Volunteer fire department celebrates 70 years
By Jay Seidel
La Habra Journal
Just over 70 years ago residents of what is now La Habra Heights collectively felt that they needed to bond together in order to provide better safety for their homes and neighbors. So, in 1942, a number of residents got together set up a Model-A flatbed truck with a 100-gallon tank and established the region’s first volunteer Fire Department.
Today, the La Heights Fire Department has more than 70 members and runs four fire engines.
The La Habra Heights City Council recognized the anniversary at its last meeting by inviting back many of the former firemen and engineers to the meeting.
“The volunteer fire department is very important to the La Habra Heights community and it always has been,” said La Habra Heights City Councilman and former volunteer fireman Roy Francis.
The La Habra Heights Volunteer Fire Department, Inc. was established as a private corporation lead by a board of directors. The unpaid volunteers and directors funded the department though community contributions. Since there were few homes in the 1940s, the departments main task was fend off grass fires.
Fire Chief Edgar Trefry, one of the original board members, helped improve the department’s capabilities by establishing six jeeps with water tanks and hoses.
As the years passed, the department began to grow and the ability of its volunteers to protect their neighbors improved.
According to Francis the firemen did what they could to protect the community.
“It didn’t matter if you were on the east side or the west side, it was all covered,” he explained.
In the 1960s, the LHH Fire Department was one of the only remaining fire staffs comprised totally of volunteers in the county. There were only 130 fire hydrants in the 6.5 square mile unincorporated area at the time. So ensuring that there was water pressure was important. The department received its No. 9 water tanker as a donation to help carry water to all areas of the community.
In the 1970s, an effort was made to help the volunteers by providing pay and stipends for them. Greater state regulations were implemented which caused a change in fire personnel training. It also increased the cost.
“There are so many regulations mandated that it makes it tough for a volunteer,” Francis said. “They get the training and certification, but they are required to be in the classroom quite a bit.”
The number of volunteers waned a bit at this time. Day Captain Bart Lewis initiated the Non-Resident Volunteer Program. The concept called for college students who were involved in the fire technology programs at Rio Hondo, Mt San Antonio College and Santa Ana College to work daytime shifts in the Heights.
Today, the La Habra Heights Fire Department continues to hold true to mission established 70 years ago by the farmers and growers of the time, to volunteer to protect the Heights as best as they can.