History of the Baton Rouge Fire Department
With the appointment of Chief Bogan, Baton Rouge now began the era of the professional fire department.
In 1918, the department consisted of four full time fire fighters and a stand-by list of “call men” who were paid for answering actual fire alarms. Firefighting apparatus consisted of four motor driven vehicles which include the Type Ten Chemical Engine and Hose car purchased in 1914, two Type 40 Triple Combination Pumpers, Chemical and Hose cars acquired in 1917 and one Type 40 Combination Chemical and Hose Car also purchased in 1917. In addition to these vehicles, Chief Bogan also secured use of the horse drawn hook and ladder unit from the old Pelican Company. The following year, at the urging of the Chief, the city Council authorized the purchase of a Type 17 motor aerial truck with a seventy-five foot ladder and abandoned the old horse drawn carriage.
In December 1922. It was apparent that with the expansion of the city limits the department, now consisting of twenty men would not be adequate and the Council realized that a major increase would be needed in firefighting facilities. In September 1922, a $600,000.00 bond issue was passed for the improvement of the community, included in the issue was $175,000.00 allocated to the expansion of the fire department. This improvement called for the construction of a new two-story Central Station and drill tower in downtown (the current Bogan Fire Museum at 427 Laurel St) and three substations on the extremities of the city. In addition to the new structures, Chief Bogan was empowered to increase his force to a maximum of forty men.
The Central Station was designated as fire alarm headquarters and was manned by a seventeen man crew. Sub-station #1 was located at Laurel and Lewis St (now N. 18th) and manned by 6 man crew, sub-station #2 was on Feliciana Street (now S. 15th) and also manned by a 6 man crew and sub-station #3 was located on South Blvd and St. Ferdinand St and manned by a 6 man crew
The expansion of the department at this time prompted Chief Bogan to have the city create a Firemen’s Pension Fund in 1925 and in 1926 he established more stringent membership requirements that were formally chartered by the Louisiana Legislature. Included in these requirements were you had to be a citizen of the United States, never been convicted of a felony, able to read, write and understand the English language and pass a rigid physical examination.
In 1924, Chief Bogan arranged for all city firefighters to receive professional training in first aid and each engine was equipped with a first aid kit. A mammoth “Disaster Kit” was assembled and maintained at the Central Fire Station. A few years later, Bogan was instrumental in purchasing the city’s first inhalator and the new equipment was put to use in February 1928, when it was used to revive 10 year old Jerome Leggio who had been overcome by gas. One month later the apparatus successfully revived a stillborn infant at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. A few years later, a number of city firefighters and workers at Standard Oil Company (today’s Exxon/Mobil) and the Baton Rouge Electric Company (today’s Entergy), formed the “Bogan First Aid Club” to teach first aid throughout the community.
Believing that the best way to fight fire was to prevent them from occurring, Chief Bogan initiated a fire inspection program throughout the city. Members would make regular trips through various businesses and called possible fire hazards to the owners. These inspections not only reduced fire hazards but gave the firefighters a chance to familiarize themselves with he structures. Most of the city’s businessmen appreciated the service and the department received numerous requests to inspect private homes. In 1927, over 12,000 inspections were made and 631 dangerous conditions were reported and corrected.
1927 saw the initiation of another service by the firefighters when it was suggested that the discarded toys be collected and repaired for needy children at Christmas. The Chief gave his whole hearted approval and requests for used toys appeared in the Baton Rouge newspapers. The toy drive received the support of most of the citizens and the reconditioning of the toys became a familiar site at the Central Station at Christmas time. The Central Station record book for 1942 listed numerous entries dealing with toy repair and on December 21, stated “cleaned station, painted toys, hauled all the toys we fixed to Goodfellows 50 toys large, 9 boxes small toys.”
The department expanded their program of Fire inspection in 1928. The growing efficiency of the firefighters and this program was evidenced by the Chief’s Report that showed a property loss from fires of only $56,128.72 with a total of 251 fire alarms, a decrease from the 1924 fire loss of $119,136.00 with a total of 245 fire alarms. Because of this outstanding record the Baton Rouge Fire Department was presented with one of ten American Flag Awards by the International Association of Fire Chief’s for reduction of fire losses and alarms.
With the beginning of World War II, Chief Bogan realizing that additional manpower would be necessary if an emergency did occur recruited and trained over 3,000 auxiliary firefighters during the war. IN 1942, the Baton Rouge firefighters aided in training 14,000 Coast Guardsmen and conducted numerous firemenship schools at surrounding military bases.
Baton Rouge was recognized as a prime target site by the National Defense Agency, and in 1942 was granted $125,000.00 to improve it’s fire protection facilities. In April, at the urging of Chief Bogan, the Council authorized the purchase of a 100’ Aerial Ladder Truck, two 1000 gallon Pumpers, two 750 gallon Pumpers and a 1250 gallon Pumper. Also authorized was the construction of 2 additional sub-stations.
Following the war, the department continued to grow but could not keep pace with the growth of the city. On August 12, 1947, a plan of government for both the city of Baton Rouge and East Baton Rouge Parish was adopted. The combined plan was scheduled to take effect on January 1, 1949, at which time the city limits were to be extended from five to thirty-seven square miles. The State Fire Rating Board was asked to perform a survey of the needs of the fire department and in 1948 it warned the Council that it would need to increase the number of firefighters, erect several new fire stations, purchase new engines and have a major increase in fire hydrants. If this was not done, Baton Rouge would suffer the loss of its first class fire protection status and increased fire insurance premiums would cost the city some $500,000.00.