It’s true: nothing can get the blood pumping like the feeling of lurking peril! However, that can only really be appreciated until the lurking becomes a reality. Our own firefighters have known about this since they were first on the scene (great fire of 1889, anyone?), and have done everything in their power to keep citizens out of harm’s way. But, like most journeys, that isn’t to say that there weren’t a few blunders here and there.
The image here is of Bakersfield Fire Wagon Number 2 (from around 1908), something that was once considered to be the height of fire safety back in the late 19th-early 20th centuries. If it looks a little insufficient, even for a small town, that’s because it was. It didn’t take long, luckily, for local officials to catch on and demand an upgrade, along with other revisals to ensure the protection of Bakersfield residents. In 1911, the fire and water committee of the Board of City Trustees had brought some troubling issues to the public.
According to the Bakersfield Morning Echo, “The fire alarm system has been wholly inadequate and even dangerous. In the case of the Ellis fire, a telephone call merely gave the warning ‘a fire in the Ellis house.’ The steamer went to two different ‘Ellis houses’ in the city proper before it was found out that the fire was in ‘the Ellis house’ in East Bakersfield.” Unfortunately for Dr. Ellis, his home was destroyed by fire before the team realized it was THAT Ellis house that needing tending.
The matter of faster transportation was yet another issue that was taken up. According to the Village Extra, the first firehouse was on 19th Street, and it was announced in January of 1875 that “The Babcock Hook and Ladder truck” had arrived in our fair city, along with “several leather buckets, short ladders, and a few axes.” Fast forward just a few decades, and there was a firehouse on K Street that didn’t seem to boast that much more: the hosing was wholly inadequate, and even the old hook and ladder transports, let alone the horse-drawn carriages with buckets, simply were no longer enough to protect our growing city. The report stated, “the purchase of a motor driven fire engine…sets forth the fact that with the additional speed which could be made by a motor driven fire engine” would not only save lives and property, but would, in the long run, also save money. Lots of it.
“With the changes made as suggested,” the Echo disclosed, “Bakersfield’s fire department would be among the best in the Pacific coast.” The issues were, indeed, solved and the BFD has enjoyed more than a century of keeping those pesky flames at bay.