History of the Port Arthur Fire Department

On August 19, 1897, the executive committee of the Port Arthur Club held a meeting and addressed the matter of the need of fire protection. In that meeting, it was decided that the first and most essential thing is a means of alarm in case of a fire. Messrs. Laughlin and McDonald were appointed to solicit funds to purchase a good fire bell. Messrs. McReynolds and Laughlin were appointed to organize at least one fire company. They were to drill and use them as a bucket brigade until suitable fire apparatus was secured. (Port Arthur Herald, August 19, 1897)

George R. Stearns was appointed to serve as Fire Chief in 1897 and under his leadership established a bucket brigade and obtained a hand drawn hose cart.

Chief F. J. Trost became Fire Chief in 1900. On May 13, 1905 the Port Arthur Fire Department consisted of the following: F. J. Trost, Fire Chief (Photographer of the famous Lucas Oil Well discovery); J. B. Coe, Assistant Chief; Alex McClelland, Captain Hose Co. No. 1; William Wallets, Driver Engine No. 2; Blonde Riley, engineer and volunteer fireman.

The first fire station was located under the two story wood building housing City Hall on Austin Avenue between Fifth and Sixth Streets. The firefighting equipment consisted of one steamer with a capacity of 500 gallons per minute, one Halloway combination steel wagon carrying one 60 gallon fire hose, 2 hand extinguishers, extension and roof ladders, axes, buckets, pike poles, crowbars and wire cutters. A complete fire alarm system was installed consisting of 22 alarm boxes well distributed over the City and most conveniently located.

The year of 1908 saw the beginning of a paid fire department when a new horse-drawn apparatus was purchased and a full time driver was hired. In 1913 two more horse-drawn wagons were added to the department along with a horse-drawn hook and ladder wagon. Also, in 1913, the Austin Avenue Fire Station was relocated to a new two-story building at Waco Avenue and Fourth Street that also housed City Hall and the Police Station. Two additional fire stations were built – No. 2 Fire Station at Houston Avenue and Thomas Boulevard, and No. 3 Fire Station at Fifth Street and Vicksburg Avenue.

In 1917, all the horses were put out to pasture by the new internal combustion powered mechanical fire apparatus. A 1916 model American LaFrance 1000 gallon piston pumper, two 300 gallon piston pumpers, and an aerial ladder truck with a 65 foot extension ladder were all purchased from American LaFrance Fire Equipment Company. In 1922, a 650 gallon pumper was added and in 1924, a REO Chemical truck was added. W. Clyde LaRose became Fire Chief in 1919. The personnel of the fire department consisted of a Chief, Assistant Chief, five Captains, one mechanic, one electrician, a Fire Marshal, and a crew of thirty-five men.

In 1925, the City purchased two 1924 American LaFrance 750 gallon piston pumpers and an American LaFrance City Service Truck. The City also built three new fire stations – No. 4 Fire Station at Tenth Street and Second Avenue, No. 5 Fire Station at Fourteenth Street and Augusta Avenue, and No. 6 Fire Station at Grannis Avenue and Thomas Boulevard. At City Hall, Waco Avenue and Fourth Street, a PBX telephone switchboard system was installed. Switchboard operators were placed on duty 24 hours a day to receive fire calls. Another alarm receiving system installed was the Gamewell Fire alarm pull boxes located in various parts of the City.

J. C. Enright became Fire Chief in 1929. In 1933, the Fire Department manpower was reduced, due to the Great Depression, to 18 firemen out of Central Fire Station. All other Fire Stations in the City were closed. The eighteen firemen that remained on the department at the time were: Dave P. Rachal, Lester Hebert, J. M. Woods, Eugene Ray, Dave Montgomery, Ralph Rachal, L. Clyde Duggan, Tommy Taylor, Edison L. Etheridge, L. Westbrook, Jim Salyer, Frank Finchum, Alvin O. Montomery, Jake Freeman, Bill Woods, C. E. Wilson, Wesley F. Bryan, and Otto LeBlanc.

On June 1, 1934, Dave P. Rachal was appointed to Fire Chief and began his stewardship with one fire station and 18 firemen. By July 4, 1948, the Fire Department had 43 employees, under Chief Rachal's leadership, including Assistant Fire Chief Eugene Ray, Assistant Fire Chief Jim Salyer, Fire Marshal A. L. Manuel, Captain Ralph Rachal, Captain Ed Sykora, Mechanic L. J. Hebert and Assistant Mechanic George Aucoin. The department was operating out of three stations, including a newly rebuilt and occupied on January 7, 1948, Central Fire Station at Waco Avenue and Fourth Street. No. 2 Fire Station was located at Houston Avenue and Thomas Blvd. No. 3 Fire Station was located at Vicksburg Avenue and Fifth Street. There was also No. 4 Fire Station which was under construction at Tenth Street and Second Avenue. A PBX switchboard was placed in operation upstairs at the new Central Fire Station with firemen dispatching. Also, two way radios were placed into operation on June 30, 1949 at the dispatching office and radios were installed in each fire truck.

August 14, 1956, Eugene Ray was appointed Fire Chief with 68 employees on the fire department, consisting Assistant Fire Chief Jim Salyer, Assistant Fire Chief W. H. “Bill” Woods, (12-5-56), Training Officer J. W. Woods, Fire Marshal A. L. Manuel, Secretary Howard J. Bourque, Mechanic Lester Hebert and Assistant Mechanic George Aucion. In 1958 all fire fighting personnel started working 10 hours on a day shift and 14 hours on the night shift with two days off in a seven day work period for a total of 60 hours a work week.

On September 14, 1960, Harry Hebert was appointed Fire Chief. There were 78 employees on the fire department payroll, including Assistant Fire Chief Wm. “Bill” Woods, Assistant Fire Chief Fred Collida (11-5-60), Training Officer James W. Woods, Fire Marshal Howard J. Bourque, Mechanic Lester Hebert, Assistant Mechanic George Aucoin and 71 fire fighters. Port Acres was annexed into the City in 1960. A new fire station was built at 2232 Canal Street and 12 new fire fighters were employed.

On February 1, 1975, Clifford P. Barbay was appointed Fire Chief. The fire department staff included Assistant Fire Chief Pat Preddy, Assistant Fire Chief Fred Collida, Assistant Fire Chief Joe Richard, Assistant Fire Chief Louis Miller, Fire Marshal Howard J. Bourque and 86 other fire personnel who manned Central Fire Station and four substations. The City covered 57 square miles of land area and at that time, responded to 1,200 emergency runs per year.

In the late 1970's, the towns of Lakeview, Pear Ridge and Griffing Park were consolidated into the City of Port Arthur. The City of Port Arthur annexed the area of Sabine Pass in 1978 and placed a three-man pumper in service at the former water district building in Sabine Pass. This annexation and consolidation increased the size of the City to 135 square miles that included 54 square miles of water. In 1980, the Fire Department opened and placed a three man pumper at No. 7 Fire Station at 6554 Gulfway Dr. In 1988, the Fire Department opened a new No. 4 Fire Station at 5030 South Gulfway Dr. in Sabine Pass.

In 1991, an Ad Hoc Citizens Advisory Committee was formed to make recommendations on fire station relocations and services. Fire Chief Clifford P. Barbay and Fire Marshal Stephen L. Curran led the Ad Hoc Committee that included two Port Arthur Fire Captains, John Avery (Ad Hoc Chairman) and Garry Sewell. A fire station relocation plan was developed with three new fire stations to be constructed along with many operational improvements in the department including a First Responder Program, Arson Investigation improvements, and other Suppression and Prevention improvements. The first fire station to be constructed from the plan was in 1992, when No. 8 Fire Station was built at 7800 – 9th Avenue. The station was funded by the Municipal Utilities District, given to the City of Port Arthur, and opened and manned by the City with the three man crew from No. 7 Fire Station which was then closed. In 1993, No. 5 Fire Station was then relocated from 3801 Lewis Drive to a new building at its current location of 6099 Lewis Foster Drive with the same three man crew from the old fire station. The old fire station was closed. The relocation will provide for better response times within the coverage district. Then, in 1996, the third station was constructed under the Ad Hoc plan with the new No. 1 Fire Station being located at 1215 Woodworth Blvd. The equipment, apparatus, and personnel were then moved from the Central Fire Station building to the new station along with the Battalion Chief. Central Fire Station continues to operate as the Fire Administration and Fire Prevention office building. This completed the main part of the station relocation plan. Only No. 6 Fire Station remained to be relocated at a later date. Additional Ad Hoc recommendations included a new First Responder Program. Firefighters were required to up-grade their training for first on-scene medical emergencies. All new firefighters are now certified as EMT's. The Ad Hoc Committee recommended that the Fire Chief create an Assistant Fire Chief Position and fill it. In 1995, a new Deputy Fire Chief position was created, tested and filled by Stephen L. Curran. In 1995, the fire department was comprised of Fire Chief Clifford P. Barbay, Deputy Fire Chief Stephen L. Curran, Fire Marshal Patrick K. Murphy, Battalion Chief James Baumgartner, Battalion Chief Bill Wallace, Battalion Chief Harvey LaGrappe, and Training Battalion Chief Louis Miller.

Tremendous industrial marine growth along the ship channel all the way to Sabine Pass, including Pleasure Island, made it necessary to provide specialized service for these industries. These services include high-angle rescue and confined space rescue teams, hazardous materials teams and equipment, swift water and deep-water search and rescue boat operators, and rescue divers and equipment.

On Tuesday, April 3, 2001, Port Arthur City Council members approved purchase of land to relocate No. 6 Fire Station from 3301 Memorial Blvd. to 4448 Ninth Avenue.

On Monday, July 23, 2001, Fire Chief Clifford P. Barbay retired after 40 years of service, and 26 years as the longest serving Fire Chief for the City of Port Arthur.

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, the World Trade Buildings in New York City were attacked and destroyed with airplanes overtaken by terrorists. Terrorists also attacked the Pentagon and Flight 93 with over 3,500 United States citizens killed. There were 343 New York firefighters killed. Another terrorist attack using Anthrax was introduced in the mail service in New Jersey where more US citizens were killed. By the end of 2001, the Port Arthur Fire Department had responded to 67 Anthrax/power scares. None tested positive for incidents in Port Arthur.

In a press release on February 28, 2002, Steve Fitzgibbons, City Manager announced that he would be asking City Council at the March 5th City Council meeting to confirm Acting Fire Chief Stephen L. Curran as permanent Fire Chief. Chief Curran had served as Acting Fire Chief since July 21, 2001 when Fire Chief Clifford P. Barbay retired. Prior to serving as Acting Fire Chief, Chief Curran served as Deputy Fire Chief since 1995 and had been with the fire department for twenty-six years. The Port Arthur City council unanimously approved the appointment on March 5, 2002.

On June 14, 2004, Larry Richard was appointed as the fire chief replacing Stephen Curran when Fire Chief Curran retired from Port Arthur Fire Department. Fire Chief Richard was hired as a Firefighter with the fire department in June 1981 and promoted to Fire Engineer April 1986. He was then promoted to Captain December 1990; then Training Battalion Chief August 1998. When Stephen Curran received his appointment to Fire Chief in 2002, it created a vacancy in the Deputy Fire Chief position and Larry Richard was promoted to fill that position in January 2003. Since Fire Chief Richard took his post, he has led the fire department in a number of major crisis', such as several major hurricanes, several tropical storms, a train derailment, and several pipeline leaks, one involving a major explosion. Chief Richard oversaw the construction of new Fire Station Number 6 located at Highway 73 and 9th Avenue and the rebuilding of Fire Station Number 4 in Sabine Pass (twice Hurricane Rita in 2005; Hurricane Ike in 2008).