Ventura's Chinese Fire Company
Chinese Fire Company
In the 1860s, the first wave of hard-working Chinese immigrants to Ventura showed up as laborers, laundrymen, farmers, and cooks. Soon enough, tightly spaced clusters of wooden buildings lined Figueroa Street below the mission, and became known as Ventura's China Alley.
Because of the wooden structures that were tightly spaced, the Ventura Chinese Fire Company was formed in the 1870s where they protected the Chinese community, but also all of the wooden structures in town. Any small accident, such as a toppled lantern, could create a big disaster, such as the fire in December of 1890, which nearly burned the entirety of China Alley.
Understandably, response time was essential, and the Chinese always responded as quickly as possible. When a fire was reported, the gong sounded and the firemen would pull their fire hose cart and leap into action. The Fire Company consisted of about a dozen Chinese firefighters, including fire chief Soo Hoo How, who also owned a hand laundry on Main Street. “Charley” Hay Yee was designated to open up the shed that housed the fire cart when the gong sounded, as he lived nearby.
In 1903, the Ventura Free Press praised the Chinese Fire Company saying, “The Chinese Fire Company is peculiar to Ventura and a valuable adjunct. By its promptness always, it has saved 1000’s of dollars worth of property and it would not be a bad idea to give it a benefit so it could have a new complete outfit. Its maintenance has never cost the town a cent.”
“What Is Ventura's Chinese Fire Company?: Ventura, California.” Ventura California, 18 Apr. 2019, visitventuraca.com/blog/what-is-venturas-chinese-fire-company/.
Chinese Fire Company, Ventura Parade: July 4, 1874. 1874 July 4, Photograph, Asian/Pacific - Americans on the Central Coast, Black Gold Cooperative Library System, Calisphere, https://calisphere.org/item/7c14bf651dec1f4b37907b2cad11d291/.