Fire Department


History

Historical records indicate on the night of September 7, 1866 there was an altercation between the citizens of Brenham and several drunken Union soldiers. The soldiers were part of a Union company stationed in the town following the end of the Civil War. As a result of this confrontation, part of the town was burned; one month later the Union soldiers again set fire to the town, destroying an entire block of businesses.

As a result of the fires, the townspeople realized they needed some form of protection from both fires and Union troops. And so in 1867, the Brenham Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 was formed. Its mission was to protect the city from fire; however, the underlying reason for the formation was to suppress the lawlessness of Union troops. This military organization, disguised as a volunteer fire department, held the responsibility of protecting the citizens of Brenham as well as their property during Reconstruction.

During the early years of the organization, the members kept their buckets and ladders at home and would carry them to the fire. It was not until 1874 that a hook and ladder truck was purchased for $489.

In 1873, fire destroyed the buildings between Baylor and St. Charles streets; six more were lost in 1877 at an estimated cost of $100,000. These fires made it evident that bucket brigades and ladders were not sufficient to fight fires in two-story buildings. And so in 1878 the Mechanics Engine Company No. 1 was formed. The following year, the company became the proud operators of the first steam pumper, the Silsby steamer. Manufactured by the Silsby Manufacturing Company in New York, the steamer was designed to be pulled by horses. However, it was most often drawn by hands, as records indicate it was difficult keeping horses strictly for that purpose.

Brenham Hook and Ladder Company No. 2 was organized in 1882 and three years later, the Conner Hose Company was formed. With all these fire companies now equipped and responding to fires, the inevitable happened - a race to see who could get to the fire first. It was not uncommon for all the companies to arrive on the scene and argue about which company got there first. In the meantime, the fires continued to burn.

In November 1883, the Mechanics Engine Company and the Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 purchased 14 acres on the north side of town. The tract of land was named Fireman's Park, a name it still holds today. It was deeded to the Brenham Fire Department in 1884 and eventually given to the City of Brenham. It remains the City's flagship park.

With such a large German population in Washington County, a Volkfest celebration was held each spring. In 1880, the organization overseeing this event developed financial problems; the Brenham Fire Department took over the festivities and in 1881, held the first Maifest. The celebration has been held annually since, with the only exception being the years during World War I and II. After the festival was started again fees were charged to attend the events. Proceeds were donated to build a public swimming pool, which remained opened until the late 1990's.

The Fire Department started another important tradition here when it held the first County Fair in 1881. BFD organized this event until 1921, when the Washington County Fair Association was formed.

The hurricane of 1900, which destroyed City Hall, also caused extensive damage to the Silsby Steamer. It was shipped back to New York for repairs, at a cost of $2,500. The steamer fought its last fire at the Wangermann-Reichardt Warehouse in 1922.

In 1911, the decision was made to disband the original fire companies and merge into one - Brenham Fire Company No. 1. Later that year, the City of Brenham purchased its first motorized firefighting apparatus for $5,000; a 1911 Webb combination hose and chemical truck. It was allegedly the second motorized fire truck in Texas - Waco had the first pumper truck. In January 1914, the City Council ordered the truck to be housed at City Hall and hired the first two paid firefighters.

In March 1923, the Fire Department purchased an American LaFrance Chemical Engine. Affectionately known as Samanthe, it was one of only 31 types of this fire truck ever built by the company. BFD owns the only one left with its original engine. On a early Saturday afternoon in 1963, an alarm was sounded for a structure fire at the corner of Main and Chappell Hill Streets. Along with two other engines, Samanthe responded - it was to be her last fire. At the conclusion of her active duty, the Fire Department kept Samanthe and in 2004 funds were raised to have her restored to her original condition. With donations and grants, over $90,000 was raised; in May of 2008 Samanthe was unveiled as the highlight of the Mayor's Gala, a party attended by over 500 people celebrating the City's 150th anniversary. Samanthe currently resides in the Brenham Fire Museum, along with the Silsby Steamer and a 1950 750 gpm pumper known as Invader.

Shortly after this fire the City purchased several lots on the east side of town, and built a new station with six truck bays in 1978. The Fire Station continues to serve the citizens of Brenham and Washington County. As the city's population grew, so did the need for fire protection. A third crew was created, with each crew manned by three people. During the 1970's the need for modern rescue equipment became obvious. With funds raised by the Brenham Elks Club, Jaws Rescue equipment was purchased. The Fire Department has since joined with the Washington County Emergency Medical Services in life-saving operations at vehicular entrapment scenes.

In 1982, the department members along with local residents built the Fireman's Training Center on land given by an anonymous donor. In addition to training, the community uses this facility for social events and meetings. The building is operated and maintained by members of the Fire Department; proceeds from renting this facility have helped purchase new vehicles and equipment for the City of Brenham.

In 2007, a 100-foot aerial ladder truck and a 75' ladder truck were added to the department's fleet. The cost of the two new Pierce ladder combinations exceeded $1.5 million; it is the first time the City has purchased two new fire engines at the same time.

BFD Chiefs have been: T.F. Matchett, 1911-1912; Henry Mueller, 1913; Frank Wood, Jr., 1914; E.P. Davis, 1915-1927; Ernest Herman, 1927-1936; E.W. Pflughaupt, 1937-1969; George Korthauer, 1970-1978, Donald Hoffman 1979-1993; Robert Weiss 1994-2004; and Ricky Boeker 2005-present.

Currently the Brenham Fire Department is comprised of a paid Chief, Deputy Chief/Fire Marshal and twelve paid fire fighters. The department, as a combination department, is chartered for 50 volunteers. Ricky Boeker became the first paid Chief in the department's history in February, 2008.

The history of the Brenham Fire Department represents boldness and strength of a people determined to survive and prosper. The BFD has given this community many reasons for civic pride and heritage worth remembering.