Chief's of the Orlando Fire Department
John W. Weeks was appointed as the
1st official Fire Chief for the City of Orlando Fire Department
on May 8, 1885, when the City of Orlando organized and equipped
its first volunteer fire companies: Orlando Hook and Ladder
Company #1, and Orlando Hose Company #1. John was confirmed as
Fire Chief in 1886 and was Fire Chief for three years.
In 1886, John Weeks and N. L. Mills
provided the enthusiasm and energy that opened the first public
agricultural display in Orlando. This agricultural building on
Lake Eola was the germinal seed of today’s elaborate Central
When John Weeks resigned as Fire Chief on
April 14, 1888, he returned to his native Boston and became a
Massachusetts Senator. Later he also served as Secretary of War
in the Coolidge and Harding cabinets.
William C. Sherman became an
official Fire Chief of the Orlando Fire Department sometime
after 1888 and before 1893. The available records do not
indicate exactly when he took office, but clearly show that he
was Fire Chief when Gettier won the election for office. It is
also a possibility that A. T. Gooding was Fire Chief before
Sherman had come to Orlando from Boston in
1893, opening a jewelry store at Church Street and Boone. He had
previously been a member of the Boston Fire Department. After a
downtown fire at Bassett's hat and dressmaking shop in which
Mrs. Bassett's daughter was almost killed, Sherman organized the
first volunteer fire department with the help of J. Walter
Hosier in 1883. There were 6 original members, and Sherman
became their fire chief. He is not considered the first fire
chief, however, since this was a volunteer department. He did
not become an official fire chief until after Weeks resigned.
John W. Gettier was appointed the
3rd Fire Chief for the City of Orlando Fire Department on
December 21, 1893. The records indicate that during a period of
turmoil he resigned on May 12, 1896, but was apparently
reinstated to serve until 1904. Many historical accounts credit
him with serving 15 years. All volunteer companies consolidated
under "Mechanics Hose Company No. 1."
Gettier came to Orlando in 1885 from
Baltimore and was associated with the Atlantic Coastline
Railroad for 25 years. He became their passenger agent for
Plant City in 1904. In 1906 he returned to Orlando until his
death in 1913. He was extremely public spirited and was active
in many civic organizations. He was a member of the Masons,
Knights of Pythias, very active in the YMCA, First Methodist
Church, and many other local organizations. He lived on the
northwest corner of South Street and Garland Avenue, but his
relatives were in the Lockhart area.
He led OFD for 10 years, but available
information is not precise for his administration.
William H. Matthews was appointed
the 4th Fire Chief for the City of Orlando Fire Department
on January 1, 1904.
(history also reports he was fire chief 1910-1921 and 1928-1929)
owned a livery stable along with two saloons on the northwest
corner of Church Street and Orange Avenue. In 1907, a
mysterious fire consumed his livery stable and both saloons and
he resigned and moved to Tampa.
a memorial plaque at the Tampa Fire Department lists him as an
Assistant Chief, records indicate he became Tampa Fire Chief in
1910 until succeeded by J. B. Holton in 1921. After Holton
retired, Mathews was again appointed Fire Chief in January of
March 27, 1929 Mathews was killed while responding to an alarm.
The fatal accident was the result of a collision between the
Chief's Cadillac and an aerial truck at Florida Avenue and Cass
Street in downtown Tampa. According to reports, Mathews liked
to stand up in the open touring car and this habit contributed
to his death.
actually Orlando's Fire Chief in its horse and wagon days and
Tampa's Fire Chief in its more modern motorized department.
William Dean was appointed the 5th
Fire Chief for the City of Orlando Fire Department in the year
was born November 19, 1864, and came to Orlando at age 20. He
started working for R. L. Hyer at the livery stable and later
for David Lockhart as fireman at the Orlando Novelty Works on
West South Street.
Records show that he joined Mechanics Hose Company #2 on August
14, 1888, shortly after coming to Orlando. He was approved as a
plugman on March 3, 1892. He became a member of Mechanics Hose
Company #1 when all volunteer companies were consolidated under
this one volunteer company. Dean became foreman of Mechanics
Hose Company #1 on April 26, 1893.
Gideon Dean was appointed the 6th
Fire Chief for the City of Orlando Fire Department on 11-1-36,
immediately after his father's retirement. Gideon Dean had been
trained by his father ever since he was large enough to climb a
ladder and hold a garden hose. He had been a member in good
standing of the Orlando Volunteer Fire Department and was
Secretary when it disbanded on 10-9-23. He continued his fire
service career with the fully paid Orlando Fire Department.
Gideon Dean became the first Fire Chief to die in office when he
suffered a fatal heart attack at a conference in San Francisco
Maxie G. Bennett was appointed the
7th Fire Chief for the City of Orlando Fire Department in the
year of 1940 after the death of Gideon Dean.
Chief Bennett was another native Orlandoan, who was the son of
Robert M. Bennett, a retired street superintendent with 30 years
service to the City. Maxie was a graduate of Orlando High
School and during World War I he served with the 101st Infantry
Division in France.
the office of Fire Chief for 9 years and was a past president of
the Florida State Firemen's Association. He was a member of the
First Baptist Church, Elks Lodge, American Legion and 40 et 8.
He was also a member of the Florida State Fire Chiefs
Association, Southeastern Fire Chiefs Association, Int'l
Association of Fire Chiefs, and the National Fire Protection
Bennett was removed from the office of Fire Chief in 1949 and
returned to the rank of Lieutenant, where he completed 31 years
of service at OFD before retiring.
Paul Pennington was appointed the
8th Fire Chief for the City of Orlando Fire Department in the
year of 1953.
a slight, 128 lb, 18 year old youth when he was hired by the
first full-time Fire Chief, William Dean, on February 1, 1927.
formal schooling stopped at 8th grade, but this determined man
would receive his high school diploma in 1952, 25 years after he
joined OFD and less than a year before he became Fire Chief.
became Fire Chief on January 1, 1953. This appointment would
begin the second longest term of office as fire chief of OFD.
He guided the department from a period of turmoil into the
dawning light of fire service professionalism and continuing
established fire prevention as a priority and stressed campaigns
to involve the citizens in fire prevention. Many give him
credit for establishing the basic fundamentals of the
statistical systems used in the department today.
Pennington's administration, Orlando citizens experienced lower
insurance rates when the National Board of Fire Underwriters
dropped the City of Orlando's fire rating from class 4 to class
3. Pennington retired after 42 years of service, which included
16 years as Fire Chief, retiring July 31, 1968 He was given the
title "Fire Chief Emeritus of OFD."
Pennington became Fire Chief of the Reedy Creek Improvement
District Fire Department at Walt Disney World after his
retirement from OFD. He was responsible for administration of
the first fire department at Walt Disney World and remained
active in local civic organizations until his death on 7-6-84.
Melvin Rivenbark was appointed the
9th Fire Chief for the City of Orlando Fire Department in the
year of 1968.
Rivenbark had been Deputy Chief in the Pennington administration
and was appointed to Fire Chief August 1, 1968 after Pennington
continued the traditions and progressive modernization of
Pennington's administration. Orlando's first strong sprinkler
ordinance was drafted and implemented. Firehouses #3, #7,
#8, #9, and #10 were built. Just two months prior to Rivenbark's appointment, African-Americans were permitted
employment on OFD. This administration was the first to have
any African-Americans among the ranks. During his
administration, diesel engines replaced gasoline engines and the
department became unionized.
Rivenbark is described as a very religious, firm, fair, and
honest man who had two sons, Melvin R. and Daniel J., who also
were members of OFD.
Rivenbark held the office for 5 years before retiring in October
of 1973. Upon his retirement he was named Fire Chief Emeritus by
Charles S. Parker was appointed the
10th Fire Chief for the City of Orlando Fire Department October
1, 1973. He had been the Deputy Fire Chief in the Rivenbark
administration before being appointed by Mayor Carl Langford.
The Parker administration experienced the most massive overall
growth in the shortest span of time since the department's
birth. It was the first administration to bargain with IAFF
Union 1365. firehouses #11 and #16 were opened under his
leadership. Specialty trucks such as Woods 6, Woods 7, and
Chemical 83 were purchased and placed in service. The emergency
alarms answered reached 9,430 as the department grew to 12
firehouses, 27 pieces of apparatus and 350 personnel.
Firefighters went to the 42-hour work week. The service area
reached a total of 66.07 square miles. New communication and
computer systems went on line. Three new Ward LaFrance Pumpers
and 2 new 85-foot Sutphen Towers were purchased. The first 3
automatic transmission fire engines were purchased. Halligan
tools and high-rise packs were introduced and innovative 1-3/4",
3", and 5" fire hose were introduced into tactical evolutions.
The administrative offices moved from Station #1 to MJB, and the
Training Academy made two moves during this 4-year period. The
Pub Ed and Community Relations sections were established and
Fire Prevention Division manpower was increased. This
administration began with a total budget of $4,025,211 and saw
the cost of a modern fire department grow to $7,877,386.
F. E. "Gene" Reynolds was appointed
the 11th Fire Chief for the City of Orlando Fire Department in
the year of 1977.
E. "Gene" Reynolds was born on 5-2-29 and was hired by OFD on
January 1, 1954 and was eventually appointed Fire Chief of OFD
on 7-9-77. He had been Assistant Chief in the Administrative
Services Bureau in the Parker Administration.
his administration OFD Reynolds guided the department into the
Emergency Medical Services field. He employed the first female
firefighters in OFD history and established an Affirmative
Action Section. He established a joint response agreement with
Orange County Fire Departments and the Data Processing Section
and computer terminals in various work stations in
administration and firehouses.
National Fire Incident Reporting System was implemented, as
well. as adopting the State Fire Prevention Code.
Reynolds also introduced specialty trucks such as the Hazmat
Van, Dive Rescue Van, Woods trucks, introduced 5 new Rescue
Trucks with 2 additional reserve Rescue units and purchased its
first mini Tower. Flood lights were installed on all engines. He
changed the red color of all fire apparatus to red and white
He established advanced educational expenses and the Educational
Incentive Program for employees.
Charlie Lewis was appointed the 12th
Fire Chief for the City of Orlando Fire Department
July 1, 1989. Lewis
joined the Orlando Fire Department on May 23, 1967.
OFD started a major wellness
program for all OFD employees. In order to enhance the entry
level supervision within the department.
became one of the first departments of its size to offer
Advanced Life Support (ALS) coverage from every firehouse in
started an officer candidate school taught by some of the
leading fire service experts in the nation.
Lewis instituted an Emergency Medical Dispatcher system.
the area of affirmative action, OFD promoted its first black
Assistant Chief and also hired its first black female
Robert A. Bowman was appointed the
13th Fire Chief for the City of Orlando Fire Department in the
year of 1993.
Bowman joined the Orlando Fire Department in February of 1971,
after serving as a volunteer and professional firefighter in
Maryland. During his 25 years with OFD he was promoted to
Engineer in 1974, Lieutenant in 1979, District Chief in 1985,
and Deputy Chief in March of 1989. Mayor Glenda Hood appointed
him Fire Chief in January of 1993 and he served for three years
until May 31, 1996.
He held a Bachelor of Science Degree in Fire Safety
Administration from Rollins College. He was a member of the
Emergency Medical Service Council, the Fire Science Educational
Advisory Board at Valencia Community College, the Central
Florida Fire Chief's Association, the Florida Fire Chief's
Association, the Florida Fire Chief's Association, and the
International Association of Fire Chiefs.
Donald W. Harkins was appointed the
14th Fire Chief on July 8, 1996. Chief Harkins was
born and raised in Orlando, attended local schools, and
graduated from both VCC and UCF, earning degrees in Fire
Technology and Public Administration. His brother, Bob Harkins,
retired with 25 years with OFD in 1999.
Chief Harkins worked for fire departments
in the Central Florida area, eventually becoming Assistant Chief
for the Orange County Fire Department. In 1984, he became Fire
Chief for the Gainesville Fire Department, where he served for
almost nine years. In 1993, he was hired by the City of Fort
Lauderdale as their Fire Chief. He was responsible for not only
fire-rescue services but also building and zoning, occupational
licensing, code enforcement, and citywide emergency management.
When Chief Harkins joined OFD he had over 25 years of
professional experience in all facets of public fire protection
and emergency medical services, and was the first Fire Chief
State-certified as a paramedic. Chief Harkins graduated from the
Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy and
served on the Professional Development and Arson Committees of
the Int'l Association of Fire Chiefs.
Charlie B. Walker was appointed the
15th Fire Chief for the City of Orlando Fire Department in
became the first African-American to head the Orlando Fire
Department in its 115-year history.
Chief Walker was a Jones High School
graduate and a 28-year veteran of the department. Walker
started his firefighting career in 1966, when he entered the Air
Force and found himself in the Fire Service Unit. Upon his
return to civilian life 4 years later, he decided to fall back
on his military skills and apply for a job with OFD. He was
hired in 1971. In 1981, he became the first black Lieutenant in
the Orlando Fire Department.
He received his A.S. Degree in Fire
Technology from Valencia Community College and earned a B.S.
Degree in Fire Safety Administration from Rollins College.
Robert A. Bowman was appointed the 16th Fire Chief for
the City of Orlando Fire Department in the year of 2003. He was
requested to come back and serve as Chief by Mayor Buddy Dyer, 7
years after he served as the 13th Fire Chief.
James E Reynolds was appointed
the 17th Fire Chief of the Orlando Fire Department by Mayor
Buddy Dyer in September of 2006,
Chief Reynolds was a 28 -year
veteran of the department. He joined the Orlando Fire
Department in October of 1984. He was promoted to Engineer in
1989, Lieutenant in 1992, District Chief in 1999, Assistant
Chief in 2002, Deputy Chief in 2003 and Fire Chief in 2006.
Chief Reynolds served in a variety
of areas, including Firefighters Union Executive Board for over
10 years. He spent most of his career on special
operations units. He served as a High Angle Rescue
Trainer, Hazmat team member, Dive Rescue Team leader, EMS Bike
Team leader. He also served on the Confined Space, Trench,
and Collapse Rescue Teams. Eventually he was placed in
charge of all Technical Rescue Operations. Chief Reynolds
was also a cofounder of the Central Florida Urban Search and
Rescue Task Force (FLTF4), and served on the executive oversight
Reynolds is a third generation firefighter. His father,
Reynolds was the 12th Fire Chief
of the Orlando Fire Department
and served 12 years in that capacity (35 years total). Chief
Reynolds' grandfather, George Klein, also retired from
service as Engineer with the Orlando Fire Department after 25 years.
Reynolds holds a Bachelors Degree in Business Management from
Columbia College and an Associate in Science Degree in Emergency