Waxahachie Fire Department History
In the late 1870's and early 1880's, Waxahachie had a volunteer fire department known as the "Salamander Fire & Hose Company." These volunteers had little, if any, financial support from the city but fought heroically during the famous fires of May 9th and May 18th, 1882, lacking fire hydrants and proper fire fighting equipment.
The May 9th fire consumed the Siddons Hotel (site of present day Rogers Hotel). The May 18th fire was one of the most disastrous fires in Waxahachie's history. The north side of the square burned, destroying the numerous wooden structures within the block. The city had passed an ordinance in August of 1879 making it unlawful to build any new wooden structures in the downtown area.
When the fire started, it moved swiftly to the north. The north side of the square was consumed in flames and all of the buildings between Rogers and Washington Streets (now College Street) to the creek were ablaze. Twenty-five homes were destroyed and approximately 28 merchants lost their place of business. The county jail was also damaged by the fire, losing its roof and suffering damage to the jail cells. The prisoners were moved to the courthouse until repairs could be made. The only building left standing was the Citizens National Bank building on the north corner, east side of Rogers St. (Rogers & Main Streets) on the square.
The Salamander Fire & Hose Company was able to save some merchandise ahead of the fire. The department's only water supply was the spring fed creek between Rogers and College Streets. (The name "Salamander" was a popular name for firefighting companies because the Salamander was believed to be able to resist fire and heat.)
Mr. Getzendaner and Mr. Ferris, of Citizens National Bank, were so appreciative of the firefighter's efforts in saving the bank building, they paid the firemen $500 ($10,461.25 in 2008) for their efforts. The total loss resulting from the fire was estimated to be $100,000 ($2,092,250.25 in 2008). Many of the citizens believed the fire was the work of an arsonist, but there was never any proof of how the fire started. Six days after the fire the Board of Alderman, as they were known, created a committee to make recommendations for better fire protection. The "Enterprise," the city newspaper, who also lost their building during the fire, reported that the Liverpool and Phoenix Insurance Companies were instructed to raise their rates and if no "satisfactory" arrangements were made for firefighting by August 1, the companies would write no more insurance in Waxahachie.
In February of 1883, the fire committee recommended the city purchase a "Remington" steam engine, but no action was taken. On May 3, 1883, almost one year from the disastrous fire, the city purchased a Silsby steam fire engine, 1,000 feet of hose, and two hose carts for $4775.00 ($101,962.72 in 2008). The Aldermen also decided to fund the fire department. Thus, on July 4, 1883, under the name of Salamander Fire Company No. 1, the city chartered and funded its first fire department. (Evidently, according to information from 1922 below, the funding of the fire department meant equipment, horses, etc., but not firemen. It appears the firemen were volunteers until 1922.)
In August of 1883, a meeting was held by the Board of Alderman to consider accepting and turning over the new pumper wagon to the Salamander Fire company.
In October of 1883 the city accepted bids for a new engine house to be built at Rogers and Water Street. This site could utilize the spring fed creek and be near the heart of Waxahachie's downtown area.
In 1892 the City of Waxahachie opened a new City Hall/Fire Station on the corner of Elm and Main Streets. The land of the city hall was purchased from the Cumberland Presbyterian Church on February 16, 1892, at a cost of $2,125. The two-story city hall, which originally housed the fire department on the first floor and the rest of the municipal offices on the second floor, was built in six months in 1892. When the present day Ellis County Courthouse was under construction, county officials made City Hall their home until their new structure was completed.
A bell tower was located on the roof to notify volunteer firemen and to notify policemen to return to the station. The bell striker was electrified during World War II to serve as a civil Defense Warning system.
In 1922 the City of Waxahachie changed from a volunteer fire department to a paid department. The firemen worked six days (24 hours) and had one day off. They could go home for lunch, one at a time, for one hour. The firemen were also allowed to walk around the downtown area and go to the movie theater. If there was a fire, the large bell on top of the fire station could be heard from a great distance. The bell now resides at the Central Fire Station on West Main.
In 1961, all of Waxahachie's city office were housed in the old building, a fact that brought about a multitude of interior structural changes from the overcrowding. The exterior remained materially the same with the only major alteration being the removed of one of the bell towers in the mid 1950's. The building served the needs of the city until 1963 and was demolished in 1964.
Pictures courtesy of The Ellis County Museum.
Copyright © 2010 Waxahachie Fire Rescue