From its humble beginnings to today with a staff of nearly 100, the Sedona Fire District has grown along with the community as it hits yet another milestone.
On April 7, 1957 — 60 years ago — the Sedona-Oak Creek Volunteer Fire Department was officially created by a group of committed volunteers who saw a void in the community that needed to be filled. This came several months after donations and pledges were actively sought from community members to fund the area’s first fire department.
“Because of those who came before us in the fire service here in Sedona, we are able to have the outstanding service and organization that we have today,” said Tricia Greer, SFD’s executive assistant who’s been with the district since 1994. “It was a foundation that was set 60 years ago.”
According to the SFD website, in the late 1940s, the newly organized Sedona-Oak Creek Chamber of Commerce put out a fire bucket for contributions to a firefighting fund. A grand total of $40.44 was collected. Not discouraged, they appointed Carl Richards as the first unofficial fire chief in 1950.
Two years later Richards lease-purchased Sedona’s first fire truck using money raised by the community and annual contributions from people living on both sides of the county line. The truck, a used 1944 Mack Hardy Navy crash truck, quickly became affectionately known as the “Turtle.”
In 1957, most Sedona residents lived in Coconino County within the boundaries of the newly formed fire district, but those living in Yavapai County were without fire protection. It made residents aware of the technical problems that occur when a community is split geographically. That legal and political hurdle did not stop the volunteers. Although they were ineligible for compensation if injured and were restricted by threats of personal lawsuits, Tom Frost and his volunteers crossed the county line to help whenever needed.
“Because of the rules at the time, whenever they [SOCVFD] would come into Yavapai County to help fight a fire, they were going against the rules,” SFD Chief Kris Kazian said. “They weren’t covered by workman’s comp or insurance or whatever they had at that time. They were a bit rogue because technically they were in violation.”
Greer added, “They did it out of a sense of community service.”
In October 1960, the Red Rock Fire District [Yavapai County side] was formed, spearheaded by the newly-formed Red Rock Taxpayers’ Association, and the county line quandary was partially resolved. The Yavapai County district consisted of Fire Chief Jack Wager, a secretary/treasurer and 11 volunteers, the website states.
In November 1993, Sedona Fire District was authorized by the voters to do business as one district, overseen by a five-person governing board. This eliminated much of the duplication of efforts required by two boards, such as two budgets, two sets of accounting books, two agendas and minutes for board meetings. However, the two districts had been working together as one since 1985 under an intergovernmental agreement as the Sedona Fire District. From 1985 until 1993, Greer said the two governing boards would have their own monthly meetings as well as regular joint meetings.
In 1999, the district transitioned as volunteers were replaced by full-time firefighters over the following two years under Chief Larry Drake.
“It just wasn’t working anymore,” Greer said. “We had outstanding volunteers who would come out when the alarm would go off and then we had some who couldn’t because they had lives. Chief Drake could see the writing on the wall that as the community continued to grow, changes were needed.”
For decades, the way fires were fought changed very little. Sure, there were larger trucks and better equipment for the firefighters. But today, technology has changed the way fires are fought with a lot of that technology coming from the military.
But not everyone is ready for change.
“We [fire industry] are the only people holding ourselves back from growing by leaps and bounds,” Kazian said. “Meaning, firefighters don’t like change. It’s tradition. It’s the ‘this is how my grandfather fought fires’ kind of mentality with some.
“Fighting fires hasn’t changed much over the years. But what’s changed incredibly are the materials used in the homes and businesses. The heat that is given off in most fires today is incredibly different than in years past, not to mention the toxic smoke. So, today we have to be protected with better gear and take advantage of new technology.”
SFD currently employes 93 people, most of whom are firefighters scattered throughout the district’s five stations. Greer estimates that over the years at least 900 firefighters have donned the uniform as volunteers or full-timers. So, would those who paved the way decades ago be proud of the district today?
“Absolutely,” Greer said. “I feel like they were frustrated a bit because they couldn’t do more to help people. But they paved the way.”
That pride continues with today’s staff, starting with Kazian who just celebrated his fifth anniversary as SFD chief.
“Having been here five years and getting to know all the great people, personally I underestimated how awesome they were,” he said. “I don’t know — from a community standpoint — if everyone really understands the magnitude of professionalism and compassion that the organization has. It’s such a privilege to work with such amazing people.”
He then added, “Knowing that we’re providing good service to the residents and visitors of our community 24/7 365, that’s what a fire chief strives for. I walked into that and the table was already set. I’m honored, humbled and privileged to be able to have a seat at that table.”