The city council may organize and maintain a fire department for the city, and provide for the appointment of a fire marshal, or chief, assistants and other officers with any and all powers which have been or may be vested by law in such officers, and it may make rules and regulations for the government of the officers and men of said department; may prescribe their respective duties in case of fire or alarms of fire, may fix their pay and impose reasonable fines for the breach of such regulations, and may adopt such ordinances as it may deem proper to extinguish and prevent fire; to prevent property from being stolen, and to require citizens to render assistance to the fire department in case of need.
~ Williamsburg City Charter, (Acts 1968, Chapter 189, and 2)
First Fire Engine
The exact date that Williamsburg obtained its first fire engine is not known, however, according to early records, the first fire department in Williamsburg, consisting entirely of a volunteer force, was created on or about the year 1753. An act of assembly passed in November 1741 authorized the Williamsburg city officials to levy a poll tax on the taxable inhabitants to pay for the creation of new wells and the installation of pumps to supply fire engines with water.
There was at least one fire engine in Williamsburg in March 1756, for records indicated that it was used to put out a shop fire. Two years earlier, in 1754, the House of Burgesses had ordered a fire engine and four dozen leather buckets from London for use at the Capital. This may have been the same engine used in the aforementioned shop fire.
Expansion of Department
Due to the smallish size of the city, city officials felt that an unpaid fire-fighting force would be sufficient for its needs. There were continuous calls for a larger fire department, however. In 1768 the Virginia Gazette declared that
....only one engine belongs to this metropolis, (Williamsburg) and we have no firemen, no pumps (except one, which, though lately repaired, is out of repair).... Perhaps in response to these and similar sentiments, the Williamsburg Council appointed four watchmen in 1772.
These men were dedicated to
have the care of the fire engines, and to be ready, in cases of accidents by fire, to give their assistance towards extinguishing the same. A few months later these new watchmen were each given a five-pound reward for their assistance in putting out a fire at the city's jail.
1950s to 1960s
The all-volunteer fire brigade persisted until the mid-twentieth-century when, in the wake of the fatal Brick House Tavern fire, demands for a more efficient form of fire-fighting system escalated. The City decided that in order to ensure better training in fire-fighting procedures and more efficient fire code enforcement, it would be necessary to hire a paid Fire Marshal.
The first paid Fire Marshal of Williamsburg was Elliot Jayne. During the period that he served the City of Williamsburg, from 1950 until 1962, Elliot Jayne is credited with building a modern fire department. Both paid and volunteer firemen manned the fire apparatus twenty-four hours a day, considerably increasing the Fire Departments' ability to respond in a timely fashion to emergencies.
Chiefs & Fire Marshals
Chief Jayne resigned in 1962 to move on to a new position in Northern Virginia. His successor as Fire Chief/Marshal was a man named Alvin Robertson. Chief Robertson presided over the Williamsburg Fire Department with few major changes until his resignation in 1979. The man appointed in his stead, James Robert Bailey Jr., held the position of Fire Marshal until his medical retirement in 1990.
In March of 1991, City Manager Jackson Tuttle appointed T.K. Weiler to the position of Fire Chief. Chief Weiler served as a member of the City of Williamsburg's Fire Department from May of 1967 to July of 2009. Chief William "Pat" Dent was then appointed to the position of Fire Chief until his retirement in June of 2019. Deputy Chief Larry Snyder joined the department in 2014 and served as the Interim Fire Chief from July through October 2019. David R. Eagle began serving as the current Fire Chief of the Williamsburg Fire Department in October 2019.
Location of Department & Fire Station
The fire department currently resides at 440 N Boundary Street. The station was moved in 1978 from its nineteen-year residence at the old Person Ford Building at 417 Francis Street. Some earlier fire stations have been headquartered in the area of S England Street and Francis Street, and at the corner of S Henry and Francis Streets.
Under the command of Fire Chief Eagle, the Fire Department will continue to improve and modernize in order to keep up with today's standards. The City of Williamsburg honors the rich history of it's Fire Department while looking forward to its promising future.