Organization & Equipment
In the early 1900s, the Panama City-Bay County area was beginning to grow and the need for a Fire Department was becoming apparent. As a result of this need, the City of Panama City established one of the first Volunteer Fire Departments in the Bay County area. Established in 1912, the Fire Department's first equipment consisted of a couple of 2-wheeled hose carts carrying approximately 500 feet of hose. As a means for alerting the Fire Department, the city's first alarm bell was hung in an old oak tree in the City Park, was approximately 18 inches in diameter, and could easily be heard throughout the town.
In 1918, the department began its move toward more modern times and purchased its first piece of motorized fire apparatus. This initial unit was a 6-cylinder American LaFrance Pumper which was housed at the site of the old National Guard Armory in the vicinity of what is now 6th Street and Harrison Avenue. Jim Richards, the first driver / operator of this modern piece of fire equipment, drove the engine for a period of 12 years, from 1918 to 1930.
In 1926, Joe Alexander became the first paid Engineer / Driver of a Fire Apparatus and served in this capacity from 1929 to 1941. In 1937, the Panama City Fire Department received its second pumper, a Peter Pirsch, with a positive displacement pump. It was also during this time frame that the city began the installation of water mains and fire hydrants to better meet the growing needs of the community.
As it transitioned through time, the Panama City Fire Department was divided into 2 companies, "A" and "B", with each company consisting of 12 men. In this day and age, the only compensation Firefighters received was a $6 refund of street taxes which was levied against all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 45. In order to better serve the community, "A" company stored their cart at the lower end of the Main Street which is currently known as Harrison Avenue. In contrast, "B" company stored their cart at a location known as Cowser's Service Station which was in the vicinity of what is now the intersection of 4th Street and Harrison Avenue.
As time went on, the cost of providing fire service began to rise and there became a need to look at addressing this issue. In order to accomplish this goal, in 1923 the Town Council began to charge fees for all out-of-town calls. The fee schedule was based on the location of the incident and was implemented as follows: Lynn Haven - $20, Saint Andrews - $10, Millville - $10, plus an additional $1 per hour for each Firefighter to compensate for time away from the station. Moving forward to 1932, the City of Panama City established a fully paid department.
Currently, the Panama City Fire Department consists of a total of 78 State of Florida Certified Firefighters and a support staff of 5 additional personnel who staff 5 strategically located stations. In order to meet the needs of the community, in addition to Administrative Staff, the Department staffs 3 shifts (A, B, & C) and provides Fire and Rescue Services around the clock to the citizens of Panama City.
In contrast to the original department established in 1912, the Panama City Fire Department currently operates 5 Engine Companies, a 102' KME Aerial Platform and a 79' Rosenbauer Aerial which was recently added thanks to a Port Security Grant provided by FEMA. These apparatus carry thousands of feet of fire hose and other modern-day firefighting and rescue equipment.
The current system for alerting the Fire Department consists of an Enhanced 911 System via multiple radio frequencies and a backup telephone network. In addition, the city's water system provides a reliable network of more than 1500 city and privately owned fire hydrants which may be utilized for fire protection.