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History of the Prescott Fire Department

Early day history of the Prescott Fire Department

By Robert Connell Jr.
From the Archives of Sharlot Hall Museum
Revised by Prescott Fire Department Personnel

Photo of early Prescott Fire Deptartment
Early Prescott Fire Department

Looking back into the early history of the Prescott Volunteer Fire department we find that it is very closely linked to the early history of Prescott.

Some of the men who were the backbone of the social and business life of Prescott were the organizers and active members of the Fire Department. Many of them later became very prominent in the business and political life of Arizona. To name a few of them reads like an Arizona Who’s Who:

  • F.A. Tritle Sr. early day Governor of Arizona Territory.
  • F.A. Tritle Jr. and Harry Tritle, businessmen of Phoenix.
  • Thomas E. Campbell, Governor of Arizona
  • Sam Goldwater, Morris Goldwater, Henry Goldwater, and Barry Goldwater Sr. were all merchants of Prescott and Phoenix.
  • Morris Goldwater will be remembered was Mayor of Prescott on and off for forty years, Secretary of the Dudes Hose Company No. 2 for many years, and very active in the Territory and State Legislature.

Prior to 1884 Prescott had no water system for fire protection in the business section, so wells were sunk at the four corners of the courthouse plaza and double acting hand pumps were installed. Water for the residents of Prescott was obtained from wells and brought to the surface via oak buckets, hand pumps and windmills. There were also several springs available, as well as water delivered in barrels.

We have no record of any fire hose available at that time. When a fire occurred the bucket brigade went into action with rubber buckets, metal buckets, tubs and pots or anything that would hold water.

Photo of firemen testing hoses and hydrants.
Testing Hoses and Hydrants

In 1884 Prescott got its first water system. A stone dam was built across the creek just below the junction of Pott’s and Miller Creeks, to impound the runoff from the mountains.

A reservoir was built on the hill on South Mt. Vernon St. to store the water. Water mains and fire hydrants were installed around the plaza and business section, then later extended into the residence section.

A stream pumping plant was installed in a brick building located on the south side of the dam. When the plant went into operation and water began to flowthru the mains, the citizens of Prescott felt secure that they had a water supply.

The year 1884 also saw the Prescott Volunteer Fire Department comes into being. The Toughs Hose Company No. 1 was organized. This company of 25 men was made up largely of saloon men, gamblers and businessmen of Whiskey Row. A two wheeled cart hand drawn with 600’ of 2 ½” hose on a reel or drum was purchased by the city and housed in a building in the center of Whiskey Row.

The Dudes Hose Company No. 2 of 25 men was made up of the elite Prescott; bankers, bank clerks, storeowners, and clerks. Their equipment, also purchased by the city was the same as the Toughs No.1.

Mechanics Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 of 25 men were made up of painters carpenters plumbers and second story men. The City of Prescott purchased a light hand drawn four wheeled ladder truck for this company. The Dudes and the Hook and Ladder Company were housed in a wooden building where the Hassayampa Hotel now stands and faced Gurley St.

The O.K. Hose Company No.3 of 25 men was made up of deliverymen, teamsters, store clerks and livery stable men. The City of Prescott purchased a light 4 wheeled hand drawn rig with a bed that carried 600’ of 2 ½” hose and housed in a building on Fluery and Gurley across from Sharlot Hall Museum. These 4 Companies gave the department 100 men plus the Chief and his assistants.

Photo of the Toughs Hose Company.
Toughs Hose Company

Each Company held monthly meetings and elected Officers in December of each year. No member paid dues to belong, as was the custom in some of the other Volunteer Fire Departments throughout the country. Occasionally a member of one of these companies was fined for conduct unbecoming a Fireman. No members were paid but the city council gave each Company $60 each year for their social activities. To raise money for uniforms and other necessities, dances were held on July 4th. Each year, known as the Firemen’s Ball. It was easy to raise from $1500 to $2000 through the sale of dance tickets by just going through Whiskey Row, China Town and the badlands. The citizens went all out for the Fire Department in those early days. These dances were discontinued as a fundraiser during the late 1920’s and early 1930’s as money was tighter and competition keener. The City of Prescott then gave the department one thousand dollars a year for expenses and social activities.

Rivalry was very keen among the three Hose Companies and fist fights were common when two companies reached a hydrant about the same time when answering a call. Each Company wanted to be first to get water on the fire. Tough’s No. 1 were usually first to reach a nighttime fire. Whiskey Row never closed it’s doors except on election days and men were always available, to pull the cart. Daytime fires were different, as delivery wagons were handy to hitch the carts onto the Dudes and O.K.’s carts, so they had better than an equal chance against the Toughs. Still, the Toughs had the record for being first on most of the fires.

Photo of the Mechanics Hook and Ladder Company.
Mechanics Hook & Ladder Company

The most common method of sounding an alarm was three pistol shots fired in quick succession. The clock bell on the Courthouse, locomotive whistles and the steam whistle at the electric plant would also be used as an alarm, or any kind of noise that would let people know there was a fire. Fires would get a good start before any Hose Companies would arrive. Pulling the hose carts through mud and up Prescott’s hills was a slow job.

Each Hose Company boasted the fastest team. In order to prove their point, hose cart races were run on July fourth. These cart races continue today as teams come from the local area and any other interested teams still compete. Bucket brigades are also part of the competition during the races for the best time.

In 1954 the old Volunteer organization was overhauled and streamlined. All four companies were merged into one and the name changed to Prescott Fire Department. Thirty-five of the younger and most active men selected as regular volunteer firemen. The Chief and first and second assistants were paid part time and three full time paid engineers were added on the payroll. These groups together with the older and inactive members were known as the Prescott Fireman’s Association.

Photo of the Dudes Hose Company.
Dudes Hose Company

In 1956 the Department moved into its new quarters in the Prescott Public Safety Building at Goodwin and Granite streets, the building was shared with the Police Department. There were two engineers on duty at all times and responded with two trucks on every alarm. The men off duty reported to headquarters and were available if needed. That year a sixth man and a full time Chief were added.

Today the Prescott Fire Department has fifty-seven full time suppression personnel, three full time and one part time prevention personnel and two office staff personnel. Five fire stations in the City of Prescott are manned twenty-four hours seven days a week. Three to four personnel with one to two Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support personnel are on every Engine Company. The department responds to every 911 call reported.