Helena Fire Chiefs
Helena Fire Department History
"FIRE - On Sunday night our wooden town narrowly escaped destruction by fire. A pile of straw, surrounded by empty dry goods boxes in the rear of Walcot, Morse & Co.'s store, on Bridge Street, was found in a blaze by some gentleman returning to his home, who instantly alarmed the slumberers, and by their united exertion the fire was extinguished. This was undoubtedly the work of some incendiary, and we think it high time for our citizens to organize a regular system of fire night watch, and not be satisfied with only talking about it. Let some of our citizens take this matter in hand and imitate the example of our sister city, Virginia, by equipping a well appointed fire department, and maintaining it in a constant state of efficiency." From the Montana Post 8/26/1865
"FIRE BRIGADE - The Fire Brigade have secured rooms in Owen's building, corner of Main and Bridge streets. J.D.C. Curtis is Chief Engineer. The organization numbers over one hundred effective members. They have a hook and ladder truck, with axes, ropes and all other paraphernalia belonging to this branch of a Fire Department. Their bucket truck carries one hundred vessels. Their method of sounding an alarm is a three-fourth inch steel bar, seven and a half feet in length, triangularly bent. It answers the purpose of a bell quite effectively - it's clear, ringing notes being heard, when the hammer is vigorously applied, far out among the hills. The Fire Brigade members wear a beautiful silver star, police fashion." From the Montana Post 12/2/1865
The history of the Helena Fire Department was born simply of necessity and the matter was taken in hand as shown in the aforementioned newspaper articles.
The constant threat of complete destruction by fire of this newly born city made Helena very cognizant of the danger that ultimately did leave it "a heap of ashes." These tragic circumstances lead to the eventual formation of a part paid, mostly volunteer fire department on December 29, 1872. In 1885, the Helena Fire Department was then moved to the City Hall at Main and State Streets. From that location they protected the gulch until that station was destroyed by the 1935 earthquake.
At that time, the Helena Fire Department relocated alongside the Helena Police Department in the A-A Garage at the end of South Main. These buildings formerly housed the trolleys that operated in the area and were also known as the "car barns."
On March 10, 1939, the Helena Fire Department was moved to it's current location on the east side of the Civic Center on Neill Ave. This station has been in continuous operation since that time. This main station was remodeled in 1977, expanding it's living quarters and providing more office space. With the addition of a second station on the east side of Helena in 1978, the Helena Fire Department continued to provide the citizens of Helena with protection from fire, but also added response to many other types of emergencies that arise in our community.
Early in 2002, the main station was remodeled to allow us to more adequately meet today's demands on the fire service.
1865-First organized fire brigade comprised of bucket brigade, hook and ladder company
1869 to 1872-Helena suffered eight major fires forcing the purchase of modernized fire equipment, including a hand engine, department formally organized in December 1872
1874-Catastrophic fire in January caused another major upgrading of the department including the construction of a dedicated station and the existing Fire Tower
1875-Purchase of a Silsby steam fire engine, construction of engine house on the Courthouse square, advent of the horse-drawn era
1885-Abandoned the Clore Street (now Park Avenue) engine house and moved to the City Hall building on Main & State Streets
1889-Installation of Gamewell alarm system which made the tower watchman obsolete, Helena's only known line-of-duty death occurred in October
1900-Transition from a mostly volunteer to a paid department
1913-Helena purchased the first of three auto fire trucks from the Robinson Fire Apparatus Manufacturing Company of St. Louis, MO effectively ending the horse-drawn era
1939-Moved into the Civic Center fire station in March
1978-East side fire station was built at 650 North Hannaford
For additional Helena Fire Department history, click on the following links.