151 Years of Fire Service

Last updated on April 16, 2024 at 08:00 AM

Black and white photo of fire men, a dog, and two fire engines
1920 City of Waco firefighters.

From Humble Beginnings 

Sepia photo of a horse-drawn fire engine

In response to the devastating Bridge Street fire on March 23, 1873, the City of Waco established the Waco Volunteer Fire Department on April 3 just a few days later. The department’s first company was Rescue Hook & Ladder No. 1, followed shortly thereafter by Engine Co. 1. 

As Waco's population grew throughout the late 19th century, so did its fire service infrastructure. By the end of the century, the department had expanded to five stations strategically located around the city to service a population of over 20,000 residents.

Modernization of the Fire Department 

Black and white photo of a fire engine with a group of men.

For the first 44 years of fire services in Waco, the Waco Fire Department relied on dedicated volunteers to protect the City. However, the need for around-the-clock fire protection eventually required the employment of firefighters to staff stations overnight when some of the worst fires typically occur.

Between 1910 and 1920, Waco's population boomed, prompting the fire department to modernize and significantly bolster its firefighting capabilities. In that decade, the department began the transition from horse-drawn apparatus to mechanized vehicles, the number of fire stations grew to eight, and discussions initiated about making the department fully paid. 

On April 12, 1917, the Waco City Commission officially created paid positions for a fire chief, assistant chiefs, and firefighters, marking a significant shift in the department's structure. Since then, the Waco Fire Department has mirrored the city's growth, constructing six new stations.

Fire Station at the Movie Theater 

Fire Station 6 The most recent fire station includes the relocation of Station #6 at the site of the historic 25th Street Theater. The theater originally opened its doors in 1945, later became a nightclub, and officially closed in 1992. After originally intending to keep the structure of the theater, the City of Waco demolished the building in 2019. However, the City reconstructed the building in the same style as the theater featuring the original green sign. The theater is now home to Station #6, which also serves as the new administration building and houses a community room.

Currently, construction is underway for Station #15 to provide additional coverage in the West Waco neighborhood.

New Technologies 

Black and white photo of a man at a Fire Station alarm desk

As Waco has grown, the Fire Department has continued to expand services and add new technology to better serve the community. Stations 1, 2, and 12 are equipped with boats for water rescues on Lake Waco and local rivers. Brush trucks strategically located at Stations 4, 12, and 14 combat grass and brush fires. The department boasts a specialized Hazardous Materials Team that serves a multi-county area. Station 1 houses both a technical rescue team and a swift water rescue team, with a dedicated dive team established in 2019. The most recent addition, formed in 2021, is an EMS Bike Team that provides medical assistance at large events, such as Baylor football games.

With a proud tradition of service spanning 151 of Waco's 175 years, the Waco Fire Department remains a vital pillar of public safety within the community.


Anderson, Mike. “WFD receives state-of-the-art hazmat vehicle”. Waco Tribune-Herald, 1 May 2006, p. 1B

City of Waco Commission minute book for April 1917

”Drastic changes required to save Waco’s key rates”. Waco Morning-News, 31 Mar 1917, p. 10

”Fire Station reopened at airport. Waco Tribune-Herald, 20 Sep 1974, p. 1B

Hoppa, Kristin. “Life-saving seconds”. Waco Tribune-Herald, 26 Jun 2019, p. 1A

”Meers builds fire department into smooth machine”. Waco Sunday Tribune-Herald, 25 Jun 1939, p. 16

”One of Waco’s prides is volunteer fire department”. Waco Morning News, 11 May 1916, p. 15

Pruitt, Jeff. Waco Fire Department 1873-2012. Evansville, Ind. :M.T. Publishing, 2012

”Recommends paid fire department”. Waco Morning-News, 25 Sep 1915, p. 5

Rodriguez, Amaris E. “EMS on two wheels”. Waco Tribune-Herald, 11 Oct 2021, p. 1A

“Waco Fire Department”. Vertical file. Waco-McLennan County Library