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Remembering Cape Coral's first firefighters

April 17, 2020
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Engraved on a bronze, ground-level plaque in a small park behind Cape Coral Fire Station No. 2 are the names M.L. "Tim" Herrick and Gilbert "Gib" Patten. They were the first two firefighters hired in Cape Coral in 1966.

In a time when we applaud the heroism of our first responders because of the coronavirus and celebrate the city's 50th anniversary, the names Herrick and Patten are especially significant in the history of Cape's fire department from a one truck operation to what is now 11 stations throughout the city and about 230 budgeted personnel protecting approximately 190,000 residents.

But in the 1960s, fire prevention was much different. In 1961, land was donated by Gulf American Cooperation for the first station at Chester and Lafayette streets. A campaign was launched to raise money for the building and the first donation of $100 was provided by the Cape Coral Teen Club. Each household was asked to give $10. By a referendum vote, the city created its first fire district in 1963, Ed Kocik was elected the first temporary fire chief and Aage Schroder the first assistant chief. The first fire truck -- a John Beam Class A pumper -- was ordered in 1964 and carried a hefty $24,000 price tag. Today, a new pumper can cost over $500,000. The John Beam paved the way for the first fire budget of $35,657 in 1966.

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The bronze plaque in the small park behind Fire Station No. 2 honoring chief M.L. 'Tim' Herrick and Cape. Gilbert 'Gib' Patten - the first two firefighters hired.

Four years later, incorporation came, and the city decided it was time to abolish the fire district and create a citywide fire department. Enter Herrick, who became the first paid chief, and Patten, the first captain.

The city was growing, reaching about 14,000 residents in 1972. The original City Hall Complex was being built and soon came the need for a second fire station. Up went the building at 701 Nicholas Parkway, where firefighters still keep watch over our city today and where the plaque to Herrick and Patten is only about 60 yards away. That station, which is scheduled to be replaced in the coming years, housed the city's first brush truck -- 1947 Willys military surplus model.

Labor contracts entered the picture in 1975 when employees voted for the first union in the city -- Local 2424 of the International Association of Fire Fighters -- and the first collective bargaining agreement was signed.

About 10 years later, Fire Station No. 3 was built on Everest Parkway when the city's population had climbed to about 36,000 residents. It was also in the 1980s, the city got creative when then Fire Chief Jim Hunt came up with the idea to fund future construction with impact fee money in 1981. Impact fees are imposed by local governments on new developments to fund future city needs. With impact fee funds in place and the city continuing its unprecedented growth, four new fire stations were built from 1986 through 1999.

That original fire station at Chester and Lafayette streets was replaced by a new Station No. 1 located on Coronado Parkway. The first station is now used as a community center for a variety of events.

The plaque for Herrick and Patten is surrounded by a hexagon-shaped pattern of bricks donated by various groups throughout the city. The tribute is well warranted for both Herrick and Patten, who gave 10 years of service to the city from 1966 to 1976.

Herrick passed way in 1997 at age 86. Patten died in 1996 at age 74.

Submitted by Tom Hayden, a Cape Coral Historical Society & Museum board member. As we celebrate 50 years as a city, much of our area's history chronicled at the museum will be featured twice a month in similar articles provided to the Cape Coral Daily Breeze. The museum is currently closed to the public but will reopen after the COVID-19 crisis. Information about the museum and the history inside is available at capecoralhistoricalmuseum.org.

 
 
 

 

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