History of the LRFD

Finally, the Firefighters of Little Rock were officially accepted by the legalities of municipal and state government, commanded by one leader, and bonded together as professionals dedicated to the ongoing mission of protecting life and property – sometimes at a tremendous cost.

In establishing the full-time Fire Department, the City deemed the attire of the St. Louis Fire Department as the official Little Rock Fire Department uniform. Working as a Firefighter was unlike any other job, if, for no other reason than the working hours. Duty time was continuous except for scheduled time off for meals at home. Since most Firefighters lived very close to their assigned stations, efficiency was only temporarily sacrificed by having one man gone for one (1)-hour at a time. Overall, the Little Rock Fire Department consisted of Station 1, 409 Gaines Street; Station 2, 1107 Main Street; Station 3, 124 North Louisiana Street; Station 4, 511 East Markham Street.

Prior to the establishment of the paid department, in 1881, the City had telephones installed in all fire stations. In addition, the City purchased a fire alarm box system for $7,000 from the Gamewell Company. This system, consisted of forty-three (43) “pull boxes,” strung and connected to Station 1. The first expansion of the professional Little Rock Fire Department began on March 6, 1893, when the City purchased the southeast corner of 14th and Pulaski Streets for $750. This action resulted in the formation of Fire Station 5. North of the Arkansas River, the City of Argenta was incorporated in 1890 and Little Rock wasted no time in annexing Argenta as its 8th Ward. Company 6 of the Little Rock Fire Department was housed in the 500 block of Newton Avenue (later Main Street) beginning in 1893. In 1902, North Little Rock officially started the separation from the City of Little Rock. All the protection from the Little Rock Fire Department ceased on April 4, 1904, even though mutual aid has remained constant.

The bulk of the professional firefighting force came largely from the volunteer fire companies. These men possessed a self-imposed, competitive savvy that prompted their calling to the fire service. Despite the long hours, low pay, inevitable dangers, beyond “eating smoke,” and suffering through the extremes of heat and cold, the possibility of serious injury or death always existed.

These possibilities became reality on December 15, 1895, at the First Methodist Church fire. Not only did Captain James A. Robbins and George Wunderlich sustain fatal injuries that morning, but Fire Chief Robert McKay had to challenge the insubordination of Firefighter Harry Wade in the heat of the battle. In addition to refusing the Chief’s orders to move his hose line, Wade accused the Fire Chief of endangering his men by ordering them inside the burning church. An investigation into these charges discovered that, on his deathbed, Captain Robbins told his family that he and Wunderlich had entered the church on their own. This evidence cleared Chief McKay of any negligence.

A historic meeting, on December 20, 1920, gave birth to the Arkansas State Firefighters Association (ASFFA). Firefighters from Ft. Smith, Pine Bluff, North Little Rock and other municipalities traveled to Little Rock and met at Central Fire Station.

The main goal of the ASFFA was to improve benefits for firefighters by lobbying for State legislation requiring cities to provide pension benefits. With Fire Chief Charles Hafer as their first President, the State Association achieved its first goal when Act 491 of 1921 created the Firemen’s Pension and Relief Fund. Two (2) years later, the Arkansas General Assembly passed a law creating the two (2) platoon system, thus freeing the firefighters from the atrocious work schedule that dated back to 1892. In celebration, the Order of American Firemen hosted a banquet for Firefighters and their families.

Years ago, the Arkansas State Fairs were held in West Little Rock in the area that is now War Memorial Park. The State Fair Association requested that the City open a fire station in the park in order to protect the huge crowds and pavilions. The station that was built became Station 8, temporarily. The earliest reference to Station 8 is in August, 1924, when personnel were assigned. Months later, March 23, 1925, Chief Hafer wrote the District Manager of Southwestern Bell, requesting that the phone company connect a direct line from the alarm office to Station 8. Since the opening of the station all alarms were received over the business phone. All other departmental records show that the station was designated as Station 10.

Chief Hafer noted additional concerns over paying rent of Fire Station 4 to the City Council in 1927. He stated the rental fee, $150 a month, could be better spent if the City owned its fire stations. This appeal resulted in the relocation of Engine 4 from Markham and Commerce Streets to 119 South Sherman Street in 1928. The new engine house was formerly a medical clinic.

A huge expansion of the Little Rock Fire Department began in 1929 with the passage of a bond issue to purchase new apparatus and build new fire stations. When the new apparatus arrived they were housed as follows: Station 5 was rebuilt into a two (2)-bay station to accept a new ladder company, Truck 2. The service truck, put into operation on July 29, 1930, carried only ground ladders and related tools. Station 7, Beech and Prospect Streets, received a ladder service truck too, this apparatus became Truck 3. Station 9, a two bay house, opened on July 16, 1930, at East 6th and Fletcher Streets.

Then new “fleet” of American LaFrance fire engines provided the city with the latest in chain driven apparatus. They were properly assembled in front of the Arkansas State Capitol for a group photograph. Later, the downtown area of Little Rock became a parade route for the Firefighters as they proudly blew their sirens to call attention to this massive display of machinery.

There is no one who can dismiss the milestones in the career of Chief Hafer, who applied for retirement effective February 13, 1933. After serving forty (40) years, 2 ½ months, he left what had been his life. During his tenure, he served Little Rock as Fire Chief for thirty-one (31) years. The City wasted no time in naming a successor. On February 14, 1933, Assistant Chief Charles A. Burns was named as Fire Chief, just a few weeks before the new Civil Service law went into effect on April 3,1933. The new legislation created a panel of citizens, appointed by the City Council, to over see hiring, disciplinary and promotional procedures for the Fire and Police Departments. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before they were needed. Fire Chief Burns suffered a fatal heart attack in his doctor’s office on June 10, 1936. The Civil Service Commission then selected Assistant Chief Joe Carmichael as Fire Chief on August 11, 1936.

1990 population 200,970
Square miles 103.16
Assessed value $1.2 billion
Alarms in 1990 12,800
Fire hydrants 6,000
Firefighters 335
1990 F.D. Budget $13,024,702