Nearly 122 years ago, the village of Iola appointed its first fire resolution committee.
Over the course of those decades, Iola firefighters have gone from paying $2,250 for a fully equipped horse-drawn engine in 1912 to spending $360,000 for an engine capable of pumping 1,500 gallons of water per minute.
Fire Chief Chuck Fritz and Iola Historical Society President Cliff Mishler recently shared a part of the fire department’s history with area residents.
“Our very first pieces of equipment were bought in November of 1892,” said Mishler. “I am not sure how many, but ladders were purchased for $22.62 and then two dozen buckets for $6.75.”
The first fire company was formally organized in October of 1896, with G. Amunson, designated as Chief.
“The company’s members were 35 people strong,” said Mishler. “With hook and ladders, two trucks and one or two hose carts, Iola was one of the best equipped fire departments.”
“Their Nott Steam Engine had a capacity of 350 gallons per minute,” said Mishler. “With 125 pounds of pressure on the pumps, you could throw a stream over a flag pole, all from a 3/4-inch nozzle, held by a man standing on the ground.”
Mishler said the first firehouse was built in 1901; a replication of that building now stands on Depot Street and is home to vehicles once used by the department. A 1912 horse-drawn fire engine, which was presented to the Iola Historical Society by the president of Pierce Manufacturing in 2005, a Ford Model T Truck and a 1938 Reo Speedwagon, were gifted to the organization in 2005 as well. All three vehicles are available for public viewing.
“A lot has changed over the years,” said Fritz, who has been with the department for the past 38 years.
“It used to be that when there was a call, most of the firefighters were right here in town,” he said. “Linus Ball would come from his shoe store, Bob Grossbier from his shop and the school was great. At one point I think there were four teachers on the department that were free to go when there was a call.”
“Today we cover approximately 216 square miles,” he said. “We have a lot of ground to cover.”
“Sometimes our guys are coming from as far away as the Foundry to get to a call,” he said.
“We are a young department,” said Fritz. “Some people have the misconception that it is just pouring water on hot stuff. It is so much more than that. This is dangerous.”
“The perception is all we do is save the foundation,” he said. “In some cases this will always be true, due to response time in our coverage area, delayed time in being notified and risk management.”
“Our firefighters are our biggest asset. We need to protect them” he said. “We don’t want to risk their lives on a building that is already a total loss.”
According to Fritz the department’s new engine recently went into service.
“It is replacing a 37-year-old engine,” he said.
The new engine has a 1,500 gallon per minute capacity, seating capacity for six firefighters, larger pump capacity, better scene lighting and larger compartments and more equipment storage.
The engine costs $360,000. This is compared to the 1912 fully equipped engine, where $2,250 was borrowed for the purchase and fire fighters still needed to go to a neighboring stable to get the horses to pull it.
Currently the department owns two Engine/Pumpers, one Water Tender, one Rescue Truck and one Brush Truck.
Fritz reflected for a moment on the historical downtown Iola fire, on June 20, 1999.
“That fire was horrendous,” said Fritz. “We never thought it would get to where it did. We had to do some innovative things to knock it down.”