Kern County Fire Department

Kern County Fire Department

The Kern County Fire Department (KCFD) is the agency that provides fire protection and emergency medical services for the county of Kern, California, USA. With over 625 permanent employees and 100 extra help employees protecting an area which spans over convert|8000|mi2|km2.KCFD provides fire protection services for over 500,000 citizens living in the unincorporated areas of Kern County and the cities of Arvin, Delano, Maricopa, McFarland, Ridgecrest, Shafter, Taft, Tehachapi and Wasco. Over 546 uniformed firefighters are stationed in 46 fire stations throughout the county. InfoboxFireDepartment
name = Kern County Fire Department

motto =
established = December 1, 1945
headquarters = Bakersfield, California
staffing = Career
strength = 546 uniformed
100 extra help
79 non-sworn support
157 on duty strength
battalions = 8
stations = 46
engines = 51
trucks = 4
patrols = 41
airplanes = 1
helicopters = 2
FirstResponderBLSorALS = BLS
chief = Dennis L. Thompson
website = []

KCFD History


By 1881, legislation was passed allowing small towns and villages the authority to appoint a Board of Fire Commissioners to organize the volunteers needed to provide fire protection, as well as collecting taxes for the support needed to protect the public from the devastating effects of the incidence of fire.

In 1925, Kern County was hit hard by grain, timber and watershed fires. The control of these fires was up to the volunteerism by the public, having no knowledge of the behavior of fire or the means to fight the fires. The County Board of Supervisors took action, in early 1927, to protect the citizens from further loss by drawing up an agreement between the State of California and Kern County to provide fire protection. On June 27, 1927, State Forest Ranger Roger V. Wood was assigned to Kern County. He was authorized to hire two Fire Wardens, who were to be paid from county funds to assist him. These men were expected to be physically hardy, dedicated employees and possess the ability to generate much enthusiasm from the public for the prevention of fire. These wardens were paid $150 per month to be “on duty” for the fire season that ran from June 1 to October 31st. They became unemployed during the winter months.

Enlistments for the manpower to fight fires proved to be a problem, even though men were paid twenty-five cents per hour and were provided transportation and food. According to state law, no able bodied man for the age of 18 to 50 years old could not refuse the call of duty to fight a fire. The wardens would often stage a fist fight outside the local tavern hoping to attract a crowd of men for the police to gather up to take to fight a fire.

The construction of motorized fire trucks had been in production for several years during the 1920’s but not one was able to handle the rough terrain encountered during forest fires. A prototype was constructed in Sacramento and Kern County was sent one of the trucks to be shared part-time with Tulare County in 1929. The truck was assembled on a Moreland chassis and equipped with a 225 gallon tank, a hard rubber hose, canvas hose, back pumps and hand tools. After deliberation of the Rural Fire Apparatus Committee the trucks were decidedly too heavy and expensive. Specifications were requested for the construction of the new trucks. “…truck transmissions be not less than six speeds forward and have the required engine-speed to rear-axle speed ratio, a motor truck chassis of no less than two-ton capacity, on which is mounted a water tank of not less than 300 gallons. The fire pumps to be of high pressure type with a normal operating pressure of no less than 120 pounds. It’s capacity to be no less than 30 gallons of water per minute at a safe engine speed. The pump be driven so that it will supply at least 20 gallons of water per minute at not less than 120 pounds pressure while the truck is moving. Provision will be made for small high pressure hose and nozzles for building fires. An adequate assortment of hand equipment is required for field fires.”

By 1930, trucks were constructed at one-third of the original cost of the first Moreland truck and the State Division owned 13 of the trucks. The original truck assigned to Kern County to share with Tulare County was permanently assigned to Kern on a full time basis.

On July 1, 1932 the State Division of Forestry leased a one-story brick garage at 107 19th Street in Bakersfield to serve as Kern County’s first fire station, equipped with an alley entrance where hose drying racks were installed. The station was so small, that when the men wanted to use the repair pit for the truck, the dining table had to be moved because it sat on the boards that covered the pit.

The foundation for present day Kern County Fire Department operations was laid in 1934. County Fire Warden Harold Bowhay was a man of great vision that earned him the title of “Father of the Kern County Fire Department.” One of the endeavors that Mr. Bowhay championed was the construction of fire stations. The construction of four adobe style fire stations located in Keene, Kernville, Lebec and Bakersfield began in early 1934, with the cost of each station totaling approximately $38,000. Each of the stations would be properly outfitted with a fire truck and fire fighting equipment. The Bakersfield headquarters was to be outfitted with seven trucks. During the construction of these fire stations and future planned stations there were men and fire trucks already in service. At these stations the men used tents and trailers for living quarters.

State Ranger Bowhay announced in April 1938 that construction was set to begin soon on a fire station in Taft. At the time of the announcement, one county truck had been placed at the county road district yard while volunteer fire trucks were already in use in the Ford City and South Taft Fire Protection Districts. The Ford City truck was an American LaFrance while in South Taft was housed a Moreland Hose Wagon and a Model “T” Fire Truck. The City of Taft had a fire station manned by 11 volunteers who were paid $20 per month. The decision to construct a County Fire Station by Mr. Bowhay caused discussion in the communities affected concerning the location of the station as well as the protection of fire being placed in the hands of the State of Forestry’s control. It was decided that the communities of Ford City and South Taft would be served by the new county station and wardens and that Taft would continue to be served by City of Taft firefighters.

With work scheduled to begin in August 26, 1938, the Works Progress Administration of Fire Prevention and Protection project slated over $230,000 to construct seven new fire stations as well as employ over 650 men to be used for the construction, doubling the number of stations in use at that time. Highland Park, Wasco, Lost Hills, Taft, Delano, Mojave, and Tehachapi stations would add to the existing stations in Bakersfield, Arvin, Buttonwillow, Shafter, McFarland, Lebec, Keene and Kernville.

In November of 1938, two new fast pump trucks were delivered to the Fire Wardens at the Bakersfield headquarters. The pick-up type pumping trucks carried 100 US gallons of water and over convert|300|ft|m of hose. These trucks could go into fields and climb steep hills where heavier trucks could not go. In a test, they pumped 390 US gallons per minute while only rated to pump 250 US gallons per minute.


Reorganization came in 1940. Even though the department was still under the state-county operations, terminology was changed from Kern County Fire Wardens to Kern County Forestry and Fire Department. Titles were also changed to include Deputy Chiefs, Division Chiefs, District Chiefs, Battalion Chiefs, Captains, Engineers, Firemen and Suppression Crew. This terminology, for the most part, is still in use today.

Formal rules and regulations were also adopted at this time. Chief Bowhay issued copies of the “Kern County Forestry and Fire Department Rules and Regulations,” as the general foundation of this document is still in use today. It addresses the duties of each officer and man as well as their conduct pertaining to the public and each other. At that time, there were very few men assigned to relief duty for the full-time staff and after the 12 days worked, they were entitled to three days off. Sometimes there was no one to cover relief duty and when those three days were gone, they were gone.

On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked and war was declared. The Kern County Forestry and Fire Department took immediate action in the plans of established for the security and safety of all communities and property. They were to maintain around the clock watches in every engine room to assure protection of all fire fighting apparatus; doors were to be kept closed, windows and doors to be shut and locked.

Between the years’ 1943 and 1945 all construction of new fire stations was halted as was the purchase of new fire fighting equipment. Maintaining manpower was also an issue due to the wartime draft. Through this time, the department continued to provide the services to the community due to pure dedication.

In early 1945, a bill was introduced to the Senate that proposed to allow counties to assume fire protection responsibilities that were previously the responsibility of the State Division of Forestry. These lands included what was formerly outside the jurisdiction of the United States Forest Service. The counties were to be funded through the State of California. Kern County was to assume this new role on December 1, 1945. This plan made Kern County one of the largest rural fire departments in the world. Twenty-eight fire stations and 68 fire trucks were in operation. During the entire year of 1946, the department operated independently from the state, responsible only to the county Board of Supervisors.

The construction of fire stations had resumed and in 1948, the Inyokern, Ridgecrest and Cottonwood Road stations opened. By 1950, the Edison station, Greenacres and Southgate stations had been added along with four new engines. These were all combination pumpers carrying 500 gallons of water with 750 gallon per minute pumps. Two were 1950 Mack chassis and the other two were 1950 Peterbilt chassis. They were assigned to the headquarters station.

At 4:52 a.m. on Monday, July 21, 1952, a severe earthquake hit Kern County. The earthquake was centered near the mountain community of Tehachapi. The trembler leveled the business section and took eleven lives of the community. In the Bakersfield area, wide spread damage was reported but no loss of life occurred. County firefighters were kept busy fighting a fire at the Western-Gulf Paloma Refinery, convert|15|mi|km southwest of Bakersfield. The fire was out of control for two days. Aftershocks were felt the entire following week and on August 22, 1952 a second earthquake occurred causing severe damage to the Bakersfield area causing several injuries and one death.

In July of 1954, the new Niles Street station was opened at the corner of Niles and Tate Streets replacing the Niles Point Station at Mt. Vernon and Niles streets. There were also three new engines added to the department.

On November 22, 1959 the Kern County Board of Supervisors changed the name of the department from Kern County Forestry and Fire Department to Kern County Fire Department. (KCFD)

In February of 1966, the dedication of the departments forty-first station, the Virginia Colony station, took place. It was the latest design in fire station construction with a “drive-through” engine room with the offices, kitchen and living quarters on one side and dormitory, bathrooms and storage on the other side. Due to the growth of the community, the Highland Park station was relocated to the corner of Universe and North Chester Avenues, built to the same specifications at the Virginia Colony station.

Two fire trucks were received by the department from the State of California in December, 1969, designated to the California Disaster Office, later the Office of Emergency Services. These trucks were to be used for mutual aid, multiple alarms, fires which threaten defense installations, parades, displays, training and temporary stand-by for out of service equipment. The department was responsible for the maintenance of these trucks as well as to provide a trained crew to respond with the equipment to any state emergency.


1970 proved to be a prolific year for fires for the Kern County Fire Department. On January 5, 1970, one of Kern’s prime industrial structures, the Kern Fruit Company, was reported to be on fire. The building, still under construction, was to be the largest of its kind, when the eruption took over more than a quarter of a million square feet of the complex. Two engines from the Norris station were dispatched as a matter of routine, as well as a tanker from Riverview. Battalion Chief Carl Williams, who was en-route to the fire, could see the smoke and immediately called in the second alarm. An engine and a tanker from Highland and a tanker from the Niles Street station responded. Three minutes after receiving the alarm, Captain Fred Croson and the Norris crew arrived at the location. Employees of the building had managed to shut the fire doors to prevent the fire from further destruction. The crew’s efforts concentrated their effort preventing the fire from spreading to the convert|8|acre|m2|0 of roof. Fourteen minutes from the initial call, all second alarm equipment had arrived on the scene. The water system for the building was still under construction so lines were promptly laid to a nearby canal to supply the lines at the fire. At the height of the battle, six trucks and over 50 men were engaged to save the remainder of the building. Mop-up crews spent the night in mid-twenty degree temperatures to continue to extinguish the remainder of the flare ups. Preliminary reports indicated that the fire turned out to be the largest and most destructive fire in the history of Kern County to that date.

The manpower used at the Kern Fruit Company fire was to be challenged on September 25, 1970 by the Rankin Ranch fire. A brush fire was reported on the Lion’s Trail, a local route from Caliente to Walker Basin. The “first-in” was Captain Emmitt Hughes who reported heavy Santa Ana winds. A second-alarm was issued and air tankers were ordered. Within an hour, days off were cancelled and every available man was sent to the scene. By nightfall, over convert|800|acre|km2 had been consumed. By morning, the fire has blackened over convert|2000|acre|km2 and was still moving very quickly, due to high winds and low humidity. Air tankers and bulldozers that were sent to the fire proved futile in fighting the blaze. Fire lines that were constructed were quickly abandoned as the fire travelled too quickly. By the second day, over 130 KCFD firefighters were on the lines and more available help was on the way from the California Correctional Institute in Tehachapi. The fire continued into the evening of the second day and had reached over convert|11000|acre|km2. By the morning of the third day with no control in sight, the Rankin Ranch fire had consumed over convert|15000|acre|km2. All available air tankers had been dispatched to Southland fires leaving only hand crews to fight the fire. The National Guard from Fresno and Bakersfield had been called in to provide transportation to and from fire lines. Inmate crews from the northern end of the state began arriving by the fourth day. By nightfall of the fourth day, the fire had raced up the south slope of Breckenridge Mountain and began threatening vacation homes, two television tower sites, a Kern County Communications repeater, a US Forest Service lookout and convert|9000|acre|km2 of timber. The day crews were joined by the night crews to put together an effort to put an end to the fire. The fifth day, winds subsided and humidity levels rose. All crews were held on the lines. Some of the men had been at it for over 33 hours straight but the fire had been beaten. Total area lost between public and private land was over convert|32000|acre|km2 with minor injuries reported and only one structural loss, totaling $410,966.00. No fire had ever taxed the county as much.

At the same time crews were fighting the Rankin Ranch fire, a second fire originated on US Forest Service land on Greenhorn Mountain approximately convert|30|mi|km to the north. The fire entered Kern County Fire Department protected land which further depleted the resources of the department. Heavy brush on the lines proved troublesome but the crews worked hard to fire out convert|20|mi|km of lines in one day all completed by 3 bulldozers, 6 pick-up pumpers and 14 men. The bulldozers worked in areas so steep that mechanics were sent out to the location to repair the clutches and transmissions so that the equipment would not be out of service. The Red Mountain fire, as it was called, burned over convert|25000|acre|km2 and was a total loss of approximately $1,743,356.00.

Following these disastrous fires, it became obvious that the KCFD needed additional radio channels to prevent communication confusions. Along with this request to the Board of Supervisors, came the need for more modern and sophisticated dispatching procedures and equipment. A survey was taken and it was determined that funds be allocated in the approximate amount of $2.5 million towards the purchase and construction of necessary facilities to update the communications structure.

In 1973, the total number of emergencies responded to by the KCFD was the highest yearly total in the department’s history. During the calendar year, 6,465 calls were answered. Included were 4,118 fires, 1,586 resuscitations and rescue calls, 646 false alarms, 80 emergency landings and 35 bomb threats. The previous years’ record was 5,781 calls.

Beginning in early 1974, the traditional names of the fire stations, named for the geographical areas that they served, changed to a numbering system in the first step towards a more modern communications system. The stations were also divided seven battalions that same year.

The creation of the “C” shift brought an additional 64 firefighters on January 1, 1975 to the department. The 72 hour work week was reduced to 56 hours by creating the third shift.

On the morning of December 20, 1977 the residents of the San Joaquin Valley awoke to windy conditions that would become even worse as the day progressed. Very strong Santa Ana winds had come to the valley on an otherwise clear day. The howling winds caused power outages throughout the area due to downed power lines. Interstate 5 was closed and very dangerous conditions existed on Highway 58. The fire stations around Kern County were extremely busy responding to a variety of calls including downed power lines, stranded motorists, structure fires and traffic accidents. A gas leak in a residence caused an explosion that destroyed the building and damaged 27 structures surrounding the explosion. The resident was blown across the street but was only slightly injured. The Niles Street (#42) station alone ran 115 calls in a two day period without ever getting their beds made.

May 7, 1980 brought about an agreement between Kern County and the City of Bakersfield a Joint Powers Agreement whereby each entity would share the fire protection services in the metropolitan Bakersfield area. The agreement was important because it provided for the training; joint emergency response and dispatching of equipment regardless of municipal boundaries. The motivation for the agreement was a cost of almost $1 million dollars a year, by the realignment of station boundaries without the addition of new equipment or personnel. The closest station response also increased the efficiency of service to the greater Bakersfield area.

The Bodfish fire, which started on July 7, 1984, was caused by a homeowner burning brush in his backyard, which became out of control. The first unit in called in a second alarm because of the quick growth of the fire. The fire soon grew in to cover the rugged area around Lake Isabella, with no hope of catching up to it. Crews and equipment were slow getting to the area due to the closure of Highway 178 through the Kern River Canyon. The closure of the highway was due to the unstable condition of the rocks lining the walls of the canyon and had lasted three months, with all traffic going through Caliente to the southeast or over Greenhorn Mountain to the northeast. The firefighting efforts on the Bodfish fire lasted 7 days, with a total of convert|25.932|acre|m2 burned and 5 structures destroyed.

The Kern County Fire Department assigned the first female firefighters in January of 1989.

In June of 1989, the department headquarters moved from their old building on Golden State Avenue to the newly constructed offices, warehouse and auto shop facilities to the land near Olive Drive which was already occupied by the current training facility.

In June of 1995, a request was received from the volunteer fire department, the “Bomberos Voultarios” in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, for a donation of a used fire truck. At the time, their equipment consisted of old engines that that needed to be push started before they could respond to an emergency. Coincidentally, that year the KCFD had received money from a grant to receive new equipment to replace vehicles deemed as “gas guzzlers” or “gross polluter” engines. A 1972 gas International was selected to go to Cabo San Lucas. The engine had done its time for 23 years in Greenfield, Randsburg, McFarland and Keene. Thanks to community’s donations, the engine was painted red and with the expertise of the KCFD Auto Shop personnel, many off duty hours were spent preparing the engine for the trip and its new duties in Mexico. Since 1995, the KCFD has continued to donate used fire apparatus that have exceeded their 20 year county life spans to many states in Mexico. The “Bomberos” have greatly benefited from Kern County’s donations as well as have smaller communities in Mexico.

In the mid 1990’s, Kern County firefighters have participated in National Response Incident Management Teams. As of this date, Kern County firefighters have approximately 30 individuals assigned to California’s 5 Incident Management Teams.Through this participation, vast training and experience has been gained which enables team members to handle any similar incidents in their own community. Kern County firefighters have participated on Incident Management Teams at the Pentagon during the 9/11 attacks, along with the natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina.


The Kern County Fire Department has come a long way since its inception. Currently, the KCFD staffs 46 fire stations with various types of fire fighting apparatus; engines, ladder trucks and patrols. Kern County also has an Air Operations Division with 2 helicopters, capable of water drops in wild land fire scenarios, hoist rescue and equipped with night vision capabilities. The department’s Air Division also includes a fixed wing aircraft that assists in wild fires and helps cover Kern County’s convert|8141|mi2|km2 of jurisdiction.

The departments wild land operations also include type III wild land apparatus, type 4 patrols, 6 bulldozers with transports, 6 heavy equipment operators, a interagency hot shot crew, (the only local agency crew in the federal wild land system), a Heli-Tac crew and 3 type I initial attack hand crews. Fire season brings approximately 130 seasonal members to the KCFD.

The KCFD provides its own fire fighting training facility, fire prevention staff and emergency fleet services where all fire fighting apparatus and support vehicles are repaired, along with support services that maintain supplies for local fire stations as well as maintains building and grounds. The department employs an Arson Investigations staff that investigates and provides evidence for convictions of accused arson suspects. The arson unit also conducts all background investigations for all prospective fire department employees.

Rank Structure

Fire Chief & Director of Emergency Services
Chief Deputy
Deputy Chief
Battalion Chief / Fire Marshall / Arson Chief
Captain / Assistant Fire Marshall / Arson Investigator

KCFD Fire Station Locations

*Fire Station 11: Keene (Battalion 1 HQ)
*Fire Station 12: Tehachapi
*Fire Station 14: Mojave
*Fire Station 15: Rosamond
*Fire Station 16: Bear Vally
*Fire Station 17: Boron
*Fire Station 18: Stallion Springs
*Fire Station 21: Taft (Battalion 2 HQ)
*Fire Station 22: Maricopa
*Fire Station 23: Fellows
*Fire Station 24: McKittrick
*Fire Station 25: Buttonwillow
*Fire Station 26: Lost Hills
*Fire Station 31: Wasco
*Fire Station 32: Shafter
*Fire Station 33: McFarland (Battalion 3 HQ)
*Fire Station 34: Delano
*Fire Station 35: Woody
*Fire Station 36: Glennvile
*Fire Station 37: Delano West
*Fire Station 41: Virginia Colony (Battalion 4 HQ)
*Fire Station 42: Niles
*Fire Station 45: Edison
*Fire Station 51: Lamont
*Fire Station 52: Greenfiled
*Fire Station 53: Old River
*Fire Station 54: Arvin
*Fire Station 55: Tejon Ranch (Battalion 5 HQ)
*Fire Station 56: Lebec
*Fire Station 57: Frazier Park
*Fire Station 58: Pine Mountain Club
*Fire Station 61: Norris (Battalion 6 HQ)
*Fire Station 62: Meadows Field
*Fire Station 63: Highland
*Fire Station 64: River View
*Fire Station 65: Greenacres
*Fire Station 66: Landco
*Fire Station 67: Rosedale
*Fire Station 71: South Lake (Battalion 7 HQ)
*Fire Station 72: Lake Isabella
*Fire Station 73: Inyokern
*Fire Station 74: Ridgecrest
*Fire Station 75: Randsburg
*Fire Station 76: Kernville
*Fire Station 77: Ridgecrest Heights
*Fire Station 78: Piute

KCFD External Links

* [ Kern County Fire Department Home Page]
* [ Kern County Fire Department Fire Station Locations]
* [ Kern County Firefighters Union Local 1301]
* [ County of Kern Home Page ]

Other Fire Departments in Kern County

* [ Bakersfield Fire Department]
* [ California City Fire Department]

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