The city of Huntington is protected by 106 professional firefighters of the Huntington Fire Department (HFD), founded in 1897. The department currently provides nine fully staffed companies with a compliment of support staff and apparatus responding from six strategically located fire stations throughout the city. The six stations consist of six engine companies, two ladder trucks, a rescue truck, a marine unit, and several reserve engines, reserve utility trucks, and staff vehicles.
Huntington is on the southern bank of the Ohio River and is the river's largest port area. The Huntington Fire Department is capable of water/underwater rescue operations and is the host locality to the Regional # 6 West Virginia Regional Response Team which provides Hazardous Materials and Technical Rescue Team responses. The department holds a Class 2 rating from the Insurance Services Office (ISO) and was the first department in the State to achieve this status. Last departmental evaluation was performed in 2010.
The Chief of the Huntington Fire Department is Jan Rader, the first paid female Fire Chief in the history of West Virginia
The problem of organizing for protection against fire was not given much thought until 1874, when A.C. Young and a group of associates organized a hook and ladder company. Young was given City Council authorization to contract for a hand-drawn hook and ladder truck. The Council approved $450 toward the purchase of the new truck. It was built locally by M.A. Jones, and Huntington's first fire company was born. In 1874, the city council enacted an ordinance creating a fire department to consist of an Engine Company, a Hose Company, and the previously formed Hook & Ladder Company. Mr. S. Sexton was named fire chief, and the personnel was all volunteer. in May 1875 the city purchased a hand-operated engine and a hand-drawn hose reel from Portsmouth, Ohio, for $725. To provide a water supply for the department, large 500 gallon cisterns were made in numerous locations in the city. On August 5, 1875, the organization was complete and the department was ready for action. A tower bell for alarms was bought in 1875 and more cisterns were placed in 1876.
Thomas Sikes was Captain of Hook and Ladder Co. No. 1, and Eustance Gibson was Captain of Excelsior Fire Engine and Hose Co. No. 2. Both were Civil War veterans, well known and respected early settlers. Many of the volunteer personnel composed of well known early settlers, merchants and professional men, many of whose descendants are living in Huntington today. In 1876 a night-watchman was hired at $3 per month to look after the station at night and sound the alarm in case of a fire. This was the first paid employee of the fire department. In 1879 J.W. Verlander became the first Fire Chief, and J.M. Boone became chief in 1880 until 1895. In 1881, four Gamewell Fire Alarm Boxes were installed in the downtown area. These fire alarm boxes were maintained by the telephone company. The system kept growing, and in 1928 construction was completed on a new Gamewell Fire Alarm System and Fire Alarm Headquarters were placed in operation in 1929, and remained in service until 7:32AM November 1, 1986. The Gamewell Fire Alarm System served the City of Huntington faithfully for 105 years. There never was a loss of life or major disaster because of a system malfunction.
In 1883 the department first and only horse-drawn steam fire engine was purchased from the Ahrens-Fox Fire Engine Company of Cincinnati. The engine was brought up the Ohio River to Huntington on a steamboat. Also in 1883 the department was reorganized on a part-paid basis, but continued to be largely volunteer until 1897 when the department was again reorganized with a paid chief, four paid drivers and a force of firefighters who were paid by each alarm they answered. Each firefighter held down regular jobs the rest of the time. This was the beginning of Huntington's full-time paid fire department.
From 1913 to 1915 five pieces of motorized equipment were bought for the department. These consisted of a chief's car, two hose trucks, a pumping engine and an 85 ft (26 m) aerial ladder truck. This was the beginning of motorization. In April 1926 the last two teams of horse-drawn hose companies were led away from Hose Companies No. 5 in Guyandotte and No. 6 in Walnut Hills.. The day of the dashing fire horse was over. The old St. Clouds Fire Station is the city's reminder of the horse-drawn era. The horse-bitten window sills still remain today.
In February 1929 Huntington's firefighters were issued a charter establishing a local union. Under the International Association of Fire Fighters, Huntington's firefighters were given the 289th local in the U.S. and Canada
The Fire Prevention Bureau was established in the early fifties, because of the increasing number of fires in homes and businesses, along with the city's Fire Prevention Week. Early functions of the Bureau included the Fire Prevention Parade and a contest to select Miss Flame, a beauty queen to reign over the weeks activities. All contestants in the competition were required to have red hair in the earlier years. The Fire Prevention Parade was held the first Monday in October, and a tradition that is carried on today since the fifties. Fire Departments from West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky participate annually in Huntington's Fire Prevention Parade. The Huntington Fire Department implemented the School Fire Patrol Program in the city in 1950. This programs said to be one of the oldest in the nation today. Other events in the mid to late fifties included the establishment of the Tri-State Fire School. The Tri-State Fire School is still used today to train firefighters.
In 1965, the city built its first new fire station since 1926. The city's 100th birthday was commemorated when the Centennial Fire Station was placed in service on January 13, 1972, replacing the long-outmoded Central Fire Station. The Centennial Fire Station is still in service today. In 2004, a new station was opened that replaced St. Cloud station 4. The old station has been in service as a fire house for over 100 years. It now houses the traffic division for the City Of Huntington. The 1980s were tough for the department, several firefighters retired, and budget cuts forced the closure of several stations. The Gamewell Fire Alarm System was deactivated and Fire Alarm Headquarters closed. (The Old Fire Alarm Headquarters has been converted into a fire museum today.) Dispatching was combined with the Police Department, marking the beginning of 911 emergency dispatching.