May 1, 1942 the Civil Defense League was formally charged with organizing a volunteer fire department under the League. Jesse Burrows was appointed as the first Fire Chief and began the organization and formation of the South Salt Lake Fire Department. Eighteen months later, on December 2, 1943 the City of South Salt Lake formally organized its first fire department.
Samuel Davies was appointed as the first Fire Chief of the South Salt Lake Fire Department at that time. Chief Davies was the only employee of the Fire Department and also served as the City Building Inspector. He and his family lived in Fire Station No. 1 located on Oakland Avenue. The South Salt Lake Fire Department started as a volunteer fire department comprised of about 20 men from the community.
Each member of the Department was issued firefighting gear and told to listen for the call out siren indicating a fire. Most of the members of the Department at that time received their first fire training on their first fire call. It was a time in the history of the Department when people from all around would clamor to see the firefighters racing down the street hanging on the back of fire engines racing toward the unknown. Many of the original members of the volunteer department served for 30 or more years in the community and passed the valuable lessons of experience to the future leaders of the Department.
Chief Davies lead the Department through some of the toughest times encountered during our history. Many of the Department largest fires were fought by the volunteers with outdated equipment that had been purchased by the volunteers with their own money.
1953. 10 years into the history of the Fire Department, we experienced our first and only firefighter fatality. Assistant Chief George Plant was pumping on the IGA Foodtown Market fire located at 2704 S. State Street when a catastrophic mechanical failure occurred in the pumper engine. Chief Plant valiantly fought to keep water flowing to the crews fighting the fire, but unfortunately suffered a fatal heart attack while standing at the pump panel. The Fire Department and the family of Chief Plant fought for several years with the State about death benefits for Chief Plant. Eventually, the State deemed his death a Line of Duty death and he is South Salt Lakes only duty related fatality.
In 1961, during Chief Davies administration the Department built its second fire station, Station No. 2, located at 2700 South 900 West. The land was donated by the Wagner Bag Company and brought much needed fire protection to the City’s blossoming industrial area. Ironically, the Wagner Bag Company, under a different name would become the Departments single largest fire in 2004. The Station was the permanent residence of one of the Departments firefighters and his family until 1968.
Chief Davies served as Fire Chief from December 2, 1943 until his retirement on August 29, 1965. Chief Keith Heddlesten was appointed as Chief Davies successor on September 1, 1965. During Chief Heddlesten’s time as Fire Chief, the Department continued to grow and experience huge numbers of building fires. The most memorable of the large fires during this time was the JB Tile fire in 1971. This three-alarm fire lasted three days and was highlighted by exploding gallon glue cans that projectiled into the air and landed throughout the area starting dozens of spot fires.
The Fire Department began to provide the first formally trained Emergency Medical Services under Chief Heddlesten. The Red Cross trained several of the firefighters as first responders adding to the fire protection service already provided. The Fire Department began to provide formal and State Licensed EMS service during the later part of the 1970’s. The South Salt Lake Fire Department finished the transition from all volunteer to mostly full-time firefighters by 1974. Chief Heddlesten served as Fire Chief from September 1, 1965 until his retirement on April 9, 1980.
Chief Robert Adams was appointed the third Fire Chief of the South Salt Lake Fire Department on April 9, 1980 served as Fire Chief until February 25, 1998. Under the leadership of Chief Adams, the Department continued to grow and develop. The Fire Stations were re-numbered during this time to better fit into the larger firefighting community in the Salt Lake Valley. The Department began using the 40’s as their station and unit identification.
Chief Adams oversaw the first significant changes to fire prevention, fire investigation, and the refinement of Emergency Medical Service delivered through the Fire Department. The original Station No.1 (now Station 41) was relocated from Oakland Avenue to 2600 South Main Street where it is currently located, to make room for a new hospital being built on the Oakland Avenue location and adjacent properties. Prior to Chief Adams’s retirement he began the process of expanding the Departments capabilities by working toward a third fire station, a process that was completed shortly after his retirement by Fire Chief, Steven F. Foote.
Chief Steven F. Foote was appointed to replace Chief Adams on April 1, 1998. Almost immediately, the Department grew 33% with the addition of a third fire station and the addition of almost 8,000 residents in a newly annexed area. Chief Foote successfully led the Fire Department through many good and hard times.
The two largest incidents ever experienced by the South Salt Lake Fire Department were a Hazardous Materials spill in 2005 and the Smurfitt-Stone fire, the site of the old Wagner Bag Company, in 2004. On March 6, 2005 a 13,000 gallon rail car containing a mixture of sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid, nitric acid, hydrofluoric acid, acetic acids, and ammonia spontaneously leaked approx 6500 gallons. The incident was the Departments largest hazardous materials incident lasting over 15 days and requiring millions of dollars in environmental clean-up.
The only six alarm fire in the Departments history occurred July 16, 2004. The storage lot at a paper manufacturing plant ignited causing over 10 million dollars in fire loss. The Department had assistance from eight other fire departments over 3 days in combat operations. Over 3 million gallons of water was used, over 10,000 feet of hose was laid out. Approximately 150 personnel from 49 units fought this fire.
In 1998, Chief Foote created the first full-time Department training officer to better deliver and coordinate fire and medical training. In 2001, the Department began providing Paramedic services and added 6 new firefighter paramedics to provide service. In 2007, the first full-time Fire Marshal’s position was created to improve the fire prevention and inspection capabilities of the Department. 2008 saw the remodeling of Station 41 adding 6 new dorm rooms and an exercise area and the construction of a new Station 42 located at 3265 South 900 West. On August 21, 2009, The Fire Department started a Paramedic Ambulance service. 10 new firefighter paramedics were hired to provide this service and a new full time administrative position was created to manage the Medical and Ambulance Division.
January 2011, we welcomed our current Chief Ron L. Morris. Chief Morris has one of the most extensive backgrounds of anyone in the fire service in the state of Utah. His wide and varied experience has proven to serve our department and citizens in the highest good.
We are proud of our firefighting history at the South Salt Lake Fire Department. The long-standing family style of this Department dates back to the original 10 members of the Civil Defense Volunteer Fire Department. We are a tight family of brother and sister firefighters dedicated to the safety of all who call for our help. We pride ourselves on competent and efficient service delivery, professionalism, and courtesy.
The Fire Department currently employs 73 employees. The 51 full-time firefighters are augmented by a dedicated staff of part-time paid firefighters. The Department works a 48-96 work schedule with firefighters working two days in a row and then off four days.