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 Truman Holland and Riverside County Fire Department 

 

 
 
 
Truman has long been regarded as the father of the Riverside County Fire Department.  It was his philosophies, ideas and persistence that started the department, as we know it today, in 1946 and saw it firmly established before his retirement in 1969.
   
Truman was born in Sheridan, Wyoming in 1906.  He was the youngest of three sons.  The Holland family moved to California in 1916 and operated a dairy farm north of Ramona in Puma Valley, in San Diego County.  The farm was located within the Cleveland National Forest and protected by the United States Forest Service.  The Forest Service at that time relied upon pickup labor and volunteers for fire suppression crews.  Fire season started early in 1922 and Truman soon became a regular pickup firefighter at the age of 16. Truman and his brother Lee both worked the next two years as firefighters and patrolmen.
   
In 1927 Truman was appointed as a San Diego County Fire Warden at the age of 21 and assigned the Ramona District.  He worked at this assignment until July of 1930.  The State Division of Forestry took over the fire control program in 1930.  Luther Gordon became the Ranger in charge of San Diego County.  Truman Holland was appointed Assistant Ranger assigned to the western half of the County.  Ed Miller was assigned to the eastern half.  A building was rented in La Mesa for their headquarters and warehouse.  They were issued hand tools and had to use their own vehicles for transportation and used volunteers and pickup labor for fire crews.  Most of fire season was spent on fire lines.  Upon finishing one assignment they would go to the nearest town and call headquarters for a new assignment.  During the depression years Forestry labor camps were established for unemployed transients.  Truman was assigned to Camp Hart, east of Julian in Mason Valley, during the winter of 1931.  When fire season opened on April 15, he returned to regular fire control duties.
   
Truman married his wife, Velma, in September of 1932 and that winter was assigned to open a new Civilian Conservation Corps camp at Oak Grove near Fallbrook.
   
While remaining in San Diego County, working the Fallbrook and Valley Center Districts, Truman became a seasoned fireman.  In 1940 he was promoted to Associate State Forest Ranger and assigned to Mendocino County.  In 1941 he transferred to a new assignment in Sacramento.  The war brought about rapid changes in the Division.  Services were being expanded; mutual aid programs and cooperative contractual agreements with other agencies to provide fire protection services were formulated.
   
In 1943, Truman was assigned as Ranger in San Bernardino County when Butch Skinner was called to military service.  The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors was desperately trying to find a means of providing year round fire protection in rural areas.
   
Truman worked with the Board of Supervisors and the State officials in preparing a cooperative contractual agreement where State personnel, equipment and facilities would be used to provide County Fire Protection during the winter months.  The County was to reimburse the State and provide funds for new County facilities, all operated by State employees.  The first San Bernardino County contract was implemented in the 194344 fiscal year.
   
During the war years, Riverside County experienced growth and expansion far beyond the ability to provide the services needed.  Volunteer Fire Departments had formed throughout the County.  Fire equipment and facilities were acquired through donations and fund raisers.  These volunteer fire departments soon became the center of community activities. Volunteers were called on for all emergencies and enjoyed tremendous public support. The California State Division of Forestry had nine Forest Fire Stations that had been in operation since 1930.  The State administrative personnel were also appointed County Fire Wardens. They enforced County ordinances as well as State Fire Laws.  The County made limited emergency fire funds available for use in extreme emergencies.
   
In 1946, Riverside County looked to the State Forestry in Sacramento for assistance and guidance in forming a County Fire Department.  Truman Holland was transferred from San Bernardino County to Riverside County because of his experience in this area.  Truman had become an ardent advocate of a consolidated State/ County Fire Department operating under contract.
   
This provided a unified command system for the handling of emergencies.  While pondering the scope and complexity of this assignment he visualized a fire department with stations located strategically across the vast expanse of Riverside County from Orange County to the Colorado River.  This vision became his dream.  Truman worked long hours each day to get support on what the fire department should look like from Corona to Palo Verde valley.  He developed an inventory of people, Grange, businesses and civic organizations.  After building a category of community oriented people he would go to them for donations of land, building of fire stations and acquiring used military equipment.  Truman would provide an old engine or fire trailer but the local residence would have to staff and house the unit. Many became volunteer firefighters.  Truman always had the greatest respect for volunteers, folks giving of their time and money to serve their fellow citizens.
   
Truman Holland’s dream was to build the best possible fire department providing the best service at the least cost to taxpayers.  A basic fire protection plan was approved by the County Board of Supervisors prior to Truman’s physical move to Riverside County. Perris City was selected as the location for headquarters.  The basic plan incorporated the nine existing State Forest Fire Stations and the existing volunteer fire departments to form the original Riverside County Fire Department.  The plan also identified locations where new additional stations were needed.  Growth and expansion schedules were to be governed by available funding.  Costs were not to exceed ten cents of each dollar per assessed valuation.  People would tell Truman he was a dreamer saying you can’t go to the County Airport commission and tell them “you donate land and I will build a fire station”.  He got supplies and buildings.  Truman built county fire stations for $9,000 using department employees to do the work.  People were willing to give everything they had to support Truman in his endeavors.  He got fire engines and hand picked the people to staff the fire stations.  The plan originally identified twenty seven stations.
   
The initial contract provided for year round coverage at six of the nine State Stations, rental of state equipment and twenty four hour dispatching from Perris Headquarters.
   
The first working budget from the County in 194647 was $69,000.00 per year.  This provided year round coverage of the west end Stations.  The 194748 budget provided funding for the Desert Hot Springs and Cathedral City stations.  Desert Hot Springs was the first success story.  The Desert Hot Springs Improvement Association and a lot of people made their own station out of adobe bricks.   Elmer Chambers was chosen to staff the station and moved in in 1947.  The station had a 10 wheeler surplus military truck.  It had an eight hundred gallon tank and a five hundred gallon per minute pump.  This was the first County Fire Station.  Next Cathedral City received an engine.  Jack Couste was assigned to the first lower Coachella Valley Fire Station and had a 4X4 military truck and lived in a screened in room at the Indio fair grounds with a cot and a hot plate.  This started the expansion to the east.  New stations were established at the rate of three per year for the first four years.  Riverside County Fire Department was well established by 1950 with nineteen stations staffed twenty four hours, year round.  From the very beginning this was a frugal operation. The assigned basic plan was accepted because it was seen as the only affordable means of establishing a County Fire Department at the time.
  
If the Department was to continue to grow and provide new and additional services as needed, strong leadership was essential.  Truman Holland provided that leadership.
   
He mustered together a staff of bright, hard working, young, dedicated people who shared his philosophy and goals.  These people were groomed to carry on and assure continuity. Unique to Riverside County, successive Fire Chiefs have promoted through the ranks within the department after Truman’s retirement in 1969.  Under the outstanding leadership of these people the Department has grown and expanded services steadily since the very beginning. Stations have been added, City contracts and disaster preparedness responsibilities assumed, paramedic and rescue services expanded and Hazardous Material response capabilities are now available. Highly trained technical personnel are required to provide these services.  A training center now provides training in all facets of the Departments operation. Continuous training is provided to assure that the highest caliber of professional services is provided in all emergencies.
 
Truman Holland’s dream has long been fulfilled.  After 65 years the Department has grown beyond his expectations.  His successors and the many firefighters that make up the Riverside County Fire Department today take great pride and are dedicated to providing the best possible service at the least possible cost to taxpayers.
   
Truman Holland retired in 1969 after 23 years as Riverside County Fire Chief.  He resided in the San Jacinto area where he kept tabs on the department even though he knew it was in good hands.  Truman Holland died in 1988, knowing his dream had come true.
   
E. H. Ostrander