CCFD History - The 1960s

CCFD History - The 1960s

h1 imageThe year 1961 brought with it a new look for Station 13, rebuilt and nestled at the base of the airport control tower, it had two crash trucks, a 1,000 gallon water tanker, and a jeep with specialized equipment for crash-fire-rescue operations. A year later, two more stations were added: Station 17 and the Vegas Heights Station at 1201 Miller Ave. The latter was eventually annexed by the City of Las Vegas.

Station 17 was created when an existing building at 5702 Missouri Street in the then East Las Vegas Township (now the Whitney township) was remodeled. The north section of the station was used to house one pumper and serve as living quarters for a 17-member crew. The south portion of the building was turned into a Clark County Sheriff's Station. Prior to 1962, the Whitney Volunteer Fire Department protected this township.

In an effort to keep the growing number of personnel properly managed, the County created the rank of Battalion Chief in 1962. Norman Forsythe, Clell Henley and Kyle Pace became the first battalion chiefs in June 1962.

The First Fire Academy
In January 1964, the department's training division launched its first fire academy or "Rookie School." It was nothing even remotely close to today's academies. Guided by drillmaster, Bob Taylor, the 12-person school took five days to complete. Today, recruits are in training for up 20 weeks, covering things never thought of in 1964. As the Training Division grew, the drillmaster position was upgraded to that of Battalion Chief, and eventually a Captain's position was added. The Clark County Fire Department hosted its XXth academy of recruits spring 2023.

The Tanker 102 Crash
CaptWarrenwithTanker1960sThe evening of Sunday, Jan. 7, 1962, tanker 102 was involved in a disastrous traffic accident at Maryland Parkway and Tropicana Avenue. While responding to a report of a structural fire, the tanker was hit in the rear wheels by another vehicle. Tanker 102 was following Engine 101 and a Nevada Highway Patrol unit. Another NHP unit was following the tanker. As the caravan proceeded through the intersection, the other car struck the tanker in the rear wheels knocking them completely off the truck. The tanker began a sideways slide until it rolled a couple of times, rupturing the fuel tank and igniting the tanker. The ball of flames from the totaled tanker could be seen as far away as the control tower at the airport. Lieutenant Glen Ernest had been riding the tailboard of the unit and was thrown clear, suffering a concussion and some other major injuries. Engineer Roy Walch was trapped in the burning wreckage and had to be pulled clear by Kyle Pace and Carl McAllister who had been on Engine 101. Engineer Walch remained unconscious for six days, suffered a concussion, broken ribs, and several other injuries. The other car failed to yield to the tanker as it went through the intersection. The driver and three passengers were also injured in the wreck.   

Chief Herman "Kit" Carson
Chief Herman Kit Carson1960sOn Dec. 12, 1964, Fire Chief William H. Trelease passed away leaving behind a very large pair of shoes to fill. Assistant Chief Herman Carson was named the new Fire Chief, and Fire Marshall Clell Henley was promoted to Assistant Fire Chief. During his tenure at the Clark County Fire Department, Chief Carson had served as firefighter, engineer, captain, fire marshal, assistant chief, and finally, fire chief. He served in the last position from December 1964 until January 1971. For 18 years, Chief Herman "Kit" Carson led the department, fostering its growth and development. He passed away in Kimberling City, Missouri in 1993. An elementary school in Historic West Las Vegas was later named in his honor and then renamed in 2020 to honor the school's first African American principal, Helen Toland.

The Fire Department continued growing in the 60s in response to rapid growth in the valley. Two new stations were built and an improved dispatch system was added. Station 14, located at 3875 E. Desert Inn Road in the Paradise Township was designated as the central station. In addition to the standard two bays, the station housed the administrative offices, Fire Prevention, the Hydrant Division, and the Mechanical Division.

Station 15 opened in 1965. This station, located at 3480 Valley View Blvd., housed one rescue unit as well as the offices of the Fire Prevention Bureau. Station 15 was the first to be located on the west side of the railroad tracks that connected Las Vegas to Southern California and Utah. This was a significant improvement since emergency responses to the west side of the valley had been sometimes delayed while units waited for trains to pass.

Built right next to a small county park inhabited by a large number of wild rabbits, Station 15 soon became home to an "unofficial" department unit - "The Rabbit Corps." In the mornings before shift change, it wasn't uncommon to see a rabbit wandering into the bay to signal a friendly reminder that breakfast needed to be served.

The new dispatch system was formed in April 1965. Four firefighters were assigned as full-time radio dispatchers at Station 11. Working days, swing shift, and graveyard, Monte Skaggs, Ray Limley, and William E. Williams kept the trucks busy with emergency calls. The first dispatch supervisor was Lieutenant Leland Sandquist.

As Southern Nevada continued to attract new residents and visitors, the department continued to grow. With it grew the need for a new central station, a facility that would carry the department through the years to come. From this need sprang Station 18, a facility that combined two existing stations. The original Station 18, built in 1967, was located at 707 E. Desert Inn Rd. in the Winchester Township. It was dedicated to the memory of William Trelease, the first Chief of the Clark County Fire Department. Sadly, the original Station 18 was closed in December 1990. The facility was turned over to the Las Vegas Convention Authority, remodeled, and is still in use today. The new Station 18, the busiest station in the state, is located at 575 E. Flamingo Road and is a combined facility running old Station 18 and old Station 11 units.

January 1, 1968 was a significant day for one third of the suppression forces, as that was the birthday of C platoon, affectionately known as “Weird C.” The department instituted the three-platoon system and corresponding 56-hour work week.

As the valley grew so did the number of responses. It became clear that the department needed a separate division to handle the increasing number of phone calls and dispatches. In January 1968, the department hired four civilian dispatchers to take over the alarm duties. William E. Williams became the first civilian dispatch supervisor, overseeing his team of Daisy Hawks, Arleana Harris, Dorothy Barton and Gloria de Valcourt. The dispatch function in the fire service has gained an increased role thanks to pre-arrival instruction given by dispatchers that are often credited with saving lives.

Sandston Company Dice Factory Fire Marks First Line-of-Duty Death

March 1, 1968 was one of the blackest days in the history of the Clark County Fire Department. The day began as any other - just another shift. At about 3 p.m., Colin Hanley noticed a cloud of smoke growing to the north. Colin went into the station and asked Captain Roy Walch, the training officer, to check it out. The dark cloud continued to grow just north of Station 14. The crew was still looking at the smoke as the call came in: 1611 Mojave Road, the Sandstone Company Dice Factory. The Captain of Engine 14 had a crew consisting of Engineer Dal Angel, and Firefighters Glen Ernest and Colin Hanley. It was the first unit to arrive. The building was well involved when Engine 14 began laying lines. Hanley took a line and began operating at the rear of the building. A short time later, Colin shut down his line and went back to the engine. He told Engineer Angel that he thought he needed some oxygen. Angel went for the resuscitator and Hanley headed for the tailboard to sit down. He didn’t make it. Colin collapsed into the arms of Marson Harris. Efforts to resuscitate Colin went unrewarded. Colin died. His death was attributed to inhalation of phosgene gas (the same phosgene gas used in chemical warfare) that was given off from the burning celluloid cubes used in the manufacturing of dice.

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