Department History

When the city was first incorporated in 1913 it did not have its own fire department. For the first ten years of its existence fire protection was furnished by the City Of Alhambra. This fire station was located at the corner of Palm Avenue and Main Street. If any resident needed services of the fire department, the City of Alhambra would send manpower and equipment but a fee would be charged to the San Marino Resident. In 1923 Chester C. Copley was hired by the City of San Marino to organize the City Fire Department. At the time of hiring, Chester C. Copley was appointed fire chief for the city. Prior to coming to San Marino Chief Copley was employed by the City of Los Angeles Fire Department as an engineer. Also, during this time the Boy Scouts of America, San Marino Chapter assisted the city as volunteer firefighters.

Chief Copley and his family lived at the fire station, which is still located at the corner of San Marino Avenue and Huntington Drive. He was on call twenty four hours a day. In November of 1923, the first fire engine had arrived. The engine was a 1923 American La France, seven hundred and fifty gallon per minute pumper. Today we know this engine affectionately as Old #1. The engine was donated to the City of San Marino by Mr. W. L. Valentine.  

With the arrival of the new fire engine it became necessary to hire another man. Chief Copley hired John Fennikoh on November 6, 1923. Chief Copley, Fireman Fennikoh, and a few volunteers comprised the first San Marino Fire Department. During the next few years, additional men were hired on the department. The working hours at this time were quite long. The chief was on call twenty four hours a day, and the remaining men worked four days at a time before they received a day off. The men lived at the fire station and ate all meals there for the four days that they were on duty. After four days they received one day off.

In 1935, the city acquired its second fire engine, which was a 1935 Mack pumper. Again it was necessary to hire additional men to operate the fire equipment. In 1936 the working hours were reduce to, two days on and one day off. In 1944 Chief Copley retired and John Fennikoh was appointed as the new fire chief. At this time Felix Witbrodt, a department captain was promoted to assistant fire chief. 

In 1946 with the hiring of a public safety director Chief Fennikoh and Assistant Chief Witbrodt were reduced in rank to fire captains. There were not many changes made to improve the fire department during this time. But in 1951, the city acquired it's third fire engine, a 1951 Seagrave. The department was running three fire engines at this time. From 1946 through about 1954 the fire department did not grow or improve at all. In 1954 the city council abandoned the public safety director and again hired a fire chief.

A. P. Hughes was appointed fire chief in 1954. Under the direction of Chief Hughes, the fire department was reorganized. In this same year, Chief Hughes was able to establish the fire departments first fire prevention bureau. The duties of Fire Marshal was assigned to F. C. Hardesty. Within the next few years the department received a new engine. This was a 1957 Mack Pumper and with the purchase of this engine the old 1923 American La France was retired and sold to a private party. After this reorganization established by Chief Hughes the fire department went from a class 7 up to a class 4. After eight years, Chief Hughes retired from the department. 

Thomas A. Almond was appointed fire chief in 1962 after the retirement of Chief Hughes, and the San Marino Fire Department continued to improve.  In 1965 the working hours for the fire fighters were reduced to a 62 hour work week.  In 1968 the city purchased a new fire engine A Crown Fire Coach.  The 1935 Mack was traded in on the new Crown.  The fire department also received a new Chevrolet Ambulance. In 1969 the working hours for the firefighters were further reduced to a 56 hour work week, and the overall proficiency of the department continued to climb upward. The city received its first ambulance a 1969 Chevrolet, which further enhanced the departments services.

In 1972 the city sent its first firefighters to Emergency Medical Technician class. This medical training would upgrade the medical care given to the citizens from basic first aid. Also, around this time the department sent its first fire fighters to an organized fire academy for training. Until this time all training was held at the station and received on the job. This academy training further professionalized the department and enhance its ability to serve the public. Since this time all firefighters for the city have been academy trained.

In 1974, Chief Almond retired and his position was handed over to Assistant Chief Kenneth A. Robinson who held the position until 1979.

Fire Captain Frank Storts was promoted to fire chief with the retirement of Chief Robinson and held the position until 1984. During this time, the fire department continued building its efficiency and public service.

With Frank Storts retirement in 1984, Fire Captain James V. Hawkins accepted the Fire Chiefs position. During Chief Hawkins tenure as fire chief, the city saw the improvement of medical care again by the starting of the city Paramedic service. Chief Hawkins increased the proficiency of the department by re-instating the Battalion Chief positions which were lost in 1972. Other programs during this time such as heavy rescue training, and the beginning of Hazardous Materials Awareness training kept improving the quality of service delivered to San Marino residents.

Chief Hawkins retired in 1989, and the city hired its second fire chief from outside to the current ranks of firefighters with the appointment of John Demonaco as fire chief. Chief Demonaco led the city's fire fighting force from 1989-1993.

With the retirement of John Demonaco the city again went  outside the current ranks of firefighters with the hiring of Fire Chief John Penido. The fire department saw many changes under Chief Penido. The department increased it's mutual aid pacts with the surrounding agencies, which also helps with major incidents in our community. We have seen an improvement in dispatch and response times with the switch to Verdugo Fire Communications. The Fire Departments effectiveness in medical care has improved with the use of Standard Treatment Field Protocols (SFTP's), one of only seven agencies in Los Angeles County to use them.

Through history of the San Marino Fire Department, the authorized number of personnel and equipment has changed with the times and the needs of the city and organization. In 2014 the city of San Marino entered into a agreement with the city of San Gabriel and South Pasadena to share fire command. This shared command consolidates chief officer resources throughout all three cities and is a significant savings while increasing efficiency. San Marino Fire Department  is currently authorized for 22 personnel. Of these there are positions for two division chiefs, three fire captains, three fire engineers, 12 firefighters / paramedics, one executive secretary all led by Fire Chief Mario Rueda. The current top of the line apparatus includes one fire engine, one paramedic rescue unit, one command vehicle, one reserve fire engine, and one reserve rescue ambulance.

Progress is a very essential part of the growth of a fire department. Since our founding in 1923 the fire department has grown considerably, the firefighters of today are highly trained multi-faceted professional men and women.