Waycross Fire Department History

 The Fire Chief picture on the front right with the dog is Chief Mitchell Joiner who was elected as Fire Chief in 1910.

The Fire Chief pictured on the front right with the dog is Chief Mitchell Joiner who was elected as Fire Chief in 1910.

In the November 25, 1885 edition of the Waycross Headlight a one sentence statement appeared. “No fire company has been organized up to this date, neither have we seen any signs for the building of a theatrical hall.” A few years later the Waycross Reporter ran a story in its January 12, 1889 entitled “Something Needed”. The articles author was passionate and concerned about the growing city of 3,000 inhabitants called Waycross. The Need that the author gave attention to was for a fire department to be organized.

J.P. Ulmer, a blacksmith by trade and employed at the repair shops of W.G. Burney, began to circulate a subscription paper in order to raise money for a hook and ladder outfit. His efforts had promises of nearly $60 when first sent out. Encouraged by the actions of Mr. Ulmer a group of concerned citizens gathered and organized the Waycross Fire Department on Tuesday night, April 23, 1889. The name of the newly organized fire company would be known as the Waycross Hook and Ladder Company #1. J.P. Ulmer was elected Chairman and Foreman (this position is the Fire Chief today) of the new fire company, making J.P. Ulmer the first fire chief of the Waycross Fire Department.

The original eighteen members of the Waycross Hook and Ladder Company #1 were:

J.P. Ulmer
H.A. Culpepper
W.D. Scott
J.L. Wildes
J.B. Strickland
W.J. Gassett
L.M. Buchanan
M.J. Henry
J.F. Gassett
R.A. Baker
Frank Bailey
J.P. Lanier
C.B. Tatem (Tatum)
C.H. Gray
C.M. Sweat
R.T. Williams
A.L. McQuaig

The following officers were elected by acclamation:

J.P. Ulmer,
J.B. Strickland,
Assistant Foreman
G.T. Nungazer,
J.P. Lanier,

In the City Council meeting held on January 20, 1892, came the report that a chemical fire engine had been purchased by the City of Waycross from the Holloway Chemical Fire Engine Company. The new fire engine would be named R.G. Fleming in honor of Captain R.G. Fleming, General Manager of the Savannah, Florida & Western Railway Company. An enquiry was made by the Mayor to Captain Fleming to have the new engine shipped by rail. Captain Fleming replied that not only would he have the new chemical engine shipped free of charge on his rail line but that it would have it shipped free of charge from Baltimore, Maryland. The cost of the chemical engine was $1,800.

For all practical purposes it appears that the City of Waycross made the decision to purchase the chemical engine over a steam engine because of the lack of a waterworks system. The chemical engine was described as a Double Sixty Gallon Tank Four Wheel Chemical Engine. The chemical engine was best suited for incipient fires and to help prevent the spread of fire but would not be of use if the fire had gained large size.

At a called meeting on April 4, 1892, the city council appointed Alderman J.G. Justice as Fire Chief and Alderman R.H. Murphy as assistant chief. A petition was presented by the Mayor Knight from 56 residence requesting approval to organize as a volunteer fire company. The matter was turned over to the new fire chief. The City Attorney was directed to prepare an ordinance organizing a fire department for Waycross. Within a few days Chief Justice held a meeting with those interested in organizing the volunteer fire department. Elected as officers were: J.K. Nelson, president; J.M. Smith, vice-president; T.L. McKay: 1st foreman; A.C. Olney, 2d foreman; W.G. Dekle, 1st engineer, A. Smith, 2d engineer; E.S. Paine, 3d engineer. The position of foreman has now changed from fire chief to a fire officer. The new chemical engine arrived in Waycross and was put through its paces on April 4, 1892. There were no paid positions in the fire department.

At the City Council meeting held on April 18, 1892 the members of the Waycross Hook and Ladder Company #1 offered to provide the city with the money that they had collected by subscription in exchange for the city furnishing the balance to purchase the Hook and Ladder apparatus for the company. That’s right, the Hook and Ladder Company #1 had been collecting money since 1885.

The first annual report on the new Waycross Fire Department to the city commission came on February 1, 1893 and was given by Chief Justice.

Waycross, Ga. February 1st, 1893

To: Honorable Mayor and Board of Aldermen, City of Waycross

Gentlemen, I herewith hand you my report for the year 1892

After arrival of the Chemical Fire Engine a Company was organized consisting of 25 members, with Mr. J.K. Nelson as President, Mr. J.M. Smith, Vice President, Mr. T.L. McKay as foreman. The first fire that occurred after organization of this Company was the burning of the house of Mr. Thomas Peach in “Old Nine”. The chemical arrived at the fire somewhat late owing to the distance but did very good work after reaching the scene of the fire, saving the house of Mr. W.H. Sims which was very close to the burning building. Mr. Peach’s house was totally consumed and Mr. Sims’ slightly damaged. Both houses were insured. This fire occurred Friday, May 27th, 1892. The next call made on the department was on Sunday, August 28th, 1892. The house of Styles Scarlett (Col) on the extension of Reynolds Street east was entirely consumed. On account of the situation of this house the chemical was not able to reach it and the Engine was ordered back to quarters. The third occasion on which the Engine was called into service was Saturday, November 5th, 1892. The one story frame kitchen attached to the house occupied by Mr. W.B. Garret and owned by Mr. H.A. Renfroe was discovered to be on fire. The Chemical responded promptly and the fire was extinguished quickly. The damage was very slight and the building being insured, there was no lose.

So far the Engine has proven itself to be all that the manufacturers claimed for it. I would recommend as additions to the fire department two hose companies of about 14 men each and one hook and ladder company. These should be put into service at as early a day as possible. We have been very fortunate in regard to fires in the past but fires are liable to occur at any time with which our present small fire department would be unable to cope. For this reason I think above additions to the department should be made at an early day. I also recommend the purchase of a suitable harness for the Chemical Engine, same to be suspended in the Engine house by patent arrangement which allows it to be dropped on horses almost instantly. The City should have two good horses drawing the garbage carts, the drivers of which should be instructed to leave their carts and hurry with the horses to Engine house immediately on alarm of fire being given. I also recommend adoption of some suitable fire alarm device, same to be chosen by your honorable body.

Respectfully Submitted
J.G. Justice, C.F.D.