A Brief History of the Florida State Firemen’s Association
Compiled by Tom Mook, Past President, FSFA

In late December 1924, Jacksonville Fire Chief Tom Haney wrote to several other fire chiefs, asking them to meet with him in his office to discuss the formation of an association.

On January 25th 1925, nine fire chiefs from around the state of Florida met for the purpose of organizing an Association of Florida Firemen. The nine organizing chiefs were: Tom Haney of Jacksonville, A.P.Sadler of West Palm Beach, T. P. Coe of Tallahassee, B. B. Hart of Daytona, E. F. Beville of Gainesville; Rutledge Smith of South Jacksonville, R.N.Hershey of Lake Worth, C. P. Townsend of St. Augustine, and F.C. Pfhaender of Winter Haven. The Chairman elected was Chief R. N. Hershey of Lake Worth, and Secretary was Chief F. C. Pfhaender of Winter Haven (who held the position until his death in May 1945). All those present pledged themselves to organize into a State Firemen’s Association. They declared that, effective that day, they were forming for the sole purpose of bettering the conditions of the fire service and the protection of life and property in the state of Florida.

Chiefs Hershey and Sadler were appointed to draft the Constitution and bylaws, and Chiefs Townsend, Hart and Smith were appointed as a committee to act on matters of legislation.

Their next meeting was in Gainesville on March 11, 1925. The first officers elected to the FSFA were President, RN Hershey: 1VP EF Beville; 2VP Captain JB Chancey; Secretary FC Pfhaender; BB Hart, Treasurer. The first annual convention was awarded to Palatka over the City of Winter Haven by a vote of 25 to 17. At that meeting, they revised the bylaws, bonded the treasurer, approved the officers in their offices, added Chief Haney as Statistician and granted to him the honor of creating the coat of arms to be used as the seal of the Association. It was approved that, not only the bylaws be sent to every fire department, but that the same be represented to the legislature for state approval.

The first convention was held on March 30-31, 1927 in Palatka. The second was held in Hollywood, with considerable discussion regarding the drawing up of a pension bill. The bill was presented several years in a row to the state legislature for approval with no success. What was successful, however, was the establishment of the Florida Fire College, under the direct leadership and sponsorship of the Florida State Firemen’s Association, and was located originally in Daytona May 7-9, 1930. They adopted the program of the Michigan State Firemen’s Association Fire College, where each group of students moved from instructor to instructor within a two-hour time frame. The program was amended the following year allowing each student to take one subject at a time over a 3-day period. In 1947, The Executive Committee of the Florida State Firemen’s Association chose Ocala as the permanent home of the Florida State Fire College. The City of Ocala granted 6 acres of land on a 99-year lease.

At the same time, the bylaws were amended to divide the state into six districts, with a District Vice President in each district, following as nearly as possible the lines used by the American Legion. Reflecting the growth of Florida, the state is now divided into twelve districts.

Somewhere about 1931 or 1932, the “Florida Fireman” was born. L. E. Vause, a newspaperman from Williston, first edited it. Mr. Vause was at the same time Vice President of District 3. Mr. Vause later abandoned publication of this paper and Chief Ed Henshaw of New Smyrna took over the duties of editor and publisher. The paper at that time was in the form of a newspaper and printed on very rough grade paper. The paper at that time contained nothing of educational value to the state firemen and there was a demand for something better. In 1941 the Executive Committee entered into a contract with Chief. H. R. Chase of Miami to publish the “Florida Fireman” for one year. Chief Chase did such an excellent job at this that, in spite of repeated requests on his part to be relieved, he held the position for many years at the request of the officers and members of the Association. It was, at that time, the only State Firemen’s Association magazine printed in the South and quickly became recognized as one of the foremost magazines of its kind in the United States.

Now, here in the 21st Century, eighty years later, the Florida State Firefighters’ Association stands as one of, if not the most, education-specific and training-oriented fire service organizations in the country. It created the Florida State Fire Chiefs’ Association, the Florida State Fire Instructors’ Association, the Florida State Mechanics’ Association, the Florida State Fire Marshals’ Association, and several other equally fire service-specific organizations, then brought them all together under the coalition title of Joint Council of the Florida Fire Service Organizations. It sponsored the enactment of the present Firemen’s Pension Trust Fund, sponsored the state law which created the office of State Fire Marshall, and maintains membership open to all personnel who are affiliated in any way, shape or form with the fire service. Membership is not restricted solely to those who are “on the line.”

Many individuals have been connected with the formation and growth of the Florida State Firemen’s Association. There were the chiefs of the 20’s, who had an idea, then a concept and then followed through with a creation. Then came men like Mack Flowers, John Wright, Buddy Dewar, Dale Oswalt and others – men from all levels of the firefighting strata, who carried and directed the Association for most of their lives. Now we have a new generation who have revitalized the Association with new ideas, new directions and new energy, all for the specific benefit of the Florida firefighter and the Florida Fire Service.

In the 1990’s, the term “fireMAN was changed to fireFIGHTER because there were now a greater number of females within the larger metropolitan departments and it became politically correct to change. Up until then, the profession was almost entirely made up of men. There were very few women in the paid firefighting field, but there was a great number of women in the volunteer departments around the state, who willingly served both out of need and out of desire. The wives were normally the support group, and in 1932 were officially formed as the Florida State Firemen’s Auxiliary, organized for the specific purpose of supporting the firemen in their endeavors. Now, the Auxiliary is made up of spouses and significant others, those persons who are the alternatives and partners to the firefighters, those who are there to help and support.

Have you anything to offer to the Association? Become a member. Join us, and be welcome. Be advised that there is a place for you. We are here for you, as well as being here for each and every other firefighter out there.