"... a fire in our said town of Otočac in Gatanski Kotar,.." these are the words written long time ago, in February 1476, by one of the members of the noble Frankopan family, the rulers of the island of Krk and Otočac region, Martin Frankopan, in his famous letter in which he complains to his closest relatives about the disastrous fire in Otočac which brought them great trouble, and worst of all, devoured many letters and documents carefully kept for future generations.
As far as known, neither Frankopans nor their successors came to experience such a tragedy in Otočac again. The first fire department in Croatia was founded in Varaždin in 1864, followed by the Sisak Fire Department in 1866. Being the seat of the Military Frontier regiment, Otočac area was under immediate command of the Military Frontier Generalate in Varaždin, which explains how Otočac came to set up its fire brigade as early as 1868.
At the time, Otočac had 70 houses and a population of 545 and for such a small number of inhabitants to maintain such an organization was a commendable effort. After abolition of the Military Frontier in 1873, Otočac entered a period of rapid development with numerous craftsmen and tradesmen settling here. This spurred the economic and social growth of the town with its population reaching 2676 by 1910.
In the said period, the Fire Department was under the patronage of traders and craftsmen and the Military Frontier officers who also made up its membership. For obvious reasons, the fire-fighting equipment was still very primitive and each fireman had to keep his personal equipment at his home for lack of communal facilities. This is confirmed by an 1873 record which says that Vojvoda (the highest ranking officer in the fire service) Jure Žagar would award 2 forints to the first fireman to reach the fire scene with a squirt and a carriage.
With the abrupt economic and social progress, the increasing number of artisans and merchants who joined the Fire Department along with officers of the Military Frontier the need arose for building a fire station. In 1875, fundraising was started for the construction of the first fire station and purchase of the most essential equipment, such as hand-held water squirts and horse-drawn fire engines, with each member responsible for purchasing his own personal equipment (bucket, axe, helmets). Completed in 1880, the Fire Station provided space for storing equipment, member meetings and events.
The fire service ranks of the time were: commander, deputy commander, secretary and fireman. The persons holding these offices are mentioned in the Fire Department’s records: Primus Knoll, Mirko Bradičić, Joso Gomerčić, Tomo Kregar, Ivan Planina, Bude Boras and others.
Since at that time most houses in Otočac were wooden single-story structures without a proper chimney, the Fire Department was very busy and was involved in frequent and extensive fire fighting activities.
With the outbreak of the First World War, the Fire Department’s activities subsided because many of its younger members were mobilized to the front. During this tumultuous period, the older members continued their fire fighting efforts and were involved in numerous fire incidents, including those caused by the war. In 1918, the Fire Department was revived and its activity was continued under somewhat better conditions. Placed under the auspices of the municipal government, the Fire Department began to receive financial support amounting from 2000 up to 5000 dinars.
In 1935, the fire brigade procured a written-off, military motor vehicle with hard tires called Martha, a donation of the Military Command in Otočac. The vehicle was upgraded with a wooden water tank, later replaced by an iron one. The first original fire engine, a "FAUN", was purchased in 1940 from voluntary citizen contributions. Although no longer in operation today, it is still in possession of the Fire Department.
At the beginning of the Second World War, in 1941, the Fire Department once again halted its activity due to enemy occupation. During the war, the fire brigade suffered a considerable loss with almost all of its equipment and most of its records completely destroyed. A large number of its members joined the National Liberation Movement (NOB) to fight against the occupying forces. Those who stayed in Otočac continued their fire fighting efforts, despite having modest resources. A notable fire brigade intervention was that in 1943 when the former gendarmerie building was set on fire during an enemy attack on the town.
Immediately after liberation of the country, the Otočac Fire Department was manned by new members who sought to repair the damaged equipment and resume the work of the volunteer fire service as soon as possible. The faulty fire truck “FAUN” was again recovered and returned to service, brass instruments were collected, and soon the Fire Department was again set up and fully operational. The following members deserve special merits for the renewal of the fire brigade in Otočac: Tomislav Božičević, Mate Lončarić, Pavao Kraljić, Josip Štefanac, Jure Marić, Milan Šnidaršić, Ivica Bilović, Mile Burić, Josip Ostović, Pajo Crnić, Bogoslav Peitel, Petar Bernardi and others.
This was a period of renaissance for the Fire Department with its membership enlarged with new recruits, mostly young people who were trained in various training courses for different fire-fighter ranks: junior fireman, junior officer, senior officer etc. A notable year in this respect was 1954 when the Otočac Fire Department had 70 active members and a large number of supporting and honorary members. In addition to fire services, the Fire Department’s activities at the time included a very active brass band and a tamburitza choir. It was also the time of construction of a new fire station, a facility of vital importance for Fire Department’s operation and development. The construction of the fire station was funded from the budget of the Otočac District Council and the Fire-Fighters Association, with the Fire Department members contributing with their labour (foundation excavation, carrying of materials, concrete, masonry and painting works). A great assistance was provided by the Otočac garrison who helped demolish the old building and transport the material to the construction site. The first construction phase of today’s fire station was completed in 1956 when the building was put into operation. After completion of the fire station building, the equipment was gradually renewed with a new fully equipped “ČEPEL” fire engine purchased in 1960, with new brass instruments procured in 1962.
During this and later periods, the Fire Department looked to increase its active membership base and paid special attention to acquiring new equipment and expending its fleet. In addition, the Fire Department’s brass band participated at all important festivals and competitions achieving excellent results. Also, Otočac Fire Department launched the initiative for setting up volunteer fire brigades in Vrhovine and Sinac, with the Municipal Fire-Fighting Association of Otočac formed in 1971.
In 1976, the Otočac VFD opened a fire-extinguisher service centre which was fitted with new equipment after the Croatian war of independence had ended. During the war, the fire brigade members played an important role in assisting the local community (e.g. supply of water) and the military (food supply) while performing fire-fighting, prevention and other important tasks. Exposed to constant mine and shell explosions and aircraft attacks, VFD Otočac was at all times ready to deploy to extinguish fire or take prevention actions. Otočac Fire Department was involved in putting out fire at following sites: the Holy Trinity Church on two occasions, a department store, a business and residential building in the town centre of Otočac, the Ramljane army barracks, the INA-Cosmochemia factory and a total of 106 fires on privately-owned residential and business premises. VDF was also deployed to a number of incidents involving tasks other than fire extinguishing (roof protection, opening of windows and doors, preventive demolition).
Since 1994, the Fire Department has been running a majorette group which has had many notable performances at events in Otočac and elsewhere.
During the recent war of independence, the dedication and active participation of VDF Otočac in saving lives and property has earned them many donations of equipment from numerous associations and individuals outside Croatia.
Today, the operational fire unit has about 40 active members. The wind orchestra has 55 active members and 25 trainees. A couple of years ago the VDF management raised the issue of fire station completion and succeeded in this effort. The opening ceremony of the new Fire Station took place on the 135th anniversary of the Otočac Volunteer Fire Department in 2003.