Established in 1937, for many years the department was run solely by volunteers. This was still the case as late as 1975, when current Fire Chief Ricky Spencer first came on board.
Back then, “we ran just a few calls a week,” Spencer said. “Now we run, on average, 30 calls for service in a 24 hour period.”
Clay Esco, who was a volunteer from 1956 to 1980, recalled those days. “You didn’t have much but the old type small fire trucks and one of those was a water tanker that could hold many gallons of water.”
Esco said whoever got to the tanker first when a call came in “would just hop in and take off.” He drove it several times, and said it was particularly tricky on Atlanta Street going down to the river because of all the curves.
Firefighters would pull hoses off the tanker to spray flames. “I remember going into a house right off of Oak Street with a hose. It had a lot of pressure and was hard to hold,” he said. “I wasn’t one of the bravest ones there in that department, but I did OK that day.”
It was the 1980s that saw the change from an all-volunteer department to a volunteer department with a limited number of part-time paid firefighters staffing a couple of the fire stations.
Today, with 18 full-time employees and 135 part-time employees, Roswell is what’s known as a “combination department.” The fire marshal, chide, deputy chief, assistant fire marshal, training officer and administrative assistants all are full time.
The part-time employees, eight of whom are female, are all firefighters, first responders, EMTs and they staff all of the city’s seven fire stations, Spencer said. “We also employ firefighters from surrounding departments as part-time employees,” he said.
“We still have a few volunteers that will come out to that big event if needed. We still depend on them, but not as we did some 20 years ago,” the chief said.
On Aug. 11, the department is celebrating 75 years of service with an open house at fire station 1, 1002 Alpharetta St., from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. This event will also feature the grand re-opening of the Roswell Fire Museum.
The museum has been closed because of some much-needed renovation to the room itself, the chief said. “The museum has been around for many years and we just thought this would be a good time to update some of the items in it.
“We had a great partner come on board with us to make this happen. The Roswell Jr. Women’s Club stepped up and asked, ‘What can we do?’ Well of course, I jumped at the opportunity to have them come in, help with this project and give the museum a woman’s touch and they did that.”
Among the many items in the museum from years past is the first fire engine the city ever purchased, back in 1947. “We have kept this engine in tip top shape over the years,” Spencer said. “It was also the fire engine that carried retired Fire Chief Aubrey Reeves to his final resting place earlier this year. What a tribute to a great man.”