The Orange Fire Department (OFD) dates all the way back to 1870 when Captain W. R. Bowlin brought in a hand-powered fire wagon. There was a fire house located on 4th Street, by what is now Lamar State College-Orange. The first charter was applied for by the city of Orange in March of 1880. “By that time, they had progressed to have to horse drawn fire wagons,” said current Fire Chief David Frenzel.

Another fire station was then built where Division Street hits the river. The reason the first fire stations were built by the river is because water is needed to fight fires and there weren’t water systems all over town.

By the turn of the century, the city had hired one man. At the time, they had a steam powered fire engine that was pulled by horses. The man made $80 a month by taking care of the engine and the horses. The man had to feed and shoe the horses out of his own salary.

The fire department started as a volunteer fire department and remained so for many years. The amount of paid personnel kept going up. The onset of World War II caused the city of Orange grow exponentially. “They had to have more stations, they had to have more man power, so they began to hire more people,” Frenzel said.

There came a point in time where the paid fire fighters outnumbered the volunteers and the city voted to disband the volunteers. On Dec. 1, 1960, the OFD became a career department. Two years later, the International Association of Local Fire Fighters Local 1442 was formed. At that time, the members of the department signed a charter. Six of the original members are still alive.

“Even though as devastating as it was during Hurricane Ike to lose our station that we have worked out of since 1946, it’s very exciting to have a new building coming up,” Frenzel said. The station had two and half feet of standing muddy water throughout the building and the plasters walls were so far beyond help that it would cost more to fix the building than it would to build a new one.

The fire fighters moved into the offices and warehouses by the port of Orange two years ago in November. The office building is used for administrative purposes for the chief, deputy chief, fire marshall and administrative secretary. The warehouse is used to house the trucks and equipment. There is also a trailer that is used to house the on-duty fire fighters. “It’s not primitive, but it’s certainly not an ideal situation,” Frenzel said.

The fire department is getting a hurricane relief grant from the state that is paying for the entire project. “This won’t cost the tax payers anything,” Frenzel said. “A four million dollar building and it won’t raise our tax rate. When it’s built, it will be paid for. Also a lady from the Bush/Clinton administration and gave us $400,000 to put towards the new building.”

“It’s been a long time coming,” Frenzel said. “It’s been a God send.” The grant period ends on Nov. 30, 2011 thus all bills need to be paid and construction needs to be finish. The contractors have assured the OFD that the building will be completed within that time frame.

“We are still working with the architect, but we had our final meeting last week, we anticipate going out for bid around middle of December and opening bids around the middle of January. We are hoping by the first of February to break ground.”

The new building is patterned after Orange City Hall with the dark red bricks and the green roof. It will be located where the previous building stood, on Elm Street, but the city bought two lots that neighbor the property. The building is approximately 21,000 square feet with a little of 10,000 square feet on both levels. Due to the devastation of the previous building, all living quarters and administrative offices will be located on the second floor. All that will be down stairs will be engine bays. Should another storm like Ike hit this area, this allow the OFD to move the equipment out for the duration of the storm, bring it back in when the flood waters recede, hose the building out and begin again.

The building will also house a museum featuring historical OFD pieces. One of which will be the Fire Engine #3 purchased in 1920. It is currently being restored in Dallas and will be on permanent display in the Central Station.

The OFD currently has 37 uniform personnel and one administrative assistant. The dispatch for OFD is done through the Orange Police Department. There are three stations in Orange: Central Station, which will be located on Elm Street; a station on Ally Payne Road and Meeks Drive, and a station on the Martin Luther King Jr. Dr by the Salvation Army.

The OFD has, at minimum, eight total fire fighters on duty for all three stations with an average of nine on duty. The administrative positions work an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. shift Monday through Friday, while the fire fighters work 24 hours on, 48 hours off.

The OFD runs the First Responder Program which sends a fire truck out to emergency situations when an ambulance is called. “We had some situations where ambulances were delayed and we felt there was a loss of life because of that,” Frenzel said. “Our people are trained just like the [EMT’s]. The only thing we don’t do is transport. We have a better response time that ambulances do because we’re located throughout the city.”

The OFD also provides a Confined Space Rescue Program to the shipyards, petrochemical and industrial plants in the area. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires certain businesses to have an on-house rescue program or to contract out. “A majority of them don’t have trained [personnel] so they contract with us to do their confined space rescue,” he said.

There is not a charge when the fire department is called on scene. Everything is paid by the City of Orange. “We don’t charge anyone for anything that we do,” said Frenzel. “The citizens tax dollars pay for everything. The only outside billing we do is if we work for an extended period of time at an accident. We’ll bill whoever is responsible for the accident just to reimburse the city for our time.”

Frenzel is the longest tenured employee with the OFD. He joined the department in 1969. “I’ve seen a lot of change my 41 years of service,” Frenzel said. “It’s a tremendous place to work at and I think I have the best job in the city of Orange.”

About Nicole Gibbs

Editor of The Record Newspapers