Visalia Fire Department turns 150

Firefighters at House 55, give Jaws of Life demonstration, fire truck display, and the opportunity to mingle with department personnel

By Nancy Vigran
Reporting for the Sun-Gazette

VISALIA – Visalia’s firefighters set the community ablaze with celebration on Saturday. Together with the community, the Visalia Fire Department celebrated their 150th birthday at House 55.

A major draw for the public were the demonstrations of the Jaws of Life, followed by a bounce house in the form of a fire truck enjoyed by kids and adults alike, tacos, and visiting with the firefighters themselves.

Former VFD engineer Patti Reed attended the event held at her former Fire House with her grandson, Mason, showing him what his Nana used to do. Reed, who spent more than 30 years with the department, was the fourth female firefighter in the department and the first to become an engineer, she said. Back in the day, she was one of two women enrolled at the College of the Sequoias Fire Academy.

“We got treated just the same as anybody else,” she said.

Reed retired in 2015.


Visalia House 55 Fire Captain Tony Calbert explains to open house visitors about how, in the case of an accident, auto glass shatters rather than leaving sharp edges that could cut someone. Photo by Nancy Vigran.

Engineer Chris Oakland, now in his eighth year with the department, attended the event with his family during his off-time.

“It’s awesome that our department has been around serving the community for so long,” he said.

Assemblyman Devon Mathis took this opportunity to share the fire department activities with his family.

“They [the department] have done an amazing job and they have a great history,” he said. “Doing events like this is really great for the community and develops an interest for the next generation.”

Included in the activities were several information booths including one for the fire department, one for Visalia’s Park & Recreation department, and one for Cal Fire.

Cal Fire has eight fire stations throughout Tulare County and 11 fire engines, explained firefighter Alex Yanez, who works at the Three Rivers station. Through the information booth, firefighters were sharing information on their department’s VIP program, mostly aimed at high school students and recent graduates who may be interested in becoming seasonal firefighters. When enrolled in the VIP program students learn how the department works, volunteer at department events and other area assigned duties.

Yanez also shared the new Cal Fire mascot, Captain Cal, a mountain lion. Smokey the Bear, who began with the department in 1944, is beginning to see his retirement. Smokey did, however, attend the event handing out posters with his photograph and the iconic phrase “Only YOU can prevent forest fires.”

Trucker Mike Cromer of Visalia walked his kids over to their local fire station for the VFD 150th anniversary party. He had happened upon the event on Facebook.

“Kids and fire trucks,” he said, “they just love trucks.”

The Visalia Fire Department is one of the oldest in the state having been formed in 1869. Today, the department is staffed by 82 individuals providing a full-range of emergency services. There are six stations located throughout the city responding to calls 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.

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