The image of brave men and women rushing into a burning building and single-handedly saving a family from meeting an untimely demise has been engraved in society's mind for years. But that's not the totality of the Bakersfield City Fire Department. Two years prior to the establishment of the department in 1877, The Bakersfield Fire Department was a volunteer organization. After several disastrous conflagrations in 1888, 1890 and 1904, city leaders decided they would never allow the community to be devastated by another massive fire again. From that point forward, the Bakersfield Fire Department began its rise to become one of the more progressive and respected fire departments on the West Coast.
In the early 1900s, the Bakersfield Fire Department served the community with a fleet of "steamer" fire engines, hook-and-ladder trucks, chemical fire engines, and hose wagons. These early firefighting machines were faithfully pulled by at least 25 horses with names like Prince, Ned, King and Mike. The last fire horse made its final alarm run and was sent out to pasture in 1914, the year the department was completely motorized.
Now some may say fires are a rarity in Bakersfield, but the department hasn't limited itself to only snuffing out flames.
Fire Battalion Chief Doug Greener says that as the city has continued to grow at a quick pace, the department has expanded its services to include top training in emergency response medical aid.
Greener adds that the department prides itself on having the finest and most up-to-date equipment and technology available to better serve the community when needed. "We are one of the most modern and forward thinking departments that I know," Greener says. "It's important for us that the community sees us as more than just fire fighters. Over 50 percent of our calls are for medical aid and other emergency services. We are here for you 24 hours a day, seven days a week."
Greener's passion is deep seated. Having grown up with a grandfather and father who held highly esteemed positions within the Los Angeles City Fire Department, Greener knew early on that his career would follow the same path as theirs.
"Being a firefighter isn't an easy job," he says. "There are a lot of mental and physical challenges that most people don't know of or would want to know."
Greener says he can almost remember every serious tragedy he has come across in the field. Images of the hurt and suffering are not easy to forget, he says. His advice for men and women interested in pursuing a career as a firefighter is simple, yet heartfelt: don't take this profession lightly.
"This is a very competitive and difficult field at times," Greener says. "We only take the top candidates who apply, and not all of them make it through the training." While Station 1 in downtown is the administrative office for the department it is not the oldest building in town. The oldest station is on East 21st Street. Still, Station 1 has something the other stations do not, a pole. After modern architecture came into play when building firehouses, the slide pole was left out of the floor plans. However, Station 1's is still standing and with a little waxing, the pole could be used if needed.
Giving back to the community outside of the everyday task of saving lives is important to the department. Green says the department likes to offer Station 1 as a center for birthday parties. Although the parties are limited to one a month, they are usually donated to nonprofit organizations as a raffle prize or special package. It's safe to say, that Bakersfield loves its firefighters and the firefighters love their community. While it's a strenuous job at times, it's unanimous that the job is well worth it.
"There's a big sense of family between everyone in the department," Greener says. "We all spend a lot of time together and depend on each other for long periods of time."