An integral part of Longmont’s history is the development and growth of the early fire company into the modern fire department of present day. The first settlers arrived to Longmont in 1871 and their primary concern was the need to build structures that would get the town up and running quickly. In order to accomplish this in a short timeframe, the material used for construction was primarily wood, which was erected without any building code restrictions or supervision. When the population boomed in 1872, this “wooden town” grew rapidly and the damage a fire could invoke was great. At this time there was no system nor leadership to their firefighting, and water was thrown onto the flames from buckets.
On Sept. 12, 1879, at about one o’clock in the morning a fire was discovered in the bakery building on the east side of Main Street. The alarm was given, but the entire back-side of the bakery was already in flames. These flames spread immediately to the hotel on the north and to a drug store on the south. Within minutes structures were consumed and the fire kept spreading. Volunteers organized a bucket brigade to carry water from Mill Ditch (about Second and Main Street). There was a water problem, since the irrigation ditches in town were shut down this time of year and no close water source was available for firefighting. It is believed that water was obtained from the St. Vrain River a half mile away. After only three short hours only two buildings were left standing on the east side of Main in the 300 block.
In the chaos of the fire, Walter A. Buckingham, a young Longmont banker, recognized the need of getting better fire protection. He offered to buy a new, fully equipped hook and ladder hand-pulled fire cart, along with new uniforms and other equipment to outfit a fire-fighting team of sixteen volunteers. His only requirement was that the Town Board of Trustees provide suitable housing for the fire fighting equipment, and the building must have a room in which the men could hold their business meetings.
On Dec. 15, 1879, the first public meeting was held to organize the fire company. A temporary organization was formed, and a petition was circulated to request the Town Trustees to accept Mr. Buckingham’s offer. It was decided to call the new volunteer fire company the “W. A. Buckingham Hook & Ladder Company.” This was later changed to the W. A. B. Hook and Ladder Company. Several other fire companies were organized in the coming years.
In 1880, the Town Board of Trustees purchased a building owned by the School District No. 17, Longmont’s first frame schoolhouse. This building was standing on the west side of Main Street in the 500 block. The Town Board also purchased lots on the southeast corner of Fourth and Coffman and moved the building. It was occupied as town hall and it is assumed the space was shared with the fire company for equipment and meetings.
Longmont had a pretty good water system by the mid 1880’s and when the volunteers responded to an alarm and hooked up the hose to one of the fire hydrants, the water pressure could be depended upon. The hook and ladder cart and the hose cart, which are large hose reels mounted on wheels, were pulled from the hose-house to the scene of the fire by manpower.
When the town purchased the schoolhouse at Fifth and Main, they moved it to Fourth and Coffman and the schoolhouse bell was left in place and served as the town alarm system until May, 1884, when a new and larger bell, of a different tone was purchased by the town of Longmont and was installed in the top of the hose tower. The new bell weighing 845 pounds and costing $211 was delivered to Longmont, and was said to be loud enough to be heard for miles around. When the new station was built at Fourth and Coffman, in early 1908, the bell was mounted in the tower on top of the building in the northwest corner with the rope running to the first floor by the entrance door. In 1967 the bell was placed at the base of the flagpole in front of the Fourth and Coffman station.
In 1972 the bell was moved to 501 South Pratt Parkway and served as the base of the flag pole for Longmont Fire Station #1. The flagpole at Station #1 is the pole that the fire fighters used at the Fourth and Coffman station to get from the living quarters on the second floor to the first floor where vehicles were located. In 1930 the phone system was added. At that time the firefighters that were on duty would answer the phone write down the address and respond. The police would also listen to the call so they would know where the fire department was going, If the firefighters were gone the police would answer the phone and get the information and send a police officer over to the fire station to ring the bell and write the address on a blackboard. This was done until a radio system was purchased, then the police could reach the firefighters on scene and tell them of another call. Both the bell and the pole were moved in 2009 to the new fire station 1, located at 11th and Terry Street.
The current use of the historic Longmont Firehouse is now the Firehouse Art Center, a gallery with rotating artist features. The Firehouse Art Center is Longmont’s leading contemporary art center featuring national and local artists with over a dozen exhibitions a year. A cornerstone of the Longmont Creative District, they offer educational programs, events and membership programs to support creativity for all.
Cover Photo: Courtesy of the Longmont Museum Historical Photo Archives. Historical Content is courtesy of the City of Longmont and Longmont Museum Historical Archives.