Neighbors Protecting Neighbors

Fire Protection in The Early Years

"Neighbors noticed that the home of Mrs. Martin Kerner was afire and the fire bell was rung. The company was called out but when the men got there some of the neighbors had nearly extinguished the fire with water buckets. The fire was caused by a faulty flue and had not been noticed by the family until their neighbors sounded the alarm. Not much damage was done. The Reporter states that the fire company was on hand with hose carts and the men were in their places as they had practiced. This was only the second fire since a new system was put in place and in both instances the homes had not sustained much damage. It is reported that there are thirty men in the fire department. The officers are: Chief John Keel, Secretary Iver Shupe (1871-1957), and Treasurer Ed Schmidt. (1887-1981). " Dysart Reporter February 12, 1914

This was not Dysart's first experience with fire, and it would not be the last. In February of 1875 a fire had broken out at the large elevator of Brown, Doty, and Company and destroyed much of the building and contents. This fire was fought by town residents and also several farmers who lived close to town. Although the building had been insured, the contents which belonged to several areas farmers was not. It was estimated at the time to be a loss of between $8,000 and $10,000 to these farmers.

Realizing that a fire on the Main Street would quickly spread and devour all the businesses at once, the city organized a hook and ladder company in 1878. A hook and ladder company tears part of the structure down while it is on fire in order to contain the spread of that fire. They have no other equipment available to them.

Dysart Firemen

In July of 1882, the Traer Star Clipper reported that a massive fire in Dysart that claimed six businesses. "About 3 o'clock in the morning a bright blaze was noticed in Manrid & Haney's Drug Store, by a gentleman who was watching the sick. He quickly gave the alarm and a crowd was soon on the scene working valiantly - women included - but the fire had become too strong a force to be controlled." The drug store burned down. The wind was from the south. The building next to it on the north was made of bricks so between the wind and the bricks, that building was spared. However, on the south side stores caught fire one after another until four had been consumed. The buildings included a saloon belonging to William Seefield; a grocery belonging to Mrs. Horton and occupied by Sult and Company. the Welcome Mowry's Store occupied by Pinkerton Drug Store, and a meat market, A barber shop was pulled down to save other buildings. A livery stable on the west side of the street caught fire and burned. This belonged to Joseph Furrow. The horses were rescued but three sleighs were destroyed. The wooden addition to Federson's store was burned and his good damaged. The total loss was estimated at $20,000. The Star Clipper concluded, "They have no fire protection whatsoever, and it was only by hard work (of the citizens) that the fire was finally checked. Most of the stores will be rebuilt, some of brick." A Remington Fire Engine was purchased in 1883.

Remington Fire Engine

In 1886 bylaws were established and the company was named the "Pioneer Engine Company". At first, the fire engine was pulled to the location of the fire and the water was pumped by hand from cisterns which were located around town. The machine was pumped by three or four men on each side of the machine similar to a hand car on the railroad. There were two cisterns on Main Street, one by the schoolhouse, one by the elevators and at several other places. A prize of $5.00 was given to the first team that got to the engine and got hitched up. The work was so hard that one team could only stand to pump for a few minutes at a time.

After a citywide water system was created, small hose carts were used which were pulled by teams of men and the races to see which team would arrive at a fire first continued. In 1887, a report to the city indicated the Pioneer Engine Company had the following equipment: One horse, one hand power Remington Engine with two suctions and two horses and six hand levers. Also one axe, two sledges, four iron stakes, two spanners, four braces, two chains, two wrenches, one lamp, one oil can, two sec. whiffletrees (pivoted swinging bar to which the traces of a harness are fastened and by which a vehicle or implement is drawn) and one neck yoke.

Dysart's First Fire Department

In 1889, the fire department was reorganized and became the Dysart Fire Department. Membership was limited to 40 members: 18 assigned to Engine Force, 12 to hose and 10 to hook and ladder. In that same year, they were able to purchase a Running Cart.

In 1890, a second big fire occurred in April. This fire was also reported in the Traer Star Clipper. "Our sister town of Dysart was visited by a disastrous fire early Sunday morning, which laid waste to the greater portion of one side of the main business block. In a reprint from the Dysart Reporter, "Sunday morning between 12:30 and 1:15 o'clock fire was discovered in the restaurant of Mrs. Weigle, a widow lady. The fire had gained such headway that nothing was saved from the building, the occupants having barely time to escape with their lives. From the restaurant the fire spread both north and south. On the south were J. T. Drayton's Jewelry Store and J. T. Kranbuehl's Furniture Store, which were soon enveloped in flames. Much goods were saved from these two buildings, though in a considerably damaged condition. Adjoining the restaurant on the north was Marsau's Meat Market, from which nothing was saved due to close proximity to the origin of the fire. Following the meat market, four more building succumbed to the devouring element - Mrs. Julia Duncan's dressmaking establishment, Joseph Furrow's Meat Market, lately leased to H.W. Lahmon; Stewart & Drayton's Harness Shop, Cody & Wench's Millinery establishment, and J. Kullmer's Clothing House." Most of the goods in these buildings were removed, although much was damaged. By the time the flames reached the Kullmer building the good work of the fire company and bucket brigade had the fire well under control. Had the water supply been sufficient the loss might not have been so great. "The fire department fought the fire heroically and are deserving of much credit....Three hours had wrought a disastrous work, and the Sabbath morning dawned on the smoldering embers of nine business houses and the homes of several families." The loss added up to about $12,000. Most the businesses had no insurance.

In 1918, the use of chemicals was added to the arsenal of tools the Fire Department had available to fight fires and improved their efficiency. This had the capacity to carry 45 gallons, claiming to be equal to 18,000 gallons of water, and could force a stream of chemicals 80 feet into the air.

In 1920, a new fire truck was purchased and a telephone system of alerting firefighters was add. Previous to this the department was dependent on a bell system. The first motorized fire truck was purchased in 1929.

The Dysart Rural Fire Company was organized in 1932 and each member was assessed a fee of $10 so they could purchase a fire engine. Moving forward from 1931 both departments progressed in their methods and purchase of equipment. They joined forces in 1963 when they jointly purchased a Ford Econoline truck. The present day Community Fire Station was opened in 1969.

Dysart Fire Department Shield

As a child growing up in a small town in the 1960s and 1970s, our firefighters were integral to so many area of our lives. They contributed heavily to the sense of safety that we enjoyed as children. They not only protected us from fires, but they guarded us from the weather by spending long hours out in the country watching for tornados. They responded to emergencies of all kinds and manned our ambulance service. They were the first ones out after storms and sounded all clear when it was safe for the rest of us to venture out.
They, with the support of their families, offered important social functions through dances and breakfasts and fire safety demonstrations at our schools. I cannot imagine how much time these men and their families sacrificed for all of us.

They practiced their skills by doing controlled burns on abandoned houses which when you are a ten-year-old straddling your stingray bicycle is a pretty big deal in a small town. Sometimes they sponsored contests with other area firefighters where each could hone their craft while still providing entertainment for the rest of us.

They were the good guys. They were present and provided comfort in people's toughest times and they contributed greatly to our corporate celebrations. They drove their trucks in parades and lit the fireworks on July 4. They were the other adults in your world who you could identify and knew could and would help you if you were in need. Many people have served the town of Dysart over the years as firefighters and first responders. They still do. All of their contributions are noteworthy but to me the term firefighter means Harold, the Dons, Leo, Gordon, the Bobs, Ralph, Terry, Dick, Ray and Steve and many others who added so much to the tapestry of our lives.

Posted in Iowa Stories.

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