La Porte Fire Department History
VOLUNTEER FIRE FORCE TRACED BACK TO 1892
In September of 1912, three members of the local Chamber of Commerce -- A.N. Shannon, A.N. McKay, and E.P. Boyle -- went before the Board of Alderman, with George W. Brick as mayor, as a committee appointed by the Chamber in regard to the feasibility of organizing a Volunteer Fire Company.
The discussion centered on the buying of equipment for a fire department for the City of La Porte and asking citizens to act as volunteer firemen. The subject was taken under consideration, after all agreed that this organization was essential for the welfare of La Porte citizens to combat against the serious fires that had been experienced in past years. Three aldermen -- E.B. Frazier, Ed B. Wark and Frank W. Reynolds -- were appointed to meet with the Chamber of Commerce for later consideration. Plans were made and discussed at the subsequent City Council and Chamber of Commerce meetings. It was not until 1913 that warrants were drawn up to purchase a chemical engine to cost $600. The first company was formed but not officially organized. Citizens who volunteered to act as volunteer firemen were Frank Dorgan, H.B. Harrison, H.T. Neal, Chris Isenee, E.C. Downer, Roy Renfrow, Dean Linkhart, W.N. Hennigan, A.C. Workman, Ruben Wright, and Guy R. Hamilton. Dean Linkhart was appointed Fire Chief. After the new fire engine was purchased, a double door was cut in the front of the small jail house to store it. A few years later, as this room was needed for city council and as a jail house, the equipment had to be moved. Mr. Herb Neal, by that time a member of the city council, offered space in the rear of the Bisson building which he owned, and the fire engine was moved there February 9, 1914. After the chemical engine was purchased, it was placed on a two-wheeled cart and pulled by a long rope tongue. A hose was attached on the rear of the tank. When a call of fire was heard, any man available had to grab the hose or tongue and run for the location of the fire where-ever it might be. A phone was not always available, so the call had to be given by voice. The wild cry of "Fire, Fire" could be heard for blocks as voice after voice took up the call giving the alarm, meaning someone needed help, until the fire was located and extinguished. The fire, sometimes in the middle of the night, would send citizens emerging from every home to learn where the fire was located, and ready to give a helping hand. Men rushed to the fire station located in the Bisson building, either grabbing the rope tongue or helping trail with the hose. While Mr. Linkhart stood ready to operate the engine, a bucket brigade was formed to carry water from the nearest available well to continuously fill the tank attached to the engine. Every citizen in town came to the rescue of the household furniture, to save as much as possible. Members thought best that only the fire chief should learn to operate the new machine, since they felt the delicate manipulation should not be under the control of too many hands. But, when the worst fire occurred in La Porte's history on June 6, 1915, Mr. Linkhart was out of town and therefore, no one could operate the prized machine. A fire starting in the three-story Bisson building, on the corner of Second and Main, was soon out of control burning three blocks of business buildings on Main Street. This might have been partly diverted if other members had known how to operate the machine which was stored in the burning building, were the fire started. The machine was rescued but was as useless as a little red wagon. La Porte citizens were proud of the small volunteer fire department, as volunteers made every effort possible to quench the flames. Therefore, it was disappointing to stand helplessly by and see Main Street going up in smoke. There were many appreciative citizens in La Porte that were thankful for the help received by the volunteer workers and the equipment. The only water available was from the deep artesian wells located perhaps blocks away at different locations. On such occasions, La Porte citizens, noted for their generosity, came to the rescue sharing what could be spared and needed to make fire victims comfortable. On such occasions, a collection was taken to buy groceries when all was lost. But the citizens of La Porte and city council realized something more must be done. It was time to prepare better equipment. After the big fire of 1915, the little chemical engine was housed in the Reyner Garage on West Main and Third Street in a sheet iron building. The engine remained there until the gulf storm which followed on August 16, 1915. The storm wrecked the garage, and the fire engine buried in the debris was nearly destroyed. It was decided to move the engine to its former home on Second and A Street for repair and store the soda and acids in a dry place so the proficiency of the soda would not be lost with contact of moisture before needed at a fire. And a Company of volunteer firemen was organized. A small building was erected between the Holsworth Bakery and Chris Isenees's Liquor store for the fire equipment. A Ford Chasis was purchased in January of 1917, the engine and tank were placed on the chassis, that made the outfit cost $900 in all. A larger volunteer fire department was officially organized with appointed officers on December 23, 1925. The former department had no regulations, now being organized into a regular company with 26 charter members as follows. They were Chris Isensee as the fire chief, who had been filling that position the past 10 years; Guy R. Hamilton, first assistant; George Isensee, second assistant, and George Counts Sr., fire marshal secretary and treasurer. Father Finn served as chaplain. He was not a member of the fire department but attended all the meetings. Other members were John Isensee, Ralph Mount, Wilbur smith, Frank Dorgan, Guy R. Hamilton, Otis Harrison, Frank R. Boyle Sr., E.Z. (cotton) Havard, Harold P. Pfeiffer, L.L. Price, Jack Quinn, Ed P. Sullivan, William V. Sullivan, Fred B. Hill, Rex J. Baker, George Isensee Sr., Charles J. Wilson Sr., Hanse Busch, J.N. Johnson, Arnold Pfeiffer, George H. Sharp Sr., Joe L. Dunham, Roy Renfrow, C. A. Crenshaw, and George Counts Sr.
On April 23, 1918, Chris Isensee was appointed as Fire Chief. Other members were Herb Neal, George Holsworth, Guy R. Hamilton, William v. Sullivan, E. P. Boyle, Frank Dorgan, E. C. Downer, Frank Boyle Sr., Jewel Josserand, Ralph Mount, Alfered Seamman, George Isensee, Roy Renfrow, and Wilbur Smith.
In 1925, a large and powerful engine fitted for both water and chemicals and costing $7,000 was purchased by the city on August 1. After the regular council meeting of August 13, that same year the men of the Volunteer Fire Department decided to try out their new toy by making an official drill to test their ability in making a run to the old refinery, putting the engine to work in the shortest possible time. In 10 minutes, two strands of hose, 500 feet in length, were stretched, each throwing large streams of water from the refinery cooling system with just two hundred pounds of pressure. The men felt that with a little practice this could be accomplished in much less time. La Porte citizens felt the $7,000 paid for the new engine was money well spent. And people who paid taxes felt the need of more protection from heavy loss by fire. Bonds were issued on December 10, 1929 and plans were presented for approval of a municipal building to serve as a City Hall and a Fire Station, with an assembly hall on the upper floor. It was built on the corner of Second and A streets, now the fire administration building and Station No. 1. Bonds were voted on and carried October 20, 1930. A contract was let for the new building to W. E. Streeter, and the building was opened to the public in December of 1930. City officers included A. N. McKay, mayor; councilmen Frank W. Reynolds, LeRoy Tolle, Fred Ruff, George Sharp Sr. and Frank Doran; secretary I. W. Rust; A. T. Seamann, tax assessor and collector; Miss Bess Shannon, clerk of Brenton and McKay Bank was appointed treasurer; H.T. Neal, recorder of corporation court; M.E.Santa Rosa, city marshal; A. Muldoon, presiding corporation judge; George Counts Sr., fire marshal; and Chris Isensee, fire chief.
The Fire Department and American Legion sponsored a celebration each year in September, known as La Porte Day, with all taking part in the parade. In 1930, an ordinance by the city forbade parking too near a fire plug or driving in front of a fire wagon in service or driving over a fire hose. Also, a fire zone was created.
An organization was created on December 28, 1931, styled as the La Porte Fire Prevention Organization. The committee consisted of the secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, the fire marshal, and fire chief, and met once every month.
The first fire hydrants of standard connection were scattered over a radius of two square miles inside the city limits. In December of 1931, Charlie Wilson Sr. was recommended by A.N. McKay as fire Marshal. Mr. Wilson came to La Porte with his family, from Memphis, Tennessee, in 1929. He joined the fire department in 1930 and served as fire marshal until 1941.
Chris Isensee served as fire chief for 26 years from 1915 to 1941 when he resigned to give full time to his private business. On June 1, 1941, Mr. Wilson was employed by the city as fire chief to serve as a full-time officer of the fire department as the work had grown too heavy for a volunteer officer with other employment. He was also the choice of the volunteer firemen as their chief.
A five-room apartment was built above the garage for Mr. Wilson and his family. Mr. Charles Wilson as fire chief was sent to Texas A&M, in 1941, to a fire training school during World War II. On January 5, 1942, Mr. Wilson was appointed as the first fire chief to serve as a fulltime officer with a salary. When Mr. Wilson later resigned, Jimmy Rollins was appointed as fire chief, having been selected by the volunteers. There was never more than one paid fireman until the 1960's. The department has grown to some 70 volunteers at this time, with four stations throughout the city and about one dozen paid firemen. The department recently opened a state-of-the-art fire training facility. Mike Boaze is the fire chief with Donald Ladd, Champ Dunham, Carl Holley and Jim Crate serving as assistant chiefs.