THE VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPARTMENT OF CORAL GABLES
The Coral Gables Fire Department will celebrate it’s 95th birthday in September of this year. In nearly a century of existence, the department has been housed in at least six different locations and has continuously transformed to adapt to the evolving needs of the community it so proudly serves. In 1923, when the Coral Gables fire department was first founded, it bore little resemblance to the firefighting force that exists in the City Beautiful today.
From September 1923 until May 1925, the suburb of Coral Gables’ fire department was run on a volunteer basis. The men who were putting their lives on the line by fighting fires and protecting the neighborhood did so with no financial compensation. The department was created in September of 1923 by Max Kellar, the utilities engineer for Coral Gables since the neighborhood’s inception in 1921. According to a 1925 Miami News Article, Kellar was responsible for the installation of practically all utilities in the Gables and is credited with supervising the installment of over 72 miles of water lines. When Kellar established the fire department in 1923, he was appointed as it’s first fire chief while also maintaining his position as a hydraulic engineer.
On September 15, 1923, from 9am to 11am, the volunteer firemen of Coral Gables were informally trained in “the art of fire-fighting” by a representative of the Miami fire department. The two hour training session was followed by the department’s first fire drill which, according to several accounts, was a complete success. Ten days later, on September 25, the Coral Gables fire department answered it’s first two calls. According to a Miami News article, “a company truck took fire and the department’s new chemical truck, spic and span, made it’s first real run. Quick action saved the truck. A half hour later, Girtman’s barn outside of Coral Gables started burning and the truck made a fast run and saved the barn.”
News articles continued to chronicle the work of this volunteer fire department in the years following it’s inception. The Coral Gables volunteer fire department would also venture out of it’s neighborhoods boundaries to extinguish fires in South Miami, Coconut grove, Larkins, and Tamiami City. By 1924, the department boasted over 30 firefighters, all of whom had received informal training by individuals at Miami’s fire department. By 1925, Coral Gables’ volunteer firefighters had been applauded as being “one of the most modern and most complete in the state.” The success of the fire department could be reflected in the drastically lowered rates of fire hazard insurance costs within Coral Gables’ boundaries.
In April of 1925, when the suburb of Coral Gables officially incorporated and became an independent city, a fire department (with salaried employees) was instituted and funded by lawmakers. The era of volunteer fire fighters had come to end. It is then that the Coral Gables fire department started to more closely resemble the premier fire fighting force we find ourselves protected by today.
- By Malcolm Lauredo
- Volume One; Number Two
- September 2018