fireman. His equipment still consisted of handcarts, but a new team of dapple-gray horses, "Prince" and "Charlie", had been purchased by the City. In 1912, the first piece of modern fire equipment was bought, a Pope Hartford hose and chemical truck. George Wallace was Fire Chief for 39 Years.

Excerpts from the "Modesto Journal" Stanislaus Centennial Edition, May 19, 1948

Horses
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Modesto Hook & Ladder