Yellowstone County Places

Billings Fire Department


Revised 20 June 2001c

 Soon after Billings was created, in 1884, on July 15th, fire broke out in the rear of the Bank Exchange Saloon on Montana Avenue, the busiest block in Billings. A bucket brigade was formed using ditch water to try and put out the fire and rescue the “liquid assets” of six saloons, two wholesale liquor houses and stores in the 100 Block before trying three kegs of powder to check the blaze. The explosions only sped the burning and threatened adjoining blocks. On May 2, 1885 a fire leveled Block 111, killed one person, and burned down the Billings Gazette before it published its first issue. Within a month another fire occurred, and the Gazette campaigned for fire protection.

The Billings Fire Brigade was created complete with a hand-drawn hose and ladder cart, lanterns, axes, ladders and “lots of buckets.”  Officials of the newly formed organization soon changed its name to “Yellowstone Hook and Ladder Company.” Fred H. Foster was president, W. H. Van Sinden, secretary, George M. Hays, vice-president. Alarms were frequent on Sunday afternoons, and were known as “married men’s calls.” This was an opportunity for a Dutch lunch and poker session on the upper floor of the fire department building, sanctuary for members only. When the city water system was installed in 1887, H. H. Bole, clerk for the county commissioners, purchased two hand-drawn hose reels for the Hook and Ladder Company.

In 1888 mayor E. B. Camp criticized the company following a fire in the Smith’s Livery Stable on North 27th St. The Company promptly disbanded, giving away funds on hand and presented their bell to the Washington School. Mayor Camp formed a replacement, but it also was replaced by a volunteer group when the mayor’s group arrived at a fire and found that they had the hose on the wrong way on the reel and failed to haul the equipment back. Several fires burned unattended before petitions got volunteers to a meeting in the courthouse on January 14, 1889 to form the Maverick Hose Company (named for an unbranded bull from an advertisement), with the understanding that the group would be under authority of no one but themselves – particularly the mayor. Charter members were: Jack Bond, Chief, Harry Beal, Charles Sawyer, Robert Matheson, C.C. Brown, W.B. Ten Eyck, G.A, Griggs, C.C. Bowlen, W.B. George, Garret Swift, M.B. Rademacher. F.L. Mann, John Staffek, Gerald Panton, Dr. B.S. Scott, U.E. Frizelle, Alex Graham and W.W. Ellers. John B. Herford, early Montana pioneer who helped catch the killer of Sheriff Webb, was very instrumental in forming the Mavericks. All younger men aspired to membership. Monthly dues were collected and the “initiation” had all the lodges cheated.” Members were fined for missing a fire, few missed meetings, informal get-togethers and annual banquets. Each member bought his own uniform, first a red shirt and later complete to white gloves. In 1894 they got their first horse-drawn fire wagon.

The firemen built a barn to hold the new equipment, installed a water tower on the top, and placed a bell in it. The first man to reach the hand bell in the two-story hall on Minnesota Avenue and 27th Street won a medal. The bell was later donated to the Washington School, and when the school was torn down, the bell went to MSU Billings.


Gazette Oct 30, 1994 Photo

The city hall on the west side of North Broadway between 1st and 2nd Avenue North, constructed c1897, included a fire station. The first motor truck was bought in 1910. The No. 2 Station in South Billings was built in 1911. In January 1918 the Company broke up, and the Billings Fire Department was born.

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Katy Hestand
Yellowstone County Coordinator

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