History of the Denison Fire Department

Established in 1856 the Fire Department struggled with an expanding town and too few department members and equipment to cover the entire town, thus several fire departments were created in different locations.

Champion Engine Company #1 was formed around 1879. Some members were C. P. Hocking, Henry Nobles, Charles Norris, W. W. Holmes, Frank Faul, C.E. Ellis, J. H. Carstens and Eric Halverson. On January 4, 1881 the department was changed to Amphion Fire Company. In 1884 Amphion Engine Company gave the chemical engine to the City Council to be used by the men outside the company, but kept the hook and ladder truck and the hose cart. Adolph Haupt, a twenty-two year old cigar maker was taken on as a new active member.

The Pioneer Engine Company was formed in 1885 with the help of forty volunteers. Some of the members were W. C. and Sears McHenry, William and Grant Gilbreath, M. J. Cochran, G. Chamberlin, Howard G. Peters, August Moeller, August Anderson, Thomas J. Kelly, G.A. and Kenneth McClellan, Dick Williams, A.C. Arnold, and John Bergman. In the 1800’s the firemen in Denison paid $1.00 per year dues if they belonged to the Pioneer Engine Company.

The Denison Hose Company #1 was formed in 1903 with ten members and by 1910 it had grown to 40 new members. Some of those members were John Hugg, Criss Eggers, Barney and Willie Otto, Alfred Wright, H. Gilbreath, Traffer and Jim Walker, Wary Coleman, Floyd and Albert Gary, Waldo E. Kahler, Clarence Ransom, Vernon Meyers, Henry Retman and Earl Chase.

The Hook and Ladder Hose Company #1 established in 1912 with some of the volunteers from the Denison Hose Company. Joe Monaghan was in charge of checking the harness. Some of the other members were Clement Welch, Clarence McCollugh, William H. Marshall, Clair Nicholsen, Andrew Bell Jr. Gail Carey, Leroy Cook, Carl Berndt, William Nielson, Percy Cavett, Harry Clark and Jerry O’Connor, to name a few.

Navy Hose Company #1 was started in 1912 with thirty-four members. Some members were from other companies. Some of these members were Russell Hays, Clair Nicholsen, Chas, Dave, Jim, and John Menagh, Jerry Davis, Lawrence Servoss, Leon Cramer, Art Green, and John Miller.

In 1914 four men, Thomas Collins, Andrew Cummings, Andrew Muir, and Clarence Sevartzenback manned Hose Cart #1. By 1917 Navy Yard Department #2 was created by some members of the other department to add more coverage of the growing Denison and were put on until 1926. A few of the members were Harry, Hugo and Bernie Saggau, Grover Tucker, Pete Jensen, Frank Retman, Harold Servoss, Ben Wingrove, Otto Johannsen, Virgil Butterworth, Alfred Richards, Leo J. Miller, Ed Ahart, and A. C. Greene.

By 1917 there were hundred and one active fire fighters in Denison. In 1918 there were also U.S. Mayberry Navy Yard Fire Department and The Uptown Company. In 1919 The Studebaker and Nash Fire Department Companies were formed. In 1919 W.J. Porter was made an Honorary Fire Fighter after thirty-eight years on the Chicago, IL Fire Department.

The Amphion Fire Company put on a 4th of July celebration beginning with a sunrise salute to the flag, offered prayer, and read the Declaration of Independence. The fire company held a parade and dance. The firefighters marched in parades in a uniform consisting of navy flannel trousers with a red stripe, light blue shirt, a red belt and a cap. The firefighters took this job just as seriously as firefighting, practicing as often as once a week. The fire company also sponsored music programs and dances throughout the year using the two trumpets that the company owned. The Denison Coronet band practiced in the fire hall and received music instruction from the fire company for $1.00.

The fire departments of Denison sponsored many events in hopes of serving the community including a summer barbeque, fireman’s benefit dance, a Bowery dance, movies, a strawberry festival, and carnivals. The fire departments’ events were always a huge success. On October 25, 1921 one picture show sold 1076 tickets, and in 1948 one show sold 2062 tickets. The firefighters in Denison had a skating pond in 1938.

In 1926 the fire department created the Denison Fire Department Swimming Pool Association which included 71 business men and firemen signing a note with Sears McHenry (a firefighter) to guarantee a loan to build a swimming pool. Each signing member guaranteed $25. The pool served the entire county for the next 62 years when in 1988 it was closed. The pool was equipped with a diving board, slide, fountain, pump house and locker room.

In 1933 Denison hosted the Iowa Firemen’s Association’s 56th annual meeting and convention. On September 19th the largest parade in Denison was held at 7:30 PM for over 10,000 firemen and their wives. The parade was lit up with thousands of sparklers being held by the people along the parade route. The parade consisted of local floats, nicely decorated cars and fire engines.

April 1928 started a new trend for firefighting equipment. The city placed an order for a new fire truck with six annual payments of $900 to be paid to the fire truck manufacturer, American LaFrance. Making payments for fire apparatus became a common method for buying equipment. This LaFrance was delivered in 1931 and was received by Mayor Laub and city clerk, Jacob Johnson. This fire truck was restored by the fire department in 1986 and is used for parades and special events.

The volunteer firefighters are governed by the bylaws that were started by the Pioneer Engine Company in 1879. The bylaws were updated in 1920, 1953, 1966, 1980, 1990, 1994, 2001 and 2006. The bylaws of the association govern various aspects of the incorporated organization. One such bylaw came into effect in April of 1893 when fireman George Chamberlain made a motion that all members who were not present at the regular meeting would be fined 25 cents and if not paid could be expelled. This bylaw is no longer in effect but many bylaws have carried through such as the arrangement of officers that consist of: president, vice-president, treasurer, assistant treasurer, secretary and assistant secretary.

The fire department takes great pride in the rich history that has made the department what it is today.

Special thank you to Neal Moeller and his wife Barb for the many hours spent compiling the above information from past Denison Fire Department ledgers and documents. Thank you Brother!


Historical Incidents
January 7, 1901 the handsome Catholic Church Edifice in Denison almost went up in smoke at the early hour of 2 o’clock AM. Only the fact that it was built of solid brick saved it from destruction. Fire was coming from the southwest corner of the church when Mr. Cleary (a neighbor) hustled a young man in his house to run and ring the fire bell to give the alarm. In 20 minutes, water was turned into the building and it was out in 30 minutes after the alarm. The roof was burned off with damage not far from $1000. In 1902 fire destroyed the West Denison Mills owned by King and Jordan. This fire caused a $6,000 loss.

In March 1932 Denison suffered the greatest fire loss of its history when the Laub Block at the northeast corner of Main and Broadway burned to the ground and damage was estimated at $100,000 which was only partially covered by insurance. Fire Chief Andy Dannels and the firemen responded with their two pumpers; smoke was everywhere and it took firemen half an hour to locate the fire. The fire was so hot that the firemen tied the hoses to the top of their ladders and manipulated the hose water from the foot of the ladders. The Laub Block was built in 1871 and was almost entirely a wood frame construction with a brink veneer. Some of the businesses in the building were Smartwear Shop, Candyland, Home Meat Market, Nielsen Newstand, Wiges Barbership, Rollins Smokehouse, Piggly Wiggly, Electrik Maid Bakeshop, E.A. Raun, attorney and Walter Gran Insurance.

In 1899 a prairie fire near the Lutheran Cemetery burnt fences and blackened several monuments.

On April 11, 1950 fire consumed many Broadway stores including the Automotive Parts Company, Gelfands Food Market and Schlumbergers Pharmacy located at 1332 Broadway. There were two firemen injured, William Schneider and Leonard Johannsen, during the twelve hour fire. The damage was estimated at $150,000.

Other great fires included the 1993 Farmer’s Elevator Mill, Denison Seed Company and Hormel building fire in 2000, and the Bohlmann, Inc. fire located on Yellowsmoke Road on February 20, 2005. The most remembered tragedy was the terrible flood in the 1990s. Starting in 1993, these floods affected more people and property than any other fire or act of God in the history of Denison.

Equipment has always been the turning point in any fire department and Denison has always tried to be the best equipped as possible. In 1881 a four wheel hook and ladder truck complete was purchased from the Caswell Fire Department Supply Company from Chicago, IL. In 1884 a four man hose cart was also added to the department. In 1904 a new chemical engine was purchased and in December 1906 a new fire alarm system was installed. The city was divided into fire districts with a dial at the fire station that was supposed to indicate the location of the fire. On March 27, 1917 a fire truck from Omaha arrived on its own power. This truck was designed to carry eight firefighters.