Flashback: Faithful crew



In 1911, women from a local Baptist church served a Thanksgiving banquet to the Tulsa Fire Department at its No. 1 Station. Fire Chief Rolla C. Alder is standing along the wall nearest the women. He retired in 1922, according to Beryl Ford Collection records.

Beryl Ford Collection/Tulsa City-County Library

On Thanksgiving Day 1911, Tulsa Fire Chief Rolla C. Alder might have felt like a proud father surrounded by his 18 firemen and several city officials at the tables set for dinner in Station No. 1.

His department and the town had come a long way in 10 years.

A Missouri native, Alder was a harness and saddle maker. He relocated with his wife to Tulsa in 1900 and found a new hobby: helping the town of approximately 1,000 establish a volunteer fire department. 

As the newly elected chief, Alder led a small group to practice using the town’s new gear pump and hose line. Over the years, the volunteers responded to numerous alarms — sounded in the early days by repeated pistol fire into the air — saving several buildings and many lives.

Alder advocated for a paid fire department several times before the town council granted his wish on Dec. 6, 1905. Originally in a livery, the department was soon upgraded to a new building at 111. W. Second St. shared by city hall, the police department and the Tulsa jail. 

The Tulsa Fire Department added a horseless carriage in 1907 — the fourth in the country — though Alder and others said motorized trucks would never replace reliable horse-drawn rigs. 

By 1911, the crew had three fire stations and various modern tools in its arsenal, including a truck with a 75-foot reach.

A city of 18,000-plus, Tulsa had grown 1,208 percent in the past decade, according to census data. 

Thanks to patriarch Alder and his men, the fire department had kept up.

 

Sources: “The History of Tulsa: A City with a Personality,” “The History of the Tulsa Fire Department, 1905-1973,” and Beryl Ford Collection archives

 
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