Let’s Talk Clovis: Clovis Fire Fighters, 1872-1925

PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY CLOVIS MUSEUM

In 1872, the surrounding area that was to become Clovis produced native oat fields as far as the eye could see. Fire was always a danger. Ranchers, neighbors, and merchants would unite to subdue fires with bucket brigades, rope, shovels and hoes. Kerosene lamps, wood stoves and hot dry spells fueled fires that destroyed crops, homes, businesses and lives.

An appointment by the Post Office Department on December 29, 1894 designating J. G. Ferguson as Postmaster, identified the population of Clovis as 150-200 inhabitants and the collective population that his office would serve 350-400.

The arrival of the Fresno Flume and Irrigation in 1893, terminus at the present Clovis Rodeo grounds, provided a significant resource for fighting fires. Twenty men from 400 workers, at peak employment, were dedicated to fighting fires.

The mill whistle was used to alert the community of a fire. Stacks of lumber forty feet high, towering smoke stacks from the kilns, and dust from the large saws provided fuel for frequent fires. The mill sustained two major fires prior to 1900. Old Town also sustained major fires in the early 1900’s.

All fires became community events. Volunteer civilian firefighters would enter the local stores and “borrow” fire equipment such as buckets, ropes, and shovels and would return them after the emergency. Thus, the used product was marketed as a “fire sale.”

The City of Clovis was incorporated on February 27, 1912. The first fire ordinance was authorized on May 23, 1912. Trustee (City Council member) Jacob Horschman was appointed City Marshal (Police Chief). His duties were to collect city fees, round up wild dogs, and serve as a fire watchman. He used a bicycle for his official transportation.

On July 22 of that year, the City purchased their first fire equipment: four dozen buckets, two axes, and 200 feet of ½ inch rope for a total expenditure of $339.00. The rope was tied around the waist of a fireman as he entered a burning building to ensure his safe return.

On October 28, 1912, the City paid $400 for land south east of the corner of Fifth Street and Pollasky and erected a fire house. The building was moved to city property for continued use in 1952 when a new Police and Fire Station was built on the site.

On July 7, 1913, six hundred feet of 2 ½ inch hose, four “fire” coats at $4.75 each, four hats at $5.75 each, and one pair of boots for $5.00, were purchased. A hose cart was purchased for $125.00.

A Clovis Tribune article on January 2, 1914 reported, “The hose was guaranteed for three years and would supply 400 pounds of pressure…enable them to cope with the second floor of any building.” The new hose required a 52 feet long drying rack that was built in the back of the fire house.

The first City fire alarm, erected in 1913, consisted of a large bell on top of a tower approximately 24 feet high just east of the fire house. Merchants and citizens donated $122.00 for the project. The system was improved in 1925 by installing a 220 volt siren. The bell was retained as an emergency alarm in case of power failure.

On April 4, 1916, the City Trustees approved the purchase of a 1916 Reo Auto Tru truck for $1,175. The new truck had hard rubber tires and wooden wheels. One of the wheels broke in route to a fire in the early 1920’s.

A small brass bell, struck by the driver, remained the only auto warning signal until a siren was purchased in May of 1923. The historic siren is on display at the Clovis Fire Department.

The Clovis Volunteer Fire Department was officially created in October of 1916. They were under the jurisdiction of the Board (City Council). James E. Emory was elected the first “official” Fire Chief in December, 1916. He served until January of 1925. The fire truck would cruise down Pollasky and pick up volunteers as they proceeded to the fire.

Fire was a common enemy to all. The citizens of Clovis united to protect their homes and businesses. They provided a rich heritage.

Peg Bos
Peg Bos is the president of the Clovis Museum on 4th and Pollasky avenues in Old Town Clovis. She not only manages the museum but she also writes her Let's Talk Clovis column in our publication which features and highlight the amazing history of our city and culture. One fun fact about Peg Bos, she was the first female mayor of Clovis from 1984-86.