Fire Department's beginnings

By: Brandon Darnell, News Messenger Reporter
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When firefighters from across the state converge on Lincoln to participate in the inaugural Fireman’s Muster next month, the competitions they’ll be involved in recall the early days of the fire service. Lincoln was incorporated as a town in 1890 largely because residents wanted a fire department, said Jerry Logan, historic research archivist at the Lincoln Area Archives Museum. Despite the town’s incorporation, nothing was immediately done. A fire broke out in the Fleming building downtown the following year, and a firefighting train had to be called – by telegraph – from Sacramento to stretch hoses across G Street to extinguish the blaze. Outraged citizens called for action, and the town trustees formed committees. In 1894, a large fire burned down the whole block that City Hall currently sits on, destroying Lincoln’s Chinatown. More outrage caused the town to pass a bond measure to the tune of about $20,000 to build a water reservoir on the nearby hills to replace wells as the main firefighting water supply – and that was at a time when the annual city budget was slightly more than $2,000. To bring the water to a potential blaze, a hose cart and 500 feet of hose were purchased. The Lincoln Fire Department was officially established as a volunteer service on Nov. 14, 1896. The Burdge Winery building, where the current Veterans Hall is located on Fifth Street, became the site of the fire station. The young department was put to the test in October of 1897 when a block of houses on the west side of town caught fire. As the alarm bell – a 400-pound former church bell – rang, the firefighters extinguished the flames to the cheers of spectators. Hose carts were used until 1920, when the department bought its first motorized fire engine. In 1950, a new station was built on E Street between McBean Park Drive and Fifth Street, which was torn down about six months ago, according to Logan. By 1953, the department’s equipment complement was three fire engines and a pickup manned by 30 volunteers. The Lincoln Fire Department became a professional, full-time fire department in 2001, said Chief Dave Whitt. Currently, 24 full-time firefighters regularly staff two fire engines, according to Whitt. Brandon Darnell can be reached by e-mail at