Winters Fire Department History

Winters Fire Chiefs

  • T.H. Finley April 26, 1898 – May 2, 1902
  • M. Warden,  May 1902 – March 1912
  • A.P. Cramer, March 1912 – Oct 1912
  • A. McArthur, October 1912  – October 1934
  • R. Ruggles, October 1934 – December 1934
  • Francis (Pat) McGarr,  January 1935 – July 1968
  • Vernon C. Bruhn, July 1968 – Feb. 1987
  • David G. Kidder,  Feb. 1978 to November 2000
  • Scott F. Dozier, November 2001 – 2011
  • Brad Lopez, March 2019- August 21, 2022

History Of the Winters Fire Department, 1898 to 2002

A meeting was held in the Hughes Hotel on April 26, 1898, to arrange a Fire Department for the City of Winters. A committee was appointed that approved W.J. Tucker as president and W. H. Gregory as Secretary/Treasurer. A hook and Ladder and Hose Company was organized. T.H. Finley was elected Chief.  Ordnance No. 25 was passed on July 26, 1898, by the city board of trustees to create a fire department of 25 members. Over the next several years, the fire department became inactive, and it was decided to reorganize a new fire department on April 28, 1902.

The first major fire occurred on July 19, 1901, in the heart of the town’s industrial area east of the railroad tracks. Within an hour, six buildings were reduced to gleaming coals, including the Winters Dried Fruit Company, the Chandler Lumber Yard, the Grangers’ Warehouse, and barns belonging to J.C. Campbell.  Only the heroic efforts of the water company owner’s daughter, Emma Lechleiter, who started up the steam water pump and the bucket brigades, kept the flames from consuming residences and four other fruit packing sheds in the area.

The community’s defense against fire was severely limited at this time. The town’s only water supply, other than individual wells, came from a steam-powered water company owned and operated by John Lechleiter. Water pressure in this system was frequently insufficient to meet demands.  Furthermore, the volunteer fire department’s only equipment consisted of a portable hose cart, a few ladders, plus some fire extinguishers and buckets. After the 1901 fire, on May 26, 1902, the fire department officially became the Winters Fire Department under City Charter No. 25, and work got underway to erect a fire bell tower.

Early History

S.M. Warden was elected fire Chief on May 26, 1902, and the two city lots located at the southwest corner of First and Abbey were purchased by the City of Winters for $380.00 in January 1904. The steel tower located near the alley is sixty feet high.  The bronze bell weighing 500 pounds was cast in San Francisco. They were both purchased in San Francisco in December 1904 for $254.03. The tower was erected, and the bell was placed in April 1905. This was entirely paid for by money raised by the volunteer fire department at no cost to the city. On May 11, 1912, Chief Warden resigned, and A.P. Cramer was appointed Chief. On Oct. 8, 1912, Chief Cramer resigned and N.A. McArthur was appointed Chief, serving until Oct.18, 1934.

The Yolo County Supervisors donated $6000.00 in 1915 to help build City Hall. The Women’s Improvement Club donated $1200.00 toWinters Fire Logoward the building of City Hall. A bond election was held on November 5, 1915, for $7000.00, which passed by a 235 to 280 vote. A combination of these funds paid for city hall.  The city hall was dedicated on October 26, 1916. The building housed the city offices, county library, jail, and firehouse on the first floor.  The second floor housed the city council room and a meeting room.

In 1917, the entry of the United States into the war in Europe placed an added emphasis on the production of agricultural crops. Protection of grain crops and foothill grazing lands became a wartime priority, leading to improvements in municipal and rural fire departments. The organization of rural fire fighting units was under the direction of the county agricultural extension service and was supported by the regional Farm Bureau centers. In 1915, the board of trustees approved funds for acquiring a hand-pulled cart rigged with a chemical tank to help fight fires in the city. On June 19, 1917, the Winters Board of Trustees approved funds for the acquisition of a trailer rigged with chemicals to fight grain fires and a 500 gallon per minute American La France engine – the City approved the pumper purchase with the understanding that it was not to be taken out of the City limits.

The city purchased the American La France, a 500 gallon per minute pumper, on November 10, 1917, and was used during the World’s Fair in San Francisco. This engine was originally built as a hose wagon. The unit was taken back to American LaFrance and refitted to a pumper configuration.  This engine became the first pumper the City of Winters owned. In 1919, the fire department purchased 39 wicker chairs from the Winter Theatre for $2.50 each. These chairs were still in use at the fire department meeting room until the late 1900’s.

In 1919, the Farm Bureau purchased a Dodge truck fitted with a chemical tank to help suppress fire in the district. E. Graff and H. McGarr housed the unit at their repair garage on Main Street just East of the now Bank of Dixon.

In 1931, the rural fire department purchased a Fageol Fire Truck that was built in Knights Landing at Black’s Manufacturing. The new fire truck held 500 gallons of water and was fitted with a state of the art pump. The unit was very fast, even by today’s standards. When the Fageol was placed into service, the Dodge chemical unit was sold to East Davis Fire District.

During the winter of 1925/26, the Winters Fire Protection District was formed under the Yolo County Special District law, and the county supervisors appointed a board of commissioners. J. Chapman, E. Dexter, W Chapman, J. Griffen, and C. McCoy made up the board.

On October 18, 1934, Chief McArthur resigned, and J.R. Ruggles was appointed Chief. On December 31, 1934, Chief Ruggles resigned, and Frances (Pat) McGarr was appointed Chief. Chief McGarr held the position until July 3, 1968.

A bond election was held on April 9, 1940.  A bond in the amount of $8000.00 was passed to purchase a new fire engine.  The vote was 280 to 41. A committee was appointed to look into what type of unit would be purchased. The committee was Pat McGarr, J.R. Chapman, H. Meyers, and C. Pearse.

A second bond in the amount of $3000.00 was passed to purchase the material for a new firehouse, it passed  247 to 61. The firehouse building was constructed during 1940-1941. The volunteer firemen supplied the labor for the construction.

A 1940 Buffalo Pathfinder, 500-gallon per minute pumper was purchased September 17, 1940, by the City for $6,950.00. The engine was delivered in a boxcar from New York on December 19, 1940.  It was unloaded under the close supervision of Chief Pat McGarr.

During the duration of WWII, two firemen were stationed 24 hours at the firehouse to ensure that no tampering of any of the fire equipment happened.

Historic Fire TruckIn late 1940, two surplus 6X2  Studebaker army trucks were purchased. At first, only one unit was purchased; however, a month later Chief McGarr decided that a second unit was needed. These units were cab & chassis only, and the build-up of both units took place in  McGarr’s shop under Chief McGarr and Firefighter V.C. Bruhn. The shop is still located in the same place between the two stations at 12 Abbey St. This building was originally the hay barn for D.O. Judy’s livery stable. The first of these two units was fitted with a 500-gallon tank and a 500-gallon pump. The placement of the pump called for the unit‘s frame to be lengthened three feet by Chief McGarr. The second unit had a 400-gallon tank and was fitted with a smaller PTO pump. Both units saw service into the late 1970s.

Post World War II

In February 1948, the fire department purchased a movie camera to take pictures of fires for training.

In 1951, the District purchased a 1-ton Dodge Power Wagon. Chief McGarr and V.C. Bruhn installed a tank and seats in the bed of the unit and the unit was fitted with a P.T.O. Pump.

In February 1953, The Winters Fire Department purchased a base radio receiver/transmitter and three mobile two-way radios.  In January 1955, the city purchased a fire alarm system consisting of an air compressor, air tanks, and airlines to connect the horn and code panel.

The American LaFrance was sold to Gordon Sodeman on September 20, 1955, for $251.95. This unit is still displayed at the Ponderosa Ranch in Virginia City, Nevada. The City purchased a two-ton Dodge Cab & Chassis in October 1955 for a fire truck. The Dodge truck was completely equipped and put into service in May 1956. The work to outfit the unit was done by Chief McGarr, V.C. Bruhn, and the volunteers of the time.

The Winter Fire District Commissioners agreed in August 1958 to pay $5.00 a call for answering fires. The city purchased in December 1958 a mechanical respirator.

Three new and improved Motorola transmitter radios were installed in the district trucks in April 1961.  A portable walkie-talkie pack set was also purchased. The Fire District for rescue work purchased a Ford Falcon bus-type van in September 1961. The rescue truck was equipped and put into service by Chief McGarr and V.C Bruhn in February 1962.

The District and City hired Vernon Bruhn as a full-time fireman in February 1963.

The District purchased a White motor company Cab & Chassis, on November 1964. The White Supper Mustang truck was equipped and put into service in May 1966. Chief McGarr and V.C. Bruhn again completed the construction of the unit. The unit was fitted with a 1000-gallon tank and a 500-gallon a minute pump. This unit is still in service today at the station as Grass 326.

The City purchased a Ford F800 Cab & Chassis in January 1967 for a fire truck. This unit also had its build up completed in the McGarr shop, now the Winters Fire District Shop. V.C. Bruhn and staff completed most of the work on this unit.

In 1967, disaster struck in the form of the only major burn injury that has happened to the fire department. Chief McGarr and Bob Button were conducting a control burn on the Dexter place on county Road 90-A. It was a hot August day, and all was going well until a sudden wind change pushed a fast-moving fire into the path of the Jeep that McGarr and Button were driving. Button and McGarr found safety in a ditch that luckily had some water in it, but not before both men had severe burns over most of their bodies. McGarr and Button, although severely burned, stayed several weeks in the hospital and made a full recovery after several months.

Pat McGarr retired as Fire Chief in July 1968, and Vernon Bruhn was promoted to replace him as Chief. Bob Bruhn was hired as the new fireman.

A 60-foot tower and radio antenna were purchased by the District in June 1967 and placed at the Home/Dispatch center of Chief Bruhn.

A committee was appointed in August 1968 by the volunteer fireman to draft a new constitution and by-laws. The committee consisted of  J. R. Chapman, Bill Gray, Ed Neel, George Coman, and Glen Kidder.  The new constitution was adopted by the fire department in December 1968.  A screening committee was appointed in January 1969 to screen new members. The committee consisted of V. Bruhn, H. McDowell, and K.C. Jones.

The district purchased a 4000-gallon tanker in June 1969.  The district purchased a Reo 6×6 tractor in February 1970. These two units made up the main water supply for the fire suppression in the district.  A used 1952 GMC 1000 gallon per minute pumper built by Van Pelt was purchased by the City for $5000.00 in November 1972.

The district purchased one of the same as the city for $5000.00

The City hired Hank Epling as a full-time fireman in December 1972. The district purchased a Ford pickup as the Chief's car in August 1974.

In March 1975, the first CPR class started, and the City and the District hired Dave Kidder as a fireman. In 1975, the City and the District purchased a Ford van as a rescue truck. This unit replaced the aging 1963 Ford Van.

In March of 1976, Chief V.C. Bruhn secured the placement of a state-owned OES diesel fire truck (OES 174). This unit was fitted with a 750-gallon tank and a 1000-gallon a minute pump. It served the City, District, and State well until early 2002, when the state replaced it with a newer 1987 unit (OES 224). This unit was involved and saw action on most of the major fire and emergency events in California during its 25-year stay at the Winters Fire Station.

The city firehouse was dedicated as the Pat McGarr fire station on August 29, 1976.

A new state law required all volunteer and paid firemen to attend one drill per month starting December 1977.

In June 1977, a committee was appointed to rewrite the constitution and by-laws.  The committee was D. Kidder, S. Dozier, T. Rominger, JR Chapman, and V.E. Bruhn.

In May 1979, The District Commissioners agreed to sell the Fageol to the volunteer fire department so that it might be restored.

The reading of the changes in the by-laws was read in July 1979.  Motion by Glenn Kidder, seconded by Roy Jones, was approved in July 1979.

In August 1979, The District shop floor, which was largely constructed of wood planks, in bad disrepair, and was replaced with an all-concrete Floor. Also, the footing that held the structure of the shop was replaced along with the shop pit, which also was rebuilt. This task fell on then Fire Captain David Kidder and the CITA staff at the station.

Hank Epling resigned in September 1979 to accept a position with the California Department of Forestry. Louie Javier was hired by the City as a full-time fireman to replace Hank Epling. In 1989, the City purchased a used 80-foot American La France ladder truck from the City of Woodland in November.

In January 1980, a screening committee was appointed consisting of Mike Brown, Frank Martin, Bob Wilson, Mike Bertch, and Bob Carrion. Also, the city council and district commissioners agreed to pay the volunteers $5.00 for meeting attendance once a month and one drill per month. This was continued until Prop 13 hit, and a flat fee for the entire group was set. A training committee was appointed to assist training officer Mike Brown consisting of Bob Ruggles, Bob Wilson, and another member to be named later, March 5, 1980.

On September 3, 1980, George Chapman was appointed fire commissioner by the board of supervisors to replace Commissioner Tom Plesants, who passed away.

The city received a $30,000.00 bond to relocate the Pat McGarr fire station.  Chief Bruhn has been appointed as a member of the state Fire District Reorganization Board.

The City of Winters and the Winters Fire District jointly purchased a new modern custom-built ambulance in May 1980.  The purchase price for the unit was $29,150.00.  The city paid $14,575, and the district paid $14,575.00.

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Alan Baxter was hired on October 1, 1980, as a fireman to help man the ambulance. Louie Javier left the fire department on December 3, 1980, to accept a position with Emeryville Fire Department. Scott Dozier was hired on January 1, 1981, to replace Louie Javier as a paid fireman.

President E. Carbahal introduced Glenn Kidder on March 3, 1981, representing the Senior Citizens of Winters, also Myrtle Kidder, Marion West, and Mrs. Odessa Kiefer.  They presented to the volunteers a US Flag and a California State Flag in memory of Clarence Kiefer, a long-time fireman who had passed away.

Alan Baxter is leaving the fire department on May 18, 1981 to accept a position with the Piedmont Fire Department. David Hightower was hired to replace Alan Baxter on June 1, 1981.

An agreement of consolidation between the City of Winters and the Winters Fire District was signed on September 25, 1981, to go into effect on December 31, 1981. This agreement placed the District in charge of both departments.

In 1987, a new fire station was built on the west side of the District shop to be officially owned by the City of Winters and the Winters Fire District (14 Abbey St.).

In February 1987, Chief V.C. Bruhn retired, and David G. Kidder was appointed Chief. Kidder held the possession until November of 2001. During his tenure as Chief Kidder purchased several newer pumpers to replace the aging 1952 GMC pampers. He also acquired a new larger ambulance and a new rescue squad.

In November 2001, Chief Kidder retired, and Scott Dozier was appointed Chief.

In June 2002, the district purchased a new 3600-gallon water tender. The tank plumbing and pump were new and placed on a used 1998 Kenworth T-800 B Cab chassis. In June of 2002, the department changed over to a 4” large diameter supply hose to better supply water to the structure pumper.