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Vista Fire Protection District & Vista Fire Department History

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In 1927, a large fire at the Vista Irrigation District office created a need to develop a fire department. Residents organized the first Vista Volunteer Fire Department with 14 volunteers: Torp Conteras, Lyle Deardorff, John DeWild, George Green, Charlie Hauslanden, Vince Hovely, John Itzaina, Ernest and Chet Lawrence, Ashley Hinkle, Stephen McGonnell, Paul Michner, Albert Pegg, and George Schneider.

The volunteers wore light blue overalls as their first department uniforms. Because qualifications were not required, the volunteers shared the job of chief by rotating position. Their first equipment included a hose, an an old nozzle, a pair of axes, a couple of ladders, two mules and a fire cart borrowed from the City of Oceanside. It was said that the noise of the hand crank was so loud on the cart, that it scared both the animals and people! 

In 1928, the volunteers bought a 1911 Seagrave fire truck from Orange County, which was funded by $511.44 in donations and profits from a fireman’s ball. During this time the volunteer fire department selected the first fire station location at the Hart Development Company building. It was a rented building behind the bank, on Indiana Street, next to the Hanes building, which held the original library, sheriff, and court offices. It is said that Judge Bone would knock on the fire station door when he needed witnesses to sign for marriages. 

This cast iron bell is 31 inches in diameter and 19 inches high and weighed 380 pounds. The words C.S. Bell Co. Hillsboro, Ohio are in raised letters on the frame. Each part is labeled with the number 32. In 1897 such a bell sold for $33 in the Sears Roebuck catalogue.

The bell now at the Rancho Guajome. The bell’s original home was in the roof cupola of the old Buena School, located on the corner of South Santa Fe and Buena Creek Road. The school closed when the Vista Unified School District opened in 1917. At that time, the Volunteer Fire Department was raising funds to buy a fire truck and the bell from the old Buena School was donated to the department. A few weeks later Cave Couts Junior of Rancho Guajome offered $25 for the bell and the transaction was accepted.

Couts hung the bell in the water tank tower, located in the kitchen wing at Guajome. Later, when he was renovating Guajome, he restored the chapel placing the bell on a buttress next to the reservoir. It stayed there until early in World War II, when Couts loaned the bell back to the Vista Fire District to use until they could afford to buy a roof siren. After the original chapel burned, and a new chapel was made, the bell was never hung again and it stands today on a platform at Rancho Guajome.

In 1929, the volunteer fire department bought their first new Ford Model A fire truck from the Oceanside Ford Dealership. Merchants in Vista helped pay for the new truck by donating 50 cents to $1 per month until the truck was finally paid. In 1930 the population was about 300 in town. The Vista Fire District acquired its own phone number, so that when a fire occurred the residents would just dial 3000, the fire station’s phone number. During World War II a siren was installed on the roof of the small frame Hart Company building and would automatically sound at the station until someone ran to answer the phone. The person who answered the phone would ring the siren to signal:

  • 1 ring = building on fire
  • 2 rings = grass fire
  • 3 rings = medical alert

Volunteers would come at the sound and if the fire was too big for the volunteers, the California Division of Forestry, from the state, would come to help. Several men served at different times as Chief or Acting Chief of the Volunteer Fire District, among them Charles Hausladen and Chet Lawrence. Chet helped later to form the Local Fire Protection District, served on the Board of Fire Commissioners, and was the first Fire Marshal. The first volunteer fire chief was Ernest Lawrence. He was a tractor driver and night watchman for the Hart Development Company where the firehouse was located.

Water mains were laid in the downtown area in 1930 with a scattering of fire hydrants from Santa Fe Avenue to Sunset and on East Vista Way to Escondido Avenue. Consideration was given to formally organize the Vista Fire District in 1934; however, the community, distracted by the efforts to recover from the Great Depression and the start of World War II, could not meet the State required parameters. In the interim, all equipment was maintained by volunteers. The first ambulance service was from the Foster Bryant Mortuary in 1939. Later, Camp Pendleton gave the volunteer Vista Fire District an old Pontiac ambulance, which they used until 1971 when they acquired a Ford van. A private ambulance service (McCabe’s) also helped. The department began buying new Ford ambulances after 1977, when San Diego County began training paramedics.  

In 1945 the first paid firemen (3) were hired by the District. In 1955 the Vista Press newspaper reported the Vista Fire District Board voted to buy a new fire house site at the corner of Broadway and Citrus Avenue at the cost of $30,000. 

In May, 1957, the first paid chief was William (Bill) Elder. During this time, the volunteers began to quit. In 1957 the Vista Fire District formed a part-paid fire department. The firemen’s average salary was $378 - $460 per month. In 1963, a full-paid department was formed. The second Chief of the combined department was Harry Kaylor, formerly of Orange California.  

In 1962 the Vista Fire District covered 33 square miles. When the City of Vista incorporated in 1963, it removed 12 square miles from the center of the district and the two entities shared pro rated costs. In 1964 an agreement was reached between the City and the Fire District Commissioners for the City to furnish protection to the entire area. 

By 1974 the Vista Fire Department dedicated new headquarters located on Melrose Avenue near West Vista Way and included 3 strategically placed sub-stations throughout the district with major equipment in all stations. This benefitted the community estimated at 50,000 people in 1974.

Today, the Vista Fire Department serves both the City of Vista and the Vista Fire District with six stations with a combined population of over 124,000.