The Riverside Fire Department's history is firmly entwined with the history of our entire community. Most of the people associated with the early development of the Fire Department were also responsible for the shaping of the community. Notable among these early leaders was Frank Miller, founder of the Mission Inn.
This is a proud history with a colorful past. The present members of the department recognize it as such, and strive to preserve this reputable past and add to it in the finest tradition established over these many years.
The Riverside Fire Department has participated in thousands of history-making activities throughout the last century and beyond. One of which was the famous elephant stampede of 1909 caused by a fire. It began when two Riverside men, William Hayt and Frank Miller, recognized the potential that an uncontrolled fire would have in this small 1880's village. In April of 1882, Frank Miller was able to raise $500, subscribed by local businessmen, to purchase a wagon with fire buckets and a hose reel. In that same year, William Hayt began a drive to develop a full-fledged fire department. This effort was hampered by lack of funds and a perceived lack of need on the part of the City Board of Trustees. On February 10, 1883, Hayt's worst fears were realized. The first major fire in Riverside destroyed the building and press of the local newspaper, the Press Horticulturist.
Five years of unprecedented local growth added people, buildings, and a greater need for fire protection. On July 7, 1887, William Hayt, continuing his drive for a fire department, bargained with the City. He offered to provide all of the money necessary, half through donations and half from his personal account, to buy new and better equipment. The Board of Trustees agreed, and Hayt set to work. He raised $527 through donations, and being a man of conviction, later put up his portion of $515.68. On October 7, 1887, Riverside's Fire Department was officially created. The first Chief, Cavalry Captain James N. Keith, was commissioned along with 1st Assistant D.L. Brant, 2nd Assistant S. J. Filkins, and Clerk G.F. Ward (later to become one of Riverside's chiefs). They were paid $12.00 per month.
With the arrival of the new fire equipment, a shed on the northeast corner of Eighth (now University) and Main Streets became Fire Station #1. The Fire Department consisted of a Chief, two assistants, a clerk, a bucket wagon, a horse cart, a hose reel, a hook and ladder and approximately fifty volunteers. All equipment was designed to be pulled with manpower. During this same period, the City began development of its water main system, making feasible the installation of fire hydrants in the downtown area.
On April 21, 1888, the fledging fire department met with its first major test. A fire in the lamp closet at the Citrus Pavilion, a large building near the corner of Seventh/Mission Inn Ave and Main Street, raged through the wooden building, engulfing it and the whole block. Unfortunately, the City had shut its water system down for repairs, but with tenacity and newly acquired training, the Riverside Fire Department saved a large portion of the city's wood-framed downtown.
In 1890, the first horse drawn apparatus was purchased and the headquarters station was moved to the Findley & Knight Livery stable on Main St. between Seventh (now Mission Inn) and Eight (now University) Streets. In 1891, Station #2 opened in a small shed at Sixth and Pachappa Streets. By 1900, Station #2 was relocated and became known as the Arlington Station.