The History of Pinellas Suncoast Fire & Rescue
Volunteer Fireman’s Association
The history of Pinellas Suncoast starts before World War II when the department’s equipment consisted of a cart with a manually operated tank and hose. Members of the department physically pulled this cart as rapidly as they could to the fire scene. When eventually the tank rusted and ruptured, it was donated to “Uncle John,” John Lamb, whose family was the lone black family living on the beach. Uncle John made a trash cart out of it to provide a much needed service to the local residents.
As the population grew, it became apparent more fire protection would be needed for our area. So in 1951 concerned citizens organized the Volunteer Fireman’s Association which consisted of 25 members who were led by Rob Luce, Sr. Training was required so the Clearwater Fire Department provided the much needed experience in just six weeks. The members organized a fundraiser to purchase a state of the art fire apparatus. As a means to call together members to a fire location, a siren code was implemented – 1 blast was Indian Rocks Beach, 2 blasts was the South Shore, and 3 blasts was the mainland. The siren was donated to the department by the State of Florida and was placed on top of a pole to alert the volunteers. The first fire station was leased on First Street from Florida Power Corporation for $1 per year. 22 of the volunteers built the station in just 24 hours.
The department covered a very large amount of acreage on the mainland as well as the beaches. Our area extended north to the area where Largo Medical Center, Indian Rocks Road Campus, previously known as the Suncoast Hospital, now resides. At that time there was only one home every half mile and 80% of our fires were brush fires which could be devastating not only to the area but to our personnel and equipment. In those days people had very little income and it was difficult to ask for contributions to keep the department running. A gentleman from Lakeland who had purchased four old fire trucks from Patrick Air Force Base was selling them for $800 each. We were able to make a deal for one truck, a 1944 Navy airport crash truck, to pay over time as we received funding. Even though it broke down three times on the way back from Lakeland, our excellent personnel and mechanic put her back into tip-top shape. With donations and fish fries, the department was able to pay off the debt in four years.
1953 – Indian Rocks Special Fire Control District
In 1953 the community leaders petitioned the Florida Legislature to pass the Special Act of 1953 creating the Indian Rocks Special Fire Control District. With assessment money, $6 per residence authorized by the Special Act, the District in 1955 purchased a new fire engine and hired two employees-a Fire Chief and an Assistant Chief who alternated shifts. An old barn was converted to a fire station.
With the 70’s came changes and one of those was that the Indian Rocks Fire Department started to pay folks to do what the Volunteers for years had done for free; but a couple of good things happened. First, our Volunteers were hired to fill those positions, and second, the Volunteers continued to support the Indian Rocks Special Fire Control District. The name was shortened to the Indian Rocks Fire District in 1989; and in 2000 to reflect an expanded District, the name was changed to the Pinellas Suncoast Fire & Rescue.
2000 – Pinellas Suncoast Fire & Rescue District
From these humble beginnings, the Department evolved into three stations, and in 2010 only two stations: Station 27 located at 304 First Street in Indian Rocks Beach running an Advanced Life Support (ALS) fire engine, and Station 28 located at 13501 – 94 Avenue in Seminole running a 75-foot aerial which also serves as ALS.
The District operates with 37 employees, 30 of whom are certified firefighters, as line personnel. Seventeen of these firefighters are Paramedics and thirteen are Emergency Medical Technicians. The District is managed by the Fire Chief and is staffed with a Fire Marshal and a Fire Inspector. The staff is supported by an Accounting Clerk, an Administrative Assistant, a Mechanic, and a Maintenance person.
The District covers the municipalities of Belleair Beach, Belleair Shore, Indian Rocks Beach, and Indian Shores; and an area of the unincorporated mainland that is slightly larger than the total of the municipalities. These areas are covered for fire and EMS.
The District is governed by a five-person Board of Commissioners that is elected by the residents of the District.
The Indian Rocks Volunteer Firemen’s Association (IRVFA)
Our Volunteer force, the Indian Rocks Volunteer Firemen’s Association, is usually 25 strong, and ride side-by-side with the paid crew. They train three nights a month and ride the apparatus at least 24 hours a month; and it is not surprising that at the current time, 50 percent of the paid staff were previous Volunteers with IRVFA!
The Volunteers have always raised their own funds which purchase firefighting gear and some of their basic training. Each member, however, spends his or her own monies and time for advanced training such as Emergency Medical Technician, Paramedic, and Firefighter II. When not in school, they train three nights a month and ride the apparatus at least 24 hours a month.
A source of great pride is the fact that many of our Volunteers from years past have gone on to other departments and have received many positive comments for their professionalism, team spirit, leadership, and general abilities.
Today, the Volunteers support Pinellas Suncoast Fire & Rescue through teaching First Aid and CPR classes; taking disaster training, and providing mass care, sheltering, damage assessment and hazard mitigation during hurricane season and special hazard events in the District; and doing public education displays at festivals, fairs, and during fire prevention week. The Volunteers also train with the PSFRD Community Emergency Response Team, which is deployed during disaster situations.