End of an era for Roseland Fire, as Santa Rosa takes over and charts station move
After more than six decades in existence, the Roseland Fire Protection District, an early training ground for some of Sonoma County’s veteran fire leaders, is no more.
The district, among the smallest by area in Sonoma County and a largely administrative entity for the past three decades, dated to the 1950s, when residents on Santa Rosa’s southwestern edge decided to tax themselves to fund local fire protection for hundreds of homes.
It remained a small department even at its peak, with just two stations and covering just under 3 square miles. But Jack Piccinini, who rose to assistant fire chief in Santa Rosa after starting with the Roseland district while a teenager, recalled a model firefighting force that once served big hotels and blue-collar blocks alike. Roseland taxpayers were willing to fund top-notch fire protection, he said.
“We had a high level of pride, starting at the board of directors all the way down through the paid staff and volunteers,” Piccinini said. “There was a real strong sense of community there, despite the fact that times were changing.”
Before Santa Rosa started annexing bits and pieces of Roseland and south Santa Rosa, Roseland firefighters were responsible for calls to much of the city’s old south side. Santa Rosa would eventually encircle the district and the county-governed area it served, a neighborhood of some 7,000 people when it was formally folded into the city less than two years ago.
The initial takeover by Santa Rosa Fire Department came much earlier, in 1983, meaning the portion of property taxes that Roseland property owners pay for fire services long has gone to fund a contract with the city. It covers fire, emergency medical, rescue and hazmat services.
Last week, the Roseland district’s dissolution was made complete, with the vote of a local government commission that simultaneously transfered its remaining financial reserves and budget to the Santa Rosa Fire Department.
“It’s going to fly under anybody’s radar,” Piccinini said, because Roseland hasn’t managed its own fire operations for so long.
Reminiscing on old days
He recalled how the department started in the years after World War II to take over fire and emergency services from Cal Fire, the state agency. The local firefighters built the cinder-block station at 830 Burbank Ave. in the 1950s, replacing a previous firefighting outpost that Piccinini referred to as a “tin shed.”
The current station’s early days were particularly notable for the “huge, extremely loud,” fog horn that would notify the community of emergency callouts, Piccinini said.
Ike Darling, 93, remembers that horn. An early volunteer and former truck driver, he started driving a Roseland fire engine sometime around 1950, likely before the formal creation of the Roseland fire district. Darling said he joined after calling the wrong number for the firehouse about a week after moving to Roseland and getting chewed out by a firefighter.
“You bought that house, you’re gonna live there. You might as well join,” the firefighter told Darling.
“We ran a pretty tight, good organization there,” Darling said.
He recalled how the department raised money to buy an old Army truck and fashioned it into a 1,000-gallon water tender. He noted that he saw a lot of inexplicable fire-related human behavior in more than three decades of fire protection service. Responding to a car fire once on Santa Rosa Avenue, the vehicle’s owner said “Let it burn, let it burn. It ain’t working anyway.” Another time, he witnessed a fire that sparked after a motorcycle mechanic’s gasoline-soaked clothes were tossed into a washing machine, sending off fumes that caused a blaze in the garage.