The History of the DeLand Fire Department
Organized in 1883, the DeLand Fire Department consisted of volunteers headed by Fire Warden, William B. Fudger. At the time, volunteer firefighters used the “bucket brigade” method as the primary means of fire suppression. This method was important in firefighting before the advent of hand-pumped fire engines, whereby firefighters would pass buckets to each other to extinguish a blaze.
In September 1886, the greater part of DeLand’s business district was destroyed by a fire that started in the Wilcox Saloon on the east side of town. The fire, commonly referred to as “The Great Fire”, started sometime after midnight in the back of the Wilcox Saloon on the east side of the 100 block of North Woodland Boulevard and spread fast. The story is told that the fire started after someone dropped a cigar on the saloon’s sawdust floor. Whatever the cause, it spread fast and quickly jumped to the west side of the boulevard. Lacking a fire alarm, townspeople spread the alarm by yelling, beating on dishpans, and firing guns. DeLand’s small fire brigade, organized just three years before, wheeled in two 30-gallon chemical engines (similar to an oversized fire extinguisher on wheels) and was immediately overwhelmed and overpowered by the magnitude of the fire. By the time it was extinguished, nearly the entire two blocks of the business district between Rich and New York avenues were in ashes. The blaze destroyed 22 buildings that held 33 businesses. Miraculously, no one died.
The day after the fire, two city ordinances were created. The first banned all saloons in DeLand and the second mandated that all buildings in the downtown area be built using masonry material, not wood. Today, a plaque commemorating the event can be seen in the downtown district.
Around the year 1900, Silas B. Wright, DeLand’s first Fire Chief and the son of DeLand’s first Mayor, brought in horse-drawn hook and ladder rigs for the fire department. The fire department also got its first uniforms, which happened to be the same uniforms used by the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Firefighters were paid 50 cents for daytime calls and a dollar for calls at night.
A new city hall was built in 1926 that included a safety complex, housing the fire department on one end and the police department on the other.
Charles L. Holman became the first paid Fire Chief in 1952. At that time, firefighters worked 24 hours on duty and then were off for 24 hours.
Chief Holman retired in 1973 after serving 21 years as the leader of the department. Following Holman's retirement, Thomas Orr became the new Fire Chief of DeLand.
As the city grew, so did the size of the department and the professionalism of the fire service in DeLand. A new fire station was built in 1975 with more modern equipment to improve the services provided to the citizens of DeLand. This station would later become known as Fire Station 81. The department also began offering emergency medical services around this time.
Also, in 1975, Engineer George H. Graves became DeLand’s first “Smoke Diver” at the Florida State Fire College in Ocala, Florida. This was a grueling and physically demanding course that teaches firemen how to use their air packs to maximum efficiency. For some time, completion of the Smoker Diver program was required to be completed by all DeLand firefighters. Graves would later go on to become the Fire Chief of DeLand in 1996.
John C. Wright was hired as Fire Chief in 1978. Before joining DeLand Fire Department, Chief Wright was the Training Captain for the City of Jacksonville Fire Department.
2000 - Present
In 2003, DeLand Fire Station 82 was built on the north end of the city to help with an increasing population and call volume. This facility staffed two firefighters and housed an engine and a new brush truck. The station was dedicated to Chief George Graves upon his retirement. A new engine was placed in service in 2016.
Patrick T. Kelly became the Fire Chief of DeLand after Chief George H. Graves retired. Before his appointment to Chief of DeLand, Kelly spent 25 years serving in the fire service in Baltimore County, Maryland. Kelly resigned in 2008 to take the Fire Chief position in Tucson, AZ.
In 2007, the city was awarded the SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response) grant which allowed 9 new firefighters to be hired shortly before the opening of the newly built Fire Station 83 on the southeast end of the city. The SAFER Grants were created to provide funding directly to fire departments to help them increase or maintain the number of trained "front-line" firefighters available in their communities. Fire Station 83 is staffed with 3 firefighters and houses an engine and brush attack. A new engine was placed in service in early 2020.
With the departure of Chief Kelly in 2008, Deputy Chief John McDaniel is promoted to Fire Chief. Chief McDaniel was hired by the city in 1982 and served in every position within the fire department up until his retirement in 2017. He retired with 35 years of dedicated service to the DeLand Fire Department.
Following the retirement of Chief John McDaniel, the city conducted a nationwide search for the next fire chief of DeLand. After a lengthy process, city officials selected Daniel Hanes as the next Fire Chief. Chief Hanes served 28 years with Fort Lauderdale Fire Department before taking Fire Chief positions with Fernandina Beach and West Palm Beach before settling in DeLand. Sadly, Chief Hanes passed away on October 4, 2018, after suffering a sudden cardiac event after only 6 months of service to the city.
After another nationwide search, the City of DeLand appointed Todd Allen as Fire Chief in April 2019. Chief Allen previously served nearly 25 years with the City of Moline Fire Department and as Fire Chief for Freeport Fire Department, both in Illinois. Chief Allen has extensive experience in various avenues of fire, EMS, and tech rescue operations. He holds a Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership and is a graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program (EFO) and also possesses the Chief Fire Officer (CFO) designation.
In early 2022, the old Fire Station 81 was closed and the new Fire Station 81 was opened just down the street at 343 West Howry Avenue. The 343 numerical pays homage to the 343 firefighters who were killed on 9/11. The new 16,000-square-foot fire station was designed to be able to serve the DeLand area for the next 50 to 100 years as the city continues to grow. In 2021, Station 81 ran over 5,300 calls for service making it one of the busiest stations in Volusia County.
In 2022, the DeLand Fire Department employs nearly 60 full-time staff and provides high-quality fire and emergency medical services to residents 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. The DeLand Fire Department operates 3 fire stations with additional stations likely to be built in the future as the city continues to grow.