The Signal 51 Group was formed in 1969 by five local Fire Buffs whose objective was to serve the Fire Department of the City of Shreveport in any way we could as private citizens. In 2009 we celebrated our 40th year of operation. Our organization is a member of the International Fire Buff Associates, Inc. (IFBA). The IFBA has over eighty five Fire Buff Groups in the United States, Canada and England that joined together to further their ideals, on a common ground in promoting the general welfare of the Fire Service and allied emergency services. Our mission to serve our fire department from the beginning was twofold:
Support and maintain the Shreveport Firefighters Museum.
Assist with rehab by supplying refreshments and when necessary snacks and food at second or greater alarm fires.
*Rehab was a term that was not heard of when we first started. It was just -- Bring the drinks and food if necessary to the fire.
At our very first major multiple alarm fire we did not hand out refreshment. A large warehouses at Slack Industrial Park was on fire from one end to the other. When Signal 51 members arrived, Chief Greene asked us to get a 2 ½ inch hose line off of Engine 8 and help fight the fire.
Over our long history we have had guys and gals that have taken it upon their selves to respond to any working fire where they thought refreshments might be needed. But because of having children and business commitments we did not always have the people that were able to do this. We still almost always responded to second alarms or higher. We probably make 20 to 30 calls a year responding to just multiple alarm fires.
What are fire buffs? The term is not defined in Webster's Dictionary; however, to the estimated more than 50,000 Buffs in the U.S., most of whom are "free lance" and do not belong to an organized group or club Mr. Karl Detzer comes closest to explaining our avocation when he wrote in the Baltimore Sun as follows:
Fires to us are not mere spectacles. They are demonstrations of strategy and tactics, for behind the apparent confusion at any "working fire," there is generalship. A real buff can tell at a glance just how the battle lines are drawn. The placement of hose lines and ladders, the use of high pressure deck pipes and ladder pipes, the location of windows being smashed out with axes - All these are clues to what kind of fire it is, where it is centered and how the job of extinguishing the blaze is progressing.
Today's Fire Buffs are basically students of the Science of Fire Fighting together with an active interest in a multitude of other activities designed to aid and promote their local Fire Departments.
Like other fire buff clubs we get a great deal of satisfaction out of assisting with re-hab at multiple alarm fires. At these emergencies Signal 51 members used to operate the local Salvation Army Canteen which supplies food and refreshments to all the emergency workers and displaced citizens. However now we use our personal cars to respond to and take supplies to the incident. The fire dept. sets up the rehab area near a medic unit on any significant event.
Most buffs generally are apparatus enthusiast and some members can even tell you the make, model and year of each Shreveport fire engine.
The picture at the right shows Signal 51 members, Jerry Hope and Karen Mackey at one of only a few light moments during the serving of refreshments at the tragedy of 6 young people drowning in the Red River on August 2, 2010. It was an extremely hot, humid evening and they were grimy and covered with sweat when Father Guido Verbeck snapped this photo. They had carried supplies back and forth over 250 yards of rough terrain to get much needed refreshments to the responders and recovery divers on that fateful night. Click on the their image to see an enlargement.
We act as a citizens' public relations group for our Fire Department and combat unjust criticism or ridicule. Most of us have attended the Citizen's Fire Academy which has given us an entirely new perspective and a deeper respect for what firefighters do. A few of our members belong to the Shreveport Fire Corp. One of our members was Chairman of the 9-1-1 Board, and other are on boards and committees related to the Fire Service. Another member has been president of the IFBA, and two others have been vice-presidents.
Every five years Signal 51 host a regional International Fire Buff Associates meeting in Shreveport to show off our Fire Department. The Fire Buffs who have attended from around the country have always been highly impressed by our firefighters' knowledge of fire fighting, their friendliness, and the appearance of our equipment.
The group is always interested in obtaining Fire Dept. memorabilia and was instrumental in bringing the Shreveport Firefighters Museum into existence. We have taken photos and videos of most major fires over the years and try to keep track of the history of the S.F.D.
We have a 1928 American LaFrance which is one of our museum pieces. In the 1980's we had a 1969 American LaFrance Pioneer I Pumper (ex-Engine 10) that we maintained and used in many parades, weddings, fire dept. funerals, and other events when requested by the Fire Chief. In 1997 we used a 1974 Pioneer II, in 2000 we used a 1983 American LaFrance. and now one of our members has several pumpers we can use, one of which is a 1969 American LaFrance Pioneer I (X-Engine 17). One of our members is known nationwide for his expertise in restoring antique fire apparatus and at one time had the largest and best private collections in the country.
When Shreveport Fire Chief, Brian Crawford became Chief the new fire department maintenance facility was opened on Mansfield Road. Since the building was at one time an automobile dealership it had a large showroom. Chief Crawford designated the showroom to be the location for the Shreveport Firefighters Museum. Dr. Harvey Carter, one of our members placed on permanent loan, a 1928 Seagrave pumper and his alarm console from old Fire Station 5, plus many other SFD historical items.
The 1928 American LaFrance that the members of Signal 51 had maintained for many years was also placed in the museum. Signal 51 members spent many hours refurbishing the alarm console and restoring the appearance of the antique fire engines that are now on display in the museum.
Members of the Signal 51 Group have radio scanners and Fire Dept. Pagers and are paged out when there is a need for our canteen service. A few years ago after units were dispatched to a fire at Libby Glass Manufacturing Company on a very hot summer evening a chief officer was heard on the fire radio frequency barking out to fire dispatch, "Give me a second alarm and tell the Signal 51 Group to setup on the east and south sides of the fire building!" As most of us were listening to our scanners that evening we did not wait for the pagers to go off for us that time.
We are very fortunate to have an outstanding fire department here in Shreveport. If you have ever watched them at a fire emergency and paid attention to the organization and leadership that takes place you will notice the strategy and tactics that they use. Watch the aggressive interior attack that takes place, but when there is too much danger the commanders on the scene quickly have the firefighters removed from the structure and begin an exterior or defensive attack. It is a well orchestrated event in what appears to be a chaotic situation.
While firefighting is a very rewarding job, it is an extremely dangerous one. Here in Shreveport where we have the long hot humid summers, and firefighters with their full firefighting protective clothing on take a beating. They are rotated out of the fire scene for rehabilitation at a set time interval. The SFD has an excellent rehab method setup for any incident, but in case of multiple alarm fires or major incidents the rehab area deserves all the help we can give them. In fact, Signal 51 members will, most often, respond to any fire where large diameter fire hose is laid to supply water to put the fire out. When this occurs it is a good indication that there is significant fire and the firefighters will be exerting a great deal of energy.