The Washington Fire Company
Dr. Elmar H. Schmidt
No one seems to know just when the Fire Company came into being. On
May 29, 1852, two carpenters, Beecher and Johnson, were ordered to make two hooks, to be
thirty feet long, and two ladders, to be "made with a slide so when let out, they
will be 28 feet long."
On August 7, 1852, there is an entry in the town records: "Be
it ordained that the hooks and ladders, made for the use of the town be delivered to the
Captain of the Washington Fire Company." Thus we have proof that in 1852 there
was a Washington Fire Company.
Piece by piece, new equipment was added, axes, buckets, and torches.
A wagon was provided on which these things, together with the hooks and ladders,
could be hauled to the fire. In 1859, a brick fire house was built west of the City
We have no written records of this early Fire Company, but we do know that
it functioned well, because in those days there never was a conflagration. Every
fire was confined to its original hearth.
When Lincoln issued his call for men, during the Civil War, our Firemen
turned in their life belts, helmets and hand axes, and shouldered their rifles to
fight for the Union. During the war, the fire company morale was lowered, partly
because the Company asked in vain for a hand fire pump. Finally a pump was provided,
but unfortunately, it was not efficient.
The Company held only one meeting a year for several years, until July 24,
1873, when a meeting was called at the old Liberty Hall to reorganize the fire company.
William Engelhardt was elected temporary chairman; Joseph H. Schmidt, secretary;
Simon Strauss, treasurer. Other men present were Julius Beireis, Henry Beinke, Henry
Dickbrader, Frederick Krog, Henry Krog, William Lange, Henry Loch, Christ Nordmann, Franz
Schwartzer, and Bertold Staudinger.
Permanent officers elected on August 14, 1873, were: Chief, Franz
Schwartzer; Assistant Chief, Henry Dickbrader; Secretary, Joseph H. Schmidt; treasurer,
Simon Strauss. A constitution and by-laws were adopted, as well as the motto,
"One for all, all for one."
On October 3 of that year the City purchased fifty feet of suction hose
and 200 feet of fire hose. In 1884 a new fire engine and hose cart was bought for
$520.00. In 1889 Washington received one of its greatest improvements. A
corporation obtained a franchise to provide water and fire protection, and sixty-five
hydrants were distributed about the town.
An electric fire alarm system was installed a few years later. One
box was at the City Hall, the other at Main and Elm streets. A third was added in
1893, at the "Sharp Corner," Fifth and Stafford. These boxes were
connected to a bell at the water works and when this rang, the engineer at the plant blew
the steam whistle. When telephones were installed in 1894, the alarm boxes were
A real event was the purchase of the first piece of motor-driven
apparatus, a Smith-form-a-truck chain driven hose, chemical and ladder truck on July 12,
1917. Four additional trucks have been purchased since that time.
In former years no record was kept of the fires. Some of the larger
ones were in the Wehrmann Building, Sprehe's home and cooper shops, Dr. Jackson's
residence, Tod Pork House, the Busch Brewery co., Degen and Breckenkamp Milling Co.,
Gallenkamp's Drug Store, and the cap factory.
Perhaps the most dangerous fire was one that occurred on Palm Sunday,
March 28, 1920. A sixty-mile gale was blowing at the time. The fire started in
the Aholt home, and by the time the alarm was turned in the house was nearly destroyed.
Other houses caught fire from the flaming brands thrown by the terrific wind.
By hard work for over five hours, the fire was finally quenched. Property
damage was given at $9,700.00.
Men who have served our City as Fire Chief are: Franz Schwartzer,
Henry Buhr, Charles Tamm, Helmuth Mayn, H. C. Grohe, and the present chief, L. G. Kruel.
The Fire Company has a right to be proud of its record. Our city has
often been threatened with conflagrations. If we have prevented them, let us hope
that we will always be able to do so.
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