Through the first half of this century, the North-western Pacific Railroad Company headquarter, repair shops and ferry docks dominated what is now downtown Tiburon. Businesses on Main Street, portions of the railroad yard and several homes all experienced serious fires during those early years.
It was not until 1941 that residents of the community met with the purpose of forming an organized fire department. They petitioned the Marin County Board of Supervisors for fire protection who in turn placed the question on the April ballot and the formation of a new fire district for the Tiburon peninsula was approved by a vote of 119 yes to 30 no. Simultaneously the residents approved a tax to equip the new fire department and elected three fire commissioners.
Property within the new district was assessed at $728,000 with owners paying high insurance premiums. Organized fire protection for the community was expected to reduce the rates by 25%.
The Board of Directors convened their first meeting on July 7, 1941 at the Tiburoners Club in a storefront at what is now 30 Main Street.
The commissioners included Mike Barnes, August Oldag and Bert Hooper. Donald McLean served as District Secretary. First order of business for the Board was to appoint Barnes Chairman, Oldag Chief of the Department and Ed Dunn Assistant Chief.
The Fire District entered into a three year lease agreement at $5.00 per month for a fire station site at what is now 1690 Tiburon Blvd. The volunteer fireman built a wood frame, two –stall engine house on the property. On October 5, 1941 they took delivery of a new White 500 gmp pumper built by the Van Pelt Company of Oakdale, California.
Seventeen men comprised the first roster of volunteer firefighters in Tiburon. Many were employed by NWP and lived on the hillside above the railroad yard. Training was a high priority for the men during the first few years.
Early on emergency phones were installed in the fire station and in the homes of the chief, Assistant chief and Commissioners. Volunteers were alerted by the NWP air horn alarm system which could be actuated from any of the railroad alarm locations. A good compliment of men could be depended on to respond days and nights since most of the department either worked in the railroad yard or had businesses in town.
In September of 1946, property was leased from the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Company (with a verbal future purchase agreement) and the fire station was moved across the street.
Another engine was purchased from Van Pelt in 1949 with the purpose of fighting grass and brush fires on the peninsula. The 1949 Chevrolet included a 300 gallon water tank and a 250 gpm pump. It was at this time that radio equipment was installed in both trucks with Civil Defense matching funds.
In January of 1950 the fire department was reorganized with Jim Brunette serving as Fire Chief, Jack Ishmael Assistant Chief, Louis Soldavini Captain and George Mantegani Lieutenant. R.L. “Dick” Williamson was appointed Chief Engineer and became the District’s first paid employee earning $50 per month to maintain the apparatus.
The Volunteer started construction of an addition to the fire station in 1951 which was to include a large meeting room and office for the commissioners. Several “Eagle Shoots” (marksman competition using wooden targets) were held to raise funds for the building.
After a survey conducted by the Pacific Fire Rating Bureau in 1950, the insurance rating for the Tiburon Fire District improved from 8 to 6 showing a marked improvement in the department’s water supply and firefighting efficiency. Benefits were passed on to residents and business owners in the form of lower insurance premiums. The rating for the District improved to 5 by 1991.
In April of 1953 the fire station addition was completed allowing the fire commissioners to hold the first meeting in their new office.
The new station was not entirely satisfactory, however. Harsh winter storms and heavy rain caused flooding in the fire station through the mid-1950’s. In 1956, the department purchased a four-wheel drive International pickup truck with a high-pressure pump and a 125 gallon water tank. The unit was used by District fire officers responding to resuscitator calls and as a fire command vehicle on large incidents. A temporary shelter for the pickup was constructed in the meeting hall and plans were started to remodel the fire station and raise the elevation to alleviate the annual flooding problems.
In spite of the District’s former agreement with NWP to retain the rights to purchase the land where the fire station was located at 1679 Tiburon Blvd, a local developer was able to buy the property from the railroad in 1957. Much of the following year was spent going through condemnation procedures for the property with the district finally paying $25,000 to secure the land. In January of 1958 the District purchased from Civil Defense surplus stock of a 750 gallon 6X6 tank wagon which the Volunteers were able to rebuild for firefighting purposes.
Realizing that they needed more space, they decided to construct a new four-bay engine room at an elevation above the flood level. The existing meeting room and office was raised to become the second story of the new station. This building was thought to be the cure-all for flooding and for keeping all of the apparatus under cover.
As more people built in the northern rural area of the Tiburon Fire District, residents, led by Major Jack Weber, petitioned the District for better fire protection. A garage was rented at $10 per month from Kirby Atterbury in February of 1959. Later the 1941 White engine was moved to the Edwards’ carport in Belveron. Assistant Chief Ed Parnell was assigned to recruit and train new volunteers to man the engine. The white was replaced at the downtown station with a new 1000 gpm Van Pelt engine.
It was also in 1959 that the Board of Fire Commissioners expanded to five members. With tension mounting between the Fire Chief, Volunteers, Commissioners and the community, the new Board decided to do a job search and formally test for the position of Fire Chief. The firm of Kroeger Associates conducted the tests and on December 5, 1959, the department’s former second Assistant Chief, Franklin J Buscher, was appointed Chief.
Under Buscher’s direction, new goals were developed for the department including an emphasis on training, improved records and standards of operation, and a systematic plan for building a full-time work force. The 1960-61 budget of $60,251 reflected a sizable reduction in the community’s tax rate, but was more than enough to hire firefighters and construct a substation in the northern section of the District. Clive Cloverdale became the District’s first paid fireman on August 1, 1960 and Donald Smith became the second in January of 1961. The two-stall fire station was ready for occupancy at Trestle Glen and Paradise Drive in September of 1960. The District acquired a water tender to augment the inadequate water supply on Paradise Drive. When the District was able to complete an extensive plan for installation of fire hydrants at 350 foot intervals along Paradise Drive, the tender was sold. The improved water system significantly reduced insurance premiums for all property owners in the District.
In March of 1961 the headquarters fire station was remodeled to better accommodate the paid firefighters and resident volunteers by converting the second floor meeting hall into living quarters. A one-story block business office and maintenance shop was also added on the south side of the station. The District secretary doubled as an emergency dispatcher from the new office during the day with a volunteer manning the radios evenings and weekends.
The fire department experienced steady growth through the 1960’s with the addition of equipment and personnel. By 1970, both stations were staffed with a total of five firefighters working 24-hour shifts. Participation of the strong Volunteer Association, however, continued to be emphasized.
On June 12, 1969, the Board of Directors committed the District to fire prevention by adopting the Uniform Fire Code. A vigorous Home Inspection Program was developed along with annual business inspection. The code also established requirements for new construction in Tiburon including fire alarm systems, roadway and hydrant installations. It was also at this time that the department became more involved with pre-fire planning and public education programs in the District. The endorsement of built-in fire protection and life safety systems was expanded in 1983 when Tiburon became one of the first communities in the state to adopt a 100% sprinkler ordinance which required the installation of automatic fire sprinkler systems in all newly constructed and substantially remodeled buildings.
The Fire District responded to the increase in emergency medical calls in the 1970’s by training all personnel in first aid and purchasing and ambulance. In 1979, voters approved the establishment of a Paramedic System for southern Marin which as significantly improved the level of pre-hospital emergency care for Peninsula residents.
With a dwindling daytime volunteer force, Belvedere entered into an agreement with the Fire District for emergency medical services, fire protection and fire prevention beginning in 1980.
The Tiburon peninsula has experienced many changes since 1941, including the transition of its small volunteer fire department into a full service fire department today with an emphasis on safety, training, fire prevention and public education.
The strong Volunteer Association continues to support the District by purchasing specialized equipment and safety gear for the department and by sponsoring all public education programs in the community such as the annual Fire Prevention Week Poster Contest in the Tiburon Schools. In 1990, the Volunteers contributed one third of the cost for a new four-wheel drive engine for fighting grass fires. The volunteer freighters receive no compensation for time spent in training or on emergency calls.
The combination of high tides and winter storms continued to flood the fire department lot with sometimes as much as three feet of standing water in the apparatus bays. The station which had been moved, added on to and remodeled on several occasions over the years was demolished by a bull dozer in less than two hours on July 25, 1991. Construction of the new headquarters fire station was designed by Tiburon architect Colleen Mahoney and was finished in 1992.
1992-2010 coming soon!