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Winter Park Fire Department    Bravely serving the community since 1900

According to the Winter Park Fire Department’s website, the department defines itself in this way: 

"The WPFD is a multifaceted emergency response agency, which provides for the emergency and safety needs of our citizens. Our service is customer based and we are continually evaluating and redefining our services as the needs of our city change.”

Although originally developed under the shadow of Orlando’s fire services, Winter Park’s department grew in size and professionalism to become the modern independent fire service we are familiar with today. However, to fully understand how the WPFD evolved, we must first look back to its humble beginnings. There were many components that helped mold the department: fire chiefs, new inventions and innovations, as well as American culture itself.

The foundations were set in 1900 when Winter Park defined fire city limits. The city limits stretched from Lyman Avenue north to Canton Avenue and from New York Avenue east to Interlachen Avenue.

When Winter Park officially organized its own professional fire service separate from Orlando in 1913, the department (then consisting of volunteers) passed several buckets filled with water up and down a line to put out a fire. Consequently, to improve efficiency and make water more accessible, fire hydrants and mains were installed throughout the city within the same year. The fire service could now effectively utilize limited resources, using the city’s newly installed water mains and hydrants with their only equipment: two reels and 500 feet of hand pulled hose.

Fire codes and technological refinements helped strengthen the Winter Park Fire Department. For instance, in 1916 a motorized vehicle replaced the one-horse wagon.  This upgrade allowed quicker response times to the Winter Park community. In the following years, transportation continued to advance: a Roe fire truck was purchased in 1921 and was equipped as a ‘pumper’. Additional examples of technological advancement within the fire department during the 1920s include the installation of six more hydrants. Further, the fire alarm tower, which was located in central Winter Park, was elevated twenty feet for a more defined signal. 

Perhaps one of the most important aspects in the history of WPFD is that in April of 1926 the WPFD became an “official fire department”, despite being still manned by volunteers. They receiving $10 for every call they responded to. By the mid-1950’s the city of Winter Park established firefighting as a profession. At this point in history calls had reached $15 in consequence of an expanding city as well as fighting fires outside of city limits.

The first half of the twentieth century brought many changes in the WPFD. It was a time of much growth and evolution that could not have been accomplished without influential community members. Three such people were:

  • Girard Denning: Denning typified the devotion of the Winter Park Fire staff. A graduate of Rollins College, Denning was an active participant in the community, taking on a variety of duties and obligations.  At various points in his life he filled the following roles:  Grocer, mayor (elected the youngest mayor due to his popularity within the community), and between the years 1912 to 1914, was a distinguished fire chief.  Additionally, he was a member of various organizations, such as: the town council, chamber of commerce, business men’s club, and the congregational church. For thirty years Denning served as a postmaster while continuing to support the WPFD.
  • Walter Sachse:  Appointed as fire chief in 1918, Sachse demonstrated dedication during his thirty-four years of service. At the beginning of his time as chief, Sachse began with a few volunteers and one truck. Sachse’s goal was reorganizing the new fire department and its members.  In the 1940s, his staff was severely minimized due to the outbreak of World War II, when several fire volunteers left to serve in armed forces. When his time as chief ended, he had a full time staff of seven men, three trucks, and a two-way radio system. Mrs. Sachse also contributed to the fire fighting organization as the President of Fire Auxiliary. Local firemen’s wives organized the Fire Auxiliary during the 1930’s.
  • James Quincy Smith: Before Smith joined the WPFD in 1932, he worked in an auto company garage in Winter Park. With his knowledge in auto mechanics, he began as an engineer for the fire department, driving the fire trucks and operating equipment. By 1949, Smith was a full-time, paid fireman. Smith spoke with enthusiasm about his time in the Fire Department, “I’ve always liked fire department work.  There is a sense of civic responsibility, which gives firemen a quiet satisfaction.”

In 1934, 114 alarms were sounded/recorded, a result of a newly invested remote control alarm system. This advancement helped alert fire department members and shortened the time it would take to reach the fire. Modern innovations allow fully dressed firefighters to pull out of the station within one minute of the alarm sounding. For 90% of their calls they arrive within 8 minutes. Moreover present day fire engines can carry 750 gallons of water and are capable of pumping 1,750 gallons per minute- a far cry from the original horse drawn wagon.

Today, technological improvements in fire engines and equipment have helped shorten response times and have increased productivity. Winter Park has helped to design a new, $170,000 ambulance. The ambulance keeps paramedics secured with seatbelts while still within reach of the patient and medical equipment.

The fire department has not only become more efficient in emergencies, but also more involved in non-emergency local affairs. Through local parades, fund raising, and hosting birthday parties at the fire station, the WPFD serves the community and increases public fire safety awareness.

Currently, the WPFD serves approximately 27,000 people covering 8.6 square miles by fully paid and specially trained firemen at three different stations. Due to the influences of culture, technological advances, and community leaders, the WPFD has grown into the highly efficient, community-based union of hard workers. To think it all started with a few volunteers and their desire to serve and protect their community.



This webpage is a result of the work done by the History students of Dr. Julian Chambliss at Rollins College,
who spent time at the WPFD researching and studying the history of the WPFD. 
Some students selected and scanned archival images to include in their work
and others wrote papers explaining the history of the WPFD.

Included here are the works of:

Shannon Alice Reed & Shannon Joy Van Dyke: Winter Park's Fire Department Founding Fathers
Brittainy Daiger & Rachel Malatesta:
A Comparison of the Winter Park and Orlando Fire Departments
Josh Band: Scanned images
Rosalina Smith: Editor

Item: Newspaper photograph
Source: unknown
Title: "Making it Official"

Caption: MAYOR GREENE SIGNS PROCLAMATION ... A proclamation naming the week from October 3 to 9, Fire Prevention and Clean-up Week was signed earlier this week by the Mayor. Looking on are Raymond Holton, Chairman of the Committee for the project, and Fire Chief Allen Erwin.  This is the first time Winter Park has set aside a week for this purpose, and the public is sincerely urged to cooperate.

Date: September 23, 1953

Item: Newspaper photograph
Source: Orlando Sentinel
Title: "First Rate Protection"

Caption: Modern fire protection has been provided the Killarney community with arrival yesterday of this new combination pumper and hose truck for the Killarney Volunteer Fire Dept. from the American LaFrance Foamite Corp. On hand to inspect the truck are (left to right) C. E. Nielson, chief of the Killarney Department; Winter Park Mayor Ray Greene; Paul Pennington, chief of the Orlando Fire Dept., and Allen E. Erwin, chief of the Winter Park Fire Dept.

Date: February 1954

Item: Newspaper photograph
Source: unknown
Title: "Comparison in Fog Spray Nozzles"

This photograph was taken by H. H. Sykes in Winter Park on Thursday October 28, 1954. The five firemen are testing different water power of four different fire hose nozzles. The nozzles were measure by gallons released per minute. The powerfulness of the nozzles was recognized by the Fire Chief Allan Erwin. This picture was taken to display to the public the advancements of the safety in Winter Park from the fire department in 1954.

Date: October 28, 1954

Item: Newspaper photograph
Source: Winter Park Sun
Title: "Post Office Gets New Flag Pole Rope"

Caption: When there's a difficult job to be done, everyone calls the fire department! One of the local fire department's volunteer civic duties is replacing the rope on the post office's flag pole when it wears out. It happens about every three years - and this week the SUN's camera happened to be handy when the job was being done.

Date: 1954


Item: Newspaper photograph
Source: unknown
Title: "Winter Park's Newest Boy Scout Troop Organized"

Caption: Six Winter Park boys were on hand Monday night for the organizational meeting of Boy Scout Troop 180, under the sponsorship of the Winter Park Fire Department. Above, left to right, back row are Clark Maxwell, acting city manager; C. W. Graves, commissioner; Carl Ballard, Scoutmaster; Capt. William Rice, chairman Boy Scout Commission; Capt. R. E. Ballard, Art Hopcraft and Don Cook. Middle row: Edward Head, George Powers, Gary Malterer, Terry Gartside, Clarence Head, Cecil Shriver; front row: Hank Mast, field commissioner Central Florida Council of Boy Scouts; Fire Chief Allen Erwin and Assistant Chief James Q. Smith.

Date: September 2, 1954

Item: Newspaper photograph
Source: Winter Park Star
Title: "Chief Bear shows new resuscitator . . . first part of planned rescue unit"

Winter Park Fire Department developed a more established rescue unit around the 1960s.  With $495, the department was able to purchase a new Emerson resuscitator.  Eventually, the chief is hoping that a panel truck will be donated to complete the “mobile rescue unit.”  As the department gains more funding and staff, it opened up opportunities to expand the capabilities the Fire Department could provide to the Winter Park community.  The equipment was scattered throughout the various vehicles housed in the station but the Fire Chief to be able to concentrate the equipment into one truck with the essential purpose of providing rescue type assistance.  The photo attached to this article captures Chief Bair showing off the new resuscitator, which resembles the future plans for developing a stable and efficient rescue unit. 

Date: April 30, 1960

Item: Newspaper photograph
Source: Winter Park Star
Title: "Rollins students help fireman train train hose on blaze . . . efforts fail to save old wooden gymnasium at college"

Caption: On March 31, 1960 a fire destroyed the Rollins College gymnasium. Fireman arrived on the scene, but it was too late. After noticing that their gymnasium had caught fire, Rollins College students raced to the scene. The fire department was not called immediately but when they finally had arrived they worked with students to douse the fire. Unfortunately the gymnasium could not be saved. The gymnasium was erected between 1925 and 1929. The wooden structure was one of the oldest buildings on the campus. The building had been used for Rollins basketball games and later as intramural basketball and girls dance classes.

Date: March 31, 1960

Item: Newspaper photograph
Source: Winter Park Star
Title: "Remains Of Old Rollins Landmark"

Winter Park Fire Chief Robert S. Bair and Deputy State Fire Marshal Guy Arendal are shown talking here amongst the burnt remains of the Rollins Gymnasium. The gym was consumed in flames Wednesday night, and the cause is still unknown.

Date: April 1960

Item: Newspaper photograph
Source: unknown
Title: "Fire Fighting Demonstrated"

Caption: Winter Park Fire Chief Bob Blair is demonstrating how to properly extinguish a grease fire. Grease fires are very common in homes and many housewives are unaware as to the proper way on how to battle them. Joe Van Camp and his 7 year-old daughter Lisa are watching the demonstration. This demonstration is in conjunction with Fire Prevention Week.


Item: Newspaper photograph
Source: Winter Park Sun
Title: “Winter Park Firefighters Employ Techniques”

Caption: Winter Park Firefighters staged a colorful demonstration Friday night in observance of Fire Prevention Week when they burned a shed erected for the purpose and extinguished the blaze in a successful exhibition of techniques employed both in training and practice by the department. The demonstration, held in Lake Island Estates on West Morse Boulevard, emphasized interest in structural fires. Fire Chief Robert S. Blair points out that fire prevention is something to be observed around the calendar and not for one week alone.

Date: October 19, 1961
Item: Newspaper photograph
Source: Winter Park Star
Title: "Field Day"

Caption: Winter Park Fire Station was visited recently by these second graders who wanted to learn something about fire stations and see equipment used. Ladder truck with 65-foot ladder proved to be favorite. Firemen, from left, who explained how truck works are Charles Poskey, Floyd MacDonald, inspector, and Clyde Hiner, engineer. Second graders, who attend Barney's School in Slovak Gardens, are from left, Steven Blanchard, David Grau, Billy Barney, Kathy Hammond, Gordon MCKinnon, Kathleen Rapport, Tesie Ackent, Billy Coon, Melanie Tuck and Steven Morrison.

Photographer: Jackie Cornelius.

Date: April 20, 1966

Item: Newspaper photograph
Source: unknown
Title: "Mall Merchants Honor Firemen"

Caption: Remembering Easter, 1969 multi-million dollar fire at Winter Park Mall, Merchants Association hosted Winter Park, Orlando, Maitland, and Killarney firemen at luncheons Friday and Saturday at Monte's Restaurant. Shown from left are Winter Park Fire Chief R. C. Blair; Orlando Fire Chief Mel Rivenbark; Maitland Assistant Fire Chief W. L. Parker Jr. and Killarney Fire Chief Bob Illyes. They are standing behind table on which uniformed men deposited their hats. Merchants' president Dick Doster, Winter Park Mayor Dan Hunter and City Manager Jim Harris spoke briefly and many fireman told anecdotes of that infamous day at Mall. Doster concluded by telling men: "If it weren't for you, we wouldn't be here - thanks for saving our jobs." Plaques for each department were presented by Merchants group.

Date: April 24, 1969
Item: Newspaper photograph
Source: unknown
Title: "Mall Fireman Told Thanks With Suit of Armor"

Caption: Winter Park Knight Talks Politics . . . with Post, left, Crawford, Gibson, Harris, Bair

Date: April 1969
Item: Newspaper photograph
Source: unknown

Caption: In the photo, three firemen are shown using a fire hose. The men from left to right are Al Whitaker, Cal Hancock, and George Taylor.

Date: July 7, 1963
Item: Newspaper photograph
Source: unknown
Title: "First On Scene Pictures at Mall Fire"
Date: July 10, 1969

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