In Tampa, as with other major American cities, the evolution from all-volunteer to career fire companies occurred due to the arrival of steam technology. Tampa's first organized volunteer fire department was founded in1884. Seven "bucket brigades" were organized to serve the city. On May 10, 1895, the city council passed ordinance #307 authorizing Tampa's first professional, paid fire department. A. J. Harris was named chief to preside over 22 firefighters in five stations at an annual budget of $18,000. The paid firefighters worked in the stations for ten to twelve days at a time. Most of the firefighters lived near their duty stations and were permitted to go home for meals, provided they could return within one hour. Their salary was equivalent to that of police patrol officers, about $600 a year. From May 10, 1895, forward the fire department began to evolve. First the "bucket brigades" were slowly replaced by hand-operated pumpers pulled to the scene by the firefighters. Fire hydrants and steam engines were introduced to do the work of pumping water to firefighters' hoses. With the introduction of steam engines came the requirement of horses to pull the extremely heavy apparatus. As the "horseless carriage" gained popularity, gasoline-powered engines became accepted and Tampa's fire department followed national trends and replaced the steam engine with state-of-the-art 700 GPM LaFrance pumpers. On July 27, 1914, horses were no longer used to pull apparatus for the department. The horses that remained were sold at auction.
The largest fire in Tampa's history occurred on March 1, 1908. At 0933 hours an alarm was received from 1914 12th Avenue in the section of Tampa called Ybor City. Upon arrival, the hose wagon found a two-story wood-frame boarding house that was involved. The fire originated in the wood-shingled roof. The sparks quickly ignited nearby structures. In the aftermath, over 17 city blocks were consumed.
The nature of the fire service in Tampa was changed forever when paramedic-manned station wagons officially began operating in July 1973. In just more than 25 years the department has gone from a handful of paramedics to currently employing 225. The station wagons that began the era of fire/rescue have been replaced by a fleet of ultra-modern advanced life support vehicles and through technological changes, paramedics are now able to install non-invasive pacemakers pre-hospital.
Today Tampa Fire Rescue's Firefighters work a 24-hour shift, with 48 hours off. Tampa Fire Rescue responded to more than 72,000 alarms last year from 22 stations located throughout the 128 square miles of the city. Included in its responsibility is Port Tampa Bay shipping 52 million tons of cargo per year and handling more hazardous materials than anywhere else in Florida.
The city in which firefighters respond has also changed. Tampa's International Airport serves over 10 million travelers each year. These travelers can enjoy Tampa beaches, the Tampa Museum, the Performing Arts Center, or one of Tampa's two theme parks, Busch Gardens and Adventure Island. The 75,000-seat Raymond James Stadium is home to the NFL's Buccaneers and has been the site of three Super Bowls, one in the new stadium and two held at the old Tampa Stadium. Amalie Arena located in the Channel District is home to the 2004 Stanley Cup Champions NHL Lightning. The City of Tampa encompasses approximately 128 square miles is populated by 335,000 people.
The Tampa fire department celebrated a century of service to the citizens of Tampa on May 10, 1995. It is said that history repeats itself, but with the commitment to fire safety, education, and training the past will not return.