History of the Rodeo-Hercules Fire Department

The Rodeo-Hercules Fire Protection District is located on the shores of San Pablo Bay, 30 minutes north of San Francisco. The District provides fire protection, and emergency medical aid to the unincorporated area of Rodeo and the City of Hercules. Rodeo is the home of the old Union Stockyard Company and the Rodeo-to-Vallejo Ferry. Rodeo was later referred to as Baseball Town, USA. The Lefty Gomez baseball fields in Rodeo were named in honor of its legendary native son, and Hall of Fame pitcher, Lefty Gomez of the New York Yankees. In its heyday, you could find the Hercules Dynamite Manufacturing Plant on the shores of Hercules.

In the 1980′s the City of Hercules was referred to as the fastest growing city in the State of California. In the early 1920′s the first Fire Chief for the Rodeo Volunteer Fire Department was Mr. Frank Delmonte. He and his men fought fires armed only with buckets of water. Chief Demonte was succeeded by Chief Sam Kramer. Chief Kramer was succeeded by Chief Tom Lewis who lead the department with a hand-drawn hose cart.

By 1927, the need for an official fire house had become apparent. Under the leadership of Fire Chief E. Gomez, the entire community pitched in to make it possible. Land was purchased with bank notes guaranteed by community members. A highly successful Whist party, attended by many citizens, helped contribute towards the repayment of the bank notes and also provided funds for construction of a fire house. In April of 1927, the original brick fire house on Third Street in Rodeo held official dedication ceremonies. The new fire house became a focal point for the all-volunteer fire department, the community, and many civic organizations.

Ten years after the fire house had been built, the importance of the growing Department was well recognized. In 1937, the official Rodeo Fire District was formed in Contra Costa County, with a Board of Commissioners to govern it. In 1946, the Board of Commissioners, led by then Fire Chief Lloyd Cooper, approved an order to have a firefighter on duty at all times, to give added protection to the community.

In 1965, Arthur Cooper was hired as the first paid Fire Chief for the Rodeo Fire Protection District. The order was given to hire more full time staff. Throughout the years, it has been the community; the Board of Directors; and paid and volunteer firefighters who have pulled together and supported the fire District’s every need. One example of the community support given was in 1976, when it was recognized by the local Rodeo Rotary Club Leader, Mr. Ernie Van Alstyne, that a fund-raiser was needed to purchase the District a Hurst Jaws of Life. A fund raiser got under way and when one-fifth the money was raised, Mr. Van Alstyne ordered the tool. Mr. Van Alstyne was quoted as saying, “I took a chance,” he told the chamber group, “because there just might be an accident tonight where we would need the jaws”. The District received the Jaws of Life in October of 1976.

In the 1980′s, the District’s full-time personnel jumped to almost double and its boundaries expanded to cover the City of Hercules to form the present-day Rodeo-Hercules Fire Protection District. In 1984, a temporary Fire Station No. 76 was built by the City of Hercules because of its rapid growth. In 1991, the City of Hercules built its first permanent fire station. Today, the District is an independent autonomous Fire District serving an area of approximately twenty-six square miles with a population of 28,000. The District contains a major oil refinery (Tosco San Francisco Refinery at Rodeo), a large wildland interface, an industrial park with numerous underground fuel pipelines, two major rail lines, the Interstate 80 freeway, and State Route Four. The District is bordered on the south by the Pinole Fire Department, on the north by Crockett-Carquinez Fire Department, and on the East by Contra Costa Fire Protection District. It is governed by a five member, locally elected Board of Directors and derives its principal funding from normal property taxes and benefit assessments. The District’s revenue is fixed according to the assessed valuation of the properties within the District’s boundaries.

In 1995, the District rebuilt the existing fire station in Rodeo through funding from the State of California Earthquake Safety Bond Act of 1990 and the Contra Costa County Redevelopment Agency. Developer Fees enabled the District to purchase a new Type I engine in 1995 and an additional Type I engine is currently on order. The District is currently led by Fire Chief, Charles Hanley. He is assisted by an Interim Battalion Chief.  The District has six suppression captains, six engineers and six firefighters.  Seven firefighters have received their paramedic licenses.  All department training is provided by the shift Captains. Each Captain takes responsibility for two months of planned training per year for the department. The District’s personnel are dedicated to serving the public with the most professional fire and emergency services in the area.

As of November, 1999, the District contracted with the Contra Costa County Regional Fire Communications Center to enhance the District’s dispatching services. The Fire Communications Center offers enhanced medical dispatching on all 911 emergency calls. This service has expanded the District’s efforts to better serve the citizens of the District.

The District responds to an annual average emergency call volume of 2,009 incidents (149 Fire Calls, 1045 Rescue and Medical Calls, 73 Hazardous Materials Calls, 534 Public Assistance Calls, and 208 Mutual or Automatic Aid calls). The Fire Prevention Bureau annually conducts 323 fire code maintenance inspections, 149 fire investigations, and public education presentations throughout all of the District’s primary grade schools. Department personnel receive extensive training in EMT-1D, Haz-Mat first responder, trench rescue, swift water rescue and hi-low angle rescue. Among the many other community programs, the District participates in monthly blood pressure screening for its senior citizens and holds an annual bicycle helmet safety program and station tours for local school children.

The District takes pride in its community involvement. The District and citizens have supported and encouraged participation in its reserve program for over 80 years. The program provides weekly Tuesday night training as well as a mandatory ride-along program. The reserve program, stemming from the District’s roots, has continued to provide augmented manpower to the District’s highly trained full-time personnel during emergency situations. The District is very proud to say they have had affiliation with CSFA for over 50 years.

In 1997, former Fire Chief Dennis Salmi organized the local Christmas Coalition, consisting of a group of committed government agencies, community organizations, service clubs, and businesses joining together to ensure that those less fortunate have a prosperous Christmas Season. The Coalition reaches out to approximately 300 families within the District and neighboring communities providing holiday meals and toys to the children. The Coalition also co-sponsors numerous holiday events such as “Santa Comes to Rodeo” and the Hercules Lions Club Senior Dinner in which the District delivers Santa on its engine.

In addition, former Chief Salmi provided the inspiration to create the District’s Community Advisory Panel (CAP). “We have strived to reach out to the community through hands-on, interactive neighborhood programs for fire prevention and suppression, and the CAP has been invaluable in building our strong bridge to the community”, Salmi said. The CAP, which consists of dedicated volunteers from both community and local businesses, works closely with the District on programs such as the Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT). Members of the CAP have been trained as NERT instructors and are committed to educating the citizens of the District on emergency awareness. The District’s NERT training has progressed to Community Emergency Response Training (CERT). CERT classes are held three times a year and are two hour sessions, once a week for eight weeks. The classes culminate with a CERT drill where all participants practice lessons learned.

The District has continued its program of public education and awareness by preparing local schools in emergency preparedness programs. The program, which teaches school staff to think like first responders, is used as a model for other schools throughout the County. In addition, Standardized Emergency Management System and ICS Orientation classes have been delivered to many local business and community groups within the District, as well as local police and fire agencies.

The District enjoys a positive industrial relationship with its heavy industry. Numerous department programs have been funded with the support of Tosco Refinery, including oil fire training at the University of Nevada, Dodd/Beals Fire Protection Training Academy, and Texas A&M University. The Office of Traffic Safety has funded grants for the purchase of new Jaws of Life and emergency extrication equipment. The Board of Directors has adopted a fiscal capital funding plan in order to upgrade computer equipment, purchase apparatus and communications equipment, and continues to look towards the department’s future.

The Rodeo-Hercules Fire Protection District will continue its working relationship with the community and will continue to deliver its professional services to its citizens. The members of the District take pride in their department and the professionalism of its members.