LS: History Here and Now September 05, 2008

Grand Junction outgrew volunteer fire department

From the Robert Strobl collection
THE 1922 AMERICAN LA FRANCE truck was retired from service in 1955. The truck was given to Chief Frank Kreps when he retired in 1974.

Second in a three-part series on the history of the Grand Junction Fire Department. This is excerpted from an article originally published in the Journal of the Western Slope in 1988.

By 1893 Grand Junction, population 3,000, had relatively good fire protection with 70 volunteer firemen, two hose carts, a hook and ladder truck, and 55 hydrants.

Firefighters got good coverage in the local paper, perhaps due to the fact that Chief I.N. Bunting, the third fire chief, was editor and publisher of The Daily Sentinel.

The next year, the Grand Junction Fire Department produced one of the state’s best-running teams. On June 7, 1894, because of the notoriety the racing team had brought to the city, team members petitioned City Council for travel expenses and $2 per day spending money, which the council agreed to.

Grand Junction’s 1895 hose team placed first in every race it entered. The team held the world’s record in the straight-away and the state record for the wet test.

In 1897 the Hook and Ladder Company requested that council pay a monthly salary of $40 to the teamster, to be used, in part, to furnish hay for the horses, and the fire department was staffed 24 hours.

In 1898 council passed a resolution to phase out the volunteer department. Grand Junction, home to 5,000, undertook projects to improve fire protection. The city completed a new water works project that doubled water pressure.

Fire alarms went by telephone to the firehouse, where firemen then activated a siren at the electric light plant to alert others.

On July 2, 1902, Chief G.P. Rogers recommended that volunteers resign as a department, ending the Grand Junction volunteer fire department. With the reorganization a new unit called the Grand Junction Fire Department emerged.

By 1912 there were 113 fire hydrants, a chief, six professional firefighters and six men who assisted at large fires. The fire department purchased its first fire truck — a 160 horsepower 1911 model Seagraves with solid rubber tires on wooden hubs, a hand-cranked siren and a bell.

The department also got a 150 horsepower Thomas vehicle, which carried a 35-gallon chemical tank.

Housing these new machines the old hose carts, and the horses in the quarters on the ground level at City Hall was a storage problem. It appeared that Sam and Jack would have to be sold. Chief Jack S. Hynes wrote to the mayor of Hotchkiss offering to sell the team to the town for $800.

The sales pitch must not have proven successful because Furman L. Kelley, a lifetime resident of Grand Junction, remembered the horses served out their time doing street work for the city.

In 1914 a new building was constructed at 611 Colorado Ave. with a police department and city hall to the west.

On Sept. 22, 1918, fire engulfed an empty icehouse in the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad freight yard. As a result of this near disaster, Chief Hynes and Mayor C.E. Cherrington requested and received funds for two new fire trucks with more water capacity.

By 1919 equipment included a second vehicle: a Ford 1-ton truck with a 30-gallon chemical tank and 600 feet of hose.

During the 1920s the department owned two American LaFrance fire trucks. The old Seagraves vehicle was gone, having been traded in.

In 1921 the inauguration of a two-platoon system guaranteed that a full crew of firemen was always on duty, and that a second crew could be called into action in an emergency.

When not fighting fires, firemen would weigh vehicles on the city scales and collect a 35-cent scale fee.

They also sold water to people living outside the city limits who didn’t have access to it, issued building permits, inspected electrical wiring installations in the city and repaired flat tires on city vehicles, with all money they made going into the fire department fund.

On their days off, firefighters made fire inspections at businesses within the city.

Robert Strobl served 22 years on the Grand Junction Fire Department and retired as battalion chief, serving as training and personnel officer. While attending Mesa Junior college night classes he wrote a term paper on a short history of the fire department. He was encouraged by his instructor to expand the report, which was then published in the Journal of the Western Slope.

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