History of the Conway Fire Department

By: John McMahan

The Conway Fire Department provides emergency services to approximately 40 square miles inside the Conway city limits. With 88 firefighters on the pay roll, the Conway Fire Department responds out of 7 stations running 7 engine companies, 2 ladder companies, 2 rescue companies with 2 battalion chiefs on duty. In 2004, the Conway Fire Department logged approximately 4000 responses with nearly 7400 total company responses. The Conway Fire Department is currently an ISO Class 2 rated department, one of only 341 out of 44,000 departments nation wide. Along with fire protection, the Conway Fire Department offers emergency medical services, specialized rescues, a certified bomb technician team, and hazardous materials operations.Mission Statement: The mission of the Conway Fire Department is to protect the lives and property of the people of Conway from fires, natural disasters, and hazardous materials incidents; to save lives by providing emergency medical services; to prevent fires through prevention and education programs; and to provide a work environment that values cultural diversity and is free of harassment and discrimination.

CFD History: The Conway Fire Department was founded on April 11th, 1912, with the establishment of 3 volunteer hose companies. These companies were stationed throughout the city and were under the direction of Chief J.A. King. The first paid firefighter joined the city's payroll in 1917, when Rod Dickerson was hired to be the new Chief.

The first records were kept in 1922, when the department responded to 50 alarms, the vast majority being grass fires. The number of alarms increased yearly, resulting in the hiring of a full time firefighter in 1925. Two more were hired in 1926, and these men, supplemented by the volunteers, made up the firefighting force for the next 27 years.

In 1933, the new central station at Caldwell and Locust was built. This station would remain the Central Fire Station until 1998, when the old McGee Center was remodeled, and named the Wilson Drews Central Fire Station. This was to honor Wilson Drews, who was hired on to the department in 1928, and retired as Chief of Department in 1982.

The department was truly modernized in 1978. A 3 mill tax was passed by the citizens of Conway allowing the department to build 3 new stations as well as purchase 3 new pumpers and the first ladder truck in the city. Also, the ranks of the department nearly doubled with the hiring of 10 new firefighters. The department now responded from 5 stations and went to 349 calls for the year.

The year 1993 was a historic year for many reasons. The largest single hiring of personnel since 1978 boosted the manpower to such that one man companies were a thing of the past. New apparatus were purchased and more men were hired. The last volunteer retired in 1993 and a new ISO survey lowered the department's rating to a class 4.

In 1996, the department would respond to 2,105 alarms. This increase was primarily due to medical calls. A new Enhanced Basic Life Support license allowed the department to be the first municipal fire department in the state of Arkansas to carry defibrillator's and begin to provide advanced life support to the citizens of Conway. A new station was opened in extreme West Conway and the city was divided into 2 districts, with 2 district chiefs on duty. The manpower increased to such that off-duty firefighters were no longer needed to respond to alarms. Also, a second ladder company was established with the purchase of a Pierce Ladder Tower.

In 2001, another ISO survey lowered the city's rating to a class 2. A seventh station was built to lower response times to south Conway and additional men were hired to staff it.

The Conway fire Department currently has 7 Engines, 2 Trucks, 2 Rescues, and 2 Battalion Chiefs responding from 7 fire stations. The department also has a bomb squad, and a special rescue team, which handles swift water, dive, confined space, and heavy rescue emergencies.

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