Humboldt Bay Fire Authority History
By Deputy Chief William Reynolds, July 2013
The Humboldt Bay Fire Authority represents the consolidation of the Humboldt No. 1 Fire Protection District and City of Eureka Fire Department in 2011. Though the formation of the new fire department came to fruition in 2011, the history of the consolidation began many decades ago.
The Eureka Fire Department was formed in 1864 with its roots as a Volunteer Fire Department. The department grew steadily along side the City of Eureka. With the growth of the city, so too saw the growth of the outlying unincorporated areas of the greater Eureka area. In August of 1929, the Humboldt Fire District was formed to help address the need for fire protection on those areas. With the formation of the District, a fire engine was purchased by the County of Humboldt and stored at one of the City's fire stations. The fire engine was staffed by City personnel and responded to fires in the Fire District along side the District's volunteer Firefighters. This arrangement continued until 1949 when the needs of the District had out grown this arrangement. At this time, Humboldt Fire District hired its first full time Chief as well as its first two career firefighters. The District's fire engine was then moved from the City station to a horse barn at the Redwood Acres Fairgrounds and thus became the District's first full time fire station.
Cooperation between the two departments was slow to develop. Many familiar with the history tell tales of frustration and of not being able to cross jurisdictional lines even though their station may have been much closer to an emergency. There were even stories of the Fire Chiefs of both agencies making it clear to each other that "this is my side of the line....this is yours....don't cross it." This resulted in many examples of poor efficiency in response. For example the City's Station 3 would respond from Ocean Ave. all the way to Lundbar Hills on an emergency. In this response they would drive past the fully staffed District Station on Herrick Ave. Another example would be the District engine from the Redwood Acres station taking a longer response route only staying within the Fire District responding to a fire on the other side of the District rather than a more direct route through the City! These oddities were due to the politics of the time.
The hard boundaries between the two entities continued until 1991. That year, a historic agreement was fostered between the two agencies finally dropping the jurisdictional lines. The "Automatic Aid Agreement", signed by City Fire Chief Vern Cooney and District Fire Chief Robert Heald finally allowed the closest unit to respond to emergencies regardless of which jurisdiction it was in. This also meant that for incidents, such as structure fires, that units from both agencies would respond and work together to handle the incident. With the new agreement also came joint training between the two agencies which had also been a rarity in the past.
It is important to note however that at this time there was no crew or apparatus mixing due to the agencies still being completely separate.
With the success of the automatic aid agreement, consolidation talks began occurring in earnest. Over the life of both agencies, many efforts to join the two departments had come and gone without success. Even with the new efforts being prompted by the aid agreement, consolidation still met with dead ends at each try. However, with each failure incremental progress could be seen in brining the two departments together.
Finally in 2009 a major consolidation milestone was reached. That year recognizing a need, the Fire District contracted with the City to fund a joint training officer to be shared by both agencies. The training officer would be an employee of both departments and would head up the training of all personnel regardless of their parent organization. This also marked a move towards greater efficiency in rather than funding redundant positions, both departments could share the cost of a single Training Officer.
In 2010, City Fire Chief Eric Smith retired. At that time, rather than hiring a new Chief, the City of Eureka successfully negotiated a contract with District Chief Ken Woods to become the joint Chief of both departments. Immediately from the start of this unprecedented event, Chief Woods made consolidation of the two agencies the number one priority. Through input from the City Council, District Board of Directors, both agency staffs, and the newly formed "Consolidation Committee" (made up of staff, union representatives and key personnel from both agencies) Humboldt Bay Fire was born on October 12th, 2011 with the writing and adoption of the mission statement and core values:
Committed to community services through leadership, vision and integrity
We fulfill our mission by living our core values:
Over the next year, all involved worked diligently to combine the best of both departments. The new agency's patch and logo was finalized utilizing the artistic skills of department family members. New policies and procedures were drafted and adopted under the new agency's flag as well. Past barriers of sharing apparatus were erased through research, cooperation, and insurance. On December 22, 2012 the Humboldt Bay Fire Joint Powers Authority was officially signed by both departments cementing Humboldt Bay Fire as a legal entity.
In October of 2012, partial crew mixing began with members from either parent agency being able to help fill open shifts at both departments' stations.
Finally, a major historical milestone was reached on January 1st of 2013. On that date the old lines were erased with the full integrating of crews from both parent agencies. Once thought impossible, the mixing of the crews and administration was seamless and occurred without a hitch.
In its short history, Humboldt Bay Fire has seen many challenges. Through cooperation and innovation, our young department has met each challenge head on and progressed to become the agency we are today. Our staff and personnel continue to live by our mission statement and core values while keeping customer service at the forefront of everyone's mind. We are very proud of what we have built and pay credit to past members of our departments and community who laid the ground work for our success. The Humboldt Bay Fire Authority charges into the future continuing to provide excellent service to our community while always looking for ways to hone our operation and become an efficient example for others to follow.