Article by Shirley Lerner
University of Texas at San Antonio
Contributed May 13, 1986
SAFD deeply appreciates Mrs. Lerner allowing us to
post this paper for the enjoyment and education of
We've added headings to outline her article.
The crack of a pistol and the clanging of church bells sounded a fire alarm in 19th century San Antonio and announced impending drama to all citizens. In the early years, every individual available to lend a hand scurried to the area where smoke or a reddish glow in the sky indicated a conflagration. As time passed and volunteer fire companies modernized to the point where the entire community no longer was needed to fight a blaze, the sound of the alarm invited everyone to the fire so that, at best, they could become spectators at a very exciting sporting event. Some took the opportunity to do a little looting as the more egalitarian fought side by side with the fireman to save life and property. Others enjoyed watching the antics of the volunteers as they not only attempted to fight the fire, but often scuffled with competing fire companies to extinguish the blaze. Sometimes the rivalry intensified to the point where the fire was ignored as the volunteers did battle with each other.
When the City Government established a paid fire department in 1891, firefighting became more efficient, but the color and glamour of the rowdy volunteers was lost forever. City growth and technological advances in firefighting equipment and alarm systems created the need for professionals to take over as firemen. Within the time period between the formation of the first antebellum volunteer companies and modernization in the 1890's, conservative political and economic interests influenced the evolution of firefighting and fire prevention in San Antonio. The demise of the volunteer department ended an unusual fraternal phenomenon which crossed class boundaries and added a delightful f1avor to the city's image. The history of San Antonio's fire department includes some very serious concerns and important and costly innovations. It is lightened, however, by the pride and good humor of a community which adored and revered its volunteer companies.
Wonderful stories are told about San Antonio's Volunteer Fire Companies and the people who joined them. Though they were often rowdy and frequently subject to the effects of a few too many "sip' of the brew", they served their city well. Unlike some members of volunteer departments in other cities, no San Antonio volunteer was ever indicted for arson or criminal activities. Bruce Laurie notes in The People of Philadelphia that gangs of thugs who supported various fire companies would deliberately start fires in districts where rival companies served (The Author claimed that it is difficult to determine whether or not same gang members were also firefighters.) When the fire equipment from competing companies raced to the scene of the arson, the gangs would overpower them and steal their equipment. Laurie also relates that Phi1adelphia firefighters actually killed or wounded each other during heated battles. San Antonio volunteers did scuffle with one another, but no one was ever killed as a result. In 1932, Joe Luther, a radio announcer and self-proclaimed authority on the "old days", gave a colorful newspaper account depicting a typical fire call in San Antonio during the eighties:
"In the early 80's there were two volunteer fire companies in the city. They had several hose and pump buggies that were drawn by hand and no sooner did the fire bell ring until the volunteers shedding their coats as they ran, were whooping it up and dragging the fire wagon off in the general direction of the smoke. The city's streets were in pretty sorry shape in those gone days, and the boys frequently had a time getting the wagons through the streets after a heavy rain. Old timers remember that when the fireman got bogged up in the mud, cowboys would come by, throw lassos over the wagon and help drag it, giving San Antonio the only cowboy drawn fire department in the world. There were two volunteer companies, and they hated each other like rival collegians. They sometimes mixed it with fists when they met, singly or in groups, on the street, the old timers say. They raced each other to the fire, with the good townspeople laying odds on who got there first. Once at the scene of the fire, the rival companies would race each other to the water hydrants and would race to see who could get a stream playing on the blaze first. They booed each other, if our information is correct, and each company had its supporters and gallery. They didn't have radios of pennant play-offs in those days and a good fire was an amusement attraction. There were even a few occasions when the boys loyalty got worked up to the point where they turned their hose streams on each others ranks while, we suppose, the poor householder sat on the curb figuring how long it would take him to build another house.
Throughout the years of the volunteer department, citizens took pride in the fire companies. Whenever there was a parade, all the men, dressed in their uniforms and pulling their sparkling equipment, would march through the streets of the city. Children idolized them and adult citizens respected their call to duty. On many Sunday mornings, church goers could walk over to a park after services and watch the volunteers practice climbing ropes and performing calisthenics to keep themselves in top physica1 condition. To support their companies, the volunteers and their wives sponsored picnics during the summer and many grateful citizens attended.
Unlike other fraternal organizations, San Antonio's volunteer fire companies accepted membership from all socio-economic classes. Men from the upper classes, however, dominated the officer's ranks. The companies consisted mostly of Germans with a few Irish, Italian, Southern Americans, and German-Jews scattered among them. The over abundance of German volunteers indicates the influence and power of that particular ethnic group in the city during the 19th century. Mexican Americans did not participate, either because they were not invited to join or because they never applied for membership. Records indicate that no Hispanic group attempted to form a volunteer company. This fact supports the claim that Mexican ethnics were unable to organize during the 19th century. Blacks served well in separate fire companies formed during Reconstruction.
The first fire of any significance occurred in 1828 when the San Fernando Cathedral was destroyed. No organized means of firefighting had emerged and a11 able-bodied citizens pitched in to man a rather ineffective bucket brigade. Numerous small fires which occurred in the following 25 years prompted some young, predominant1y German, San Antonio businessmen to form the first volunteer fire company. The Ben Milam Fire Company No. 1 was organized on June 6, 1854. It was essentially a twenty member bucket brigade, at first, and did not receive hand pumpers for several years. It kept its equipment and met at the old market on Main Plaza. Two years later, the equipment was moved to a one story adobe shed near the presidio on Military Plaza. On April 20, 1857, the Milam Company asked the City Council to apply for a state charter. Its name was changed to the San Antonio Hook, ladder and Fire Company and it increased its membership to 82. Through the years, it continued to be called by its original name. A charter was granted on February 8, 1858.
Five years after the formation of the first volunteer company, a second noteworthy conflagration gutted the Eckenroth Store, located in the central business district. Despite valiant efforts of the Milam volunteers, the store's destruction was blamed on lack of sufficient equipment and manpower. This event gave impetus to the formation of the Alamo Fire Association No.2 on December 21, 1859.
The two volunteer fire companies had little funds with which to function. Donations from interested citizens and a small stipend from the city government provided for leather buckets, hand-drawn pumpers, and one hook and ladder cart. The city council paid no salaries, of course, but provided scrip from $30.00 to $100.00 to cover the expenses of the volunteers. Equipment was fragile and frequently had to be replaced or repaired. Because of this, the organizations frequently came to the city asking for additional funds. Fortunately, the city's leaders co-operated with the requests of the two companies.
As firefighting became organized, the citizens of San Antonio were expected to participate conscientiously in fire prevention. Numerous ordinances and rules were passed in the City Council to enhance fire safety. As early as 1846, the city's governing body imposed a fine of $30.00 on anyone building a hay stack or pile of other combustible materia1 near a shed or building. In 1854, the mayor appointed a Fire Committee and one fire marshal and deputy for each precinct. They were to report any problem to the City Council. Names of the appointees are not listed in City Council records or mentioned in any local publication. In addition, citizens were to keep chimneys and stove pipes in good condition. If they did not comply they were fined no less than $5.00 or more than $25.00 per day until the items were cleaned or repaired. If an individual built a fire in a wood building or did not remove combustible material from such a structure after notification by a marshal, they were subject to the same fines. Fire prevention laws were not unique to San Antonio. Examination of code books printed early in the 20th century show that these rules were made all over the United States. Larger cities, containing vast numbers of tall structures and thousands of residential buildings, enacted many more fire prevention ordinances in the mid 19th century.
In January and February of 1860, two fatal fires occurred on the East Coast. On January 10th, the Pemberton Mill in Lawrence Massachusetts collapsed. Rescue workers toiled throughout the day to extract victims from the debris. Then, that night, a lantern used by one of the rescuers cracked and ignited the ruins of the building. The resulting holocaust took 88 lives and injured 275 people. Those still trapped in the collapsed structure perished in the flames. Lack of adequate equipment and poor fire prevention measures caused the destruction of a tenement building and the loss of 20 lives in New York on February 2, 1860. These two incidents, although circumstantial, combined with pressures from insurance companies to upgrade fire prevention measures, may have prompted the following sweeping legislation in San Antonio's City Council. On March 15, 1860, six weeks following the New York Tenement Fire, City Council enacted an ordinance which provided for the "prevention and extinction of fires". No roof or other portion of a house could be constructed with combustible materials such as grass. In case of fire, the City marshals and policemen were to act in conjunction with the fire companies. They were to keep a11 "idle and suspicious persons" away from the vicinity of the fire. They were to compel able-bodied personal present to aid the volunteers. The chief and engineer of the companies were given the same powers. Every stone, brick, or concrete chimney and pipes from stoves, heaters, ranges, and furnaces must be constructed not less than 2 1/2 feet above the roof and raised 2 1/2 feet above the eaves. No fire could be made in open air within 25 feet of any haystack, fodder, or other combustible materials. Every stove, heater, furnace or range would have stone, brick, concrete, sand, tin, zinc, or sheet iron under it and it would extend 6 inches on every side. Combustible materials were to be removed from property on Fridays of each week. Any person refusing to aid in extinguishing a fire or violating any new propositions would be fined not less than $3.00 or more than $20.00 or, in default, be imprisoned from 2 to 10 days. Fire insurance standards and, possibly, the fear of vast urban destruction caused San Antonio's fire prevention tactics to came of age. The city ordinance was adopted without amendment.
Civilian firefighting was brought to a near halt during the Civil War. Host of the volunteers from the two fire companies entered into military service and were went away to do battle. Firefighting in San Antonio was left to the Confederate soldiers who were stationed in the city, to slaves, and to a handful of remaining volunteers. At war's end, the Milam Company No.1 and Alamo Company No.2 were nearly decimated. Only 10% of the Milam's 82 charter members survived the War. No records of Company No.2 indicate numbers 1ost to battle, but it is safe to assume that they also suffered numerous casualties.
When hostilities ceased, a reorganization of the two companies was obviously necessary. Within a few years, civic minded individuals replenished the ranks and the two companies once again functioned at full force. The repopulated organizations then set out to re-equip their personnel. San Antonio was in a financial bind during Reconstruction and could not afford significant modern machinery for its firefighters. Consequently, William A. Menger, chief of Company No. 2, gave the city its first steam pumper on June 12, 1868. He purchased it for $4000.00 from a company in New York, paid for its shipment, and had it hauled to San Antonio from a Galveston port. The Miriam Company did not acquire a steam pumper until 1875. This purchase, augmented by Mayor French, was paid for with City funds. The seven year hiatus between the time Co. No.2 had acquired a steamer and Co. No.1 had none must have caused some heated incidents between the rivals. The enhanced firefighting advantage produced by Menger's engine made his company more efficient than the Milam. Although there are no documented scuffles between the two organizations, it is safe to assume that some jealousy must have occurred as a result of the disparity.
On January 29, 1869, the San Antonio Turn Verein, an athletic club, organized an additional fire company. On May 30, 1871, the Turner Hook and Ladder Company was chartered. Until a paid fire department was established, this company served the community well.
Interestingly at war's end and one year prior to the re-organization of the two original fire companies, two new groups of volunteers, Companies No.3 and No.4. were formed. They were comprised of black men who were either freedmen or were former slaves of the Confederate soldiers serving in San Antonio during the Civil War. Very little is known about Company No. 4 except for the fact that it began in 1866, it never applied for a charter, and disbanded, quietly, in 1881. A little more is known about Company No.3, because it was lauded for helping Alamo Co. No.2 during the "Alamo Fire" in 1874. San Antonio Directories list the names of the officers of the two companies. A further check of the personnel indicates that these volunteers were employed as messengers, wagon drivers, or common laborers. Only one man, Jasper Thompson, held a more distinguished professional position. He was the proprietor of the barber shop in the Menger Hotel . With, perhaps, some guidance from William Menger, Thompson founded Company No.3 and served as its foreman. In their book, The San Antonio Fire Department- 1854-1976, Frank and Genie Myer mention that the local Freedman's Bureau had a hand in establishing the black fire companies. No documents can be found, however, to substantiate the claim.
The saga of the 'colored' volunteer fire companies is a significant addition to the history of Reconstruction and it's aftermath in San Antonio. Since volunteer fire companies enjoyed considerable prestige and political influence, it is likely that local blacks were attempting to acquire these goals by organizing fire companies. Little is known about these groups because the general population in the city resented and ignored them. At the time of their inception, the two original fire companies were struggling to re-organize. Some felt the newly established black brigades were a detriment to the re-building of the Milam and Alamo Companies. Nevertheless, the two black volunteer organizations remained long after Reconstruction's end. In 1873, seven years after its founding, a charter was granted Fire Company No.3 during Mayor Giraud's administration. This action is significant because it shows that the white community had accepted some black progress. Perhaps a few of the councilmen had formed political ties with the black community. From then on, however, City Council records and newspaper articles make little mention of Fire Company No. 3.
The idea that there were political ties between the black volunteers and some white leaders is furthered by the fact that companies No. 3 and No. 4 selected two prominent whites to represent them when City Council elected a fire chief in 1878. J.H. Kampmann, a well known businessman and alderman, was chosen by Co. No.3 and Edward Braden, a government contractor and future chief of Co. No.1, was selected by Co. No.4. It is true that negative attitude toward blacks disallowed their rightful self-representation in the election, but obvious political ties with important urban leaders permitted same recognition by the white community.
During the two decades of the black fire companies' existence, the City Council did not provide funds for them. At their request, the white volunteers were continually granted monies for equipment and maintenance. City records indicate that Companies No.3 and No.4 did not ask for funds until 1886 when Company No.3 did request assistance. Perhaps the city had prohibited them to file such petitions in the past. whether or not their equipment was up to par, or whether or not they accepted private funds are unanswered questions.
After Co. No.3 requested money from City Council on December 6, 1886, the Fire Committee suggested that the company no longer "warrants continuance" and moved to disband it. Apparently, as croon as the blacks threatened to become a financial burden, their public service no longer had any value. By 1888, Fire Company No.3 was but a memory of the Reconstruction era.
Black fire companies were not unique to San Antonio. As early as 1837, a group of stevedores in New Orleans founded Creole Company No.9 to help fight dock fires. Their headquarters was near the Mississippi River, at the corner of Esplanade and Decatur Streets. A researcher at the Library of Congress discovered the existence of a black professional fire company in Minneapolis during the 1880's. It was not until 1968, during the HemisFair activities, that San Antonio hired its first black professional fireman. The era of the 70's was a time of economic recovery from the Civil War and a period of re-building the city's elected government. The conservative mood of the business and political elite who were to influence the city's growth caused a retardation in city services. Fiscal restraint and a disdain for paving high taxes kept funds for the fire companies at a minimum. Consequently, modernization came very slowly. Had it not been for Wlliam Menger's contribution of a steam pumper for Alamo Co. No.2 and Mayor French's push for like equipment for Co. No.1, the volunteers' efficiency would have been considerably stifled. Unlike San Antonio, other cities across the country had greatly enhanced their firefighting capabilities by providing up-to-date machinery such as the Babcock self-acting fire engine and a variety of telescoping and scaling ladders.
Lack of municipal funds during the 1870's left streets unpaved and kept the city from installing a water supp1y system. These deficiencies coupled with insufficient equipment, retarded the firefighting abilities of the volunteers. Frequently, a pumper or hose carriage became bogged down in the mud while rushing to a conflagration. When the equipment finally arrived, water had to be hauled by bucket or hose from the river, creeks, acequias, etc. to distant hand or steam pumpers. Fire hydrants would have eased the volunteers' water gathering ability, but they only existed in cities where water supply systems had been constructed. While the need to modernize was obvious, city officials were bent on keeping expenses to a minimum for as long as possible. Because municipal funds were limited, the Council sought to enact firefighting and fire prevention measures which could be achieved without additional money. Fire prevention during this time played an important role at City Hall. The Council produced numerous ordinances pertaining to building methods, fire starting, and the storage of combustible materials. In 1874, a system of geographical fire limits was established. Within these limits, strict fire codes were enforced. These boundaries separated the greater municipal area from outlying zones. In 1873, the Council provided funds, for the first time, to purchase and keep horses and paid drivers so that some previously hand-hauled equipment could be driven to he scene of a blaze. These drivers, who were not firefighters, slept at the firehouses and cared for the teams. 1n 1875, Mayor French's request to purchase a steam pumper for the Milam company was granted. With the exception of the horse, drivers, and steam pumper, City Council provided no major funding for the fire companies during the 1870's. As the city's population exploded at the end of the decade, concerned citizens saw the need for additional firefighting assistance. Consequently, three new volunteer fire companies were established to serve in the newer residential areas of the city. The following brigades received their charter in the eighties: The Second Ward Hose Co. on April 14, 1883; the Sunset Hose Co. No.1 early in 1885; and the Mission Hose Co. No.4, on October 16, 1885.
In the spring of 1878, the City Council, in order to establish some cohesiveness between the separate Fire companies, organized the San Antonio Volunteer Fire Department. In an ordinance dated May 21, 1878, the Council proposed that there be one chief, elected by the aldermen, to take charge. Each of the five companies were to present a nominee, one of whom would be elected by the 50 council. The resulting election on July 2, 1878 produced a tie between J. H. Kampmann, the white nominee of "Colored" Co. No. 3; and G. A. Duerler, a local confectioner, who was nominated by the Turner Hook and Ladder Company. Forced to cast the deciding vote, Mayor James French selected Duerler. It is possible that French's swing vote in favor of Duerler was influenced by an anti-black attitude. On the other hand, Duerler may well have been chosen because French felt he was the best man for the job. This is substantiated by the fact that Duerler was frequently re-elected during the remaining years of the century.
Between October 1871 and November 1872, the three worst fires in United States history were recorded. The Great Chicago Fire in 1671, The Wisconsin Forest fire in that same year, and the Great Fire of Boston claimed more than 1500 lives, destroyed a million and a half acres, and 52 caused nearly 41.5 billion (in today's dollars) damage. In the early 1860's, following several fatal Fires in the United States, City Council spent a great deal of time upgrading fire prevention measures. No concentration of municipal proclamations or ordinances concerning fire prevention are found around the dates of the great conflagrations of the 1870's. Since government leaders realized that the tight city budget would not allow for updating city services, they simply ignored the national tragedies.
It was not until the mid-eighties, under the leadership of Mayor Bryan Callaghan, that the fire department and other city services were markedly enhanced. He brought to his office a progressive approach to city government. In order to satisfy the ongoing mood of fiscal conservatism and the lingering desire to keep taxes low, Callaghan provided funds for improvements by borrowing from local banks and through issuing municipal bonds. His administration is credited, among other things, for paving the streets and installing fire hydrants.
Callaghan's time in office paralleled mushrooming technological advances throughout America. These advances affected the development of fire departments, the equipment they used, and fire alarm systems. It was during the eighties that the first discussions pertaining to a switch from a volunteer fire department to a paid organization were held in San Antonio. By this time, most major urban areas throughout the country had converted to such organizations. In addition, other cities had purchased modern equipment and had replaced old Fire bells with electrical alarm systems. San Antonio was growing too fast to ignore modernization. Also, fire insurance companies imposed strict penalties for not keeping up with the times, and neglect of firefighting services threatened the community.
The volunteers reacted adversely to the notion that their beloved fraternities be dissolved. A local San Antonio newspaper, "The Times", advocated a paid fire department in 1886. Reaction by the volunteers to this campaign was heated. Chief Duerler attacked the newspaper for printing inaccurate statements and accused it of defamation of character and ingratitude toward the volunteer firemen. Problems with the egos of volunteers were not new. In Cincinnati, during the early 1850's, fire insurance companies requested that the volunteers in that city switch from hand pumps to more efficient steamers. The fire companies felt that their influence would be greatly curtailed because the running of a steam pump required fewer men than did a hand pump. The request of the insurance companies hurt the feelings of the volunteers to the extent that the insurers feared the resignation of all firemen. Consequently, they dropped the issue.
In his annual report to City Council on March 28, 1887, Chief Duerler expressed pride in the services rendered by the city's volunteer firemen. He hoped the Council would be forthcoming in necessary funds for the future and cited statistics claiming that the San Antonio Fire Department spent less than the departments in Dallas, Galveston, and Houston. "Since the city is growing its needs are growing", said Duerler. He suggested several improvements: each hose company should hire an additional paid man and obtain another horse, old hose carts which were in disrepair should be replaced by four wheeled hose carriages that would be able to carry four firemen along with equipment, the old Milam engine should be replaced, and a larger hook and ladder truck should replace the present one because it could not serve buildings over two stories in height. These objectives were approved by City Council and were financed by a $10,000.00 allotment from a $150,000.00 bond issue passed by the electorate on April 30, 1887.
Duerler's report continued by stating that the 27 fires reported in 1886 caused $55,650.00 in damage and that insurance payments totaled $36,850.00, leaving $22,800.00 in locals above insurance claims. A total of 157 volunteer firemen represented the following six existing fire companies Fire Co. No. 1, Fire Co. No. 2, Turner Hook and Ladder Company, 2nd Ward Home Co., Sunset Hose Co., and Mission Hose Co.
Fire prevention and fire department efficiency was enhanced in the decade of the eighties as the City Council updated regulations. After the Brooklyn Theater Fire in 1876, which took more than 300 lives, conflagrations at public functions were recognized as a real safety threat. In 1888, city marshals found the fire escapes at the Opera House to be inadequate and proposed that they be widened and lengthened. In addition, the management was given 90 days to put up iron curtains and a fire hydrant on stage. During performances, two firemen were required to be stationed near the hydrant with a hose and nozzle hook-up at hand in case of emergency.
On July 27, 1885, the City Council adopted a fire directory dividing the city into fire districts, and established a code of signals to pinpoint exact locations of fires. The alarm signals determined which fire companies would respond. Only those in the immediate vicinity of a blaze reacted. The codes eliminated the previous turn-out of the entire force at each fire.
The frenzied attempts at updating city services spilled over into the century's last decade and spelled the demise of the Volunteer Fire Department. The punch to replace the volunteers came to a head in April of 1890. In his report to city council, the Chief Duerler lamented the fact that the present alarm system was inefficient and that he had researched the possibility of replacing it. The estimated cost of a "fire alarm plant" would not exceed $20,000 but an additional $500.00 per month would be needed to run the operation. He also stated, "The establishment of the fire alarm system will in a few years compel a change from voluntary to a paid fire department."
A committee was formed to purchase an alarm system. On September 15, 1850, Alderman Lockwood reported the committee's findings. They unanimously favored the installation of the Gaynor Electric Fire Alarm System with a central office. The cost, $17,225.00 was surprisingly less than Chief Duerler's estimate. The committee's proposal was adopted.
On February 26, 1851, Mayor Callaghan announced that "The fire alarm system will very soon be in operation, and as under the present fire department, the apparatus of the various companies invariably reaches the scene of conflagration far in advance of the men that were using them, the necessity of a paid department is apparent." Callaghan's statement was followed by a resolution from Alderman Lockwood: "Whereas the City of San Antonio has arrived at that stage in population and agrees that demands for its citizens as full protection for life and property as the most modern means and appliances will afford- Whereas it is recognized the fact in all modern cities that in order to successfully combat ravages of fires and lessen danger of great conflagrations a paid fire department is an absolute necessity and- Whereas' since the new alarm system be ready in a few weeks, there in a necessity for professionals otherwise the new system is useless--(therefore) His Honor, the Mayor, is directed to take control of the fire department and equipment and secure the necessary number of men to handle and manage it." Lockwood then thanked the "Grand 0ld Volunteer Fire Department of San Antonio". An ordinance supporting the resolution was immediately proposed, it passed unanimously, and went into effect two days later on March 1, 1851.
Enraged by the swift legislation, Chief Duerler accused Mayor Callaghan and the alderman of making a political move. Duerler's detailed reasons for the charge were not explained by him or by local newspapers. Callaghan denied the accusation by referring to Duerler's report from the previous year where he admitted the need for a professional fire department. Duerler was probably upset by the fact that Callaghan appointed Alderman Weber to re-organize the department and excluded Duerler from participation. Gustav Duerler remained chief in name only and six months later resigned from his post.
Members of the volunteer fire companies were stunned when told their service would no longer be needed. Apparently they, like Duerler, hid from the reality that change was imminent. The board of directors met briefly on the night of February 28th to protest against the "summary disposal" of the volunteer departments. The San Antonio Daily Express reported that the members lingered about the fire hall after the meeting and some "made a verbal kick against the way in which they were ousted." "After a half hour spent in informal lament, the small gathering disbursed."
Mayor Callaghan told the Daily Express that he was offering the opportunity to all the volunteers to become members of the paid department. Many of them did join, but obviously those who were businessmen and professionals could not leave their present means of employment. Actually, the transition of manpower was very smooth. The paid companies retained large numbers of the former volunteers and hired several new men. Callaghan suggested that the old volunteers form auxiliary fire companies, but records show that they did not. After the professional fire department was established, Alderman Jacob Weber implemented its re-organization. Six months later he presented a favorable report to city council. The firemen had functioned well while battling 49 recent conflagrations. The new fire alarm system was working splendidly. It had passed the test of the numerous fires and four practice drills. The other alderman were so pleased with Weber's hard work that they unanimously voted to pay him $250.00 for his services. At that same meeting, L.P. Peck accepted the appointment to become Chief of the Fire Department and served at an annual salary of $1500.00 until 1893. Following Peck's service, Gustav Duerler swallowed his pride and once again became Chief.
In December of 1891, Chief Peck requested and obtained from City Council enough money to purchase additional equipment for the fire department. Among the variety of items listed was a new fire engine to carry chemical extinguishing materials. (Jim Miller, Deputy Fire Chief in present- day San Antonio says that the chemical used in those days was carbon tetrachloride. It worked fairly well but produced poisonous vapors and eventually was discontinued.) Additionally, a new aerial hook and ladder truck was requested, two more engines and teams, and engine houses for the west side of the city were needed. The conservative spending habits of City Council were certainly stretched at this point. These long overdue additions may well have been prompted by insurance companies which penalized cities for not updating firefighting abilities. In fact, Peck mentioned that his proposals were endorsed by insurance companies.
When Gustav Duerler once again became fire chief, he too called for additional equipment, horses, and fire alarm boxes. On June 22, 1853, under Duerler's auspices, the Fire Department once again re-organized in order to upgrade efficiency and correct problems that arose during the first organization. An ordinance enumerating the duties of personnel at each fire house, rules governing the eligibility of deputy fire chiefs, uniform standards, police duties of fire chiefs, and obligations of the general public were adopted.
A most noteworthy observation made from the list of employed firefighters suggests that, for the first time, Hispanic men fought fires in the city. Each fire company observed had several employees with Spanish surnames. This is most significant because it indicates that the professional fire department acted to raise the socio-economic status of the Mexican Community. Of the names on the roster of the old volunteer fire department, only two people with Hispanic surnames are listed. Somehow, the anglo city government crossed ethnic boundaries to hire firefighters. Some of these Mexican-Americans served as officers in their fire companies. In 1907, G. Luna was a Lieutenant at Hose Company No. 9 and D.N. Diaz was Captain of Engine Co. No. 11 in 1917. Non-Hispanic fire fighters served under them.
The growth and change of the San Antonio Fire Department depicts an evolution of all urban services in 19th century America. Without constant modernization and re-organization of fire departments, the potential for entire cities to be leveled by disastrous conflagrations was real. As with disease and crime prevention, fire safety was a constant concern of all citizens. Often the upgrading of city services in San Antonio was held back by lack of funds due to national depressions and fiscally conservative local politicians. Inadequate financing of city services prevailed in Southern urban areas during this time period. Towns like New Orleans, Charleston, and Richmond suffered from poor drainage, unimproved streets, undermanned police departments, and dreadful sanitary conditions. As in San Antonio, the political and business elites often held back sufficient funds for improving these services in the name of fiscal responsibility. In his book, Cotton Fields and Skyscrapers, David Goldfeld writes, "Urban leaders adopted a primitive cast benefit formula that applied to decisions on funding for various services. .....if local legislators believed the economic return .....from a particular service expenditure would out weigh that expenditure, they would fund the service; if the balance tilted in the other direction, they would reject the service request." Eventually, antiquated Southern fiscal policies weakened somewhat in San Antonio and more progressive attitudes took hold. Consequently, legislators ultimately provided sufficient monies to accommodate the needs of the expanding city in general, and the Fire Department in particular.
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