Santa Clara County Fire Department

Los Gatos - Historic Photographs - Page 1

Los Gatos FD patch
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old El Monte Hill station Los Gatos Fire Dept, c. 1900
Right: Mark A. Wilson

Left: Los Gatos Station and Hose Company #2 at El Monte Hill. Early 1890's. Los Gatos had two volunteer firefighting companies, one on each side of the bridge. Right: One of the Los Gatos departments, circa 1900. The sign on the front of the station says "27 seconds", and may refer to a winning time in some recent competition, such as a pumping contest. This photo might be a team lineup as opposed to a department shot, because the men in the lineup aren't in uniform.

Until 1887, the Town of Los Gatos was protected from fire by a bucket brigade, formed by the townspeople themselves. At that time, two lines of people were formed, extending from the water source to the fire. One line would pass the water filled buckets to the fire, while the other passed the empties back. In 1887, the Town acquired a hose wagon. This wagon required a group of volunteers - or a hose company - to care for it and be responsible to maneuver it to the scene in the event of a fire. This volunteer group requested legal status as a fire department in 1889. The group also wanted the town to purchase a bell to summon the volunteers when fires occurred. Some members of the Town Council opposed the bell as unnecessary. However, on 27 July 1891, an event took place that would change the thinking of the town elders. A fire broke out in the rear of a furniture store on Main Street. The fire consumed the entire block from Forbes Mill to the corner of East Main and Church Street taking the post office and several businesses with it. On 5 August 1891, not long after this disastrous fire, the Los Gatos Fire Department was formed. A hook & ladder company was added and officers were chosen for both companies. Chief J. A. Aram was selected to lead the group of volunteer firefighters. Staffing was increased from 15 to 35 personnel.

1891 fire
Los Gatos Public Library

26 July 1891 fire. The fire wiped out some nine business buildings. Steeples of a Methodist and Presbyterian Church are visible.

It was determined that a fire bell would be needed to summon the group from their daily activities. With a great deal of community involvement, a bell was purchased on 22 June 1899. It weighed 1500 pounds (680kg) and sat on top of a 60-foot wooden tower near Lyndon Plaza. The firefighters soon decided that the bell was too small to serve its purpose. On 15 October 1899, a 2500 pound (1135kg) bell was installed on top of a new tower on Lundy Lane behind what is currently "Old Town."

fire bell
Los Gatos Public Library

Los Gatos fire bell. Bell measured 4' (1.2 m) diameter at the lip.

Los Gatos elementary school and fire bell
Los Gatos Public Library

Los Gatos Elementary School. Photo 8 October 1936. Note fire bell tower is visible in the background. In 1947, the tower and bell were removed.

Two years later, on 13 October 1901, a fire started in a livery stable on Montebello Way and spread down both sides of West main street from the bridge west to the railroad tracks and up University Avenue, taking the fire bell tower with it. The bell fell to the ground and sustained three cracks. The barn housing the fire apparatus across from the train depot was also destroyed. The people decided that a better solution was needed to protect the Town from the ravages of fire. In 1903, the Town Council agreed to pay 25 volunteers the rate of $3 per fire which would by payable twice a year.

Great Los Gatos fire
Santa Clara County Fire Dept Archive

The Great Los Gatos fire, with a steam train visible at the depot. 1901.

great Los Gatos fire 1901
photo: "History of Los Gatos" by George Bruntz

West Main Street after the great fire of 1901. South side of the street, looking west from the bridge.

1901 fire
Los Gatos Public Library

Fire on West Main St., 1901. The fire was near the Main Street bridge. Buildings on both sides of West Main burned, as well as some buildings on University Avenue.

Until this time, three hose carts and a hand-drawn hook & ladder truck were the Town's only pieces of equipment. In 1915, Los Gatos purchase an American LaFrance combination chemical and hose cart. It carried two tanks on it. One tank contained soda and the other, acid. When the two were combined, the pressure created would expel the solution from the hose onto the fire. Not long after this purchase, the Town acquired a 750gpm American LaFrance pumper.

Los Gatos hotel fire 1909
photo: "Images of Long Ago"

Los Gatos hotel fire 1909

photo: "History of Los Gatos" by George Bruntz

The El Monte Hotel fire, 3 July 1909. View is from the rear and west side of Pleasant St, looking southward towards Main St. In the first photo, note hose cart at left side of photo. In the second photo, the fire appears to have extended into the east side of the building.

1914 American LaFrance 1914 American LaFrance
both: "Images of Long Ago"

Two photos of Los Gatos' 1914 American LaFrance Hook and Ladder truck. Left photo shows the truck leading a parade down West Main St, La Riconada building on the right. Right photo also shows the truck on West Main St, near the firehouse next to the Hotel Lyndon. Both photos circa 1918.

Los Gatos 1915 LaFrance
photo: "History of Los Gatos" by George Bruntz

1915 LaFrance fire engine and the volunteers.

In 1927, a modern firehouse was built on the corner of 4 Tait Avenue at West Main. This site is the present location of the Los Gatos Museum. In 1930, seven firefighters missed a fire because they did not hear the town fire bell. As a result of more building construction in Los Gatos, the sound of the bell did not travel as well as it once did. Thus, an alternate mode of alarm was needed. In 1947, the fire bell was removed and replaced by a bullhorn that emitted bursts to signal the firefighters as to which city block to respond to.

Los Gatos Firemen baseball team
Los Gatos Public Library

Los Gatos firemen a baseball team. Photo taken across street from the old firehouse. According to a barely legible hand written caption, the player on one end or the other end was thes Campbell Fire Department Chief. Photo date unknown.

Los Gatos fire 1943
photo: "History of Los Gatos" by George Bruntz

5 July 1943 fire which destroyed Lewis & Son's, and several other buildings. Property damages exceeded $50,000.

1943 fire 1943 fire
both: Los Gatos Public Library

Two photos of the 5 July 1943 fire. Starting at 19 East Main Street it spread east.

Alfred Lord, first fulltime paid firefighter
Los Gatos Public Library

Alfred L. Lord, the first fulltime, paid resident firefighter, in front of Tait Avenue station. Photo 1938.

In 1955, the Town appointed Lee M. Schlobohm as the first paid Chief of the Los Gatos Fire Department. Schlobohm was a deputy fire marshal and a former Central Fire District Captain. In 1957, Chief Schlobohm resigned to take a Chief's position in San Luis Obispo. Richard Wall was chosen from a field of 27 applicants to hold top honors at Los Gatos Fire. Chief Wall had been a regular firefighter with Los Gatos since 1952. Giant strides were made during Chief Wall's tenure with the building of Shannon Station in 1960, the station on University Avenue in 1962, and Winchester Station in 1966. It was also under Chief Wall's leadership that the regular firefighters became a paid, full-time force supplemented by volunteers. Chief Wall's grandson, Brent Rapport, was a volunteer and is now a full-time County Fire Captain.

In 1901, Louis Sporleder joined the ranks of the volunteers. He would later go on to become assistant Chief of the department. Chief Sporleder's son, Louis Jr., would follow in his father's footsteps by also serving as Assistant Chief of the Los Gatos Fire Department. Douglas Sporleder, son of Louis Jr., continued the tradition of fire service leadership as Chief of Central Fire District from 1982-2001.

In May of 1970, the Los Gatos Fire Department merged with the Santa Clara County Central Fire Protection District. At the time of the merger, Los Gatos had 27 paid firefighters. Chief Wall was named assistant Chief at Central Fire District.

Tait Avenue station, Los Gatos

old Tait station old Tait station
Santa Clara County Fire Dept Archive

Los Gatos Museum

Then and Now: Three views of the Los Gatos Station at 4 Tait Av. The first photo probably from the 1930s, the second probably from the 1940s. The third photo shows the building in it's current incarnation as the Los Gatos Historical Museum, June 2004. Note that the powerlines and pole-mounted siren have been removed.

Tait Avenue station historical museum
Los Gatos Public Library

Another view of the Los Gatos Historical Museum, the former Tait Av fire station. Behind the building is the pole-mounted siren. Photo date unknown.

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