LS: History Here and Now September 12, 2008

Third 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.

In the 1930s Grand Junction firefighter salaries were $2,000 a year, good pay for the depression years.

Until July 1935 a steam siren, located at the powerhouse of the Public Service company, sounded the public fire alarm.

When the steam plant closed, the city installed a large electrically operated siren on the roof of the fire station, which blew two times each day: at precisely noon and at 9 p.m. to signal the curfew when all children were to be off the streets.

In the early 1930s, Grand Junction hosted the state convention for firefighters, an event that brought men from all parts of Colorado for “fire college” and contests.

Unemployed men, with time on their hands, visited the firehouse because something was always happening there. Poker and checkers were standard diversions. Firemen formed boxing and softball teams.

On June 27, 1943, two railroad carloads of ammunition en route to the West Coast exploded in the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railway yard. Shrapnel and shells bombarded the downtown area.

Four people were injured in the fire. One of those was fireman Henry Tebo who received lacerations on his leg and Fire Chief Charles Downing, who lost an arm because of an exploding shell.

By 1947 the fire department had extended its protection beyond the city limits, financed by a mill levy paid by people living outside the city.

These rural districts included Orchard Mesa, Redlands, Appleton and Fruitvale. In these outlying areas, untrained citizen volunteers assisted the professionals at fires. In time the four rural districts were incorporated into one.

During the 1960s some firefighters moved into a new substation (No. 2) located at 1135 N. 18th St.
In 1961 an ancient boiler belched a ball of flame and caused a fire at the main station at 611 Colorado Ave.

The need for a new fire station became apparent.

On Sept. 1, 1963, the fire department moved into its present location at 330 S. Sixth St., a one-story structure that cost $125,000 to build.

In 1968 firefighters began a labor of love restoring the 1912 American La France truck retired from service in 1955.

From the fire department, the truck had moved to the city water department where it was used it to pump out reservoirs on Orchard Mesa.

One day, however, the operator of the vehicle had fallen asleep on the job, and a rod had shattered the engine block. The vehicle then went to the Frank Dunn Auto Salvage, where it sat for a number of years.

Firefighters convinced Mr. Dunn that the historic vehicle should be restored. Dunn agreed, stipulating that the truck could not be owned by the city, that it could not be used to fight fire, and that it could not be sold.

Firefighters began the restoration project, welding together an engine block that looked like a jigsaw puzzle.

Some missing pieces had to be made to complete the project.

When Chief Frank Kreps retired in 1974, firefighters gave Kreps the truck. It was stored at Station No. 3 where Kreps, with the help of others, had the vehicle looking like new and ready for its first public showing within a year.

The engine became a standard feature in Grand Junction parades. It is now on display at the Museum of The West.

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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