Most of the information provided here was collected and documented by Delbert Phelps, RVCFD Fire Chief from 1978 until his retirement in 1995. Delbert was born and raised in Redwood Valley and was a member of the Department for most of his life. He lived through much of this history and the current Firehouse is dedicated in his honor.
Prior to 1937 fires in Redwood Valley were fought by community members at large. When a fire broke out, members of the community would grab whatever tools they had, jump in their vehicles and head towards the smoke. This system worked for many years.
In 1937 a group of men in the valley thought that organizing a fire response might be more productive. Cy Gouge, V.H Sorola, Les Stansell, Al Simmons, Kirk Ford and John Pringle are considered the founding fathers of the RVCFD. I am sure others were involved, but these are the men whose names were documented.
They named the organization the Redwood Valley-Calpella Fire Prevention Association. They purchased four manual back pumps and four Mcleods (a firefighting tool) and stored them in a metal shed located just off School Way where the RV Industrial Park is located now. When a fire was reported, Cy Gouge (the first Fire Chief) would drive his pickup to the shed, pick up the tools and meet the other “firemen'' at the fire.
Money was very scarce in those days and it didn’t take long for the Association to figure out that they desperately needed a fire engine. Through fundraisers like dances, BBQs, and raffles the Association was able to raise $1778 to purchase a new 1938 one and a half ton Chevy truck with a tank and a pump on it.
Due to licensing restrictions at the time, the engine was licensed to the California Division of Forestry (CDF which is now Cal Fire today). The CDF could call for the engine any time they needed it but they also paid for the driver five months out of the year. The engine was reportedly called out only once to a fire near Willits before the licensing could be changed and the RVFPA became the sole legal owners.
Another story claims that while responding to the engine’s first fire in Redwood Valley it got a flat tire. This engine is still part of our fleet - Old #1 is our parade engine.
Cy Gouge was the Fire Chief from 1937 to 1953. During his tenure the first firehouse was built in 1944 and a couple more engines were purchased. The firehouse was located north of School Way across from the post office. The second fire engine was purchased in 1950. Once again, the Department had to ask the community for help through fundraisers and the community came through. Also, in 1950, land was purchased and a two- stall garage/firehouse was built on the approximate location where the current station stands today.
Tom Jameson became the second Fire Chief (and the first paid) in 1953. He served the Department as Chief until his retirement in 1978. Many changes to the Department took place during Mr. Jameson’s time as Chief. The official creation of the Redwood Valley-Calpella Volunteer Firemen Association was formed.
Throughout the entire history of the RVCFD the volunteer firefighters have been the backbone of the Department. Paid staff is needed to keep the day-to-day operations going but the volunteers are the unsung heroes who show up to calls, train, and help raise much needed funds to keep the department running.
In 1953 the first siren was put into operation. With help from the Civil Defense, the siren was installed to alert volunteers to emergency responses. Later, with the addition of radios and pagers, the siren became obsolete and was only blown at 12 Noon for nostalgia. Around this time the residents of the Valley were asked to donate one dollar a year to the Department to help offset costs and this generated about $1800 annually for the Department.
In 1958 it was clear that the needs of the Department were outgrowing its budget. The Department petitioned the State and the Redwood Valley-Calpella Fire District was formed, basing its budget on a small percentage of property tax that would give the Department a more stable income. The District was and is overseen by an elected Board of Directors.
During Mr. Jameson’s tenure, radios and more modern equipment were added to the Department including cotton hose, other fire engines (used), our first self-contained breathing apparatus, and a chief’s response vehicle.
By the early 1970’s medical responses were increasing. The Department purchased a station wagon to transport patients to the hospital. In time, an ambulance service started serving Redwood Valley. The Department no longer transported patients but the need for medical assistance was still needed and the station wagon was transformed into the first “rescue” vehicle.
In 1978 Tom Jameson retired and Delbert Phelps was hired as Fire Chief. Like the Chiefs before him, Delbert had been in the Department for a long time (almost all his life). The day Mr. Phelps took the job, California’s Proposition 13 took effect. This drastically cut property taxes which also cut the Fire Department’s budget. For the next five years the Department had to really watch its spending and yet try to keep up with the ever- increasing demands of the fire service.
In 1983 SB934 was passed by the voters. This bill made it possible to collect a “benefit “ fee to help make up for the funds that were lost in 1978.
During Mr. Phelps tenure as chief many, many modern improvements were made to the Department. Old, worn-out engines were slowly replaced by newer, more modern fire apparatus. Medical equipment became better and Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT’s) were trained and started providing more advanced medical care.
Under Mr. Phelps’ careful, watchful eye the District was able to build a beautiful, state of the art fire station in 1991. This building was built using no borrowed money. It was Delbert’s and the Community’s pride and joy. The building is named in his honor.
Delbert Phelps retired in 1995. Rick Ryan (95-02), Tom Hession (02-14) and Don Dale (14-21) were the Chiefs following Delbert. Pete Brown and Brendan Turner spent a small amount of time as acting chiefs. Kerry Robinson is the current Fire Chief of the Redwood Valley-Calpella Fire District.
Each of the above men, with the backing of the volunteer firefighters, have added to the modern history of the Department.
Pete Brown, Asst. Fire Chief, RVCFD
We would like to thank Pete Brown - Asst. Fire Chief, RVCFD for compiling this brief history of the Redwood Valley-Calpella Fire Department (RVCFD) and how it all started. It is our hope that, in the future, we will be able to produce a detailed and full version of the Department’s history on this page for those who are interested.