Lawton, named after Major General Henry Ware Lawton, was founded on August 6, 1901. This “tent city”, with a few wooden constructed buildings, was originally located on one square mile of land, approximately three miles south of Fort Sill in Indian Territory. Fort Sill was a U. S. Army outpost and Indian Reservation designated to oversee the different tribes of Native Americans in this part of the Territory. The outpost progressed into a permanent Army Base and artillery center, and is still fully operational today.
The citizens of early Lawton saw the need for having fire protection at the tent city's inception. After digging water wells and constructing wooden water storage tanks, a volunteer fire department bucket brigade was formed and the first paid Lawton fire chief, Chief Henry Andrew “Heck” Thomas, was appointed.
Chief Thomas, a famous Ex-Deputy U. S. Marshal, may have been one of Oklahoma's first "Public Safety Officers". Chief Thomas was the combined Fire and Police chief, with four paid policemen serving under him. Chief Thomas served in that dual capacity for seven years before returning to federal service as a Deputy U.S. Marshal of Western Oklahoma.
In 1905, an earthen and wooden dam was constructed in the Wichita Mountains, north of Fort Sill. A 16 inch gravity transmission line was installed to convey the new source of water a distance of eleven miles into Lawton. This factor greatly improved the firefighting capability of the volunteer firefighters in combating fires in the increased numbers of wooden houses and buildings within the new city.
In researching available fire department records and records of the Museum of the Great Plains, we find that the Lawton Fire Department has had sixteen recorded fire chiefs since its inception. The recorded Chiefs are as follows:
Henry Andrew “Heck” Thomas, L.M. Radley, Sim Sheppard, Del Dexter, George Pollard
Tom Phipps, Jess Cowell, Ross “Pop” Hanks, Leroy Julian, Harris Hancock, Jimmie Martin
Richard Tannery, Mike Carter, Donald Barrington, Bart Hadley, and Dewayne Burk
During the early years of Lawton's history, the city operated under an aldermanic form of government with a fire chief, assistant chief, three paid firefighters and ten volunteers. The volunteers were compensated for their services at the rate of $1.00 for each fire call to which they responded.
In 1911, the citizens of Lawton voted for a charter and commission form of government. Under the new charter, the fire department was reorganized by dispensing with the volunteer firefighters, and adding one more paid firefighter to this department, for a total of six. This additional firefighter was also given the duties as the City Electrical Inspector while another was given the additional duties of City Plumbing Inspector. The Fire Chief was appointed as the Building and Flue Inspector. None of the three received any additional compensation for the added duties. It is said that the monthly salaries of firefighters in 1911 were very good for those times and they are recorded as follows.
Fire Chief $ 85.00
Assistant Chief $ 75.00
Fireman $ 65.00
The one-bay fire station was located in the City Hall building along with the Police Department and City Hall. The Fire Department answered 60 fire calls that year with a fire loss of $6,996.00, and the city was placed by the State Board of the National Board of Fire Underwriters in Class 4. It was noted at that time, that Muskogee was the only city in the State of Oklahoma with a better or lower rating. In 1913, the City Commission purchased its first motorized fire apparatus to supplement the horse-drawn apparatus, a "White" hose and chemical truck. That truck now resides in the Oklahoma State Firefighters Museum (pictured below).
The City of Lawton continued to grow and prosper. By 1923, the city had grown to a population of 9,000 citizens. The department personnel had increased to seven members, along with the acquisition of the second motorized apparatus, a "Stutz" hose and pumper truck. In 1930, the Fire Department moved into its own separate building, an elaborate two-story three-bay building which is still utilized as the Lawton Fire Department Headquarters building, or Central Fire Station. Also purchased for the new station was a 1,000 GPM Mack pumper and a Peter Pirsch 65' aerial ladder apparatus, both open cab.
At this time, for economic reasons, and because the city continued to grow in area and population, the city began hiring, as part-paid employees, Cameron College male students to sleep in the fire station at nights, for answering any fire calls and for supplementing the few full-paid firefighters on duty.
In 1940, as the World War II years approached, the Fort Sill military personnel increased, thus, the city population increased to about 20,000, and the city boundaries were expanded to approximately seven square miles. This caused the need for the expansion of the Fire Department to 19 full -paid firefighters.
Fire Stations #2 and #3 were constructed and opened for service in 1942. Fire Station #2 was located at 811 Lee Boulevard, a one-bay station approximately one mile south of Station #1, and Station #3 was located at 17th Street and Ferris Avenue, a one-bay station about one and three fourth mile northwest of Station #1. Fire Station #2 was issued a 1942 Commercial Ford with a 500 GPM Seagraves pump. Station #3 was issued a 1942 Custom American La France 1,000 GPM pumper. Station #1 was issued an additional apparatus, a 1942 Custom Seagraves 750 GPM pumper.
During World War II, the part-paid Cameron College student sleep-in program was discontinued, and the department manpower was increased to 29 paid members. After the war years, the city's population continued to increase along with the newly annexed areas of fire department responsibility, which compelled the Fire Department to make plans for adding manpower and new station construction and relocation. In the mid 1950's, Cameron College athletes were hired as temporary full-paid firefighters for the summer months to supplement the regular firefighters while vacations were scheduled.
In 1956, Station #2 was relocated to 17th Street and Lee Boulevard, and Station #4, at 24th Street and Cache Road, was added. A full time training officer and full time fire marshal were assigned. By this time, the city coverage area had increased to approximately 20 square miles.
In mid 1956, 29 of 36 members of the department organized a local union of the International association of Firefighters. This union organization was repulsed by the city government at that time and the 29 members were terminated from employment with the department. However, most members were later rehired by the city, after each withdrew his membership from union organization. In 1969, the department once again joined the International Association of Firefighters and the new union organization was accepted by the city government.
Due to continued western city growth, Fire Stations #5 at 53rd Street and Gore Boulevard was opened in 1964, and the department manpower increased to 62 paid members, and the summer college athlete utilization was dispensed with. At that time, an assistant fire marshal was also assigned.
In 1969, the department was reorganized into a 56-hour per week, three platoon (shift) system, which increased the department membership to 90 members. In June 1970 due to the city’s growth toward the east, Fire Station #6, located at 312 SE 45th Street was added. In 1975, the Fire Department was budgeted a full-time secretary for the increased amount of paperwork required in the operation of a department the size of Lawton's, with it's 104 firefighters. A custom-built rescue vehicle was delivered to the department and put into service in 1976. In 1977, Station #2, located at 17th Street and Lee Boulevard, was relocated to a newly constructed three-bay station one mile south at 17th Street and Bishop Road, along with a previously acquired CFR vehicle for co-response to airport alerts and residential emergencies in that area of the city. The vacated building was then utilized as a training facility for new recruits.
At the department’s request, the City Council adopted, by ordinance, new and revised Building and Fire Protection Codes. A second assistant fire marshal was assigned in 1977 due to increased building and safety inspections and the already heavy workload of the fire marshals in arson investigations.
In February 1979, construction was started on Station #7, located in west Lawton on 82nd Street. This three-bay station was occupied and put in service in January 1980. In April 1979, a new 1,500 GPM Mack pumper was delivered to the department and in October 1979, a second 1,500 GPM Mack pumper was delivered. A Crash Fire Rescue vehicle was delivered in 1981 to take over the airport responsibilities. Station #3 was built in the northeast part of the city and was opened in 1982. In July 1988, another 1,500 GPM pumper was delivered and put in service as Engine #1.
The Lawton Fire Department does not provide ambulance service, although all of its 143 firefighters are EMT certified. There are also 12 Advanced EMT’s and 5 Paramedics on staff. As the 911 emergency dialing system was adopted and implemented by the City of Lawton, the Fire Department is notified of all emergency medical problems or incidents received, by the 911 operator and the fire engine nearest to that emergency responds to begin medical treatment with trained personnel until the ambulance arrives. The response time of the nearest fire crew is usually under five minutes, while the centrally located ambulance services have sometimes 15-20 minutes response time. It is documented that the short response time and the efforts of the firefighting crews have saved numerous lives in the years in which this program has been in existence.
The Lawton Fire Department is currently responsible for the protection of 97,000 citizens covering approximately 81 square miles with 143 authorized department members. Today, the Lawton Fire Departments rolling stock includes:
7 Regular Pumper Fire Trucks
2 Light Attack Fire Trucks with Foam Generators
2 Pumper Fire Trucks with Deluge Guns
2 Airport Crash Rescue Fire Trucks
2 90-99 Feet Arial Ladder Platform Fire Truck
1 70-79 Feet Arial Ladder Platform Tire Truck
1 Light Medical Response Fire Truck
1 Heavy Medical Response Fire Truck
1 Rescue Breathable Air Generator Trailer
and 1 HAZMAT Truck
The Lawton Fire Department is currently administered by Fire Chief Dewayne Burk, Deputy Fire Chief Raanon Adams, Assistant Fire Chiefs Pete Martin, Eric Troutman, and Ray Collins, Fire Marshal Mark Mitchell, Deputy Fire Marshal Michael Wright, Training Officer Jared Williams, and Deputy Training Officer Terry Hansen.
The history of the Lawton Fire Department was originally researched and written in 1979-80 by long time Fire Department secretary, Mrs. Irmgard Hughes. The content has recently been revised by the City Webmaster, with help of numerous Fire Department Staff. Historical photographs have been provided through courtesy of Museum of the Great Plains, Lawton, Oklahoma, the Lawton Fire Department, and the City of Lawton. Credit for much of this research information should be given to the Museum of the Great Plains, the Lawton Fire Department, the Lawton Public Library, the Lawton Constitution and Morning Press, and active and retired members of the Lawton Fire Department.