A.J. Harris was the first fire chief hired after the city of Tampa became incorporated. On May 10, 1895 Ordinance #307 was passed and the Tampa City Council authorized Tampa’s first paid department. Chief Harris was an experienced firefighter from Savannah, Georgia and was hired with a salary of $1,350 and placed in charge of a $18,000 budget. He served until 1906. Chief Harris also served another term as Fire Chief from 1908 until his death from a heart attack in October of 1910.
Appointed Fire Chief by newly elected Mayor William H. Frecker, Chief Savage was a political appointee. Savage was also one time Chief of the Sanitation Department as well as serving on the Tampa City Council from January 1901 until June 1902. He was appointed Railroad Commissioner of the Florida Public Service Commission by Governor Doyle Carlton from 1931 to 1933.
Walter M. Mathews became Fire Chief in 1910. He oversaw the move in 1911 from the fire headquarters at the old City Hall on Florida Avenue between Jackson and Lafayette (now Kennedy) Streets to the new brick Fire Station No. 1 on Zack Street at Jefferson Ave. He presided over the introduction of gasoline powered fire apparatus and the demise of horse drawn apparatus in 1914. The first automobile was a combination chemical and Chief’s car; the citizens were amazed at the speed with which this vehicle could answer an alarm. He was criticized for allowing his department to speed to fires, risking the lives of pedestrians. In response he instructed his drivers to go no faster than 25 mph on a run. In 1921, Mathews was replaced as Fire Chief by J.B. Holton who retired in 1927. Mathews again became Fire Chief until his death in 1929.
Chief Mathews was reported to enjoy standing while responding to alarms. This practice led to his demise, as an accident resulted in him being thrown from his vehicle upon impact. Chief Mathews became Tampa Fire Departments first paid member to die in the line of duty. He was survived by a wife and a daughter.
Chief J.B. Holton oversaw the growth of TFD during the 1920’s. Stations #2 and #5 were rebuilt and Stations #7 and #8 were constructed. The annexation of West Tampa brought Firehouse #9 on Main St. at Albany Ave. and its personnel as well.
As well as being faced with the Great Depression, Chief White had to close two fire stations. Firehouse #8 and #10 were closed and 10 men were laid off in July of 1933. Shift hours changed from the 10/14 hours shift to 24-on / 24-off. Chief White was replaced in November of 1943 by Captain R. A. Starling.
One of Chief Starling’s first programs was the implementation of a training program and the appointment of a drill master. City council approved 14 new firefighters, while stations #8 and #10 remained closed. Chief Starling was eventually demoted to Assistant Chief in February of 1947 by Mayor Curtis Hixon.
Tampa’s first foam truck built by firefighters was placed into service in 1948. In 1951 walkie-talkies were placed in the chief’s cars and in rescue units. The city nearly doubled in size in 1954 when the areas of Sulphur Springs, Drew Park, Palma Ceia and Ballast Point were annexed adding 4 fire stations as well as equipment and personnel. Also in 1954 a new drill facility opened on Hooker’s Point. During a fire at the Hilsboro Hotel downtown, Chief Blanton suffered a minor heart attack and was hospitalized. Three days later he died, becoming the second Fire Chief to die in the line of duty and the sixth Tampa Fire Department LODD.
Under Chief Dreves, TFD opened several new stations. Station #11 in Sulphur Springs moved into a new house in July of 1956. In 1958 new stations were opened for #9 in West Tampa and #15 in the Ballast Point area. New stations #17 (Davis Islands) and #18 (East Tampa) were added as well.
Chief Dreves retired in October of 1959.
During Chief Leavine’s tenure Firehouse #14 opened in Palma Ceia (December 1959) replacing the station taken over during the 1954 annexation. In October of 1960 Station #12 opened on Tampa International Airport property serving the airport and the Drew Park neighborhood. Tampa’s first fireboat, the Gail Hollandwas placed into service. With the annexation of Port Tampa, Station #19 was now part of Tampa Fire Department.
Chief Leavine retired in the Fall of 1963 after 27 years of service.
Nineteen year veteran, Captain Ken P. Ayers was appointed Fire Chief by Mayor Nick Nuccio. Shortly after his appointment, Chief Ayers created a fifth district. In November of 1964 Fire Station #13 was opened next to Busch Gardens theme park. Chief Ayers was demoted back to Captain with the appointment of Chief Lehman in 1966.
Chief Lehman was in office upon the hiring of TFD’s first black firefighter, Robert Tucker, on December 1, 1968. Tampa’s first aerial platform, Snorkel 1 was placed into service in September 1970. Firehouse #4 was rebuilt in Ybor City and opened in 1972 where Snorkel 1 was relocated.
Paramedics are introduced into the TFD system in August of 1973.
Tampa replaced its fireboat with the 68’ Gail Holland in April of 1974.
Upon the election of Mayor William F. Poe, Ronald W. Mason Sr. was appointed to Fire Chief in February of 1976. During the same year, came the closing of Station #2.
Tampa’s first female firefighters were hired in June and August. Mechy Kent and Hollis Boggs.
Chief Diez was appointed by Mayor Bob Martinez in October of 1979. To supplement rank restructuring, the First Responder program was put into place. Tampa’s first Paramedic Engine, Engine 12 was placed in service in May of 1982. Call boxes were taken out of service in place of the telephone for emergency calls. Chief Diez retired in March of 1983.
‘Tony’ Coniglio became Fire Chief in 1983 after serving as the Fire Marshall for 3 years. He had also held positions on the Pension Board, serving as Chairman and he had been President of the Local 754. He also served a term as President of the Florida Fire Chiefs Association. In November of 1983, a computer aided dispatch system was placed on line. Chief Coniglio retired in March of 1985.
Chief ‘Bill’ Austin was the first chief hired from outside Tampa Fire. Hired in March of 1985 by Mayor Bob Martinez, Chief Austin brought much change to Tampa Fire. 5” supply line began to become the norm for the engines. Changes in safety equipment brought lighter bunker gear, composite SCBA bottles, improved helmets and Nomex hoods. Tampa’s first vent truck with an 80,000 cfm fan installed was placed into service. In 1988 the creation of the Haz-Mat / Special Operations division was formed allowing TFD to handle incidents including extrication, confined space and rope rescue. In 1988 Tampa also adopted the Incident Command System for emergency incidents. Some large incidents include fires at the Downtown YMCA (June 1991), the Hillsborough County School Administration building (February 1992), the University of Tampa (June 1993), several large fuel storage tank fires, and a collision between a barge carrying jet fuel and a freighter near the Sunshine Skyway bridge on the edge of Tampa Bay in June of 1994. Chief Austin retired in 1995.
Appointed Fire Chief in 1995 by Mayor Dick Greco, Chief Botto began to replace Tampa’s aging fleet of Seagrave fire trucks. In 1997 Tampa purchased 5 new Pierce Quantums. In stages, Tampa was able to replace its entire fleet in 10 years. Several large fires included several city blocks burning in Ybor City. On May 19, 2000 a fire started in a 454-unit apartment complex under construction requiring 6 alarms and most of TFR’s on duty personnel. Units from Hillsborough County Fire were called in for assistance and units from Pinellas County were brought in to cover the street calls still going on during the conflagration. Three months later Ybor City saw another large landmark, the Blue Ribbon Market go up in flames, concerning those that had seen the destruction caused by the fire occurring in March. In September of 2001, Tampa would provide 2 canines and their handlers to assist at the collapse of the World Trade Center in New York City. In December of 2001 a fuel tanker rolled over underneath the Veterans Expressway causing a large fire requiring the needs of one of TFR’s ARFF units to assist in the extinguishment. In 1999 Fire Station #12 was replaced on the same property due to the widening of Hillsborough Ave. Station #13 was replaced due to a growing theme park, moving to the west side of the park in 2002. Firehouse #21 opened in the Cross Creek area of New Tampa bringing Tampa’s number of stations to 22.
In June of 2003, Mayor Pam Iorio appointed Aria Ray Green to the position of Fire Chief of the City of Tampa. Prior to his appointment, Chief Green served in various positions during his previous twenty-five years with the department. These positions included Special Operations Chief in charge of Hazardous Materials/Marine Training and response operations, A Shift Rescue Operations Supervisor in charge of paramedic operations for A Shift throughout the city and as Division Chief 1A, the Shift Commander for A shift. Chief Green was also one of the founding members of Tampa Fire Rescue’s Tactical Medical Response Team, a group of TFR paramedics who went through Tampa’s Police Academy, then completed Tampa Police SWAT program and responded on police tactical calls as SWAT officers with Tampa Police Tactical Response Team. Chief Green retired in September 2004.
Mayor Pam Iorio appointed Dennis Jones to Fire Chief in October of 2004. Under his leadership, the department achieved tremendous success. The culmination of his dedication and hard work was recently recognized as Tampa Fire Rescue was bestowed accreditation by the Commission of Fire Accreditation International. In his role as Fire Chief, the department made great strides and improved public safety.
The most notable achievements include:
Additionally Chief Jones secured federal grant money for the following:
Chief Jones retired on May 8, 2010 after 32 years of dedicated service.