The history(JPG, 3MB) 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 conflagrations lead to the eventual formation of a part paid, mostly volunteer fire department on December 29, 1872. From its beginnings, the department operated from several stations generally in the area of what is today South Last Chance Gulch. Several years after Helena's incorporation as a city in 1881(PDF, 530KB) , the Helena Fire Department moved into the station at the newly built City Hall at Main and State Streets. From that location they protected Helena until that station was destroyed by the 1935 earthquake(JPG, 1MB).

At that time, the Helena Fire Department relocated(JPG, 245KB) alongside the Helena Police Department in the A-A Garage(JPG, 425KB) 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(JPG, 1MB), 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(PDF, 539KB) , expanding it's living quarters and providing more office space. With the addition of a second station(JPG, 3MB) 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.

Historical Highlights

1865- First organized fire brigade comprised of bucket brigade, hook and ladder company

1867 to 1869- Department disbanded due to apathy and lack of community support, reorganizing after Helena's first major fire in February, 1869

1869 to 1872- Helena suffered eight major fires forcing the purchase of modernized fire equipment, including a hand engine(JPG, 358KB), department formally organized in December 1872

Fire Fighters with new equipment

1874- Catastrophic fire in January(PDF, 480KB) which burned a large portion of Helena(JPG, 893KB), 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(JPG, 74KB), construction of engine house on the Courthouse square, advent of the horse-drawn era

steam fire engine with horses

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(JPG, 334KB) from the Robinson Fire Apparatus Manufacturing Company of St. Louis, MO effectively ending the horse-drawn era

Three open carriage automobiles

1935- Earthquakes destroy the City Hall(JPG, 1MB), forcing the fire and police departments to move to the nearby A-A Garage(JPG, 425KB) which formerly housed Helena's trolleys

1939- Moved into the Civic Center fire station(JPG, 387KB) in March

1978- East side fire station was built at 650 North Hannaford