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Grand Forks Fire Department

The Grand Forks Fire Department is one of the longest continuously serving fire departments around. A year after the people organized as a village, on May 6, 1879, they established the fire department. In January the following year, George Walsh, President of the Village Board, held a meeting to discuss equipment for the department. And on this date, the village welcomed a horse-drawn Champion Fire Engine as its first piece of firefighting equipment. It was a simple two-wheeled apparatus with a 100-gallon tank.  While this seems rudimentary by today’s standards, at the time it was very helpful for the 15 volunteers who had relied on the “bucket brigade” method.

As Grand Forks grew, there came a need for more than volunteer firefighters. However, a dispute grew between the mayor and the firefighters over who would be fire chief. The firefighters wanted to appoint their own chief with mayoral approval, but the mayor wanted to appoint the chief himself. He finally picked E.H. Mix, and the disgruntled volunteers, who wanted Jim Ryan, chose to disband. The mayor then replaced them with paid staff and reorganized the department as the Pioneer Extinguisher Company No. 1.

Since then, the department has kept stride with available technology. In 1897 they were praised for having a fire headquarters, a pump house, two hose wagons, and an aerial hook and ladder rig. They had also developed an electrical alarm system that could be set off throughout the city and ring in the fire chief’s house, the Fire Department Headquarters, and pump house.

Before automobile technology, they also had teams of horses. Trucks began replacing them in 1917. By 1929, the last of the horses was replaced by a Nash truck, which was remodeled to be a ladder and service vehicle.

Today the department continues to pursue the best technology available. In 2017, they received two grants totaling over 140 thousand dollars for training, hazmat equipment,   and for smoke detectors that crews could give out.  They also have a call tracker on their website that tracks the number of calls and the areas they came from.  It’s all a far cry from those early days of the bucket brigades and horse-drawn tank of water.

Dakota Datebook written by Lucid Thomas




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