At the time Monrovia was becoming a city back in 1886, buildings were almost exclusively being built of wood. As a result fire became a major concern of the residents as a small blaze could quickly engulf an entire city block. Nevertheless, it would be over two decades before Monrovia would have an organized fire-fighting department.
As early as 1888 the city trustees passed an ordinance, submitting the question of a $50,000 bond before the voters, part for a sewer and part “to provide the city with the necessary means to protect property from fire.” The Monrovia Messenger of November 28, 1889 reported that a “new hose cart with 500 feet of first-class hose has arrived, for use in the city. A number of hydrants have been put in and more are to follow.”
In March of 1906, a volunteer fire department was organized in Monrovia with Jack Crandall appointed as its first chief. No record remains of the type and amount of fire equipment used at that time. A special election on June 7, 1907, failed to pass a bond to fund the operation of a full-time department, so Monrovia resident and businessman John Baxter donated a horse-drawn chemical cart and some hose.
The Baxter livery stable became the first firehouse in town, and it was located in the Granite Bank building on the southwest corner of Palm and Myrtle Avenues (The firehouse moved to its present location at 141 E. Lemon in 1925). When Baxter’s barn caught fire in 1908, the failure of the volunteers to bring a hydrant wrench with which to open the water supply valve resulted in a total loss of the barn, which cost Baxter $5,000 to replace.
On July 6, 1909, the Board of Trustees adopted an ordinance that provided a bond to fund firefighting improvements. January 24, 1910 is the date an ordinance officially created a fire department in Monrovia. Baxter was selected as fire chief, and there were four full-time, salaried firemen.
The La Vista Grande Hotel, said to be one of the finest hotels in the San Gabriel Valley in its heyday, was destroyed on May 3, 1916, by a midnight fire of unknown origin. According to John Wiley, in his book, History of Monrovia (1927), “Fire Chief George C. King was handicapped by having but seven hundred and fifty feet of fire hose and a six-year-old, out-of-date, decrepit truck, for fire-fighting equipment.
This condition brought an appeal from the chief setting forth the defenseless condition of the department, and asking for more effective apparatus.” This bore fruit in September when the city trustees authorized the purchase of a three hundred and fifty-gallon capacity, six-cylinder Seagrave motor-pumping fire engine at a cost of five thousand dollars. As Wiley comments, “The purchase of this engine marked the beginning of a real fire department for the City of Monrovia, coming thirty years after the founding of the town.”
Today, there are two fire stations in Monrovia (on Lemon Avenue behind the Krikorian Theater and just below Duarte Road on South Myrtle Avenue) that employ a total of 41 firefighters. There have only been eleven fire chiefs for the Monrovia Fire Department in over a century of existence, a testament to a stable and well-functioning unit.
While long time residents are familiar with the MFD toy drive at Christmas and the annual pancake breakfast, they may be unaware of some of their other community-oriented activities. For example, the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program, which has trained approximately 250 people in the last five years, aims to provide residents with the skills to handle emergency situations until fire department members are able to arrive at the scene.
September 11th brought renewed attention to the heroic efforts of firefighters (and police) across the United States, and the tragedy highlighted the risks these public servants face daily in their efforts to protect the public.