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Calif. FD celebrates 170th anniversary

The San Jose Fire Department celebrated its beginning with a single volunteer fire company


A helmet used by the Hook and Ladder No. 1 company was on display for the San Jose Fire Department’s 170th anniversary celebration at the downtown San Jose Fire Museum on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024.

Sal Pizarro/Bay Area News Group

By Sal Pizarro
Bay Area News Group

SAN JOSE, Calif. — San Jose Fire Chief Robert Sapien readily concedes he’s taken aback by the breadth of the San Jose Fire Department’s 170-year history — from horse-drawn carriages and steam engines to a new fire station under construction that will be equipped for electric fire trucks.

“It’s an incredible energy this organization has to move forward at such a pace,” Sapien said at the department’s anniversary celebration held Saturday at the San Jose Fire Museum downtown. “I’m astounded by how much change has happened.”

It all started on Jan. 27, 1854, when the San Jose Common Council passed an ordinance creating the San Jose Fire Department, which then consisted of a single volunteer company, Hook & Ladder No. 1. Today, the department has 34 stations dotted around some 200 square miles, answering about 110,000 calls a year — more than 70,000 of those are medical calls.

Saturday’s celebration included a pancake-and-sausage breakfast cooked up by members of Firefighters Local 230 and the crowd of more than 150 people included 104-year-old retired Fire Capt. Sam Seibert and three former San Jose fire chiefs — Dale Foster, Darryl Von Raesfeld and Curtis Jacobson — as well as Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, Mountain View Fire Chief Juan Diaz, San Jose City Councilmembers Omar Torres, Dev Davis and Bien Doan and San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan.

“Throughout the decades we transformed into the capital of technology, but one thing remained constant here in our city: The unwavering, commitment, bravery and strength of the countless men and women who have put their lives on the line to keep us safe,” Mahan said.

The department’s history was on full view at the event, thanks to the large collection at the San Jose Fire Museum, which is in the old Fire Station No. 1 on Market Street (and right next to the new Fire Station No. 1 ). President John McMillan and Vice President Jim Carter, both retired firefighters, pointed out much of the historic equipment on display, including a special exhibit that included an original silver badge from Hook & Ladder No. 1 and a copy of the department’s original constitution from 1854.

While the museum is a continuing work in progress, there’s good news for members of the public who are interested in checking it out. Starting this Saturday, Feb. 3, it’ll be open the first Saturday of the month and every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to noon . You can get more information at

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