By Laura Landsbaum
The Woodlands Fire Department has certainly come a long way. It now boasts eight stations, an Emergency Training Center, 12 emergency response vehicles and three reserve vehicles. But that wasn’t the case when The Woodlands first officially opened in October of 1974.
In fact, The Woodlands needed a truck. Any fire truck.
Then an employee of Mitchell Energy and The Woodlands Development Company (owned by George Mitchell, the founder of The Woodlands) and a volunteer with the newly formed The Woodlands Fire Department, Bob Hibbetts brought the first fire truck to The Woodlands. But it was anything than an easy journey to get it (more on this later).
“Several employees (of Mitchell Energy) stepped up to be on the volunteer fire department,” Hibbetts says. “We had meetings once a week to do trainings.”
The volunteer department conducted additional training at the Texas A&M fire school. At the time, The Woodlands Fire Department consisted of a few early residents and four to five employees of the Mitchell Energy and The Woodlands Development Company (now Howard Hughes).
At the time, Hibbetts lived in Settler’s Cove in Grogan’s Mill, The Woodlands’ original village. Hibbetts’ family was the third to ever move into The Woodlands.
The first fire station sat near where the Central Fire Station on Grogan’s Mill is currently located. Of course at that time in 1974, Grogan’s Mill was a dead-end road.
Doug Campbell, a safety engineer for Mitchell Energy, took on the responsibility of developing a budget for the fire department. And Campbell, who’d become fire chief, purchased that first pumper truck.
“He ordered it out of Elmira, New York,” Hibbetts says. “So we flew up on a Friday and landed at LaGuardia. We took a six seater plane to Elmira.”
And then, the three day drive back to Texas in The Woodlands’ first-ever fire truck began.
“We spent the first night just inside Pennsylvania, then got up at 4 a.m. and made it to Bowling Green, Kentucky about 10 p.m.,” Hibbetts recalls. “And then we got up at 4 a.m. again, and left for Texas. We got in about 1 or 2 a.m. Monday morning.”
Before the pumper truck arrived, The Woodlands had a flat-bed truck that held a water tank with a pump to serve as something of a makeshift fire truck. Additionally, The Woodlands had water tankers that were used for irrigation that could be available in case of a fire.
Yes, when you are starting a different kind of community from scratch, you need to be resourceful.
Luckily, The Woodlands brought plenty of do-it-all types, true hometown heroes, in its earliest days, almost 50 years ago now.
Guys like Bob Hibbetts. Hibbetts volunteered for The Woodlands Fire Department until 1982. He retired from Howard Hughes in 2017, after more than 46 years with the development company. A former Eagle scout himself, he also volunteered as a troop leader for both Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts in The Woodlands.
But those years helping a new community find its footing — and safety backbone — with The Woodlands Fire Department remain some of his most treasured memories.
Many thanks to The Woodlands 50th Anniversary Sponsors:
FOUNDING – Howard Hughes
LEGACY – Woodforest National Bank
HERITAGE – Waste Connections Inc.
GOLD – Entergy Texas, Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital
SILVER – SVN/JBeard Real Estate, The John Cooper School
PRODUCER – The Woodlands Township