History

The early history of the Bay Area is defined by expansion and rapid economic growth in the late 1800’s. This phenomenon can only be sustained by availability of vast quantities of resources, lumber for building. With growth came a large populace, who required food and water. Early on, the county identified the fact that their wealth resides within these resources and that they would have to protect those resources. The Board of Supervisors recognized this and in 1887 they appointed a Fire Commission, and in 1890 they organized a Volunteer Fire Company. In 1918 the Fire Commission asked the Redwood City Fire Department to make a Rural Fire Plan, but they lacked funding to do so. In 1924 under the Weeks Law, the U.S. Forest Service formed District 10 which included San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz Counties providing $1,500 of funding for three Patrolmen and tool caches.

Before County Fire was known by that name, it was the County Forest Service. The connection between firefighting and forestry in California is inexorably linked. The San Mateo County Fire Department inception followed a series of large devastating fires in the Butano and Pescadero Creek Drainages in the fall of 1921.

At the time of the first fire, the Fire Chief/Fire Warden was Bert Werder. He served from 1921-1953, when his son Ernie took his place as Chief of the County Forest Service. Due largely to his influence and political connections, the Department grew rapidly and by 1936 had fire stations at La Honda Summit (Skylonda), Saratoga Gap (Saratoga Summit), Pescadero, and Montara, Rockaway Beach, and Gazos (Sandy Point). The Redwood City station was moved from Bert Werder’s house on Brewster Street to the old Juvenile Hall in Redwood City in 1936.

In 1962, the county began contracting with the California Division of Forestry. San Mateo County Fire was placed under the authority of the Santa Cruz Ranger Unit until 1970 when the San Mateo – Santa Cruz Unit was established. During this period the department evolved from primarily a “wildland” organization (California Department of Forestry) to the 3rd largest all- risk fire department in the United States as we know it today (CAL FIRE).