Presenting the Past: Fire District grows with Valley | May 30, 2008 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Living - May 30, 2008

Presenting the Past: Fire District grows with Valley

by Beverly Lane

Fires, called "tongues of venom" by one writer, seared people's memories throughout valley history. Fires destroyed crops, burned across Mount Diablo, and took down buildings. The new Danville Fire District had its hands full.

One year after the firehouse was built, the Danville Emporium went up in flames and took three homes with it. The Contra Costa Courier and Danville Journal on July 16, 1926, reported, '"Fire caused by jelly boiling over on a coal oil stove and bursting into flames, completely destroyed a store and three homes in Danville on Monday afternoon and for several hours threatened the entire town of Danville with conflagration. The loss is estimated at $30,000."

The next decade the Courier-Journal from June 2, 1932, wrote:

"One of the old landmarks of the San Ramon Valley was burned to the ground Friday night when the Presbyterian church of Danville was destroyed by fire from an unknown cause. The church had been built about 58 years ago and in those 58 years has seen continuous services every Sunday.

"The conflagration which started earlier in the evening, broke into a blaze about 12:30. The roaring wind fanned the blaze and blew the sparks to neighboring and adjacent buildings which took the combined efforts of the Danville and Walnut Creek Fire departments to keep them from being destroyed by the fire. Through the heroic efforts of these firefighters, the pastor's house about 50 feet away was saved from burning and a tool house within 20 feet was also saved."

Jim Root rushed into the unlocked pastor's office and rescued several items, including the precious original minutes of the San Ramon Valley Union High School board from 1910.

The District grew over the years, increasing the size of the fire house and adding more equipment. The firehouse was remodeled in 1955 and Station No. 2 was built in Alamo in 1958. It was an all-volunteer force until 1959 when Mike Blodgett became the first paid firefighter. While the district formally included the northern part of the valley, larger fires were fought by San Ramon volunteers and workers from the Bishop Ranch.

Fires continued to happen, of course. In 1955, the Baldwin house built in 1888 had a fire break out in the kitchen wing that ultimately destroyed the historic home, leaving only the foundations and three tall chimneys standing. Nothing was saved. It was lost because the water supply ran out.

"Fire Chief Elliott placed the damage to the home at $15,000 but said no value could be put on the large amount of antique furniture and early-day possessions in the home," stated a story in the Valley Pioneer of April 21, 1955.

The District added fire stations and equipment as the population increased. In 1974 the community raised funds for the first emergency medical vehicle, after young Helen Howell died tragically when her bicycle was hit by a car on Danville Boulevard. Thirty years later well-trained paramedics accompany every fire truck call.

Over the years Danville fire chiefs were H. M. Fichtenmueller (1925-1947), Duane Elliott (1947-1961), William Van Limburgh (1961), Forrest Wilson (1963-1966), and Michael Blodgett (1965-1988). When the San Ramon and Danville Districts joined in 1980, Chief Blodgett headed up the new San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District. He was followed by Mel Deardorff (1988-1996), William Dutcher (1996-1999), Richard Probert (1999-2002) and Craig Bowen (2002-present).

The Danville district was the first in the valley but not the only one. Valley Community Services District began with South San Ramon and Dublin coverage in 1960, San Ramon started in 1963, Tassajara began in 1969, and Dougherty Regional took over the South San Ramon and Dublin fire services in 1988. By 1997 all of these districts were formally joined.

Today a modern San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District includes both professionals and volunteers, covers 155 square miles, has 10 fire stations, a Communications Center and provides fire prevention, firefighting and emergency medical service.

Sources: local newspapers; speech by Inez Butz (1984) in museum archives; SRVFPD history Fire Line.

Beverly Lane, a longtime Danville resident, is curator of the Museum of the San Ramon Valley and co-author of "San Ramon Valley: Alamo, Danville, and San Ramon."