BEGINNING and EARLY YEARS
The Wheeling Fire Department evolved from a City Council resolution to organize its citizens to control the threat of fire and conflagrations that plagued many US cities in their early days.
In 1869 council took action and passed an ordinance establishing and regulating a paid fire department for the City of Wheeling, West Virginia .
On December 21, 1869, William Winder, former member of the “Atlantic Engine Company,” was selected to be the Fire Chief. Andrew J. Sweeney and William H. Harrison were made assistant Fire Chiefs. These three men constituted the Board of Control of the Fire department.
Soon this fire protection grew into a group of seven independent fire companies located throughout the early years of the city. As Wheeling grew so did the need for a dependable and skilled professional fire department.
On April 21, 1807 Wheeling’s town council passed several resolutions aimed at fighting fires in the city. After 12 years and more resolutions, the City leaders passed a by-law addressing the need for more aggressive fire department action. Moses Chapline, the Mayor of Wheeling, Virginia, signed a bylaw in 1819 that appropriated $700 to purchase a Land Engine (Fire Truck), Hooks and Ladders, and other tools needed to fight a fire.
MEN and EQUIPMENT -- In early 1820, males who were 16 or older enrolled with the City Recorder and shortly after they met to organize a fire company and elect officers. In March of 1820 the town council ordered a building to be erected on the west end of the Market House located between now 10th & 11th street. This structure was to be used specifically for the towns fire equipment.
At this time, the fire equipment consisted of a Land Fire Engine, Hooks and Ladders, and durable black leather fire buckets that held 2-1/2 gallons of water. The leather buckets would be used to supply water from a source by “bucket brigade” to the Land Fire Engine. The bucket brigades were simply a string of people relaying full buckets of water from the source to the fire truck and the empty buckets back for refill. This continued until the fire was out.
RISE of the INDEPENDENT COMPANIES
WHEELING HOSE COMPANY -- This system of fire protection continued for about a decade before it eventually branched into seven independent fire companies.
The first of these independent fire companies was established in 1830. It was called the “Wheeling Hose Company” and was managed by 40 to 50 prominent businessmen. They operated out of a firehouse on the corner between 12th and 14th street on Market Street. This firehouse had a large open ballroom on the second floor where elaborate socials were held. The Wheeling Hose Company functioned with one small pumping engine and one hose reel.
The firefighters dressed in black pants and bright red shirts, and regulation fire hats. Their nickname was the “Old Reds.” After the founders aged and were replaced by younger men they were then called the “Young Reds.” The Wheeling Hose Company provided their service until they disbanded in 1860.
HOPE FIRE COMPANY -- On March 16, 1835 the second fire company, “Hope Fire Company” was established. Organized by 214 prominent and professional men the Hope firehouse was located on the west side of Market Street between 11th and 12th Street.
The first order of business was to order 7 speaking trumpets used to communicate at fires. At first the Hopes had just a single hose reel but later purchased a Second-Class Engine from Philadelphia, PA. Merrick, Tyler, and Agnew built the fire engine that required 24 strong men to operate and was capable of sending a stream of water 120 feet.
The Hopes were an elaborate fire company. They wore dark gray mixed cloth, double-breasted frock coat with large black military collar and Cape of Pressia Duck to the elbows. They were widely known for sponsoring frequent balls, colorful parades and many social events. Their performance when summoned for fire was equally impressive.
The Hope Fire Company relocated to a new firehouse, a wooden structure, at 51 on 11th Street in 1837.
GUARDS FIRE COMPANY -- The “Guards Fire Company” organized with 100 men in 1839. These were mostly Ironworkers and other metal tradesman. From a firehouse on 21st Street they operated with one Hose Reel (600 feet of hose), and one small Hand Engine operated from the gallery.
FIRST WARD FIRE COMPANY -- On April 22, 1843 the “First Ward Hose Company” organized with 102 members that housed their equipment in a rough shed on Main Street in North Wheeling. One year later council appropriated $1250.00 to purchase a Hose Reel and other equipment. The members had several nicknames including the “76 Hose Company,” the “Independence Hose Company,” and finally in 1869 the “Vigilant Steam Fire Co. No. 3” as part of the Wheeling Fire Department.
In 1849 council donated a parcel of land at 650 Main Street and allocated funds to construct a substantial brick firehouse for the First Ward Hose Company. This replaced the now dilapidated wooden shed being used to house fire apparatus. In 1853 the First Ward Hose Company put its first fire engine into service. It was a rowboat type hand pumper requiring 32 men to operate. After 10 to 15 minutes of operating this fire pump even the strongest of men needed relief.
ROUGH and READY FIRE COMPANY -- “The Rough and Ready Fire Company” was formed by a group of mostly tradesman in April 1846. They started with one Hose Reel in a two-story brick building on Jacob Street between 16th and 17th Street. In 1850 they purchased a Hand Engine. They continued service until being absorbed into the Wheeling Fire Department in 1869 at which time they became the “Atlantic Steam Fire Co. No. 2.”
YOUNG AMERICA HOSE COMPANY -- “The Young America Hose Company” was started by a relatively small group of men formerly associated with the Hope Fire Company and residing on Wheeling Island. They had a firehouse with one Hose Reel to provide protection for the population settling the island. It is believed to have been located at the site of the current firehouse, 128 Zane Street.
UNITED FIRE COMPANY – The “United Fire Company” was formed by mostly B&O Railroad employees in 1859, just prior to the Civil War. The firehouse was situated on 24th Street on the Alley corner between Main and Markets Streets. This would be the last fire company to organize before the professional Wheeling Fire Department. In 1862 the United Fire Company received a Steam Fire Engine built by Poole and Hunt of Baltimore, MD. This was the very first Steam Fire Engine in the city.
Eventually steam power would replace all the labor-intensive hand operated fire equipment. By 1868 the First Ward Hose Company obtained a new Steam Fire Engine bearing the inscription “Vigilant Engine Company” a name readily adopted by the First Ward.
MORE EFFICIENT OPERATIONS
Wheeling had grown to a sizable town by now. Situated on the bustling Ohio River it was the gateway to the West. With such growth the demand on the independent fire companies became overwhelming. Bitter rivalry often interrupted firefighting efforts. The Council realized another more efficient system was needed like that in Cincinnati, Ohio which had combined Horses, Steam Fire Engines, and paid firefighters --an impressive fire department.
In 1869 council took action and passed an ordinance establishing and regulating a paid fire department for the City of Wheeling, WV .
On the 3rd Tuesday in December 1869, William Winder, former member of the “Atlantic Engine Company,” was selected to be the Fire Chief. Andrew J. Sweeney and William H. Harrison were made assistant Fire Chiefs. These three men constituted the Board of Control of the Fire department.
FIRE CHIEFS & LANDMARK PROGRESS
CHIEF WINDER -- William Winder was officially sworn in as Fire Chief in 1870 and immediately began to organize the Wheeling Fire Department.
First, he divided the city into two fire districts. Everything north of Wheeling Creek including Wheeling Island was Fire District 1 and everything south of Wheeling Creek was Fire District 2. He organized the following four fire companies:
United Fire Company No.1 with one 3rd Class Steam Fire Engine, 800 feet of hose, one 1st Class Hose Carriage, and a team of 3 horses was located at 24th Street on the alley corner between Main and Market streets.
Atlantic Steam Fire Company No.2 was located on Eoff and 17th Street with one Steam Fire Engine purchased in 1868, one Hose Carriage (drawn by hand), three horses, 500 feet of hose, and one horse drawn Hose Carriage to be ordered.
Vigilant Fire Engine Company No .3 located at 650 Main Street with One Steam Fire Engine, 500 feet of hose, three horses, one 4-wheeled horse drawn hose cart, and one 4-wheeled hose cart drawn by men.
Hook and Ladder No. 1 was housed at the 21st Street firehouse and had one Hook & Ladder Truck, 500 feet of hose, and one Hose Carriage. When the first Steam Fire Engine was at the fire it would send its team of horses to pull the Hook & Ladder Truck to the fire.
CHIEF Eccles -- William A. Eccles became Fire Chief in 1878 and made several significant improvements. Automatic snap collars and swinging harnesses were installed in the firehouses. These allowed the horses to go without their harnesses until needed. When the alarm came in the horses quickly took their places under these automatic devices and instantly were collared and harnessed and off to the alarm. Prior to these automatic devices the horses wore the collars and harnesses 24 hours a day causing sores on their neck and back. Under Eccles direction three additional companies went into service as well as a new fire alarm system. Prior to the fire alarm system, the Western Union Telegraph was used.
The Gamewell Fire Alarm System was installed in 1880 with 57 fireboxes located throughout the city. Residents could now go to one of the red fire alarm boxes to summons the fire department. The first alarm came in from fire box number 6 at Chapline and 31st Street. The Fire Department quickly extinguished a small fire in a pottery factory.
CHIEF DUNNING -- On December 23, 1882, James J. Dunning was appointed Fire Chief. Chief Dunning oversaw the construction of a new firehouse on Wheeling Island (1886) and purchased the first Chemical Fire Engine (1889).
CHIEF HEALEY -- Frank J. Healy became Fire Chief on December 23, 1890. Chief Healy had a new firehouse erected in North Wheeling at 650 Main Street. He put in service the Wheeling Fire Co. No. 4 on South Jacob Street on August 15, 1892. Firefighters were provided with Loeb Respirators for protection from smoke inhalation. While awaiting the arrival of a new fire engine Wheeling was loaned a Steam Fire Engine named “Blackjack” that was previously used to fight the Great Chicago Fire.
A great conflagration occurred in Cameron, WV and Wheeling answered the call for assistance by sending men, “Blackjack,” and a Hose Wagon by railroad. The train stopped briefly in Moundsville to pick up additional men and continued to Cameron. While en route the train jumped track near Rosby’s Rock killing the engineer and damaging the fire equipment.
In 1891 the Vigilant No. 2 firehouse burned down but was quickly replaced by a new brick firehouse at the same location, 650 Main Street.
CHIEF KLIEVES -- On 1897 Chief Charles Klieves took over the operation of the Fire Department. During his tenure the entire fire alarm system was rewired making it a more efficient and reliable upgraded system. He remained chief for two years.
CHIEF KLINE -- Robert D. Kline would be appointed Fire Chief in 1899. The fire department would expand by two fire companies. The Fort Henry Engine House on McColloch Street in East Wheeling and in the 8th Ward Fort Kalbitzer.
CHIEF ALTMEYER -- In January of 1909, James P. Altmeyer was appointed Fire Chief. He is responsible for bringing the WFD into the motorized era. The WFD purchased a new Mitchell Roadster for the Fire Chief making it possible to respond rapidly to fire calls and direct the firefighting operations. The Atlantic Fire Company received a new Hose Truck. In addition, the fire alarm system was upgraded and a repeater was installed so that more than one fire alarm box could be activated without canceling another one out. This was a great improvement of the system.
CHIEF ROSE -- Edward T. Rose would become Fire Chief on September 3, 1912 and would see the end of the Horse Drawn Steamer era. The last fire companies in the WFD to use horses were #2, #3, #4, and #10. Gasoline-powered trucks were replacing these magnificent fire horses. Four Peerless Combination Hose/Chemical Trucks replaced the horse teams. Rose also was Chief when the Fireman’s Fund was established in 1917.
In 1932 Edward T. Rose was once again appointed Fire Chief. Chief Rose had a new firehouse constructed on Wheeling Island replacing the existing one. He was challenged to direct the WFD through the War years of WWII
CHIEF THOMPSON -- In 1919 Burley Thompson was the Fire Chief and the city was expanding by annexing the areas of Warwood, Woodsdale, and Elm Grove. Chief Thompson was responsible for extending fire service to the new sections of the city. He oversaw the extension of the fire alarm system and the addition of manpower for the new areas.
CHIEF McGRANHAN -- Edward A. McGranhan became Fire Chief in 1922. The WFD had grown to an 81-man fire department working out of 14 firehouses. The fire alarm system now had 88 fire alarm boxes located throughout the city. The firehouse at 298 Poplar Avenue was replaced with a new structure.
CHIEF McFADDEN -- William S. McFadden was appointed Fire Chief in 1946 after serving in the armed forces during WWII. The WFD now operated out of 8 firehouses. From his military experience Chief McFadden brought back several new firefighting concepts. Firefighting Foam used by the U.S. Navy was integrated into the fire service. Special Navy Nozzles used for flammable liquid fires were also put into use in Wheeling. Realizing the need for more training he had the training tower constructed on the North end of Wheeling Island where firefighters could practice and drill.
The training tower is still used to this day.
Chief McFadden was instrumental in the transition from gasoline-powered fire engines to diesel-powered fire engines. New firehouses replaced outdated ones in Elm Grove, and South Wheeling. The Wheeling Fire Department came under Civil Service Laws through an act of the WV Legislature on March 13, 1947.
CHIEF SLIGAR -- In 1971 Cliff Sligar was appointed to Chief of the Fire Department. Chief Sligar continued to modernize and keep the WFD up to date in training and equipment. Firefighters were trained to be EMT’s (Emergency Medical Technicians) and the Paramedic program was instituted. Now the emergency response could provide a very high level of medical emergency treatment under the direction of a medical doctor.
The Heavy Rescue concept was adopted and Rescue Company No.1 went into service at the North Wheeling firehouse. The Rescue Company carries heavy rescue equipment such as the “Jaws of Life”, Air Bags, Hydraulic Spreaders, and various other rescue tools necessary to extricate trapped victims at a vehicle accident.
The fire Department Headquarters located at 17th and Eoff Street was relocated to 2126 Markets Street and Engine Co. No. 3 in Center Wheeling was disbanded. The WFD now operated from 7 firehouses. The firefighters went from two platoons to three platoons designated A, B, and C. With the changing fire environment firefighters were being confronted with deadly toxic gases as never before. Reliable self-contained breathing apparatus (air masks) were provided to every firefighter. Portable walkie talkie radios were issued to each fire officer to communicate at incidents.
Training increased in areas of High Rise firefighting, Handling of Hazardous Materials, Emergency Medical, and Rescue. Chief Sligar continued to replace aging fire apparatus with new and changed the color from red to orange and white to improve the visibility of the fire trucks. The Gamewell Fire Alarm Box System was phased out and replaced by a modern 9-1-1 radio communications system operating out of the fire department headquarters. The traditional fire bells sounding in the firehouses for an alarm gave way to electronic tones.
All first alarm assignments include two Engine Companies, one Ladder Company, the heavy Rescue Company, and the Assistant Fire Chief on duty. Additional alarms are transmitted when more assistance is required. One Engine Company and one Paramedic Unit respond to medical emergency alarms. The WFD also responds to other cities when requested under mutual aid agreements.
CHIEF JOHNSTON -- In July of 1995 Stephen A. Johnston was appointed Fire Chief of a very modern 95-man, 7-station fire department. Firefighters work a 24 on 24 off and after 3 days are off for four days. This averages to 56 hours per week. The fire department responds with 6 first line Fire engines, one first line Tower Ladder Truck, one Heavy Rescue Company, and three Paramedic Emergency Units. There are two Fire engines, one ambulance, and one Ladder Truck in reserve.
CHIEF HELMS -- Larry S. Helms was appointed Fire Chief in September 2007 by City Manager Robert Herron, after the retirement of Chief Johnston. Chief Helms entered the department in 1986 as a paramedic, serving a number of roles before his appointment.
The WFD responds to approximately 6,500 alarms per year. The fire department responds to various types of alarms. To name a few the fire department responds to fires; fire alarm activations, emergency medical calls, vehicle accidents, river incidents, floods, downed power lines, lightning strikes and other weather-related problems, and Hazardous Material incidents. The WFD will continue to strive to provide the highest level of professional service now and into the future.
In the history of the Wheeling Fire Department, there have been 14 fire chiefs. Chief Edward T. Rose served as Chief of the Department twice. Chief William McFadden is the longest serving, with Chief Cliff Sligar three months behind him.