Fire Department History
The South Salt Lake Fire Department has a long and storied history. Our firefighting family dates back to 1942 and the original 10 members of the Civil Defense Volunteer Fire Department. And though our department has grown significantly since then, we remain a tight-knit family of brother and sister firefighters dedicated to the safety of our City and all of its residents.
The Beginning - 1942-1943
On May 1, 1942 South Salt Lake’s Civil Defense League was formally charged with organizing a volunteer fire department. Up until then, South Salt Lake had relied on fire departments from nearby communities to assist with fires throughout South Salt Lake.
Jesse Burrows was appointed as the first Fire Chief and began the organization and formation of the South Salt Lake Fire Department. Eighteen months later, on December 2, 1943 the City of South Salt Lake formally organized its first fire department, almost completely composed of volunteers.
Each member of the Department was issued firefighting gear and told to listen for the siren indicating a fire. Most of the members of the Department at that time received their first fire training on their first fire call. This was a time when people from all around would stand outside to watch firefighters racing down the street and toward unknown danger. Many of the original members of the volunteer department served for 30 or more years in the community and passed their valuable experience to the future leaders of the Department.
Early Growth - 1943-1965
Samuel Davies was appointed as the first Fire Chief of the South Salt Lake Fire Department in 1943. At that time, Chief Davies was the only employee of the Fire Department and also served as the City Building Inspector. He and his family lived in Fire Station No. 1 located on Oakland Avenue, and oversaw about 20 volunteer firefighters from the community.
Chief Davies led the Department through some of the toughest times throughout our history. Many of the Department's largest fires were fought during these years, usually by volunteers with outdated equipment that they had purchased themselves.
In 1953, the Fire Department experienced its first and only firefighter fatality. Assistant Chief George Plant was pumping on the IGA Foodtown Market fire (located at 2704 S. State Street), when a catastrophic mechanical failure occurred in the pumper engine. Chief Plant valiantly fought to keep water flowing to the crews fighting the fire, but suffered a fatal heart attack while standing at the pump panel. After a prolonged fight with the State, Chief Plant’s death was, eventually recognized as a line-of-duty death, and his family received all the associated honors and benefits.
In 1961 the Department built its second fire station, Station No. 2, located at 2700 South 900 West. The land was donated by the Wagner Bag Company and brought much needed fire protection to the City’s blossoming industrial area. Ironically, the Wagner Bag Company -- then under a different name -- would become the Department's single largest fire in 2004.
Chief Davies served as Fire Chief from 1943 until his retirement on August 29, 1965.
EMS Arrives! - 1965-1980
Three days after Chief Davies retired, Chief Keith Heddlesten was appointed as Chief Davies' successor. During Chief Heddlesten’s time as Fire Chief, the Department continued to grow, expanding its ranks to help fight huge numbers of building fires.
The most memorable of the large fires during this time was the JB Tile fire in 1971. This three-alarm fire lasted three days and was highlighted by exploding gallon glue cans that flew into the air and landed throughout the area, starting dozens of spot fires.
The Fire Department also began to provide its first formally trained Emergency Medical Services under Chief Heddlesten. The Red Cross trained several of the firefighters as first responders, adding to the fire protection service already provided. It wouldn’t be until the later part of the 1970s that the Fire Department would finally provide formal and State-Licensed EMS service. During Chief Heddlesten’s tenure, the Fire Department also finished its transition from all-volunteer to mostly full-time paid firefighters.
Chief Heddlesten served as Fire Chief from September 1, 1965 until his retirement on April 9, 1980.
Reorganization and Continued Growth - 1980-1998
Chief Robert Adams was appointed the third Fire Chief of the South Salt Lake Fire Department on April 9, 1980. Under the leadership of Chief Adams, the Department continued to grow and develop. The Fire Stations were re-numbered during this time to better fit into the larger firefighting community in the Salt Lake Valley, using the 40’s as their station and unit identification.
Chief Adams also oversaw the first significant changes to fire prevention, fire investigation, and the refinement of Emergency Medical Service delivered through the Fire Department. The original Station No. 1 (now Station 41) was relocated from Oakland Avenue to 2600 South Main Street to make room for a new hospital being built on the Oakland Avenue location and adjacent properties.
Prior to Chief Adams’ retirement he began the process of expanding the Department’s capabilities by working toward a third fire station, a process that was completed shortly after his retirement by Fire Chief Steven F. Foote.
Chief Adams served as Fire Chief from April 9, 1980 until his retirement on April 1, 1998.
Trials and Tribulations - 1998-2011
Chief Steven F. Foote was appointed to replace Chief Adams on April 1, 1998. Almost immediately, the Department grew 33% with the addition of a third fire station and the addition of almost 8,000 residents in a newly annexed area. The two largest incidents ever experienced by the Fire Department both occurred during Chief Foote’s tenure.
The only six-alarm fire in the Department's history erupted on July 16, 2004. The storage lot at the Smurfit-Stone manufacturing plant ignited, causing over $10 million in fire loss. It took the help of eight other fire departments -- 150 personnel from 49 units in total -- and 3 days to contain this fire. Over 3 million gallons of water were used, pumped through more than 10,000 feet of hose in the process. Ironically, this fire occurred at the former location of the Wagner Bag Company and the first Fire Station.
Then, on March 6, 2005 a 13,000 gallon railcar containing a mixture of dangerous acids, and ammonia unexpectedly leaked roughly 6500 gallons into the surrounding area. The incident was the Department’s largest hazardous materials incident, lasting over 15 days and requiring millions of dollars in environmental clean-up.
Beyond dealing with these two emergencies -- along with many smaller incidents -- Chief Foote also made several significant changes in the department structure and staffing.
In 1998, Chief Foote created the first full-time Department training officer to better deliver and coordinate fire and medical training. In 2001, the Department began providing paramedic services and added 6 new firefighter paramedics to the Department.
Then, in 2007, South Salt Lake’s first full-time Fire Marshal position was created to improve the fire prevention and inspection capabilities of the Department. 2008 saw the remodeling of Station 41, adding 6 new dorm rooms and an exercise area, as well as the construction of a new Station 42 located at 3265 South 900 West. On August 21, 2009, The Fire Department started a Paramedic Ambulance service. 10 new firefighter paramedics were hired to provide this service.
Chief Foote served as Fire Chief from April 1, 1998 until his retirement in January of 2011.
On The Move - 2011-2019
Following Chief Foote’s retirement in 2011, Chief Ron L. Morris was appointed as South Salt Lake’s fire chief. Chief Morris brought an enormous amount of experience to the department as he'd been in the fire service since 1974 working his way from firefighter and through all ranks including Deputy Chief for Salt Lake County Fire and the State Fire Marshal.
Chief Morris served as Fire Chief from January 2011 until his retirement in February of 2019.
The Story Coninues... 2019-Present
In February 2019, Chief Addison was appointed as interim Fire Chief. In the summer of 2019 the Fire Department transitioned to a 100% full-time department with 66 dedicated sworn employees and four administrative staff.
In January 2020, Chief Terry Addison was appointed Fire Chief. Chief Addison has a wealth of prior experience in public safety and firefighting, as well as close ties to the South Salt Lake community. He takes great pride in working in the fire service and collaboratively building on our history while progressively moving our Fire Department forward.
The Department currently works a 48-96 work schedule with firefighters working two 24 hour shifts in a row before having four days off. For more information, see our Department Structure page.