The Early Years
In 1949, the farming community of DeSoto, population 300, realized the need for better fire protection for their homes and businesses. Up until then, DeSoto relied on the neighboring communities of Lancaster and Cedar Hill. In October, 1949, the DeSoto Fire Department was organized through the efforts of Jim Porter, A.P. Bagby, Lynn Smiley, and many others in the community. With an old telephone company truck converted into a grass firefighting truck, and 20 volunteer members, the DeSoto Fire Department had begun. Vernon Chowning was the first volunteer Fire Chief, followed by Jim Porter and A.P. Bagby. Bagby served as chief of the department for 11 years.
Originally, donation drives and carnivals were held to raise money to purchase and operate fire equipment. The first piece of equipment purchased was a used 1947 Ford gpm Pumper, placed in service in early 1950. The first new piece of equipment purchased was a 1956 Ward LaFrance 500 gpm Pumper in 1963; a Boardman 500 gpm Pumper on an F-750 Ford Chassis in 1968; a 1,000 gpm American LaFrance Custom Pumper in 1973; and two 1,000 gpm American LaFrance Custom Pumpers in 1977. In 1988, a Stuphen Aerial Truck (ladder truck) and two new KME 1,500 gpm Pumpers were placed in service as first-line equipment.
The first fire station had two bays, and was located 50 feet south of the corner of Belt Line and Hampton.
New Stations In 1960, a new four bay station was built at the City Hall, at 200 S. Hampton. With the city growing rapidly, in July, 1967, the Fire and Police departments moved into joint quarters at 108 W. Belt Line. The fire department operated at this single location until 1981. A second fire station, located at 501 E. Wintergreen, was hit by a tornado while under construction in 1980, delaying completion until 1981. When finished, this became Central Fire Station. In 1989, a new Fire Station No. 2 was built at 105 First Street, replacing the old station on Belt Line. The same year, a third station was built at 1301 W. Pleasant Run, becoming Fire Station No. 3.
Chief Murrell Porter
As the city grew, so did the membership of the volunteer fire department. It was not until 1965, though, that Murrell Porter became the first paid Fire Chief of DeSoto. The City of DeSoto could not have chosen a more deserving man for the position. Before becoming the first paid Fire Chief, Porter had served the City of DeSoto in many areas. For example, before there was officially a water department, he helped lay water lines, then fixed them when they broke. He served as City Marshal before there was a police department. He was a charter member of the fire department since 1949, helped build, repair, and maintain fire equipment, served as the volunteer Fire Chief for many years, helped make the change from a volunteer fire department to a full-time, paid department, and gave many hours of his own time and his own money to help build a better fire department. Chief Porter served DeSoto Fire Department well from 1949 until his retirement in 1992. Deservedly so, Central Fire Station bears the name Murrell L. Porter.
During Chief Porter's leadership, DeSoto Fire Department gradually changed from depending on volunteers to moving towards a full-time, paid fire department. By 1976, there were 12 paid firefighters, 4 part-time firefighters, and 20 active volunteers. By the early 1990s, the volunteers were disbanded, as the number of full-time, paid firefighters increased.
Also under Chief Porter's leadership, a new service became part of the fire department. With two weeks notice, the emergency ambulance service switched over from the local funeral home to the fire department.
Ambulances Two ambulances, a 1973 and a 1975 model, were placed in service on January 1, 1975. Firefighters trained as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) initially staffed these units. Currently, DeSoto Fire Rescue operates emergency ambulances, staffed with Paramedics on each unit.
Subsequent Chiefs In 1992, John Bowman became Fire Chief of DeSoto Fire Rescue. He was a longtime member of the fire department who had worked his way up through the ranks. Chief Bowman was a very innovative and progressive chief. We will never know to what heights he could have taken the department, however, because his life was suddenly cut short when he died of a heart attack in 1994. Chief Bowman coined the motto "Flame Tempered Pride." Fire Station No. 2 proudly bears the name of John A. Bowman.
In June 1994, at the death of Chief Bowman, then Asst. Chief Paul E. Sellers (Gene), was appointed to the position of Interim Fire Chief. Chief Sellers had the daunting task of getting the department through the budget process and holding the troops together for 1-1/2 years until the search for a new chief was completed. Chief Sellers was hired in 1975 and worked his way up through the ranks before he was appointed to the position of Assistant Fire Chief. He remained in that role until he retired at the end of 2003.
By the fall of 1995, the direction of the fire department was under the leadership of Fire Chief Henry Young. He had spent much of his fire service career working through the ranks in Garland before coming to DeSoto. Over the next five years, safety became the focal point of the department, and a much needed apparatus update added two enclosed cab fire engines. In August 2001, Chief Young left DeSoto for a position in Killeen.
September 11th, 2001, found DeSoto Fire Rescue in a new era for the fire service and once again searching for a new chief. The search did not have to go beyond the DeSoto city limits. DeSoto native and long-time city employee Fred Hart became Fire Chief in January 2002. Chief Hart started out as a volunteer firefighter in 1974, and became a full time firefighter for DeSoto in 1975. Throughout the years, Chief Hart served in many positions in the city, including DeSoto Fire Marshal, before accepting the Fire Chief’s position. During his tenure as fire chief, DeSoto Fire Rescue was awarded a Safer Grant for the hiring of six additional firefighters. The DeSoto Fire Training Center was approved to be built and opened in early 2007. The Fire Academy and Cedar Valley developed a training agreement whereby the academy received $25,000 annually under that agreement. The development of the Ellis Dallas Unified Cooperative Team (E.D.U.C.T.) was initiated. In 2006/2007, the department was awarded a Homeland Security Grant in the amount of $160,000 for a Mobile Command Vehicle. It was used for state emergencies including the recent COVID response effort. The first Citizen’s Emergency Response Team (CERT) was developed which led to the Southwest Regional CERT team. Chief Hart was responsible for initiating the boundary drops between the fire departments of DeSoto, Duncanville and Cedar Hill. A $1,140,000 bond package was approved for the remodel of Central Fire Station, which was completed in 2008. He facilitated the coordination of the Hurricane Katrina Relief effort for the City of DeSoto and managed housing for over 100 individuals for approximately one year. Chief Hart retired in June 2012.
Chief Jerry Duffield came to DeSoto in September 2012 from Farmers Branch where he was a Battalion Chief and the department’s training officer. On April 1, 2016, the City of DeSoto went from a Class 2 ISO rated community to a Class 1. A social work program was initiated to train our paramedics to identify when services may be needed for ongoing issues with citizens. Chief Duffield also initiated the Blue Card Incident Management System.
Chief Bryan Southard previously served as the department’s second in command in the title of Assistant Chief since May of 2018. He joined the department in March 2001, starting as a Firefighter/Paramedic, Engineer, Captain, EMS Battalion Chief, Assistant Fire Chief, and effective March 12, 2022, Fire Chief.
In Chief Southard’s first 100 days, he has successfully implemented a recruitment and retention team along with multiple specialty teams that will be going to specialized training to be ready to deploy across the state and nation if needed. These specialty teams created consist of: SWAT Medics; Swift Water Rescue; Honor Guard; Rope/Trench Rescue; Wildland Response; Fire Prevention; and USAR Team. Additionally, for the first time since 2002, under Chief Southard, the position of EMS Division Chief was created as a tested Civil Service position, and the first EMS Division Chief for DeSoto Fire Rescue was promoted into this position.
DeSoto Fire Rescue continues to grow in response to the growth of the City of DeSoto. Personnel are divided among three 24-hour shifts, capable of responding to calls for help for fires, emergency medical services, rescue, public service, public fire education, and much more.