The Proud History of Dallas Fire-Rescue

Just as Dallas is known as the “can-do” city, the Dallas Fire-Rescue department has a history that parallels the city’s growth, determination and caring spirit. Beginning in 1872 as a one-apparatus volunteer department, today there are nearly 2,000 members with 55 stations and over 130 front line pieces of emergency response equipment. Through hard times, tragedies and acts of heroism, the citizens of Dallas are served by countless examples of commitment by men and women who have dedicated their careers to firefighting and rescue.


In 1872, the first major piece of firefighting equipment was “Old Silsby” a horse-drawn steam pumper. Committed to progress, the last of the horse-drawn models retired in 1921. Dallas was fortunate to not lose a single firefighter in the line of duty for its first 30 years, despite fighting several major fires. But in the early morning of June 24, 1902, John Clark collapsed at the scene of a large fire that was consuming several houses near the intersection of Haskell and Simpson. Fellow firefighters were unable to revive Clark. A monument created to honor him now stands in front of the Dodd Miller Training Center – a statue depicting John Clark in firefighter helmet and boots, manning a straight-bore nozzle.


In the 1920s and 30s, between World Wars, the position of Chief changed six times. It was a time of growth and focus on department structure. The 1940s began an era of significant improvements and changes, growing from six to 10 fire districts, adding a Training Center and implementing the first self-contained breathing apparatus. Sadly, Chief C. N. Penn had the solemn duty to preside over the memorial services of 20 firefighters lost in the line of duty a responsibility unequaled before or since the 1940’s.

Expansion and Change

The 1970’s were a busy decade for the Dallas Fire Department, with the advancements of a Emergency Medical Services Division, diesel-powered apparatus, a five-inch diameter hose and computer-assisted dispatch, instead of manual. On the personnel side, there was an initiative to hire 50% of applicants from minority races for five years, and Hispanic and female members were added to Fire Prevention. To the relief of many firefighters, the uniform policy changed to not require neck ties for members in Operations.


Technological advancement, along with personnel issues marked the 1980’s for the Dallas Fire Department. Turnout gear improved safety for firefighters and a physical fitness program was implemented at all fire stations, which is still in use today. Specialized teams were also formed, including High Angle Rescue and Hazmat (hazardous materials). The Command Van began responding to all major incidents with maps, plans and supplies. Dallas implemented the Mobile Data Terminal system, and, after much testing, trial and error, 9-1-1 went operational to enhance the way the city responds to emergencies. The Department struggled with the decision to not fill – and then eliminate – 85 vacant positions. Then, promotional examinations were frozen in response to accusations of racial inequity. These complex issues took several years to resolve.

The 90s saw a changing role for firefighters as the focus on safety in the department moved out into the community.  In addition to increasing the size of the Investigation division, the Department introduced safety initiatives: minimum staffing requirements and Personnel Accountability Procedures.  In the community, the Department expanded a smoke detector program to focus on low-income residents and began an annual Health Fair to provide free or low-cost health screenings.

The name change from “Dallas Fire Department” to “Dallas Fire-Rescue Department” in 2000 indicated the Department’s goal to be a progressive and comprehensive team that benefits the residents and businesses of Dallas. Reflective clothing and location-specific procedures increased the safety of Department members.  Other improvements were added such as multiple-image status boards and the arson division’s canine program and 24-hour shift work that increased investigation capability.

Dallas Fire-Rescue Today

From simple beginnings to impressive numbers today, the Dallas Fire Rescue Department has grown to be a world-class department for a world-class city. Challenges, victories, as well as losses serve to bond firefighters. Living life together in the firehouse, sharing holidays and joys, as well as relying on one another in times of crisis and need create fiercely loyal family ties among members. The City of Dallas can be proud of the accomplishments and service of the Dallas Fire Rescue Department whose members give Dallas a legacy of history, honor and family.