Truman has long
been regarded as the father of the Riverside County Fire Department. It was his
philosophies, ideas and persistence that started the department, as we know it today,
in 1946 and saw it firmly established before his retirement in 1969.
Truman was born
in Sheridan, Wyoming in 1906. He was the youngest of three sons. The Holland family
moved to California in 1916 and operated a dairy farm north of Ramona in Puma Valley,
in San Diego County. The farm was located within the Cleveland National Forest and
protected by the United States Forest Service. The Forest Service at that time relied
upon pick‐up labor
and volunteers for fire suppression crews. Fire season started early in 1922 and
Truman soon became a regular pick‐up
firefighter at the age of 16. Truman and his brother Lee both worked the next two
years as firefighters and patrolmen.
In 1927 Truman
was appointed as a San Diego County Fire Warden at the age of 21 and assigned the
Ramona District. He worked at this assignment until July of 1930. The State Division
of Forestry took over the fire control program in 1930. Luther Gordon became the
Ranger in charge of San Diego County. Truman Holland was appointed Assistant Ranger
assigned to the western half of the County. Ed Miller was assigned to the eastern
half. A building was rented in La Mesa for their headquarters and warehouse. They
were issued hand tools and had to use their own vehicles for transportation and
used volunteers and pick‐up
labor for fire crews. Most of fire season was spent on fire lines. Upon finishing
one assignment they would go to the nearest town and call headquarters for a
new assignment. During the depression years Forestry labor camps were established
for unemployed transients. Truman was assigned to Camp Hart, east of Julian in Mason
Valley, during the winter of 1931. When fire season opened on April 15, he returned
to regular fire control duties.
his wife, Velma, in September of 1932 and that winter was assigned to open a new Civilian Conservation
Corps camp at Oak Grove near Fallbrook.
in San Diego County, working the Fallbrook and Valley Center Districts, Truman became
a seasoned fireman. In 1940 he was promoted to Associate State Forest Ranger and
assigned to Mendocino County. In 1941 he transferred to a new assignment in
Sacramento. The war brought about rapid changes in the Division. Services were being
expanded; mutual aid programs and co‐operative
contractual agreements with other agencies to provide fire protection services were
In 1943, Truman
was assigned as Ranger in San Bernardino County when Butch Skinner was called to
military service. The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors was desperately
trying to find a means of providing year round fire protection in rural areas.
with the Board of Supervisors and the State officials in preparing a co‐operative contractual agreement where
State personnel, equipment and facilities would be used to provide County Fire Protection
during the winter months. The County was to reimburse the State and provide
funds for new County facilities, all operated by State employees. The first San
Bernardino County contract was implemented in the 1943‐44 fiscal year.
During the war
years, Riverside County experienced growth and expansion far beyond the ability
to provide the services needed. Volunteer Fire Departments had formed throughout
the County. Fire equipment and facilities were acquired through donations and fund
raisers. These volunteer fire departments soon became the center of community activities.
Volunteers were called on for all emergencies and enjoyed tremendous public support.
The California State Division of Forestry had nine Forest Fire Stations that had
been in operation since 1930. The State administrative personnel were also
appointed County Fire Wardens. They enforced County ordinances as well as State
Fire Laws. The County made
limited emergency fire funds available for use in extreme emergencies.
In 1946, Riverside
County looked to the State Forestry in Sacramento for assistance and guidance in
forming a County Fire Department. Truman Holland was transferred from San Bernardino
County to Riverside County because of his experience in this area. Truman had become
an ardent advocate of a consolidated State/ County Fire Department operating under
a unified command system for the handling of emergencies. While pondering the scope
and complexity of this assignment he visualized a fire department with stations
located strategically across the vast expanse of Riverside County from Orange County
to the Colorado River. This vision became his dream. Truman worked long hours each
day to get support on what the fire department should look like from Corona to Palo
Verde valley. He developed an inventory of people, Grange, businesses and civic
organizations. After building a category of community oriented people he would go
to them for donations of land, building of fire stations and acquiring used military
equipment. Truman would provide an old engine or fire trailer but the local residence
would have to staff and house the unit. Many became volunteer firefighters. Truman
always had the greatest respect for volunteers, folks giving of their time and money
to serve their fellow citizens.
dream was to build the best possible fire department providing the best service
at the least cost to taxpayers. A basic fire protection plan was approved by the
County Board of Supervisors prior to Truman’s physical move to Riverside County.
Perris City was selected as the location for headquarters. The basic plan incorporated
the nine existing State Forest Fire Stations and the existing volunteer fire departments
to form the original Riverside County Fire Department. The plan also identified
locations where new additional stations were needed. Growth and expansion schedules
were to be governed by available funding. Costs were not to exceed ten cents of
each dollar per assessed valuation. People would tell Truman he was a dreamer saying
you can’t go to the County Airport commission and tell them “you donate land and
I will build a fire station”. He got supplies and buildings. Truman built county
fire stations for $9,000 using department employees to do the work. People were
willing to give everything they had to support Truman in his endeavors. He got fire
engines and hand picked the people to staff the fire stations. The plan originally
identified twenty seven stations.
contract provided for year round coverage at six of the nine State Stations, rental
of state equipment and twenty four hour dispatching from Perris Headquarters.
The first working
budget from the County in 1946‐47
was $69,000.00 per year. This provided year round coverage of the west end Stations.
The 1947‐48 budget
provided funding for the Desert Hot Springs and Cathedral City stations. Desert
Hot Springs was the first success story. The Desert Hot Springs Improvement Association
and a lot of people made their own station out of adobe bricks. Elmer Chambers was
chosen to staff the station and moved in in 1947. The station had a 10 wheeler surplus
military truck. It had an eight hundred gallon tank and a five hundred gallon per
minute pump. This was the first County Fire Station. Next Cathedral City received
an engine. Jack Couste was assigned to the first lower Coachella Valley Fire Station
and had a 4X4 military truck and lived in a screened in room at the Indio fair grounds
with a cot and a hot plate. This started the expansion to the east. New stations
were established at the rate of three per year for the first four years. Riverside
County Fire Department was well established by 1950 with nineteen stations staffed
twenty four hours, year round. From the very beginning this was a frugal operation.
The assigned basic plan was accepted because it was seen as the only affordable
means of establishing a County Fire Department at the time.
If the Department
was to continue to grow and provide new and additional services as needed, strong
leadership was essential. Truman Holland provided that leadership.
together a staff of bright, hard working, young, dedicated people who shared his
philosophy and goals. These people were groomed to carry on and assure continuity.
Unique to Riverside County, successive Fire Chiefs have promoted through the ranks
within the department after Truman’s retirement in 1969. Under the outstanding leadership
of these people the Department has grown and expanded
services steadily since the very beginning. Stations have been added, City contracts and disaster
preparedness responsibilities assumed, paramedic and rescue services expanded and
Hazardous Material response capabilities are now available. Highly trained technical
personnel are required to provide these services. A training center now provides
training in all facets of the Departments operation. Continuous training is provided
to assure that the highest caliber of professional services is provided in all emergencies.
dream has long been fulfilled. After 65 years the Department has grown beyond his
expectations. His successors and the many firefighters that make up the Riverside
County Fire Department today take great pride and are dedicated to providing the
best possible service at the least possible cost to taxpayers.
retired in 1969 after 23 years as Riverside County Fire Chief. He resided in the
San Jacinto area where he kept tabs on the department even though he knew it was
in good hands. Truman Holland died in 1988, knowing his dream had come true.
E. H. Ostrander