Fire Department

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Department History

In late 1961, the citizens of the community of Cape Coral began talking about the need for a Fire Department. The interest spread throughout the City, and by February 1962, a letter was mailed to all residents inviting them to a meeting at the Cape Coral shopping center to discuss the issue.
    
Bob Finkernagle and Dick Crawford, both employees of Gulf American Land Corporation, conducted the meeting and presented an offer from their company to donate land at Chester and Lafayette Streets and match dollar for dollar, up to $5,000.00 to construct a building. By April 1962, a Fire Board was established, letters seeking volunteer firefighters were sent out, an office was opened in the shopping center, and monies started coming in. Households were asked to donate $10.00 toward the building. The first organization to give a substantial donation was the Cape Coral Teen Club, which donated $100.00. By July, plans for the building had been drawn, and the first permanent officers were elected. Fred Bahr, a retired Battalion Commander from the New York Fire Department, was elected President. Ground was broken for the Station in October 1962. About the same time, the community held a small carnival complete with donkey softball to raise additional monies. Leo Englhardt, a Fort Myers funeral home director, agreed to donate an ambulance to the Cape Coral Fire Department upon the building's completion.
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In March 1963, Ed Kocik was elected among the members to be temporary Fire Chief until an official election. Aage Schroder was considered the first assistant fire chief because he owned a submergible pump, which he used in his swimming pool business. The pump was the city's only means of pumping water. A month later, a fire at the surfside restaurant reinforced the need for the fire department. Even though the fire did not destroy the entire building, the interest it created among the citizens was tremendous.

2_OldStation1That same month, the citizens passed a referendum to create a county fire district in Cape Coral. The vote was 445 - 6. The fire station was completed in September and became the hub for meetings and special events. Even though the fire station was complete, it was not until January 1964 that the first fire truck was ordered. It was a John Beam Class A pumper at a cost of $24,000.00. Cape Coral received this truck in April 1964.  In 1966, the first fire budget was $35,657.00. By the end of this year, the district hired its first two paid men. They were Gib Patten and Tim Herrick.

3_1974In August 1970, Cape Coral incorporated.  However, it was not until October of the following year that the City abolished the fire district and took over the fire service as a City Department.   The Cape Coral Fire Department was originally chartered in 1962 as a Fire Tax District.   Tim Herrick, who was a member of the Department when it was a district, eventually became the first paid Fire Chief in 1971.

During the construction of the original City Hall Complex in November 1972, the City’s second fire station was also constructed at the west end of the Nicholas Pkwy campus property.  Fire Station 2 provided for the hiring of the next generation of the Fire Department personnel, who brought the Fire Department up to better levels of effectiveness by adding Engine Company 2 and a 1947 Willys military surplus brush truck. A Rescue was later added to that station.

During that formative time, the employees voted for and chartered the first labor union in the City of Cape Coral; Local 2424 of the International Association of Fire Fighters was chartered in March of 1975. It was not until 1979, after a contentious labor dispute, when the City and the Union finally signed the first Collective Bargaining Agreement. That original union contract was the foundation for all of the subsequent agreements in place to this day.
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Due to the growth occurring along Del Prado Boulevard after it became four-lanes, another fire station was constructed in 1982. Fire Station 3 was opened on Everest Pkwy, east of Del Prado Boulevard. (That original fire station was replaced in 2006 with a hurricane resistant building near the site of the original location.)

Early in 1981, Jim Hunt, the Fire Chief at the time, forecasted that without long-term financial planning, the Fire Department would always struggle to keep pace with growth. His administration began the concept of the City collecting Impact Fees to fund future growth of the Fire Department. The Fire Impact Fee Ordinance became law, thus ensuring the financial foundation was put in place for growth to pay for growth. This fund has been essential to our ability to keep up with demands for service.

As the Fire Department expanded with Fire Prevention and Public Education personnel and administration, it became apparent that the next fire station constructed should include a Fire Department Headquarters. On April 7, 1986, another new Fire Department facility was dedicated at 2605 Santa Barbara Boulevard. The new facility, which was built at a cost of 186,000 dollars, housed Fire Station 4 and the Fire Department Headquarters. This facility utilized two floors of Administration including Fire Prevention/Technical Services Bureau, Operations Division, Support Services and the Chief's and Assistant Chief's offices.


As growth dictated, the Fire Department opened Fire Station 5 in 1990, to serve the growing north end of the City of Cape Coral. (Fire Station 5 remains in that location today.) Once Cape Coral Parkway became bridged over the main canal between Skyline Blvd. and Chiquita Blvd., the gates were open for the southwest Cape to grow, and grow it did. Fire Station 6 was built at 4540 Chiquita Boulevard to meet the needs of the public for faster response times and on January 2, 1992, Station 6 began serving the citizens.

As the northwest quadrant of the City began to experience growth, it became apparent that yet another fire station was needed. Fire Station 7 originally was operated out of a house trailer in Burnt Store Marina until the permanent facility could be constructed in 1999. The permanent Fire Station 7 remains in its location at 3942 Burnt Store Road.   

After many years of increased alarm volume and building growth in the central corridor traversing Cape Coral, the City’s eighth fire station was constructed in 2006. Fire Station 8 incorporates additional square footage for the Department’s Training Bureau. This facility also houses the Special Operations Team members and their equipment. Station 8 opened in May of 2006, as the Fire Department topped the 17,000 annual calls for service benchmark.


During this time of extraordinary growth and vertical construction of high rise buildings along the City’s waterfront, the Fire Department constructed Fire Station 9 in 2007. Fire Station 9 is located in the southern portion of the City approximately half way between Stations 1 and 6. This station opened in January 2008, houses additional aerial firefighting apparatus and personnel to respond into the Tarpon Point, Cape Harbor, and Downtown CRA Districts.  In August 2007, the Fire Department opened Fire Station 10 in a temporary location at 3623 West Gator Circle in northeast Cape Coral. These ten locations are approximately one half of the Fire Stations that will be required in order to maintain effective response times in the City of Cape Coral.

6_twins_zoomDuring the years from 2005 through 2007, the City of Cape Coral Fire Department had the opportunity to improve all aspects of the operation with the addition of new fire apparatus, tools and specialty assets. During the year 2005/2006, the Fire Department had contracts in force to construct Truck 4, a 95' aerial platform, Trucks 7 and 9, both 75' aerial ladder trucks, Rescues 5 and 6, and Marine 1, a 27' Boston Whaler Fire-Rescue boat, built to replace the original 1980 fireboat. In 2007, the Fire Department also constructed Rescue 8 and Marine 7, another 27' Boston Whaler for Marine Firefighting and rescue responses, out of Burnt Store Marina in Fire Station 7’s district and southern area of Charlotte Harbor.

From the modest beginnings in a small Florida community in the 1960’s, the City of Cape Coral Fire Rescue and Emergency Management Services Department has evolved in to one of the most respected among its peers in the State of Florida.

History contributed by:
Division Chiefs Thomas Tomich and Chris Schroder (Retired)