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125 years of fighting fires

By Staff | Jul 6, 2015

What started out as the Hose Company No. 1 has certainly changed over the last 125 years.

They went from putting out fires by buckets and using horses as transportation to what they are better known as today the Blue Earth Fire Department.

And this summer, the department is going to do something a little different to celebrate 125 years of service to the Blue Earth community.

“We will be hosting a street dance/outdoor concert at Double Play,”?Ashley Bleess says.

The dance will feature the band Judd Hoos, a group from Sturgis, S.D.

“We thought we would do something different and we heard they were pretty good,” Bleess adds.

So, that got the ball rolling and the planning began. The department decided to join forces with Double Play to make the street dance possible.

“It was nice getting Double Play to work with us,” Bill Rosenau adds.

The street dance will take place on July 11 from 9 p.m.-1 a.m. However, the party will turn to 21+ after 11 p.m.

“Double Play will be putting a lot into it and we are all going to be working up there that night as well,” fire chief Roger Davis says.

Usually, the fire department will host a pancake breakfast during Giant Days weekend, but since they are hosting the street dance they held the breakfast earlier in the year.

However, these are not the only fun events the members of the fire department look forward to each year.

“We do parades, open houses, fun things like that,”?Davis says.

And many of the volunteers of the fire department would agree that they really enjoy the times when local students visit the fire hall.

“Fire prevention week is something I always enjoy doing,”?Bleess adds.

They all agree the excitement and curiosity of the younger students is rewarding to see.

However, the fun events in the community are only half of the job which is so rewarding for these volunteers.

The other half is what they are all about helping the community by responding to fire calls.

“Fires are a lot more dangerous than they used to be,”?Rosenau says. “The synthetic materials, glue and other new products cause a lot more heat and a lot more smoke fires double in size every minute.”

They say depending on where the incident is, after they get a call the department’s response time is within two minutes.

“The time is really fast,” Davis adds.

Which, if the fires burn faster and hotter than they used to, it is a good thing their response times are faster, as well.

“It seems we have had a lot fewer major fires than in the past,”?Bleess adds.

One of the most recent major fires in the area was the Kerry fire which happened on Oct. 4, 2007.

“I think that is a major fire most on the department now will remember,”?Davis says.

Some other major fires the department responded to over the last 125 years include the Riverside Town and Country Clubhouse fire in 1946 which was a total loss, the Houghtaling Hardware Store fire in 1951 which was also a total loss, the Frank Brothers Elevator fire in 1965 which caused $200,000 worth of damages, the Delavan Elevator in 1976 which was a total loss, the historic Octagon Barn at the fairgrounds in 1985 which started after being struck by lightning and was destroyed, or in 1989 when two buildings, three businesses and five apartments were a total loss after a fire started at 2:30 p.m. and lasted until the early evening.

However, in recent years, the department is glad to say the Kerry fire has been the only major fire.

With their quick call times and help from neighboring departments they have a good system down to putting out fires.

“Winnebago, Elmore and Delavan departments back us up when we need it,” Davis says. “We all train together, too, which makes our department bigger and stronger.”

Along with changes in materials which cause fires to burn faster and hotter, lots of other changes have taken place for the Blue Earth Fire Department over the last 125 years.

The department started out as the Hose Company No. 1 in 1890. They were stationed at the new City Hall building on the southwest corner of Sixth and Moore streets which had room for two trucks and some equipment.

It was also then that the city installed five fire hydrants around town.

Two wheel hose carts were pulled behind a team and a wagon or a small truck.

In 1918, the city purchased a first fire truck which had a hose, ladders, flashing lights, chemical tanks and more.

Then in 1926 the department purchased its first pumper which meant they were able to go outside of the city limits and still have a supply of water.

Another major change occurred in the 1980s when the fire department was introduced to the use of pagers. When a call for help is placed with 911 the department is paged out.

Prior to the introduction of the pagers, a call would be made and the department would be alerted of the emergency via telephone and siren system.

Some of the department members now also see a change from previous years and that is the declining involvement of volunteers.

“I remember there would be several applicants for an opening on the department,” Rosenau says. “It used to be hard to get on the department.”

However, now as population declines in smaller towns such as Blue Earth, the number of volunteers declines as well.

“I think we are down by three right now,” Rosenau adds.

But, with 27 individuals on the roster, the Blue Earth Fire Department continues to do their part in the community.

“We really need to thank the community members and businesses for all their support over the years,”?Davis says. “Especially the volunteers and the employers of the members because that is a big commitment for them to let us leave when we’re needed on a call.”

The department members go on to add that it is because of all the support that they are able to continue making a difference in the community.

With 125 years under their belt, the Blue Earth Fire Department is ready to continue helping the area for many years to come and encourages everyone to come out to the street dance to help celebrate their 125th Anniversary on Saturday, July 11.