Kissimmee Fire Department History
Historical accounts from excerpts taken from printed materials from Mr. Sam L. Lupfer (deceased).
Following three large disastrous fires in the City of Kissimmee between 1906 and 1908 that included the Tropical Hotel on Broadway (1906), the Kissimmee High School Building on Church St (1907) and almost the entire downtown Broadway business district; the City Commission decided in 1909 to start a fire department. The City obtained the funding for this new venture through a bond issue in order to purchase standard hydrants; three spools of 500-feet of 2.5-inch hose; build a 75,000 gallon elevated water tank; and drill two deep artesian wells in order to provide water to hydrants and bring fresh water to the city. It was during these years of improvements that a volunteer fire department was formed. Three fire stations were initially erected as metal roofs buildings and positioned strategically to provide maximum fire protection. These fire stations were located at South Vernon Avenue across from the Court House; one on Broadway in the block now occupied by Makinson’s Hardware; and one on North Brack Street. Each station had 8-10 volunteers and housed a wheeled spool of fire hose that was hand-pulled to a fire.
Very few automobiles were available in those days to assist in pulling the hose reel to the fire. When a fire developed, the call for help went to the City Utility Plant where a shrill variable steam whistle would tell the volunteers the approximate location of the fire. Each fireman attending a fire was usually paid a dollar or two for his labor. In order to have further funds to use, there was a social side to the Fire Department. A hall was rented in the Makinson Building where public dances were held with a piano furnishing the music. On several occasions, a special wire was leased to bring in the broadcast of Baseball’s World Series, for which an admission was charged. A Fire Chief was elected each year as an honorary recognition
This method of firefighting continued in Kissimmee until 1912 when the City decided to purchase its first piece of motorized equipment that the town of Kissimmee purchased; a 1912 American LaFrance motorized fire apparatus.
This new fire truck was a chemical truck that carried two 35-gallon chemical tanks with 200-feet of one-inch rubber hose. The truck also carried 1,000 feet of 2.5-inch hose which could be attached to the town’s fire hydrants. This new fire truck was state-of-the-art for its time and came equipped with Dayton solid-rubber tires, hand-crank starting motor and siren, and could carry 8-10 men on the running and tailboards. The truck also carried a 20-foot extension ladder and a 12-foot roof ladder. The new fire truck was delivered in a railroad freight car from the American LaFrance Company out of Elmira, New York to the rail station in downtown Kissimmee in early April of 1912. Soon after it was unloaded, a man by the name of Marrow from Sanford, Florida stepped forward and claimed he drove a similar truck in Sanford; and asked permission to demonstrate it. He went from one City Commissioner to another City Commissioner; but each of them said “No”. He finally talked someone into letting him drive it. The result- the man crashed into the back of a parked touring car owned by a local real estate dealer A. S. Nelson and caused considerable damage to the car and new fire truck. Mr. Marrow left the scene and returned to Sanford. It was discovered later he had been drinking, but there is no record of his arrest related to the incident. The repairs to the fire truck took some time but were finally completed and after a thorough inspection by auto mechanic J. J. Griffin Sr., the truck was accepted by the City on May 28, 1912. This accident convinced the City to hire the first paid fire department employee, Mr. R. L. Roberts who was paid $60 dollars a month to be the Driver/Engineer of the new fire truck.
This fire truck protected Kissimmee until 1917 when the City Commission purchased a new American LaFrance fire truck similar to the 1912 model (see picture below).
The 1912 fire truck was sold to the town of Crescent City, Florida where it served for many more years before being sold to a Cypress Company. The 1917 fire truck remained in service until it was placed into Reserve status with the purchase of a 1923 American LaFrance fire truck which had many significant upgrades from the previous two fire trucks the City had owned. This 1923 fire truck remained in service over 50 years; until 1956 when it was taken to the Kissimmee airport and placed into a wooden airplane hangar and a cover thrown over the truck and forgotten about. The fire truck in the picture below replaced the 1923 fire truck.
Nearly 20 years later in 1975, the wooden airplane hangars were slated for demolition out at the airport to make way for newer more modern airplane hangar structures; the 1923 American LaFrance was “rediscovered” by workers at the airport. A call was placed to the Kissimmee Fire Department by a work crew out at the airport asking what they wanted done with the “old fire truck” out here. Most of the members that knew of the fire truck being placed at the airport and had moved-on and were no longer affiliated with the Kissimmee Fire Department; behold a historical treasure for the Kissimmee Fire Department was discovered. The current-day firefighters from the Kissimmee Fire Department were beaming with pride at the discovery of this older-era “work horse” fire truck from their Department. The firefighters set out on a community-wide effort to get this fire truck restored to original (if not better) condition. This restoration was accomplished with public donations, materials and labor from several business men in the City who assisted on this 1923 fire truck restoration project. The goal was to have the truck fully-restored in time for the City of Kissimmee’s bicentennial parade in July of 1976. Its premiere public unveiling occurred at the City parade on schedule and it has been used in parades, photo shoots, and antique fire truck demonstrations where it has won many awards. Today, the restored 1923 American LaFrance resides in the apparatus bay at Kissimmee Fire Station 11 on Clyde Avenue sitting side-by-side with today’s modern and behemoth-in-comparison fire apparatus that currently serve as the protectors for the City of Kissimmee.
In 1934, the fire department moved to Darlington Avenue where the Ward family occupied the 2nd floor living quarters. In addition to driving and caring for the 1923 fire truck, Ira Ward did mechanical work on the City equipment and kept the City cars and trucks in good running order. In 1948 the City of Kissimmee decided to erect their own fire station on Stewart Avenue where the current Police Department building is located. Unexpectedly, Mr. Ward died before the fire equipment was moved to the new fire station on Stewart Avenue causing a void in the City’s fire protection plan. At the same time, Mr. Julius Smith, who had considerable experience and training at the Kissimmee Air Base fire department while he was assigned to the 349th Night Fighters Unit; was appointed as Fire Chief of the Kissimmee Fire Department and thus became the first paid full-time Fire Chief. Chief Smith served from 1948 until his retirement in December 1961. Arlo Lawrence was appointed as the replacement to the retiring Chief and had served within the Kissimmee Fire Department as a full-time fireman since December 1954. Chief Lawrence was credited with the planning, design, and construction of the City first modern fire station on Dakin Avenue that was built in 1967 that stood behind the current City Hall until 2009 when it was demolished with the relocation to the new fire station on Clyde Avenue (Old Station 11 in photo below).
Fire Chief Lawrence served as Fire Chief until his retirement in July, 1977. In July, 1977, the City Manager appointed Ken Kemp as the new Fire Chief having been with the Kissimmee Fire Department since October 1, 1965. Chief Kemp is credited with maintaining the Kissimmee Fire Department growth to keep pace with the exploding population experienced in the City of Kissimmee during the 1970’s and 1980’s during the opening and rising popularity of the Walt Disney World opening in the mid 1970’s. Since early 1990, the City of Kissimmee Fire Department has continued to keep pace with the continued growth and service demands as the 2nd largest Municipality in Central Florida. In 2009, the City of Kissimmee Fire Department celebrated its 100th year anniversary with the opening of the new Fire Station 11 located at 343 Clyde Avenue and designed a new Department logo for all uniforms during that year.
The logo was changed once again in 2014 when the City of Kissimmee Fire Department received the highest Public Protection Rating from the Insurance Services Organization (ISO) as an ISO “Class-1” Fire Department. At the time of the recognition, the City of Kissimmee Fire Department was the 9th in the State of Florida and 62nd in the Nation to receive the designation as an “ISO Class-1” Fire Department.
History of Kissimmee
7th Fire Chief David Kilbury
2013 - 2016
6th Fire Chief Bob King
2003 - 2013
5th Fire Chief John Chapman
1998 - 2003
4th Fire Chief Larry Bell
1990 - 1997
3rd Fire Chief Ken Kemp
1977 - 1989. (3rd)
2nd Fire Chief Arlo Lawrence
1st full-time paid Fire Chief Julius Smith (plaid shirt)
1948 - 1961