Fire Department History

The following historical information has been gathered from Times-Republican newspaper accounts over the years, as information collected by R.F. Ellis, Retired Fire Chief and department records.

Marshalltown's First Fire Department

The first step toward fire protection was taken in 1853, when the authorities of the small village of Marshalltown requested each citizen to keep in his house two buckets for fire protection and to use them in case of need.

The permanent organization of the fire department took place in 1868 when the Rescue Hook and Ladder Company was formed. A hook and ladder truck was purchased in Chicago at a cost of $1,600. After the great fire in 1872, the city purchased a large double decker Jefferson end-brake engine for $800. With that came a large hose cart, carrying 1,100 feet of hose. A.C. Sherwood was the first Chief of the department. The officers of the rescue company were: 

  • J.W Haines, foreman
  • George W McKinney, first assistant

Washington Independent Engine Company

The Washington Independent Hose Company was organized in 1874 under the name of Washington Independent Engine Company. It originally consisted of 40 members but was at one time increased to 70. Six hundred dollars was raised by subscriptions to purchase a single decker, side break, Button engine in Dubuque. The engine house, a frame building, was located on Main Street. Robert Vogel was the first foreman. After building the water works, the engine was sold to the State Center people for $600. The company then purchased in Auburn, New York a handsome hose cart, which they called the "spider," at a cost of $400. The name of the company was then changed to the G.M. Woodbury Independent Hose Company. The engine was located on East Main Street, now the location of the Tallcorn Motor Motel, in a 20-foot by 30-foot brick building. The officers were:

  • M. K. Williams, foreman
  • George Canfield, first assistant
  • John Bowman, second assistant
  • William McFarlane, secretary
  • Oscar Blaney, treasurer

The membership was 28.

Alert Hose Company

The Alert Hose Company was organized May 5, 1877. A hose cart was purchased by the city for $235. The engine house was located at South Third Avenue and was later replaced by Anson Hose Company, the present site of Banzhaf Roofing Company. The first officers of the company were: 

  • J. H. Johnston, foreman
  • W H. Harrington, first assistant
  • W W O'Brien, second assistant
  • R. W Westlake, secretary
  • J. W Brackett, treasurer

The company consisted of 20 members.

Hope Hose Company

The Hope Hose Company was organized in 1875, at the time of the building of the water works. The headquarters were in the city building. The first officers were: 

  • N E Sargent, foreman
  • A.E Walters, first assistant
  • Nathan A. Kers, second assistant

They had a membership of 20 men.

Anson Hose Company, Number 4

The Anson Hose Company, Number 4 was organized April 15, 1881, with a membership of 21. A meeting for organization was held at the old oil mill and the following officers were elected: 

  • W G. Craig, foreman
  • L. Scheiding, first assistant foreman
  • A.J. Richardson, second assistant foreman
  • C. H. Emerson, secretary
  • E Scheiding, treasurer

This company occupied the quarters formerly used by the Alert Hose Company, and disbanded in 1902 to make room for the new paid department.

Volunteer Fire Department

The volunteer fire department around the turn of the century consisted of six hose and two hook and ladder companies and about 150 volunteers. A series of serious fires from 1898 to 1901 prompted the city officials as well as the public to examine the need for a more efficient fire service.

It was not that the volunteers had not given good service, for they were probably as good a volunteer organization as there was in Iowa at the time, but the equipment was outdated and the system could not provide the prompt response that could be possible with a paid service. The city was growing too large for a volunteer service.

Paid Fire Department Following the Tremont Hotel Fire

It was believed by some that the Tremont Hotel fire of March 4, 1902 was the direct cause of the council deciding to establish a paid department. This however, is not true as newspaper accounts of council proceedings for some time prior to the hotel fire told of steps being taken to provide for a paid service. In fact, the Times-Republican of February 11 1902, a month prior to the Tremont Blaze, said: "A paid fire department is assured. Contracts were entered into last night for the purchase of all equipment except horses. The fire extinguisher company's bid of $2,050 for one combination wagon and chemical extinguisher and one straight hose wagon was accepted by the council."

Notable Historic Fires

Letts-Fletcher Fire

The campaign for the installation of a paid department really began after the disastrous Letts-Fletcher fire of December 16, 1897 when the big grocer house with three floors heavily stocked with goods was destroyed. The fire was one of the worst in the history of the city and was fought under most adverse circumstances. The temperature was below zero and working within the heavily stocked building was dangerous. This building was rebuilt after the fire and became the home of ER. Lay Dry Goods Store and is now the location of Surplus and Sports Supply at 2nd Avenue and Main Street.

R.C. Peterson Dry Goods Fire

On December 20 1899, the Times-Republican told of another serious fire. It said: "The most disastrous fire since the loss of the Letts-Fletcher stock and building two years ago occurred at midnight when the stock of dry goods of the R.C. Peterson Company, in the Haradon block, was damaged and adjoining property suffered some loss. The estimated total loss is $23,000. Peterson carried a stock valued at $21,000 with insurance of $12,000. The Boardman building on the west was thoroughly soaked with water, flooding the Kinsey Saloon. The Putzel Clothing Store had some smoke damage."

String of Serious Fires

There were three serious fires in early 1900. On February 2, William Shettle was burned to death when a gasoline stove exploded in the home of his father, Levi Shettle, at First and Railroad (now Madison) Streets; four days later, fire gutted two stories of the Woodbury building with a loss of $25,000, and on April 9, Mrs. Harriet C. Crumm, 73 and blind, was fatally burned in her home at 11 North 9th Street.

There were two costly blazes in November, 1901. Fire started shortly after midnight on November 12 and destroyed the plant of Marshall Oil Company with a loss estimated at $50,000 to $75,000.

Eight days later, the Hawkeye Canning Company plant was destroyed by fire of undetermined origin. The plant was located just outside the city limits on 12th Avenue south of the Chicago Northwestern tracks. Loss was estimated at $35,000.

The Historic Tremont Hotel Fire

Then came the disastrous Tremont hotel fire of March 4, 1902, which caused the city administration to hurry with preparations for the installation of the paid department. Of this fire, the T-R gave the following: "One of the most disastrous fires in the history of the city this morning completely destroyed the Tremont Hotel and its contents, with the stocks of goods on the first floor, and damaged adjoining building and stocks. Many of the guests and employees of the hotel narrowly escaped death and lost all of their personal effects, and a number of employees of the hotel were seriously injured. The total loss as a result of the fire will reach $75,000."

This building was replaced and is presently the home of Marshall Printing Company and Marshall Office Supply, as well as the Tremont Mall.

The hotel fire probably hastened the action of the council toward implementation of a paid department. On June 26, 1902 the T-R said: "The first practice run for horses for the new paid department was held today. The fire committee of the city council has chosen the following men for the new department: Charles Roupe, J.C. Watson, M.J. Cummings, Arthur G. Mundhawk, A.T. Anderson, C.C. Pigman, Leo Goodman, and Frank Borchardt."

Modern Day Facilities

The modern fire fighting facilities in Marshalltown were developed with the paid fire department being established on July 2, 1902. At that time a fire station was constructed on State Street to house the new department at a cost of $4,700. This station was located across the alley from the Memorial Coliseum on what is presently a parking lot for City Hall. Equipment of the time consisted of:

  • 6 horses
  • 1 horse wagon
  • 1 combined chemical engine and hose wagon
  • 1 hook and ladder truck

The hose wagons carried 35 feet of ladders and 1,000 feet of hose, while the hook and ladder was equipped with 150 feet of ladders and 500 feet of hose. The wheeled equipment and harness were purchased at a cost of $3,500.

At that time, there were 38 fire alarm boxes distributed throughout the city. The new fire station was described as "an elegant structure fitted up nicely with every convenience for the men as well as for the horses." This organization was boasted about as "being under the command of a Chief, its members competent and fearless with a record including many signal feats in the extinguishing of fires of the most difficult and formidable character." Although the old volunteer department served without compensation, the payroll of the newly formed department amounted to $600 per month for the 12 paid members.

First Paid Fire Chief

Lewis Schneider was named as the first chief of the paid department. He resigned a few months later and was succeeded by I.T. Kirby, who had formerly been a member of the city council and chairman of the fire committee. The original paid department was nine men including the chief. Today's department consists of 34 members including the chief.

South Side Station

In 1913 a south side station was opened on South 3rd Avenue at the south end of the 3rd Avenue viaduct. This served until 1924, when it was closed for six months because of a shortage of money in the fire fund. In 1928, it was decided to close it permanently because it was determined that with motorized equipment, the entire city could be better served from one station.

First Motorized Fire Truck

The first motorized fire truck of the Marshalltown Fire Department was a 4-cylinder Kissel Kar, purchased in March, 1912 and placed in service on April 27. Horses were retired from the city's fire service in 1914. Equipment of the fire department today includes: 

  • 1 - 1,250 gallon per minute engine
  • 2 - 1,000 GPM engines
  • 1 - 100-foot aerial ladder truck
  • 1 - attack pumper
  • 1 - medium rescue unit and a 1,000 GPM engine in reserve

Fire Chiefs

Following I.T. Kirby as chief, in chronological order were:

  • A.T Anderson
  • James Ellis
  • C.C. Pigman
  • H.F. Hemphill
  • Lierle Lemmon
  • R.F. Ellis
  • Leo B. Knox
  • Leonard L. LaPour, Jr.
  • James Hilsabeck
  • Rex Mundt
  • C. Lyman Monroe
  • Larry T. Squiers
  • Steven D. Edwards
  • David Rierson (present)

Fire Prevention Bureau

In 1966, upon the recommendation of the Iowa Inspection Bureau, a fire insurance rating agency, the city's fire prevention bureau was established to enforce fire laws and conduct fire investigations in the city. In 1968, also as a result of a rating bureau recommendation, the training division was established to keep the department abreast of new and ever-changing technology, and to develop and maintain a modern training program in all phases of fire emergency.

Decrease in Destructive Fires

Since the installation of the paid fire service, there have been fewer destructive fires. However, there have been some serious fires over the years that have been costly.