The biographical history of the Pembroke Pines Fire Rescue Department is a tale of growth, evolution, and dedication to community safety. It intertwines with the history of the City of Pembroke Pines itself, tracing its origins back to a humble volunteer fire department serving the unincorporated area known as West Hollywood.
The First 25 Years:
In the mid-20th century, the region that would later become the City of Pembroke Pines was characterized by open spaces and the budding development of the Pembroke Pines Country Club community. Before it was incorporated, in 1960, the City of Pembroke Pines was known as the Village of Pembroke Pines with approximately 1,500 residents. It was during this time, in 1953, that the West Hollywood Volunteer Fire Department was established by Charles Frey, the department’s founding member and first Fire Chief until 1964.
This fledgling fire department was formed with a noble purpose: to safeguard the lives and property of the residents in the unincorporated West Hollywood area, providing crucial firefighting and emergency services. As the area continued to develop and the population increased, the West Hollywood Volunteer Fire Department played a crucial role in maintaining the safety and well-being of the community. It was a time marked by a pioneering spirit and a dedication to the principles of volunteerism and public service.
The course of history took a significant turn on January 16, 1960, when the Village of Pembroke Pines was officially incorporated. This marked a pivotal moment in the area's history, signifying its transformation from an unincorporated region to an organized village entity. The fire department, which had its roots in the West Hollywood Volunteer Fire Department, continued its mission under the evolving landscape and by July of 1964, fire and emergency services were now being delivered out of the newly constructed fire station, Station 33, on North Perry Airport. The following October, upon Chief Frey’s retirement, Fire Chief Robert Rathburn assumed office.
As the years progressed and the community's needs grew, so did the demands on firefighting and emergency services. With a commitment to enhancing the safety and well-being of its residents, the Village of Pembroke Pines recognized the necessity for a professional fire department. This transition marked the beginning of the Pembroke Pines Fire Rescue Department as we know it today.
In 1969, the residents of Pembroke Pines approved a referendum to establish the City’s paid professional fire department no later than 1974. In June of 1969, Fire Chief Holden assumed office, making him the third Fire Chief in the history of the West Hollywood Volunteer Fire Department. In 1971, the volunteer firefighters agreed to change their name to the Pembroke Pines Volunteer Fire Department as Fire Chief Ronald Czaplicki became the department’s fourth Fire Chief.
In 1973, the Pembroke Pines City Commission voted to establish a paid, professionally staffed fire department. Lieutenant Elmer Alderson, Driver Engineer Robert Young, and Firefighter Jon Vargo became the department’s first three full-time employees, as volunteer firefighters continued to provide additional support personnel. In 1974, as the Department continued its transition to a professional fire department, Fire Chief John Galloway assumed office, becoming the Department’s first paid Fire Chief.
By 1978, the department was responding to 1,700 calls for service and the city opened its second fire station, Station 69. In 1979, Chief Galloway was succeeded by Fire Chief Philip Rosenthal who is credited with the department’s complete transition from a once-volunteer fire department to a professional organization capable of handling the evolving demands of the community.
The growth and development of the area didn't slow down. By 1981, the department was responding to 3,100 calls for service and Fire Station 79 was opened in the newly annexed land west of US27. That same year the Department also placed its first ladder truck in service and additional personnel were hired to keep up with the demands for fire and emergency services. By 1986, the department’s call volume continued to increase steadily, and Station 89 was opened in Century Village. By 1989, our fire and emergency services fleet consisted of 5 Engine Companies, 2 Ladder Companies, 5 Rescue Units, and 1 Airport Crash Truck.
In 1991, Chief Rosenthal retired and was succeeded by Fire Chief Vito Splendorio, who brought 25 years of fire service experience from the City of Hollywood Fire Department. Chief Splendorio is credited with advancing the Pembroke Pines Fire Rescue Department into one of Florida’s most successful and efficient fire departments.
Because of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the City of Pembroke Pines experienced a substantial increase in population, urban development, and economic expansion, becoming the fastest growing city in the country. It was also during this time, under Chief Splendorio’s leadership, that the Department experienced its most significant growth. By 1994, the department was responding to over 10,000 calls for service and conducting over 5,000 life safety inspections. As the number and nature of calls continued to increase and evolve, the department developed into an all-hazards emergency response organization and in 1996, the city opened its fifth fire station, Station 99.
By 1998, the Department had grown substantially and now employed nearly 180 personnel, delivering services out of 5 strategically located fire stations. That same year the department celebrated its 25th Anniversary and earned a Class 1 Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating, only 57 of the 44,000 fire departments in the U.S. had earned a Class 1 ISO rating.
The first 25 years of the department’s history marked a period of growth and modernization. As the City expanded, the Department faced the challenges of ensuring the safety of a larger more diverse community. The City’s commitment to safety was evident as the fire department invested in new technologies, equipment, and training programs to meet the higher standards of emergency response. These efforts were crucial in building a foundation for the department’s next 25-year history and future success.
The Next 25 Years:
In the midst of the achievements and milestones of the previous 25 years, the Pembroke Pines Fire Department, like fire departments across the nation, faced an unprecedented challenge on September 11th, 2001. The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Arlington, shook the country to its core. While physically distant from the sites of the attacks, the impact reverberated across the nation, including Pembroke Pines. Although separated by miles, the department’s personnel felt the weight of the tragedy. This event served as a stark reminder of the importance of preparedness, readiness, and the bond that exists among all those who serve in the fire and emergency services.
The year 2001 also marked a significant milestone for the Pembroke Pines Fire Rescue Department with the opening of Station 101 and a state-of-the-art Public Safety Communications Center, later renamed the Tom Gallagher 911 Public Safety Communications Center, in honor of the late Communications Chief, Tom Gallagher. In 2002, a new flagpole monument was constructed in front of Station 69 to honor the victims of the events of September 11th. That same year, the Pembroke Pines Fire Rescue Department hosted the Southeastern Regional Extrication Competition, where competition teams from all over the world attended.
In 2004, the department opened its 3-acre Fire Training Facility, dedicated to enhancing the training and education of our personnel in the latest advancements in emergency medical services, vehicle extrication, fire suppression, and other emergencies. This facility not only enhanced the skills of the department’s personnel but also showcased the city’s dedication to providing the best possible services to its residents. Throughout the years, our Advanced Life Support and Vehicle Extrication Competition teams have also enhanced our in-service training with innovative ideas and advanced techniques gained from their competition experiences. They have also won numerous first-place awards in multiple ALS and Vehicle Extrication events in regional, state, and local competitions.
In 2006, Chief Splendorio retired and was succeeded by Fire Chief John Picarello. Chief Picarello was the first Fire Chief to rise through the ranks of the Department. That same year, the Pembroke Pines Fire Rescue Department was named EMS Provider of the Year, and the city was named a Heart Ready City by the American Heart Association. In 2007, the Department completed its transition of all frontline units to Advanced Life Support (ALS) units.
The department’s commitment to excellence, innovation, and community service was unwavering as it faced the challenges of the economic crisis in 2008. This financial downturn brought about various challenges for fire departments across the United States. Through leadership, innovation, and cooperation, Fire Chief Picarello and his staff managed to find ways to maintain operational effectiveness while navigating the financial difficulties brought about by the Great Recession.
As the 2010s unfolded, the Pembroke Pines Fire Rescue Department continued to face the challenges of a changing world and adapted to new technologies, evolving protocols, and changing societal needs. Through various state and federal grants, the department was able to obtain or replace thermal imaging cameras, toxic gas detectors, portable stair chairs, power lift stretchers, portable and mobile radios, and replace our aging self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA).
In 2010, we also introduced the first Officer Development Program to ensure our future officers are prepared for the challenges ahead. In 2012, the city’s emergency dispatch center began its transition to become one of three county regional dispatch centers as part of the county-wide emergency dispatch and communications regional consolidation. In 2014 the city completed the transition into the Broward County Regional 911 Communications System and is now the South Region Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP).
Health and Wellness has become an increasingly important focus. In 2015, Power Lift stretchers were purchased with the assistance of a grant and greatly reduced the incidence of back injuries to our personnel. In 2016, new exhaust systems were installed, and bunker gear storage rooms were enclosed. In 2017, ballistics equipment was purchased and placed on all front-line units. Mass casualty incidents and active shooter training was expanded to include training with surrounding agencies from multiple disciplines. In 2019, fire station alerting systems were replaced in all stations with the state-of-the-art G2 Phoenix Station Alerting System with several features that enhance the health and wellness of our personnel.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic posed significant challenges to the department. These challenges impacted various aspects of operations, services, and personnel. Ensuring the health and safety of our personnel while performing their duties required implementing strict protocols, providing additional personal protective equipment (PPE), and adapting response strategies. Despite the challenges, the department adapted, innovated, and worked tirelessly to remain operationally ready for various emergencies. The pandemic underscored the resilience, dedication, and flexibility of our personnel and the importance of their role in public safety.
In August of 2022, Fire Chief Picarello retired after 37 years of service and was succeeded by Fire Chief Marcelino Rodriguez. Chief Picarello implemented many positive changes that placed the department in a position to succeed for many years. Under Chief Rodriguez’s leadership, the department continues to progress and evolve as a professional organization.
Today, the Pembroke Pines Fire Rescue Department is serving the community out of 6 strategically located fire stations throughout the city, with a workforce of 198 Combat personnel, 11 Administrative Chief Officers, 5 Auxiliary Staff members, 7 Fire Prevention Inspectors, and 2 Community Risk Reduction Specialist. In addition, fire department apparatus resources include 2 Command Vehicles, 2 Aerial Platforms, 6 Fire Engines, 8 Rescue Units, an Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting (ARFF) vehicle, and a Tactical Support Unit.
Throughout its history, the Pembroke Pines Fire Rescue Department has maintained its dedication to its founding principles while adapting to the changing needs of the community. From its origins as the West Hollywood Volunteer Fire Department, established in 1953, to its current role as a professional, progressive, forward-thinking fire department serving the City of Pembroke Pines. Its journey is one of growth, resilience, and a steadfast commitment to the safety and well-being of the community and its residents.