Hook and Ladder Company: Online Exhibit
The Pioneer Hook
and Ladder Company was first established by the River Falls Common Council
in June of 1885. The Council quickly bestowed wide ranging authority
in the new municipal department with Ordinance No. 21. Through this
ordinance, a fire warden was allowed to enter any building in the city
between sunrise and sunset to inspect for potential fire hazards. All
instructions by the warden were to be followed at the individual's own
expense. The ordinance also stated that all citizens present at a fire
were to obey any orders given to assist in extinguishing the blaze.
In 1886, a Fire Limit Ordinance was issued requiring buildings to be
made of brick or stone.
J. Walter "Pat"
Patterson, who joined the Pioneer Company in 1904, was a
volunteer firefighter for fifty years. As chief he was paid
$4 for every alarm he responded to, twice as much his crew.
in center with lighter coat)
and the Pioneer Hook and Ladder Co. No. 1 firefighters,
a city waterworks existed, townspeople engaged in experimental firefighting
methods. "Bucket brigades" existed in the early days in which
pails of water were passed from the banks of the Kinnickinnic River
toward the fire, a method which proved difficult if the fire was a good
distance from the river or in the winter months when the Kinnickinnic
A Pioneer Hook firefighter remembers working with what was referred to
as the "Old Soda Fountain," a chemical extinguisher that proved
to be inadequate. "...we used to go to the nearest well, fill the
tub with water, put in some acid and soda and watch the thing belch
forth, sputter and spew; then we would fill her again and by that time
the building had burned down. The boys said "no good" and
sent it back."
By 1887, 500 feet of hose was purchased by the city which was enough
to protect the commercial district although not the entire city. In
1888 the Common Council purchased 3 200 barrel cisterns to be placed
in strategic areas but neither measure was enough to protect from another
series of dangerous fires which destroyed AW Lunds Carriage store downtown
and several other businesses in the commercial district. In May of 1893
a resolution was passed to establish a city waterworks, the most prominent
reason being better citywide fire protection, and it was in place by
Normal School building fire, 1897; River
Falls FD truck near station, 1948
Falls Prairie Mill Fire, 1916; the Mill also burned
in 1896 [Read
River Falls Journal article about the blaze]
Like most towns of the era, wooden buildings
constructed in close proximity to one another coupled
with kerosene lamps and coal furnaces were a recipe
for rapidly spreading fires in nineteenth century
River Falls. In October 1875, a fire broke out in
the new Metropolitan Hotel and burned eight surrounding
businesses before it was brought under control. A
few months later, another fire erupted which destroyed
every building north of the post office on Main Street.
In April, 1878 a fire downtown in Cameron's Bakery
burned an entire block including fourteen buildings
to the ground before it could be extinguished. The
River Falls Academy, Prairie Mill, the original Normal
School building, and the Commercial Hotel, among many
other structures, all fell victim to destructive blazes.
of the RFFD, successor of the
Pioneer Hook and Ladder Company, no. 1.
more information see Pierce Series 119: Fire Department records, 1926-1974.
ARC Photograph Collection
Timothy Erickson. River Falls, Wisconsin: A History-1885-1910.
(UW-River Falls, 1981)
John Prucha and Norman Foss. Kinnickinnic Years. (Arrow
Printing, NY, 1993)
River Falls ARC Photograph Collection
River Falls Journal, 3/16/1896
River Falls Journal, 6/25/1896
River Falls SC 182
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