Little Rock Look Back: Moments in LRFD History

In the Western Christian tradition, today is Pentecost Sunday. It is the day when tongues of flames appeared over the heads of the apostles as they preached in a variety of native languages (granted an oversimplification of the description).

In keeping with the flame reference, today’s entry looks at some moments in the Little Rock Fire Department history.

As early as 1840, the City’s volunteer firefighters had a steam-operated fire engine which had been obtained from New York City. It weighed 5,000 pounds and supposedly required the services of 50 men to pull it to a fire.

There are very few records of any of the fire fighting records from those days.

By the post Civil War era, volunteer fire companies were being created. These were as much about fraternization and politics as they were about public safety.  Most of Little Rock’s political leadership during the 1860s through the 1880s were members of a volunteer fire company.

On May 2, 1867, the Pat Cleburne Steam Fire Company responded to a fire. In the more modern era of record-keeping with the advent of Reconstruction, this is the first recorded response to a fire.  The location was a corner at Markham and Scott Streets where the Fones Tire Shop was on ablaze.  The damage was estimated at $500. (The equivalent to $8,000 today.)  It appears to be the first case of arson in Little Rock history.

In 1893, the Little Rock Fire Department was established as a paid company.  It would hardly be considered professional by today’s standards, but it kept up with the latest technology and firefighting efforts of the day.

By 1910, the first motorized vehicle was incorporated into the fire fleet.  In 1912, the first motorized aerial apparatus was put into commission for the LRFD.

Another notable LRFD response in the month of May took place in 1952.  The Albert Pike Masonic Temple at 8th and Scott caught fire.  10,000 spectators jammed the streets to look at the fire.  30 Marines had to be deployed to help with crowd control so the LRFD could put out the fire, which caused $250,000 worth of damage (the equivalent of $2.35 million today).

Since 2018 marks the 125th year of the full-time Little Rock Fire Department, there will be other entries from time to time throughout the year looking at different aspects of the department.