The history of Hellsgate Fire begins with the merger of the Diamond Star and Tonto Village Fire Districts. These two Districts came together in an effort to improve services for both areas. The eventual merge took place in February 2008. Following is the story of Diamond Star and how we became Hellsgate Fire Department. We are still researching the details for Tonto Village’s beginning. If you, or someone you know, was a part of the formation of Tonto Village Fire District we would love to hear from you.
The Diamond Star Fire District was established by the residents of several unincorporated communities located East of Payson, Arizona in a vote on November 4th, 1980. The original boundaries were from the Town of Payson boundaries East to Milepost 259 on Hwy 260. It included all the private lands except the Lion Springs area. This area later annexed into the Fire District. The Town of Payson would later expand their boundaries East to the private lands of the District. This would take the forest service lands located North and South of Hwy 260 away. This area would later become the Rim Golf Course and Chaparral Pines Subdivision.
The newly formed Fire District made an agreement for the Payson Fire Department to provide fire services to the newly formed Fire District until they could get enough funding and equipment to start providing service. The first Board of Directors was established and an organizational Fire Chief appointed. In March of 1981 Jim Idoine was appointed by the Board to be the first Volunteer Operational Fire Chief and charged with putting together an operating Fire Department. The first formal training meeting was held in June of 1981. This first meeting was held in the building being built on Milky Way in Star Valley with 9 members present. With no roof on the building, no firefighting experience and no pay, the group quickly came together to do what was needed. This was soon to change with a lot of hard work to complete the 1,600 square foot fire station, purchase our first fire truck and get training to be ready to start responding. With the building completed by the volunteer firefighters, our first fire truck was purchased. A 1963 Ford FMC truck was put into service, designated as Engine 8.
The Fire Department went operational November 1, 1982 with the 9 firefighters showing a lot of heart and dedication to their community. The only thing that this new department responded to was fires. No medical, vehicle accidents or special needs, just structure and brush fires. Just 22 days after starting operations, we had our first response for a house fire. The fire was put out with an estimated 50 gallons of water by the crew of Engine 8 before backup from Payson Fire arrived on scene. It was fought from the outside in, as we had no breathing apparatus yet, that wouldn’t come for almost two years and many fund raisers being held to raise the needed funds. We ran a total of 2 calls that first year and 13 calls the first full year of operation in 1983.
Several trucks were added over the next 6 years including a type 6 brush truck and 3,100 gallon water tender. In 1989, the Board approved the ordering of our first new fire truck. The bid was awarded to Emergency One to build a type 1 Cyclone custom fire apparatus. This new truck would be all wheel drive, 1,250 gallon pump, 350 hp diesel engine with an automatic transmission, and 500 gallons of water. The truck was delivered in June 1990 and responded on its first call to the Dude Fire located on Mogollon Rim, just North of the District. This fire became famous for being the largest fire at that time in Arizona history at 28,000 acres and killing 5 inmate firefighters and 1 inmate guard firefighter. This truck has responded on many major fires throughout the State of Arizona since then and is still in operation for us today.
In August of 1991, Chief Idoine, after more than 9 years of service, tendered his resignation at the monthly Board Meeting and Captain Rick Hounshell was appointed by the Board to serve as Acting Fire Chief until the next Board Meeting in 30 days. At the next Board Meeting, Captain/Training Officer Gary W. Hatch was appointed to the Volunteer Fire Chief’s position. Chief Hatch was one of the original members that attended the first meeting in 1982. On July 1, 1992 Chief Hatch became the first full-time employee for the District. That year the department responded to 47 calls for service, which now included full service EMT medical response, fire and other services.
In 1993 the Fire Department started providing Paramedic level response with our first four Paramedics. Chief Hatch was the only paid of this group, the others were volunteer firefighter Paramedics Peggy Hasty, Janet (JJ) O’Malley and Timothy O’Malley who also worked full-time as a Captain for the Phoenix Fire Department.
In 1996 the new fire station located at 80 S. Walters Lane was started on a 1/2 acre parcel purchased by the Fire District. It would take more than 3 years to complete the 6,780 square foot building. Most of the work was done by volunteer labor from the firefighters.
In February of 2007, the Board of Directors of the Tonto Village Fie District approached the Board of Diamond Star to ask about providing Chief services for their Fire District while they looked for a new Fire Chief. The district was adjacent to and just Northeast of the Diamond Star Fire District. The Board worked with Chief Hatch to work out an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) between the two Districts for the Chief to be shared in his duties while working on improving services in the Tonto Village Fire Department. On April 1, 2007 the agreement was signed and the working relationship was started.
The first thing that was done was to hold a “Mini Fire Academy” on 5 Saturdays to help bring up the firefighters from the Tonto Village FD and other FD's in the region on Board and training issues. This course was 40 hours of SCBA training, personal protective equipment uses and care, apparatus use and pumping, water tender operations and many more items. This was not designed to be the end training, just a start and was attended by TVFD, CKFD, HMFD and DSFD personnel. Within 8 months of the end of this course, 6 of the students had gone on the become AZ State Certified Firefighter I & II. The first personnel in the history of the TVFD to achieve this training. Within another 5 months, we had our first set of EMT’s in the TVFD. Things were really looking good for this small department. Old outdated equipment and apparatus were taken out of service and newer, modern equipment replaced these. Now both TVFD stations had type 1 engines and a good water tender, 1 type 4 engine for Wildland and a new truck ordered as a type 3.
In December of 2007 the two Boards came together to see how it could be made permanent and make a new district as one agency instead of two. In January, the meetings had been held and the both Boards agreed to a Merger of Operations and Districts to form Hellsgate Fire District. This name is based on the National Wilderness area which lays just East and South of the District. On February 17, 2008 it was officially named the Hellsgate Fire District and we have not slowed down yet.
Today, we are now providing services to 12 communities. Three that have been added since the formation of Hellsgate Fire District which are Bear Flats, Zane Grey Meadows and Little Green Valley. There is an Automatic Aid in place with both Payson Fire Department and Christopher Kohl’s Fire District. We participate in the Gila County Fire Chief’s Association Mutual Aid Agreement as well.