CCFD History - The 1950s

CCFD History - The 1950s

LV Strip1950
The history of the Clark County Fire Department spans 70 years. It is both rich and colorful from the days of the El Rancho Vegas Hotel and Casino fire to the unforgettable MGM Grand inferno that changed the way fire departments responded to high-rise fires forever.

In these pages are stories that recount the bravery and dedication of the department's personnel. We hope you learn things about people whose lives made Las Vegas more than a gambling destination. And we hope you learn a little more about Clark County and what has made it such an interesting and amazing slice of American culture.

The 1950s______________________________________________________________________
Las Vegas grew from 8,422 residents in 1940 to 64,405 in 1960. At the same time, Clark County reached a population of 127,016. The unprecedented growth created a need for fire protection and the Clark County Fire Department (CCFD) was organized on November 23, 1953. 

Revenue from the Winchester and Paradise townships provided funds for the construction of the first station, Station 11. From November 1953 until January 1954, the county's  inaugural eight-man crew worked out of a Las Vegas Fire Department ((LVFD) - now Las Vegas Fire and Rescue) station until construction was completed. The crew ran out of city fire Station 2, known as the Huntridge Station, located on the southwest corner of Maryland Parkway and Charleston Boulevard. At first, they worked day shifts only.

In 1953, when the need for the fire department became a reality, the valley was experiencing the onset of the casino-hotel explosion. It started with the opening of the El Rancho Vegas Hotel and Casino in 1941, but turned a monumental corner five years later when the notorious Bugsy Siegel came to the valley. Mobster Bugsy Siegel broke the mold with the construction of the Flamingo Hotel, and Vegas never turned back. It was certainly not the first boom, nor would it be the last, but it was iconic in setting the stage and Siegel is credited with bringing the glitter to Glitter Gulch.

The Flamingo, with its giant pink neon sign and replicas of pink flamingos on the lawn, certainly stood out among the other resorts, all following the same western ranch-style theme. The Flamingo was what Siegel called a "carpet joint," an upscale resort modeled after glamorous hotels in Miami. Siegel was murdered six months after the Flamingo opened, but the idea of glamorous Las Vegas was born.

The building boom triggered by the Flamingo's success accelerated into the 1950s. Resorts that opened during that era included the Desert Inn, Sahara, Sands, Riviera, Royal Nevada, Dunes, Hacienda, Tropicana, Stardust, Fremont, and Moulin Rouge.

Clark County Fire Station 11___________________________________________________________
hist_sta11 retirement day Station 11 joined the construction boom, opening January 1, 1954. It was a two-bay facility costing $33,000. Dubbed the "Flamingo Station," it was located at 88 E. Flamingo Road. It was equipped with one 1953 Seagrave, 750 GPM Pumper and was operated by two four-man crews. The crew worked a 2-Platoon 72/96-hour workweek system. The four men in the A Platoon were Captain Joe Merrill, Driver Gerald Manchester, Firefighter Herman "Kit" Carson, and Firefighter Stan Chuven. The B Platoon crew consisted of Captain Robert Taylor, Driver Clell Henley, Firefighter Norman Forsythe, and Firefighter Merritt Tallman. In May 1954, a new 500-gallon tanker and additional personnel were assigned to the Flamingo Station. One firefighter on each platoon was designated as the telephone & radio operator. This dispatch system would be utilized for the next 11 years before evolving to the modern-day 9-1-1 system.

Chief William H. Trelease The first Chief of the Clark County Fire Department was William H. Trelease, (1954-1964). Chief Trelease began his career in 1922 as a charter member of the Las Vegas Volunteer Fire Department. He soon became an Engineer for LVFD. Chief Trelease used to tell a story of how his Chief once said to him, " 'Get used to being an Engineer, because that will be as high in the ranks as you will ever get'." It was not long after that he became the department's first chief.H4 - truck station 11

Anyone who ever worked at Station 11 knows that an entire history could be written on that one station alone as it found itself in the busiest area of the county. Station 11 was retired in December 1990 when Station 18 came online at 575 E. Flamingo Road serving as a fire-response post and the department's administrative headquarters. Station 11 is gone now-nothing more than a memory and a parking lot for the Flamingo Hilton.

Clark County Fire Station 12____________________________________________________________
The rapid growth of the Las Vegas Valley initiated in the '50s prompted an equally rapid development of the Clark County Fire Department. Due largely to the development of the hotel and casino industry as well as other commercial properties, the Fire Prevention Bureau was formed on July 20, 1955. Captain Joe Merrill was appointed the first Fire Marshall.

hist_seagrave pumper circa 1950

1950s Seagrave Pumper
In July 1956, Station 12, dubbed the Stardust Station, opened. This station, the oldest still in use in Clark County, is located at 3001 Industrial Road in the township of Winchester. This three-bay station also housed the chief and fire marshal offices. A 1956 Seagrave 1000 GPM pumper was purchased for the station and additional personnel were hired. In the fall of 1957, the first rescue unit - a 1957 Ford van - was put into service at Station 12. The unit carried specialized firefighting equipment as well as a complement of standard rescue gear. The arrival of this unit brought with it a new version of the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) system.

The opening of Station 12 brought with it the opening of Stone Stadium, a somewhat level vacant area of desert that was used for baseball games amongst the crews. The games were another chapter of department history - on the job injuries! Over the next few years, some of the more "interesting" injuries would include, Rod Smith playing a grounder that took a bad hop and broke his nose; Wally Huff's throw to first base that seemed to rise just enough to go over the top of Louie Mayorga's mitt and hit on his forehead instead; catcher Mike Gilleland getting too close to batter Kyle Pace and getting knocked out cold from the inevitable bat to his head; as well as other sprains, strains and pains.

Clark County Fire Station 13__________________________________________________________

Station 13, the McCarran Field Station (serving the former McCarran Airport), was the second fire station to open in 1956. It was located at the east end of the county airport maintenance building on the west side of the airport. This was an 18 X 24 foot one-room building. The truck was parked in the same small room that also served as the kitchen, day room and dorm. An open lean-to was used to protect the $65,000 crash truck.

Firefighting is a dangerous job and only experience and proper training can lessen the risk somewhat. In 1959, the department addressed the issue of training by organizing the first Training Division. Captain Robert "Bob" Taylor was assigned as the first "drillmaster."

The growth of the department created a need for a more efficient management system. With that thought in mind, the rank of Lieutenant was instituted on July 6, 1959. The first Lieutenants of the department, Robert Folker, Frank Testa, Glen Ernest, and Robert Case, would be charged with the task of front line management. Herman Carson was appointed Assistant Fire Chief.

Also in 1959, Station 16 was born. Located at 1100 North Nellis Boulevard (Sunrise Manor Township) just south of Washington Avenue, this station opened with a new 1000-gallon water tanker.

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