The Next Era - The 1970s

The Next Era - The 1970s

Raging flames engulfed The Stardust Hotel on April 11, 1970. The fire started in a utility room at the hotel property in the 3000 block of Las Vegas Boulevard before quickly spreading to the executive offices, gift and sundries stores in the hotel lobby, and destroying more than 100 guest rooms. The more unforgettable tragedy that day was the death of Fire Captain Frank Testa who suffered a heart attack while fighting the blaze. Fire crews performed CPR on Testa, but he was pronounced dead upon arriving at Southern Nevada Memorial Hospital now University Medical Center. Testa's death was the second in the department's history.

Chief Clell Henley_1970sDespite the loss of another family member, the department moved forward under the leadership of Clell Henley who served as fire chief from 1971 to 1974. Chief Henley holds the distinction of being one of the founding members of the Clark County Fire Department when the early crews operated out of the Huntridge Station until the first official station was built - Station 11 manned by a 2-Platoon crew. Chief Henley was the driver for the B Platoon. He went on to become the department's first battalion chief in the Fire Prevention Bureau and the department's first deputy fire chief. He also held the positions of engineer, captain, fire marshal and assistant fire chief over his 21-year career.

caps_group_FireAlarmOfficeDuring Henley's administration, department communications expanded to be encompassing of the County, City of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas fire departments. The three realized the need to communicate more closely to better respond to the needs of the valley's growing population. On July 1, 1973, an alarm office opened to service the three departments in a centralized location. Today, the joint operation that manages incoming calls for service is run out of the city of Las Vegas Fire and Rescue main station on Bonanza Road just west of Las Vegas Boulevard.

Chief Leroy O. Hawks was named the department's fourth chief. Appointed Nov. 21, 1974, Hawks quickly saw his administrative responsibilities swell to include 11 volunteer fire departments that protected the rural communities in Clark County. Additionally, the department came to realize emergency medical calls were the bulk of department service calls. This lead to a pilot study from the governor's office and eventually Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) level care became a reality in the valley. The pilot program required 500 instructional hours and was attended by nine firefighters and engineers from the fire department along with six individuals employed with Mercy Ambulance company. This group represented the first class and graduated July 1, 1975. Today, Emergency Medical Services is headed by Deputy Fire Chief Jennifer Wyatt and in 2021, the most recent year for which data is available, nearly 80 percent of all service calls were EMS calls.

In the first full year of Hawks' administration the department opened two new fire stations for the bargain price of $169,000 each compared to cost today for the construction of state-of-the-art fire facilities. Station 19 was erected at 5710 Spencer Street at Russell Road. It was dedicated to the memory of Captain Frank Testa. Station 20 was built at 5710 Judson Avenue at Lynn Lane and was dedicated in memory of Colin Hanley, both were killed in the line of duty. At the time of development in the mid 70s the two-bay stations allowed the department to meet the needs of residents in the northeast and southeast areas of the valley. Las Vegas was home to 325,000 people in 1975 and projected to grow at a rate of 6.21 percent. In 2021, the most recent year for which data was compiled, Stations 19 and 20 handled 6,027 and 5,312 calls respectively.

Three years after Hawks was named chief, the Fire Department ushered in its next changing of the guard with the appointment of Roy Parrish to Chief of the County Fire Department. Chief Parrish was sworn into his new role in 1977 after 18 years on the department. Chief Parrish began his career in 1959, promoting to engineer in 1963, lieutenant in 1965, captain a year later and battalion chief in 1969. He was appointed assistant chief in 1972 and deputy chief in 1974 before being named chief in 1977. One of Chief Parrish's most notable contributions was the modernization of the dispatch system. In December 1978, he took a bow for unveiling the Computer Aided Dispatch System (CAD) at the alarm office. The department continued to maintain a microfiche operation as backup in case the computer system failed. Today, Clark County and City of Las Vegas fire departments share a dispatch center. The Las Vegas Fire and Rescue Dispatch Center fields 9-1-1 fire and medical calls for both departments.  In 2021, the most recently year for which data is available, the Clark County Fire Department responded to 152,262 service calls of which 4,853 were fire incidents while all other calls were comprised of medical responses, false alarms, hazardous materials and various other incidents.

Sign up for Clark County Newsletters

Subscribe today to get your neighborhood news