Forest City Fire Department

Forest City Fire Department, 1898

Fire fighters in 1898 are shown here and included, back row, from the left, A.D. Baumgardner, William Otis, E.I. Blodgett, H.D. Miles, C.D. Ambrose, L.J. Nicholson, N.M. HOwes, D.W. Perry and William Lundberg; second row, from the left, E.M. Roberts, H.J. Hansen, E.H. Chase, W.J. Wellman, T.K. Tollefson, C.I. Ambrose, C.C. Hansen, J.W. Shimer; seated, from the left, Frank Thompson, George L. Thomas, George W. Elder, Harry Rider, E.M. Thompson, H.T. Thompson, M.G. Green, E.W. Thompson and E.J. Lackore.

Forest City Fire Department, 1908

Members of the 1908 fire team are shown above. In the back row, from the left, are C.I. Ambrose, T.K. Tollefson, N.M. House, H.T. Thompson, Roy Durant, H.C. Bakken, J.L. Wheeler, W.J. Perry and H.E. Reed. Second row, from the left, H.J. Hanson, unidentified, Peter P. Larson, A.D. Baumgardner, Harry Ritter, William Samm, C.B. Easler, J.W. Lackore and H.C. Borchard. First row, from the left, I.R. Perry [or L.R. Perry], Andrew Hanson, George W. Elder, George Palmer, John W. Shimer, C.D. Ambrose, William Lundberg, M.G. Green and B.J. Lackore.

For many years after the settlement of Forest city the only defense against fire was the bucket brigade. Those were the days when the crowds that rushed to see the fire were sorely needed. A line was formed from the nearest well to the burning building and buckets of water were passed along the line to the fire and back to be refilled. Needless to say this method of fire fighting was not very satisfactory.

The first move toward an organized fire department in the city occured in 1881. A hook and ladder company was organized, a town well was started and a shed proposed to be built on the court house square. Uniforms were ordered, a truck and horse were purchased and a fire bell ordered. The fire bell which cost $18 was mounted on the town square.

About 1885 a new town well was dug at the center of the intersection of Clark and K streets. It was approximately six feet in diameter and about 18 feet in depth with about 6 feet of water. In order to protect as large an area as possible and save expense two large cisterns were dug, one at the intersection of Clark and L streets and the other at the intersection of Clark and J streets.

The city then purchased a hand pumper engine, a few hundred feet of hose, a two wheeled hose cart and a four wheeled hook and ladder wagon equipped with ladders, pikes and axes. A fire house was built at a cost of $600 and the fire bell was moved to the top of this building.

One of the fire department's first duties was to bring out the hand pumper and pump water from the town well to fill the two cisterns in order to be prepared to serve the property owners in that section of town.

The election of officers was held and the following were chosen: John Isaacson, chief engineer; E.A. Pinckney, first assistant; O.H. Twito, foreman and G.H. Onstad, his assistant; and Hans Thompson, foreman of the hose company.

But since there was no water works system in the town the fire department's facilities for real service were so limited that it later disbanded and passed into history with all honors for the efforts put forth.

A water works system was constructed in 1895, and a hook and ladder team was organized. The old hand pumper was traded off because there was no use for it. By the fall of 1896 this hook and ladder team had become inactive. On April 6, 1897, E.M. Thompson and Goerge Thomas put the matter of a fire department run on a business basis before the city council and what is known as the Forest City fire department was organized.

George Elder was chief; Thomas Danaher, assistant; B.J. Lackore, secretary and treasurer; E.M. Thompson, foremen of the hose cart, M.G. Green, assistant; George Thomas, foreman, hook and ladder; Harry Rider, assistant.

The names of the 26 charter members were: George Elder, Thomas Danaher, B.J. Lackore, George Thomas, Harry Rider, B.F. Wellman, William Lundberg, William Wellman, C.B. Charlson, William Otis, E. Blodgett, C.C. Hanson, J.W. Shimer, D.W. Perry, E.M. Thompson, John Johnson, C.D. Ambrose, E.F. Thompson, Henry Hanson, H.E. Reed, H.M. Howes, M.G. Green, and H.D. Miles. About a month later C.B. Chase, Hans Thompson and Irwin Ambrose were admitted as members.

The city was districted for fire alarms in 1897. In 1903 a new fire bell was placed in the court house tower. This is the bell which still tells the hours from the tower. During 1905 the next year a new four wheel cart and 500 feet of hose were purchased.

A cart such as this could not be driven to the fire, it had to be pulled. When the alarm sounded the firemen raced to the station house, unwound the long rope attached to the cart and pulled the cart to the fire. Later a dray team was hired to pull the wagon. After George Bolsinger joined the fire department in 1905 his dray team was used to pull the fire wagon.

He had the horses trained to dash to the fire station the moment the bell rang. Sometimes the horses were in such a hurry to get to the station they almost forgot to take George along. Once when he was down at the M. & St. L. depot the fire bell began to ring and the horses started off. George hardly had time to grab the back of his wagon. He tried to slow the horses down as they reached the top of the hill at the intersection of Clark street but before he could do so they collided with a horse and buggy.

Another time in the middle of winter the alarm was sounded and students from Waldorf ran to the fire house. They started to pull the fire wagon to the fire, but it got stuck in the snow. George came with his horses and sleigh, hitched the fire wagon to the back of the sleigh and hauled the wagons and the college students to the fire. but horse drawn fire wagons were soon abandoned for horse fire engines.

In March 1915, a new chemical engine was purchased to insure protection beyond the water limits of the city.

A truck was purchased in 1923. It had a capacity of 400 gallons of water per minute. The purchase price was $6,850. In 1930 this truck was traded in on a new model.

In 1947 a fire truck was purchased by the townships of Forest, Madison and Ellington for rural fire protection. An agreement was made with the city that this truck should be housed in the city fire station, serviced, and manned by the city firemen. The truck could in turn be used as a pumper in the city in case of fires out of control. This pump has a maximum power of throwing 500 gallons per minute. It has 30 foot ladder, a roof ladder, and an attic ladder, as well as chemical extinguishers.

The city realized the need for a new city truck and one was purchased in 1948. This truck was the latest in design. It has a cab large enough to accomodate five men, a 195 horsepower V-12 engine located directly behind the cab, and the short, 150 inch wheel base has a turning radius of 25 feet. The truck can carry 150 gallons of water and can pump 750 gallons per minute. Weight of the truck when empty is 14,000 pounds. Both the pumping and the engine controls are brought out to the right side and can easily be handled by one man. Forest City's fire fighing equipment has changed considerably since the days of the bucket brigade.

In 1954 the rural fire company purchased a truck and equipped this truck with a large 1,000 gallon tank which is used to help supply water to the regular rural fire fighting truck.

Late in 1954, the city took option on a new building for the fire department. The floor in the present building was considered weak for the weight of the trucks and additional space was needed for the water truck. Before moving into the new building, that was once owned by Forest Launderers and Cleaners and located west of the creamery, the city council feels it must sell its present building in Main street. Rent paid towards the new building will be applied towards the purchase of the building if the city decides to buy the structure.

The fire department members meet each Monday night. On the first meeting night in April election of officers is held. From its organization in 1897 to 1939 three fire chiefs served the total 42 years. George Elder served 15 years, William Lundberg 11 years and H.J. Hanson 16 years. Since 1939 verious men have served as chief.

-from the Forest City Summit, July 28, 1955
-transcribed by Sharyl Ferrall

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