Volunteers manned the fire station till 1963

by Juanita Lovret
Reprinted courtesy of the Tustin News

Tustin’s first fire truck, a converted Buick touring car, seen here with William Huntley at the wheel and Nick Gulick , has been restored and is on display at the Tustin Area Museum

Correspondence between the Tustin Fire Department and the American La France Fire Engine Co. in San Francisco in 1915 is the first record of the existence of a fire department thought to have been organized by the Chamber of Commerce.

Apparently their interest in buying equipment came to naught because the volunteers continued to pull a 40-gallon chemical tank mounted on two large wheels to fires, according to the late Will Huntley who owned the tank and stored it at his Tustin Garage.

Pushed or pulled by several men or pulled behind an automobile, this was a cumbersome piece of equipment. However, it continued to be used until about 1924 when Sam Tustin, son of Columbus Tustin, donated his 1912 Buick touring car to the Chamber of Commerce. As Huntley remembered in a 1964 Tustin News story, the vehicle was sent out of town to be converted into a fire truck with two copper tanks. One tank held soda and one held acid. A former fire chief, Pete Riehl, recalled in the same story that “many a fireman went home with holes in his clothing after reloading the tank with sulfuric acid.”

The first meeting of the Tustin Fire Department was held that same year in the Knights of Pythias hall. Thirty-two men signed up as volunteers. Tustin had a population of 500 and an area of 31 square miles in 1927. Two events that year brought changes to the fire department. First, a siren was purchased and installed on top of the First National Bank building at the corner of Main and D (El Camino Real). The operator in the telephone exchange, which occupied space in the building, was responsible for turning in the alarm to call out the volunteers.

Second, Tustin citizens voted to incorporate and elected a city council, which included four volunteer firemen, Charles Logan, fire chief; William Huntley; Edmond Kiser; and Fred Schwendeman. In May 1928 the city council voted to take over the fire equipment and began paying part of the expenses of the 15 volunteers, such as caps, coats and state insurance.

In 1930 the community voted for fire bonds, 134 to 10. This allowed the city to build a fire station to house the equipment and purchase a second fire truck, a Seagrave 500 gpm pumper. The new station could accommodate as many as five volunteers at night. Additional equipment was acquired as Tustin expanded, but the fire department continued to be staffed by volunteers with little or no training until 1963 when the first examination for paid firemen was held. Three firemen, all former volunteers, were hired. A second examination was held the next year and two more paid firemen were added.

The city continued to acquire more fire equipment, two new stations and paid firemen. By 1977 fire personnel consisted of a chief, two battalion chiefs, six captains, six engineers,12 full-paid firemen, one volunteer and 10 Explorers.

Despite the growth of the department, it was decided that it would be more efficient to contract fire services out to the Orange County Fire Authority which assumed responsibility on Jan 1, 1978, ending an era of more than 50 years.


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