The San Mateo County Fire Department grew out of the economic expansion, logging and population growth during the late 1800’s. In 1887 the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors appointed a Fire Commission to protect the natural resources found throughout the County. This was followed by the establishment of an organized volunteer fire company in 1890. On June 28, 1921, Bert Werder was appointed as the first County Fire Warden for the newly created County Forestry Service. A series of large, devastating fires in the Butano-Pescadero creek drainage plagued San Mateo County in the fall of 1921.
The County Forestry Department would later be known as the County Fire Department and expanded rapidly. Thanks to several large fires and Fire Warden Werder’s political influence, by 1936 several new fire stations were established. They included fire stations at La Honda Summit (Skylonda), Saratoga Gap (Saratoga Summit), Pescadero, Montara, Rockaway Beach, and Gazos (Sandy Point). The Redwood City station was moved from Bert Werder’s house on Brewster Street to the old Juvenile Hall in Redwood City in 1936.
In 1962, the County began contracting with the California Division of Forestry. The San Mateo County Fire Department was placed under the authority of the Santa Cruz Ranger Unit, until 1970 when the San Mateo – Santa Cruz Unit was established. During this period the department evolved from primarily a “wildland” organization (California Department of Forestry) to the one of the largest all-risk fire department in the United States, known today as CAL FIRE.
Today, the San Mateo County Fire Department (SMCFD) is a “full service all risk” agency, providing fire protection, medical response, hazardous materials response, fire safety inspections, fire marshal duties, community education, emergency preparedness and planning for most unincorporated areas (those not covered by a municipal fire department or local fire district) of San Mateo County.
This includes the communities of San Mateo Highlands (CSA #1), Emerald Lake Hills, Palomar Park, Kings Mountain, Skylonda, La Honda, San Gregorio, Pescadero, Loma Mar, Middleton Tract, South San Mateo County Coast, and the Highway 280 corridor between Farm Hill Boulevard and Black Mountain Road. Many of the areas are remote with limited access. Most of unincorporated San Mateo County is highly vulnerable to wildfires. In 2018 San Mateo Highlands (CSA #1) Fire Station 17 achieved an ISO Class 1 rating, one of only two fire departments in the county to achieve this classification.