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“History of the Corona Fire Department” Panel Discussion & Video

The Corona Historic Preservation Society (CHPS) held its first 2018 Quarterly Meeting in the Community Room at the Historic Civic Center on February 10th. The meeting, to which the public was also invited, started with a look back at the history of the Corona Fire Department (CFD) starting from the very beginning in January of 1898. It was over 120 years ago that the CFD began as a bucket brigade of volunteers doing their best to extinguish fires in the fledgling town. Many details of the early years of the department were expertly provided by retired CFD Captain, Fred Parr, who is the CFD Historian and at one time served as president of CHPS. Loving history as he does, Fred did a masterful job of planning the meeting, sharing his knowledge, and acting as moderator of the panel discussion made up of four retired CFD firefighters.

Replica of engineCHPS President Wes Speake welcomed all attendees that had filled the Community Room almost to capacity and then introduced moderator Fred Parr. A panel discussion ensued focusing on the 1960s through the 1980s with Fred serving up the questions.

Corona’s city trustees formed the Corona Fire Department in January of 1898. Corona’s first fire station was located at 717 South Main, across from where the First Baptist Church stands today. A year later in early 1899, the department’s first hose cart was purchased for $99.17. Later in 1899, the Hotel Temescal caught fire and the cart was used to fight it with much success until a hay cart with metal-rimmed wheels ran over the hose, severing it. Six fire hydrants were placed around town shortly thereafter by the Water Department although extinguishing fires with buckets continued as well. Note: The CFD’s Station No. 1 is now located near the corner of Magnolia and Ontario avenues.

Our distinguished panel was made up of former Corona firefighters: Captains Steve Vansant, Richard Hernandez, Ralph Davis and Deputy Chief Bob German. Fred asked these dedicated men a series of questions about their pasts such as:

  • When did they arrive in Corona?
  • How and why did they decide to become firefighters?
  • What did they remember about their rookie years?
  • What kind of camraderie did they share with others at their stations?
  • What was the most memorable incident of their careers?
Helmets & water bucket

Some of the stories told by the men ended in joy but, also, some were tragic. The stories these men shared made it clear that the highs and lows are all part of their courageous duty. Fred then introduced the secret guest speaker, Ray Russell, who served as Assistant Chief in the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection/State Fire Marshal Division – now known as CAL FIRE. Ray enlightened us further and praised not only the members of the panel but all firefighters with whom he worked in the past.

Memorabilia and artifacts were displayed on tables for all attendees to examine and admire. They included a replica model of an early fire engine bought by the city in 1927 and various types of CFD helmets from decades past made from leather, fiberglass and plastic. What was especially exciting to see was an original fire bucket used in 1889, one of only two left today, and the first means of firefighting in Corona.

It turned out to be another amazing Quarterly Meeting enjoyed by true Coronans. The CHPS would like to thank those that came out to the event and especially the panel of men who shared their stories with us all. We owe a great deal of gratitude to all who have served and continue to serve in the Corona Fire Department of our wonderful and historic city.


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