OCW Fire Station One around 1975, and then 1982
In 1961, a group of community minded citizens residing in the Ocean City and Wright area, on the north side of Ft. Walton Beach realized the need for a fire department to serve their area. At that time, the only fire department in town was located in the City of Fort Walton Beach. After much planning, these citizens were successful in their efforts and the Ocean City- Wright Fire Control District was established in July of 1962.
The department’s first apparatus was a pumper/tanker which was constructed from an old converted gas tanker. A used Gorman-Rupp direct coupled gasoline engine driven trash pump was plumbed up to a one thousand gallon tank, and mounted on the department’s first fire apparatus. This pumper/tanker was housed under an Oak tree at the corner of Racetrack Rd. and Eglin Highway at Vern and Maxine Bendorf’s, Eglin Highway Grocery Store. The district was manned solely by dedicated volunteers for the next few years.
The department’s original communications and dispatch system was telephone (seven digits) and CB (citizen band) radio. The dispatch notification was comprised of a telephone tier system. Until the 80’s, all departments had their own seven digit emergency number. The emergency calls for the Ocean City-Wright Fire Department would be answered in the Bendorf family home located in the back of the grocery store. Once a call came in, the family would telephone four other volunteers. Then the wives of those volunteers would call four others until all of the volunteers were contacted. This system worked well for the department until the new fire house was fully manned 24/7. In the early 70’s a VHF radio and pager system was installed.
In 1985, after the 911 system was adopted in the area, the department started to dispatch for themselves as well as the Okaloosa Island Fire District. By 1991, the department was handling the dispatching for Okaloosa Island, Mary Esther, Florosa, Destin, Fort Walton Beach, North Bay, and Niceville fire departments. The original dispatch center was housed out of the station #1 on Racetrack Rd. until 1989. Then the center was moved to Fort Walton Beach station 7 on Lewis Turner Blvd. From 1989-2000 the department continued to control dispatch until it was taken over by Okaloosa county and moved to Crestview, Florida.
In the mid 60’s, the department purchased its first certified fire engine, a Central Fire Apparatus manufactured in Ohio. It was purchased thru JACO of Mobile, AL. When the department was looking into the specs for the engine, NFPA and the Federal DOT were thinking of changing the color of fire apparatus from red to white because it was thought white was a more visible color in traffic. With the possible changing of the apparatus color to white, the department decided to go ahead and change the engine to white instead of having to paint a new engine later. When the engine was completed and en-route from Mobile, Fire Chief Maurice Sansom and Capt. John Johnston went to meet the truck when it arrived in Mary Esther. The Chief jumped into the new engine and started to drive to Vern’s shell station to be greeted by firefighters and the media when they received a structure fire call at the intersection of Thornhill Rd. and Newcastle Dr. The Fire Chief immediately responded to the fire in the new engine.
In 1966 the growth of the community mandated that the district have its own fire station. On August 6, 1966, the department moved into the new station at the intersection of Racetrack Rd. and Mooney Rd. After moving into the new station, the department placed the first full-time employee on duty, Chief Maurice Sansom. A short time later a full-time/part-time Firefighter/EMT, Capt. John Johnston was added, later becoming the departments first Inspector. After getting the alarm room equipped with needed telephone and new radio communications, the department needed to establish manning for dispatch 24/7. The department decided to offer an agreement to any couple who were willing to live in the upstairs quarters at the station for free in exchange for working dispatch. The department had a few couples, mostly military that lived at the station which worked very well, until dispatch became a paid position for the south end of Okaloosa County.
In October 1975 the department transitioned into a combination paid/volunteer department when its first full-time firefighters were placed on line manning station one with two firefighters per shift. Ten years after the completion of station one in 1966, station two was completed on Eglin Pkwy in Shalimar in 1976. The department manned only station one until 1980 when additional firefighters were placed on-line to man station two with two firefighters.
In the late 70’s the department wanted to improve its rescue capabilities by trying to purchase a Jaws of Life unit, but the department didn’t have the funds available. The department members went to the community for donations. After a few months of hard work, the department received enough money to buy the unit. Ocean City- Wright was the first department in the area to have the new life saving extrication equipment. Ironically the first two calls for extrication was outside the district. After two months of having the Jaws of Life, the department received its first extrication call. Fort Walton Beach Fire Department had a motor vehicle accident at the intersection of Beal St. and Walter Martin Rd. where the vehicle hit and wrapped itself around a power pole. When Fort Walton Beach Fire Department arrived on scene, they immediately called for the Jaws of Life. The department still has its original Jaws unit and it is still in operation today on engine three.
Around 1980 the department continued to add personnel until the department transitioned into a fully paid department in 1985 under the leadership of Chief James Cobb. From 1975 to 1985 the firefighters worked on a 24 on/24 off schedule with a Kelly day. Ten years after the completion of station two in 1976 the department needed to expand its coverage to the west side of town due to the large growth in the Wright area of the district. In 1986, Chief Cobb was instrumental in the opening of the district’s third station on Oak St. The department now had three stations with three firefighters per station working on a 24 on/48 off schedule.
In 1983 the department purchased its first aerial ladder truck from Sutphen Company in Columbus, Ohio. This new 100 foot ladder truck was top of the line in the 1980’s and the department kept this truck in service until 2007 when the department received a grant to replace the 24 year old apparatus with another Sutphen 100 foot aerial ladder.
Chief Guy Wills made major improvements to the fire stations by upgrading kitchen appliances, installing tile flooring, carpet and hanging wall decorations, with many of the frames hand made by Chief Wills himself. He also installed 3 large glass showcases in the training room which displays a large collection of fire department patches from the world over. Under Chief Wills’ leadership, the district was awarded an ISO rating of three (3).
In 2006 Capt. Daniel Friel became the first firefighter to retire from the department’s retirement plan. Capt. Friel, an earlier volunteer, was one of the first line firefighters hired in 1975. Two years later, in 2008, Ocean City- Wright saw eight more firefighters retire from all different ranks within the department.
On October 1, 2008, under the direction of Chief William Lord, the Ocean City- Wright Fire Department increased their level of service by offering Advanced Life Support services to the citizens of the fire district. The ALS program provides an EMT/Paramedic on the fire apparatus as well as advanced life support equipment for life threatening emergency medical calls.
At the present time the department operates out of the same three stations with 1 Fire Chief, 2 Deputy Chiefs, 1 ALS Division Chief, 3 Battalion Chiefs, 1 Fire Marshall/Inspector, 2 Fire Inspectors, 1 Financial Manager, 1 Office Administrator, and 34 on-line Firefighters.
The Board of Fire Commissioners consists of Five District Residents.
Ocean City-Wright Fire Control District Fire Chiefs: (past to present)
Chief Maurice Sansom – 1963 – 1982
Chief James Cobb- 1982 – 1993
Chief Guy Wills- 1993 – 2003
Chief Randy Brown- 2003 – 2008
Chief Billy Lord- 2008 – Present