DIAMOND SPRINGS - EL DORADO FIRE…
UNIQUE. PERSONAL. SERVICE.
and Compiled by Shari Wiegel
© 2007 No copies permitted
Diamond Springs-El Dorado Fire Protection District –
serving the communities in the areas of Diamond Springs, El Dorado, Logtown, Missouri Flat, Nashville, and Sleepy Hollow.
Diamond Springs-El Dorado Fire Protection District –
dedicated to being distinctly diverse so that you and your property are protected with professional excellence.
Diamond Springs-El Dorado Fire Protection District –
ready to help you at a moment’s notice – any time, day or night - with their unique, personal, service.
Unless you have dialed 9-1-1, you may not have ever thought about who would come to help you when you needed it the most. If and when that moment should ever come into your life, you definitely want to be rescued by a group of professionals who take their work seriously, who are experts in their field, who have the highest quality equipment, and who will treat you as an individual.
The reality is…when we are in need, the very sight of the fire engine and the ambulance calms our fears and signals that help has arrived. They are the ones who will tell us what to do. They are the ones that we hope will make our world right again. They are the ones who we put our trust in. They are the heroes who will rescue us from the danger that engulfs us.
As members of the communities served by the Diamond Springs-El Dorado Fire Protection District, we are the fortunate people who are protected by an exceptional group of individuals who are personally and professionally invested in doing their best to keep us safe and healthy. It is their duty and their responsibility to always be ready to help us, no matter what our emergency is, no matter what time of day or night we call, and no matter who we are…no matter what...period.
Throughout the rest of this publication the District will be referred to as Diamond. No matter what term is used, no matter what anybody calls it, it remains all encompassing – joining our six areas together, joining our fire districts together - becoming one organization. Diamond is set apart from all others - making them one of the best emergency response agency in the foothill region.
In this document, we intend to tell the reader about the history of this organization. Most importantly, we will teach you about our continuing commitment to volunteerism, the standards at which we provide emergency services to our citizens, and what the future of those services will look like.
Following the 49er Spirit
When looking at a map, it is easy to see that Highway 49 runs right through our District. When the county’s fire districts and stations were numbered, the Diamond Springs station was numbered 49. Was that luck or is there a connection? Obviously, our area is rich in gold mining history and the California Gold Rush. That same 49er Spirit is alive and well in the hearts of our firefighters.
In the 1849 Gold Rush, the 49ers were fortune-seekers, combing the hills for the big strike. They were dreamers who sacrificed their all for the gold. They were innovative and resourceful. They did whatever it took to get the gold, to pool their resources to help their brothers in need, and to open up a new world for themselves. They paved the way for others to follow their dreams and to live a better life.
On a lighter note, as a way to pass the time, they enjoyed the entertaining world of the Melodrama. Those productions gave them a humorous look at life and provided them with an outlet amidst the harsh way of life they were living. It helped them to laugh at themselves in spite of the difficulties they faced each and every day.
One of the earliest recorded wild fires in our area broke out in Diamond Springs in 1856. A strong breeze carried sparks in every direction. The Diamond Hotel burned and the Odd Fellows Hall caught fire several times. But according to the Mountain Democrat, the Hall “was saved with slight damage due to the almost superhuman exertions of the citizens.” Those people were extremely dedicated to their community. They demonstrated that, by giving more than what some thought was humanly possible.
The 49ers and our firefighters share many work ethics and values such as:
adapting to restrictions
persevering against the odds
using creativity to solve problems
pioneering methods & practices
adding a twist of humor to daily events
In 1942, the Diamond Springs Volunteer Fire Company was formed. That small group of men spent their time converting a chemical truck into a working fire truck. Within a week, $250 was collected and deposited in the bank. A short time later, the community contributed additional money to fully fund the purchase of that working fire truck. They were personally invested in making a working fire department to serve the community.
The earliest records of the El Dorado Volunteer Fire Company are from some years later. The two volunteer fire companies interacted on a regular basis – giving donations of equipment and money, sharing information, and helping each other.
In those early days, property was purchased in Diamond Springs to erect a building to use as a fire station and community hall. In El Dorado, a building was purchased to function in the same way. The fire stations were the social centers of these towns. The Volunteer Fire Companies became a place to belong, a place to work together on equipment, a place to join with others to share skills and expertise, and a place to give one’s best for the good of the community.
In 1949, Station 49 in Diamond Springs was built by volunteers. They were organized as the Diamond Springs Volunteer Fire Company. At that time, they had 4 officers, 37 active members, and 2 honorary members. In order to remain true to their giving spirit and community focus, their bylaws stated that, “no officer or member shall receive any compensation or wages from the Company for the duties as acting as a member of the Company.”
Later that year, The Volunteer Fire Companies each held a dinner meeting to install new officers within the leadership structure of their organizations. That tradition is still practiced today by the Firefighters’ Association. The Firefighters’ Association is a nonprofit organization that works in support of the District in meeting the public safety needs of the community, which has evolved from the structure of the old fire companies. To this day, members of the Association traditionally hold an annual dinner where the year’s events are celebrated, new officers are installed, people are honored for the work that they have done, and awards are given.
Speaking of awards, remember the humorous outlook on the serious and often tragic work? At a nearby firefighting competition, one of the very first awards won by The Volunteer Fire Company was 1st place in joke-telling! These people needed the release of laughter to keep a realistic look on life, to keep their pride in check, to keep themselves on their toes, and to simply have fun! That light-hearted perspective still hangs around today. Each month they joyously present two awards to their peers – The Good Guy Award and The Smokey Stover. The Good Guy is given to someone who went above and beyond the normal call of duty. The Smokey (a tarnished gold horse’s hind-quarters trophy) is given to someone who goofed.
For the first official 20 years, The Fire Company bought very little new equipment. Instead, they continued to use their ingenuity to convert various rigs into working fire and rescue equipment. Beginning with the original chemical truck, they have also used a surplus military truck, an army field ambulance, and a telephone truck. Today’s parade truck – the one that you see filled with many of the District’s children on Labor Day – is a 1941 Ward LaFrance Pumper that was part of the working equipment used in 1962. Whether they have had the resources to purchase used or new equipment, they have always been sure to make the most of the money that was collected.
In the Gold Rush Days, when miners got trapped, the men did the best they could with what they had. They frequently used the mining hydraulic system to wash away the dirt to get trapped men out of the mines. The ability to use one’s skills to get the job done with limited equipment is unique to the mentality of Diamond’s personnel. Over the years there have been many incidents where this has been demonstrated:
a man fell 150 feet down a mine
they put a ladder across the opening
they had no radios for communication
for 3 hours, a firefighter was suspended on a rope helping the patient
THE MAN WAS RESCUED
a cow fell down a well
they filled it up with water
they floated it out
THE COW WAS RESCUED
the community needed an extrication team
they invented it - a screwdriver & a bumper jack
they dismantled cars
TRAPPED PEOPLE WERE RESCUED
In 1979, the two small town volunteer companies consolidated to form the organization that serves us today. Before doing so, they polled the community to get their opinion; voters reflected their approval by a large margin. A merger of this sort had never been done before; they pioneered a successful consolidation that has shown numerous benefits for the districts and their communities. The transition was smooth, with all members fully cooperating to create a new and more efficient organization. With this consolidation, the District expanded in both personnel and equipment. To see how that relates to the growth over the past 26 years, compare the data in the graph below.
While it is important to get to an emergency quickly, it is just as vital to get the correct number of trained people and the proper equipment to the emergency. The measure of the response time for the first arriving fire engine is important. As a community, for example, we can’t stop counting the minutes on the response to the structure fire until enough firefighters are there to accomplish the critical tasks associated with fighting that fire.
The Fire District has determined the number of resources needed at each type of emergency. This system calculates how many people and fire engines are sent to each emergency. The District utilizes a combination of the following systems to get these services to your emergency in the fastest manor possible:
on-duty career personnel staffing equipment twenty-four hours a day
an extensive volunteer firefighter program on call and active for every emergency
an automatic aid program with every fire service agency in El Dorado County
This automatic aid program provides reciprocal aid between agencies without regard to boundaries and is conducted automatically by a common dispatch facility.
While the first engine arrives to the scene 80% of the time within 9.5 minutes, the District’s ability to form a concentrated force at the scene of an emergency can be interpreted in the following ways:
Medical Aid: 9.5 minutes or less
Requiring one engine & a medic unit (4 firefighters)
Vehicle Collision: 10.0 minutes
Requiring two engines, a medic unit, & a chief officer (7 firefighters)
Structure Fire: 10.6 minutes
Requiring five engines, one medic unit, one water tender, & one chief officer (14-19 firefighters)
The budgetary needs of the District have always been a consideration, even from the very beginning. While being staffed with 100% volunteer manpower, money was still needed to buy and maintain equipment. In examining the treasurer’s records from Diamond, the trends show that they continually stay within or under budget – they generally don’t operate with a negative balance. This commitment to wise decision-making has definitely served the community well.
Pioneering the Diamond Attitude
It’s too much to say, “The Diamond Springs-El Dorado Fire Protection District Difference.” It’s awkward to call out, “The Diamond Springs-El Dorado Fire Protection District Attitude.” Some call it The Diamond Difference. Some call it The Diamond Attitude. However it is said, it is the term that is used to describe the unique way that our firefighters look at life, the work they do, and how they do it.
The early minutes from regular meetings of both Volunteer Fire Companies included adding to the equipment and involving the community. By involving the community - in fundraising, working, and celebration events - they strengthened the relationship with each other and provided an avenue to give to each other. They even split gas purchases between all of the gas stations in town, in order for all to benefit and be involved. This sense of community is one of the core values that still runs deep in Diamond today – that’s part of The Diamond Attitude.
Another part of The Diamond Attitude comes from having equipment and/or skills that nobody else possesses. For example, in 1948 Diamond purchased a new fire truck (with donations from the community) that was the only one of its kind in the county. Today they have Rescue 49, a 2002 Medium Duty Urban Search and Rescue Vehicle, which is again, the only one of its kind in the county. Rescue 49 was purchased with Federal, State, and local grants as well as money from the District.
The successful relationship between the volunteers and the career staff has been part of the organization’s vision for many, many years. Each leader has carried that vision on to the next generation, helping each person take ownership of their individual contribution, helping to build the District, giving back to the community, and giving them a reason for being involved. It’s about what they can give, not what they can get.
Diamond is committed to being a volunteer organization, with a commitment of professional excellence in their volunteers. At Diamond, volunteers are recognized as having something to contribute and offer. They work alongside the career staff, giving us a greater balance of help and service. The Chiefs have also kept the unity between the ranks, modeling this from the top-down. This is another part of The Diamond Attitude.
Diamond is a volunteer District in transition. What started out as an organization made up of 100% volunteer energy, it now faces the challenge of maintaining the highest level of service in a rapidly growing area. They are driven by a strong work ethic; they are driven by their commitment to be the best. No matter what limitations they routinely face – whether financial or situational - they never accept “NO” as an option. They simply don’t accept that something cannot be done. They figure out a way to make it happen…always. They adapt and overcome.
Since the early 1980s, the District has incrementally added career personnel to the response, in order to augment the volunteer personnel. Although these additions have relieved the increasing burdens on the volunteers, the District continues to need more volunteers so that a high level of service is maintained. This organizational chart shows the staffing levels of Diamond today.
When responding, a firefighter never passes a scene to get an engine; they even will use their own vehicle if the engine is already gone. In essence, they do what it takes to get there and help. Volunteers provide the bulk of man-power. They receive recognition from the District’s leadership. Their participation is essential. Rank and leadership position don’t matter in the big picture. Of course, in order to take command of a scene, there is an orderly way of doing things. However, volunteers and career staff recognize they depend on each other. That’s The Diamond Attitude.
El Dorado was once a city of 5,000 people – a thriving community of cattle growers and orchard farmers. In those days, Diamond Springs was known as a dependable source of fresh water and El Dorado was known for supplies and communication resources. By 1923, the population was down and attempts were made to rebuild the area. Much of the land was being cleared for more orchards, the California Door Lumber Company (Caldor) was expanding its business and mines were being reopened.
In September of that same year, the Sacramento Bee reported that “one of the most destructive forest and brush fires in the history of El Dorado County” occurred in the town of El Dorado. It was started by brush being burned by Caldor - they were burning brush to make space for more buildings. In this heavily wooded country, with large expanses of dry grass and underbrush, the fire spread 3 miles wide and 10 miles long. People joined together - all the males helped – and within the first hour of the morning, they were successful and sent everyone home. By the afternoon, there was a sudden shift in the wind that sent untamed flames through the town, sweeping the fire out of control. Every building was attacked. Most of the businesses were lost. Scores of ranches were extremely effected – most of the ranch homes were saved, but firewood, fences, feed, outbuildings, and other property was destroyed. In the end, 38 buildings burned and only 11 were left standing. The rapid expansion of the town, combined with the changes that the people made to the surrounding natural environment, contributed to the severity of this fire.
According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary normal means, “what is minimally required in order to perform the necessary tasks.” Diamond emergency personnel routinely go above and beyond the “normal” call of duty.
They perform the mechanics of the scene, but the Diamond Attitude would dictate after you are treated for your medical condition, the crew would take care of your family and their emotional needs. Or that a traveler who is stranded in a motor vehicle accident is given help finding a place to stay and feels welcome in our community. Or that after having your house damaged by fire, that your loved ones are given shelter and clothing.
This caring and giving attitude began with the early founders of Diamond, as recorded in the minutes of their meetings. They routinely sent flowers to ill members, wrote cards to family members, donated money to other districts within the surrounding area, paid the hospital bill for a member, allowed members to stay in the basement of the fire houses (in exchange for answering phones, taking care of trucks, and responding to calls), cleaned the town streets, helped another fire district raise funds, participated in parades, helped build other stations, and donated used equipment when it was no longer needed.
Today they still clean the town streets, rally together to help neighboring fire districts, take care of each other and their families, and extend a helping hand to members of the community.
Building Teamwork and Maintaining Brotherhood
The leaders have made it clear that the success of the organization comes from both the volunteers and the career staff working together. One cannot exist without the other; they depend on each other to reach the highest level of excellence possible.
A strong sense of teamwork and brotherhood has led to a District of people who share the common purpose of being prepared for any emergency that may arise. They work well together because they train together, they have fun together, and their families are a welcome part of the District’s fabric.
What began as a place for the guys to hang out soon became a place for men and women to pool their resources to improve their emergency response skills and equipment. The District continues to seek out talented tradesmen: electricians, plumbers, carpenters, mechanics, equipment operators, masons, etc. to enhance the depth of the organization. Those very skills have contributed to stations being built, expanded, and remodeled. For years, most of the needed labor to make progress has been provided by the firefighters and members from the community.
In 1949, before the consolidation of the two Districts, two work parties were announced to build the El Dorado Station and the Diamond Springs station. This began a long tradition of work parties, where those involved pooled their time and talent to corporately accomplish something that no one could do individually.
When the Districts consolidated, the firefighters’ associations joined to become known as The Diamond Springs-El Dorado Firefighters Association. The purpose of the Firefighters’ Association was and still is to support the public safety mission of the Fire District by:
sponsoring events - to connect as families through hosting musters, dances, and
other activities - so that they could
work together better
assisting the District in acquiring personnel, equipment, and facilities
providing manpower to the District
supporting the District by raising money
supplementing the District’s budget
Once the Association became more organized, they started having monthly dinners to discuss the business end of their work. Today they continue to have monthly meetings according to the Association Bylaws.
Today, the Association currently owns and manages Station 49 in Diamond Springs, the Firefighters’ Memorial Hall, an office building, and other properties. They’ve expanded their mission to include the delivery of public education and firefighter training programs.
As things progressed, the two Districts continued to help each other. El Dorado frequently attended firefighting, rescue, and first aid classes in Diamond. They routinely shared educational opportunities, legal information, equipment, practice drills, and supported each other on big incidents.
That teamwork was not just reserved for each other – they have a long history of strong relationships with other agencies within the surrounding area. They let the Odd Fellows and the Boy Scout groups use part of the fire houses for meetings. They allowed anyone to use the water tank as long as the water level was maintained. At one time, El Dorado even had established a mutual aid agreement with the Air Force. Today, they continue to mutually support other fire districts and law enforcement agencies throughout El Dorado County and California.
Due to our foothill location, the District regularly helped the CA State Division of Forestry. One letter dated September 22, 1965 stated that, “without the fine cooperation of your men and the use of your equipment, control of the many fires that occurred during the heavy winds would have been much more difficult. It is a good feeling to know that we have departments such as yours that respond so readily.”
With Highway 50 running right through the District there was an “…outstanding relationship that exists between your organization and the CHP in El Dorado County” (quoted from a letter dated 9/4/75). The following year Diamond extended a hand of brotherhood to the CHP with a of a spine board - custom made by the guys - to fit CHP Helicopter-4.
The El Dorado County Sheriff-Coroner sent a letter in 1975 praising Diamond for being “proficient with both men and equipment” and commending them for being “at the scene almost immediately to assist” them.
The communities of El Dorado and Diamond Springs have always expressed their appreciation for the fire service. In 1968, the Mother Lode Lions gave a dinner in honor of the departments for the invaluable service to the people of both communities. For many years, the residents of The Lake Oaks Mobile Home Park hosted an annual breakfast to give that same honor and thanks.
Going back to the Gold Rush Days again, Fraternal Lodges were formed to provide the men in camp with companionship and to help brothers who were far from home. These organizations provided a way for people to help construct the stone and brick buildings that were used for their meetings. The Fire District and the Firefighters’ Association provide a similar avenue for bringing people together with the common goal of taking care of the community.
According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of community is “a unified body of individuals, people with common interests living in a particular area, and an interacting population of various kinds of individuals in a common location.” Both the Diamond Springs and El Dorado Fire Districts started out of a strong sense of community.
In 1946, Diamond held its first community dance. This served a dual purpose – to give the community something fun to do and to raise funds to purchase a new fire truck. This activity was so successful that they decided to lease the dance hall to hold dances twice a month. The cost of the lease was donated, helping both the fire department and the community. In a true sense of community spirit, the firefighters gave a party for all of the kids who helped sell tickets.
That soon was followed by the first Christmas party given for the kids, put on by the Ladies Auxiliary (often made up of the firefighters’ wives), in support of the firefighters and their families. The Association continues to hold a special Christmas party for the families today – complete with a visit from Santa who wears firefighter boots. Each year the children are amazed that the firefighters are able to pry Santa away from his busy work at the North Pole! He rides to the party on a fire engine – the ringing siren announces his arrival and the flashing lights celebrate the excitement. Even Santa is enchanted with the world of the firefighter!
One way that Diamond invests in the community and builds a greater sense of brotherhood is through a commitment to make ways for the younger generation to learn about the trade and be involved. Even as early as 1961, El Dorado organized a Junior Fire Department and sent some of their young men to a fire safety conference in Sacramento. Years later, as Diamond also had a Junior Fire Department, they each shared how their programs were working…learning from each other.
The Junior Firemen program was a way for young people to be involved with work parties and specific maintenance duties. On fires they were given tasks such as setting up the 1st aid station, seeing that the generators were operating correctly, and providing support for the fire operations. After incidents, they helped with station cleanup and engine washing. This gave them a unique opportunity to get familiar with the equipment and the fire house culture. As a result of this introductory experience, many of these young people have moved into careers with Diamond.
In December of 1965, El Dorado held the first annual bazaar in partnership with the town’s merchants. They decorated the fire house with Christmas lights to spread the celebration to the community. That eventually evolved into the Annual Labor Day Bazaar, which was started in 1972 by Diamond Springs’ merchants and the Lions Club. As this annual tradition continues today, The Country Bazaar brings approximately 10,000 people together for an opportunity to celebrate the community, the local merchants, the Firefighters’ Association; to have fun; and to raise money for additional fire equipment.
Parades have always been a central part of those celebrations. They are a way to bring the District to the community, to educate the community about the District’s resources, and to let the community see how the District is equipped to help them. Parades give Diamond a chance to show off their equipment and to invite the community to join in that pride.
Setting High Standards
As both state and federal training standards improved, the leaders of our District passed that expertise on to its members. The same training opportunities and classes that have been offered to the career staff have also been offered to the volunteers. All members of the organization have always been held to the highest standards, striving to improve their level of service to the community. They take pride in their ability to challenge themselves, to better themselves, to become their best, whether this is their career or their service.
The high standards of performance have enabled the leadership to hold everyone accountable for continuing their high level of expertise. The stringent requirements for being a firefighter are frequently reviewed so that each member is ready to serve the public at a moment’s notice.
To bring those standards down to a personal level, the following amendment was adopted by Diamond in 1948: “Any member of the department who is absent from three consecutive drills or meetings without a valid excuse will be dropped automatically from the department.” They were serious about holding their members accountable. It was, and still is, vital to their work and to their ability to take care of us and each other.
In order to continue providing the community with the best possible service and to be as prepared as possible, the District implemented a mandatory training requirement. The weekly schedule consisted of a 20-week block of subjects that rotated throughout the year. Concurrently, the monthly training schedule was designed to accommodate working volunteers and to give them the opportunity to physically participate. This increased everyone’s efficiency and professionalism. Today they still meet for weekly meetings and training on Monday nights – the traditions and the standards remain.
To provide higher quality instruction, the State Fire Marshall sent fire instructors to El Dorado County to offer more training to all fire Districts. Diamond shared this training with the volunteers and followed it by increasing the minimum training requirement by requiring all firefighters to have a valid First Aid card. As a result of this higher training, it was repeatedly reported that the replacement costs of damaged property were low, reflecting the efficiency of the firefighters. The crews were well-trained and commended for their performance.
The Ladies Auxiliary provided practical support for the members of the District. They successfully raised money and sent 1 firefighter to the Sacramento Fire Department’s Academy. They were so satisfied with the training, that they raised enough money and enrolled another firefighter into the next session.
In 1979, Diamond received a grant for purchasing training aids that enabled them to produce films of their training exercises for continued use beyond the actual night of the event. They also bought a membership in the Sacramento Training Officers Association. This membership allowed them to use the film library and training manuals. These formal training opportunities have insured good fire protection for the residents of the District for many years.