The fire dangers inherent of Newport News during the late 1800s were hot coals from locomotives, gasoline or kerosene in lamps, fireplaces and ranges, coal soot accumulation in chimneys, and careless smoking. The City had no fire protection, and the feeble efforts of a bucket brigade were no match for the disastrous fires that burned homes, businesses, and city blocks. In 1891, citizens called a town meeting to organize a volunteer fire department. Donations were solicited from merchants to purchase firefighting equipment. In 1892, the first piece of apparatus was purchased, a horse-drawn steamer with a coal-fired pumping mechanism. The City did not own horses so they used manpower to pull it. The hardship of moving the steamer and the lack of a water system often resulted in a reversion to the bucket brigade system. Eventually, an agreement was made with Warwick County to share the horses used to pull their garbage wagon. When a fire occurred, the driver would unhook the horses from the garbage wagon and respond to the location of the steamer, hook up the horses, and haul it to the fire scene.
In 1896, when Newport News was incorporated into a city, a Board of Fire Commissioners was formed to carry out the administrative business of the Fire Department. This same year, the first fire station was built at 28th Street and Huntington Avenue. It housed the Chief’s buggy, a steam pump, and a hose reel. The Fire Chief and three drivers received a salary. Horses were now kept at the fire station. In 1897, Eagle Engine Company No. 3 was organized. There were now three fire companies: Truck Company No. 1, Lafayette Company, and Eagle Engine. The City still had just one fire station.
2014 - Major Milestones
- Chief Alley began work January 1
- Successfully completed our evaluation by the Insurance Services Organization which ultimately led to our rating being upgraded to ISO 1.
- Expanded the staffing in the Fire Marshal’s Office Complete audio/ visual upgrade in the department's Training Center to improve training capabilities
- Implemented a new records management system for incident reporting Continued with department apparatus replacement plan by purchasing two engines and two ambulances.
2013 - Major Milestones
- Received re-accreditation through the Commission for Fire Accreditation International.
- Received a SAFER grant of $1.7 million to hire additional personnel.
2011 - Major Milestones
- The department remained under the guidance of the Acting Fire Chief Scott Liebold in 2011.
- The department opened the new Fire Station 3 and as well as obtained funding through the Capital Improvements Plan for critical upgrades for Fire Station 9 in 2011.
- The department continued with scheduled apparatus replacements despite the downturn in the economy.
- Funding was obtained for the purchase of a new 100 aerial platform, 3 engines and 3 medic units and took delivery of 2 new medic units.
- The department re-aligned the two battalion districts with the opening of the new Fire Station 3 in order to create a more equitable workload between the two Battalion Chiefs.
2010 - Major Milestones
- In 2010, Fire Chief Ken Jones stepped down as Fire Chief in order to assume the position of Coordinator of Emergency Management for the City of Newport News. Deputy Chief Scott Liebold was named the acting Fire Chief for the department and the vacant Deputy Chief position was later filled in 2011 by Kenneth Lay.
- 2010 was the first full year of service for Fire Station 11 and was the beginning of construction for the replacement station for Fire Station 3 in Hilton section of the city.
- The City Manager authorized the hiring of 12 additional personnel to place additional apparatus back in service at Station 3 once it is completed.
- The City continued to fund apparatus purchases through the Capital Improvement Plan and the department purchased two 100′ aerial ladders as well as 2 medic units. These purchases were vital for the department to continue to keep frontline apparatus in an optimum operating condition to meet NFPA standards as well as to allow the Vehicle and Equipment Services Department to continue to provide an adequate reserve apparatus fleet.
2007 - Major Milestones
- In 2007, staffing began at 377 but was reduced to reflect a merger of the Fire Apparatus Maintenance Department with the City’s Vehicle and Equipment Services Department.
- Architects were hired, and the design of new Station 3, to be located in the Brentwood area, got underway. The City Manager approved a plan to build Fire Station 11 (temporary location) at the airport to improve response times to the Jefferson Avenue/Denbigh Boulevard corridor and to enhance the airport’s response capabilities.
- An apparatus replacement program/process was implemented to ensure apparatus are acquired in a timely manner to replace apparatus based on established parameters.
- The department also received another post 9/11 Fire Act Grant for replacement of all departmental mobile and portable radios with Motorola P25 compliant radios. The refurbished 45′ shipyard fireboat was replaced with a 34′ Metalcraft boat. This boat was purchased with a combination of Virginia Department of Fire Programs, Department of Homeland Security, and Virginia Port Authority funds. Additionally, the department took delivery of two Pierce engines, one Freightliner medic, and a 100′ Pierce aerial tower to replace the department’s first one purchased in 1985.
2006 - Major Milestones
- In 2006, the department received one of the four regional tunnel firefighting robots. The LUF-60 tunnel firefighting robots were purchased with Department of Homeland Security funds and were the first of its kind in the United States. The NNFD was the lead agency in researching and securing funding for this unique piece of firefighting apparatus.
- Four Freightliner medics were purchased, which would make all 11 medic units similar Freightliner models. Additionally, the department took delivery of three Pierce engines, a new brush truck, and heavy-duty vehicles for MIRT and the Bomb Squad.
2003 - Major Milestones
- During 2003-04, MIRT and the Dive Team consolidated and were placed at Station 1. The department acquired the refurbished 45′ shipyard fireboat, and it was placed in service as Fireboat 1. A 24′ rigid hull inflatable Zodiac was also purchased and placed in service as Fireboat 2. MIRT became fully capable of responding to all types of water borne incidents.
- The department received two more post 9/11 Department of Homeland Security Fire Act Grants. The first was to install diesel exhaust extraction equipment at all stations, and the second was for the installation of mobile data computers (MDC) in all apparatus and staff vehicles.
- The new Station 5 opened along with an adjacent state of the art regional training center. Station 5 was built to improve response times in the northern most region of the City and to serve the Oakland Industrial Park and future residential development north of Fort Eustis.
- Plans are in place to replace Station 3.
- A committee was formed, and the Strategic Plan (2005-2010) was developed as the foundation for a stronger future and the ability to make smarter decisions based on community expectations, operational mandates, and fiscal realities.
- The department took delivery of two 100′ aerial ladders and two heavy rescues from Pierce. For the first time, the department had 7 pieces of aerial apparatus in service.
- The department also received another post 9/11 Department of Homeland Security Fire Act Grant for a departmental wellness/fitness initiative. A second medic unit was placed in service at Station 7, increasing the total to 11 first due medic units.
2001 - Major Milestones
- Chief Orie retired, and Kenneth Jones was hired as his replacement. As many senior officers retired, a reorganization of the department took place. Staffing climbed to 377.
- The department took delivery of three refurbished 1990 Grumman engines and an American LaFrance engine and aerial ladder. The conversion to medium duty ambulances began as the first three Freightliner medic units were purchased.
- The department replaced all MSA breathing apparatus with SCOT breathing apparatus, replaced all hydraulic tools with Genesis equipment, and purchased Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) equipment with post 9/11 Department of Justice grant funds. The department also received its first post 9/11 Fire Act Grant and purchased a mobile education unit.