History 1867 - 1872
The first fire company in the City of Des Moines was organized in 1865; and was known as the "Hook & Ladder". After the City had purchased an engine, the Company was reorganized under the name of the "Hawkeye Hose Company", with Charley Spofford as Chief Engineer. Pictured to the right is the Headquarters of the Des Moines Fire Department.
In 1867 another Company was organized, the first regular meeting being held on April 1st. This Company was named the "Rescue Hook & Ladder Company", and its services were tendered to the City. On April 8th, the City Council voted to purchase a Hook and Ladder, which upon delivery, was placed under the charge of the Company, which also elected Charley Spofford its Chief Engineer. This Company has been credited with doing effective service. However, in 1868, the City, having purchased a steam fire engine called "The General Crocker" for their use, again reorganized the Company and its old Hook and Ladder truck was turned over to a new organization known as the "Excelsior Hook & Ladder Company", after which both organizations constituted one department under the name of "Rescue No. 1", with Spofford as Chief. Spofford was succeeded as Chief in order by General N.B. Baker, John Miller and William P. Dexter. This consolidated organization continued without other changes until the advent of the Water Works in 1870, when a new Company known as "Fellowship Hose Company No. 2" was organized in East Des Moines. This was followed by the erection of Engine Houses on West Locust and on East Court Avenue, between 6th and 7th Streets on the north side of the street, and the election of William Nafie as Chief.
In 1870, three large cisterns were constructed at three strategic places in the City. The Steamer and the Hook and Ladder were kept in Stofford's barn on West 5th Avenue when not in use.
In 1871, the volunteer Fire Chief was paid $400.00 a year, with $50.00 a year paid to 25 volunteer firemen. Two hose reels were placed on each side of the river until the great fire in the Clapp block in the winter of '82-'83, which prompted the organization of the first paid department.
1873 - 1884
On June 6, 1873, a meeting was called by Chief Nafie at which another consolidation was effected under the name of the "Hawkeye Hose & Ladder Company" of Des Moines, which created a new Fire Department having two divisions and embracing the entire City, with "Hawkeye Hose & Ladder Company" constituting Division No. 1. This was authorized by City Ordinance. On June 16, 1873, the organization of Division No. 2was completed as the "Fellowship Hose Company".
The Fire Department seems to have functioned under this form of organization until the establishment of the paid Fire Department in February, 1883, during which time Chief Nafie was succeeded in order by Chiefs C.T. Hahnan, Jacob Stroll, Ream C. Johnson who was elected in 1876, John McGuire in 1878, W.A. Mosier in 1880 and Ream C. Johnson who was again made Chief in 1882 and held that office at the time the paid Fire Department was established and continued as Chief until 1892. In 1883 the Fire Chief was paid $1,000.00 a year; Assistant Chief $900.00 a year and $50.00 a month to 15 Firemen.
The paid Fire Department, as organized in 1883, had seventeen men on the payroll, two fire stations, one on the west side and one on the east side of the river, and equipment consisting of two hose carts and a small chemical engine and a ladder truck.
1885 - 1892
In 1885, the Fire Department was increased by the addition of ten more men, two chemical engines, two hose carts and the building of Station #3 at East 12th and Des Moines Streets. Twenty years later, or in 1905, this station was made a double company station.
In 1886, Station #4, a wood frame building, was built at West 8th and Laurel Streets.
In 1887, Station #5 was built at West 17th and Crocker Streets, and seven more men were added to the department. Ten years later, in 1897, this station was made a double company station.
In 1890 Station #6 was built at South Union Street and Edison Avenue. The Fire Department consisted of 52 men, 29 horses and 6 fire stations; had an inventory of 9,700 feet of rubber hose and 1,000 feet of cotton hose. On April 14th, the then famous Starch Works fire occurred, when the story was told that so much starch was blown around the City, the horses thought it was snow and froze to death. The C. Gilbert Starch Works was located in the Chesterfield area (southeast section of the City).
1893 - 1895
In 1892 Martin Melander was appointed Chief, succeeding Ream C. Johnson.
In 1893 Station #7 was built at East 12th Street and Cleveland Avenue and continued in use until November 17, 1916, when Hose Company #7 moved and Station #7 was assigned to a new building at East 13th and Hull Avenue, which was continued as Station #7.
In 1894 John W. Monarch was appointed Chief, but before his two-year term had expired, he resigned to engage in the sale of fire equipment, and Martin Melander again assumed the duties of Chief of the Fire Department.
During the year 1894, the following stations were added: Station #8 at S.E. 6th Street, then known as the "southeast flats". Station #9 at E. 18th and Walnut Streets; Station #10 at W. 6th and Clinton Avenue (Highland Park); Station #11 at W. 24th and North Streets. This station was made a double company station on November 29, 1938 when the use of Station #5 at W. 17th and Crocker Streets and Engine Company #11 were discontinued. This was Station #5 for the remaining years of its existence at this location.
In 1896 Will Burnett was appointed Chief, having served as Assistant Chief since February 22, 1895, and he served continuously as Chief of the Fire Department until his death on March 27, 1937, as a result of burns received at a fire on March 26, 1937.
At that time, 1896, there were 61 men in the Fire Department, housed in the 11 stations, with equipment consisting of 10 hose wagons, 3 modern (then) chemical engines, 2 large aerial trucks and 1 small ladder truck, 4 combination hose and chemical wagons and a hose reel cart and the carriages of the Chief and his Assistant.