Sacramento is the capital of the State of California, the county seat for Sacramento County and the central city for the four-county Sacramento Metropolitan Area. Located at the confluence of the Sacramento River and the American River, it is affectionately known as the ‘River City’. Sacramento has a total incorporated area of 99.2 square miles, of which 97.2 square miles is land and 2 square miles is water.
Sacramento has a rich and vibrant history which goes back to 1839 when John Sutter arrived on the shore near the confluence of the American and Sacramento River. Sutter’s Fort was established with the intent to develop an agricultural community, and the settlement began attracting businessmen looking for opportunities. When gold was discovered in the nearby foothills at a sawmill in 1848, the proximity to the river transformed the Sutter’s Fort community into a trading and mining epicenter of what was later called the ‘Gold Rush’.
At the time of the gold rush, Sacramento primarily consisted of hastily built wooden structures, often covered with canvas. A series of devastating fires prompted a group of citizens to establish the first volunteer fire department in the western United States. On February 5, 1850, the beginnings of the Sacramento Fire Department began to take shape with the formation of Mutual Hook and Ladder No. 1.
The City’s waterfront location made it extremely vulnerable to flooding. After two seasons of severe flooding, an ambitious project to raise the entire downtown was proposed. A third devastating flood made this proposal a reality, and thousands of cubic yards of dirt were brought in by wagon to raise the entire city one story. The original street level can still be seen throughout Old Sacramento under boardwalks and in some basements.
The California State Legislature officially moved to Sacramento in 1854 and at the 1879 Constitutional Convention, Sacramento was named the permanent State Capital. With its new status and strategic location, the city quickly prospered. Sacramento became a major distribution and transportation point as the western end for both the Pony Express and the First Transcontinental Railroad. On March 30, 1872, after the City formed Engine Companies 1 and 2, the Sacramento Fire Department was established and became the first paid professional fire department west of the Mississippi.
During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s major technological improvements began shaping the city and its fire department. Copper-riveted leather hose was replaced by rubber hose and longer extension ladders were made. Horse-drawn carriages were replaced with street cars and automobiles. Horse-drawn fire apparatus were also replaced with steam-operated pumpers, chemical engines, and eventually motorized apparatus. Sacramento Fire Department’s first motorized vehicles were placed into service as early as 1912.
Between the 1920’s and 1940’s the population of the city continued to grow; however, the geographical area of the city remained the same until the end of World War II when the city began annexing surrounding areas in the county.
At the end of the Great Depression, FDR’s New Deal programs provided funding for a number of projects in and around the City of Sacramento. The Tower Bridge, completed in 1935, was built using WPA money, providing needed jobs and solving transportation problems across the Sacramento River.
In the 1940’s the fire department began dedicating personnel to fire prevention activities. With the enforcement of building and life safety codes, public education in fire safety, and weed abatement regulations the loss of life and property from fire began to lessen.
From 1946 through 1965 the city began annexing surrounding county areas, accelerating the growth of the city, more than tripling its size. During this time period, the Sacramento Fire Department absorbed the following fire protection districts and fire stations (#): Colonial Heights (10), Sutterville Heights (11), South Sacramento (12), Riverside (13), American River (14), Gardenland (15), Del Paso/Robla (17), Hagginwood (18, 19), Florin (60).
The fire department established a Hazardous Material Response Team in 1984 to address specific response protocols when responding to and mitigating hazardous material incidents within the city and on requests for mutual aid.
The SFD entered into agreements with the Fruitridge Fire Protection District and the Natomas Fire Protection District in 1984 and 1986, respectively, to provide fire protection service. In 1990, the Pacific Fire Protection District also entered into agreement with the SFD for fire protection service.
In 1992 SFD became the sponsoring agency for California Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) Task Force 7, one of 28 FEMA supported task forces in the nation. Task Force 7 has been deployed to many national incidents to support rescue efforts including Oklahoma City terrorist bomb attack in 1995, the World Trade Center terrorist attack in 2001, and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The fire department began its Advanced Life Support and Transportation program in 1994 providing paramedic services and ambulance transportation. Today, nearly seventy percent of the department’s incidents are for emergency medical services.
In 2005, Station 30 was built and put into service in North Natomas. This was the first new fire station added in 19 years. In addition, Station 5 was replaced and Station 20 was relocated. And in 2011, Station 43 was put into service, providing fire protection for the community of West Natomas.
For more information related to the history of the Sacramento Fire Department, please visit the Pioneer Mutual Hook and Ladder Society’s website: http://www.rcip.com/pmhls/