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History of the Westminster Fire Department

 

Founded in 1934 as a one-station, volunteer Fire wagondepartment, the Westminster Fire Department has grown to over 140 full-time employees including firefighters, paramedics, and support staff who serve the City from six fire stations and the Public Safety Center. Below are highlights of Westminster Fire Deparment history. Westminster has a very rich history; to learn more about the entire City, visit A brief history of the City of Westminster.  

1920s
Westminster did not have an organized fire department in the 1920s, so everyone turned out to fight any fire that happened to occur. The only equipment on hand was a small two-wheel hose cart that was pulled by hand to a fire.  In November of 1924 there was a barn fire on Grandpa Nadir's property on 72nd Avenue just east of Sheridan. Doc Shipman and his wife, Laura, arrived to find a sight that brought tears to their eyes -- the Nadir's gray horse was still standing in its stall, its eyes burned white and its skin was hanging in shreds. Doc cut the horse loose and asked a neighbor to get a rifle. Grandpa Nadir asked to say goodbye to the horse and put his arms around the horse's neck and sobbed. When he heard the rifle being cocked he turned away. As the horse lay on the ground Doc said, "This will never happen again."

Doc Shipman, who owned several acres of land and a house at 3801 W. 76th Ave., decided to make a fire truck out of a Model T chassis. A local businessman, Silas Gilbert, donated fire hose. Doc bought a hose reel and using a piece of timber with a tug chain at each end, Doc invented what he called the "Quick Hitch." The chains could be quickly wrapped around the rear bumper of any car or truck and the cart could be towed to a fire. A couple of fire nozzles, buckets and an axe were added as well. The only problem with this piece of apparatus was that the hose could only be used if the fire was close to the town's only fire hydrant, located at 72nd Avenue and Lowell Blvd.

In 1928 the third floor of the original Harris home, used as the local dance hall, at 80th and Bradburn was destroyed. Citizens responding and acting as firefighters managed to save the rest of the house.  But in 1929
the general store at 83rd and Federal Blvd. was destroyed by fire despite the new measures.

1930s
On December 12, 1933 there was a barn fire at 75th and Bradburn around 8 p.m. Winds were gusting at 35 to 40 miles per hour; sparks from the fire blew as far east as Lowell, endangering the entire town. Westminster citizen Earl Richards went to this fire to see if he could be of some assistance. Along with the fire cart that Doc had built, the Denver Fire Department had sent a fire engine from station 17 to help. Later Richards approached the Town Board dismayed about how the fire had been handled and suggested that Westminster organize its own fire department. A few days later Mayor Tom Carrigan and several of the trustees came to see Richards at his home and asked him if he would be willing to take on this project.

Richards found it difficult to get men to commit to this organization. He was finally able to recruit Mel Bryant and Carl Hawkinson, well-respected men in the community. The town board appointed Earl Richards as the first Fire Chief of the department in 1935. The department was further organized by the election of Mel Bryant as President and Carl Hawkinson as Secretary/Treasurer. These three were the foundation of the fledgling Westminster Fire Department. The newly formed department began recruiting more volunteers, organized a Fireman's Ball to raise funds, and began upgrading firefighting equipment.

1940s
By June 1940 the department consisted of 25 members.  They adopted by-laws and elected officers; meetings were held in the town hall (the fire truck had to be moved out in order to have room for the meeting). The department upgraded its equipment by purchasing a 1940 half-ton Dodge pick-up truck which was converted into a fire truck. In 1942 the Town Board appropriated funds for a fire siren to be purchased and installed on top of the fire house, and in 1945 allotted $250 to purchase equipment and supplies, establishing the first Westminster Fire Department budget.

The department sold the 1940 Dodge pick-up and purchased a 1942 Dodge war surplus fire truck from the Rocky Mountain Arsenal with the proceeds from the sale of the Dodge pick-up, $900 from the fireman's treasury, and a $2,200 loan from George Green. This was the department's first fire truck that could store and pump water.

1950s
Beginning January 1, 1950, any member reporting to a fire call and that returned to the station received $1; this compensation came from the money allotted to the fire department by the Town.  Other Westminster Fire Department benchmarks in the forties included: the wives of the volunteer firefighters organized a ladies auxiliary, a bay for the fire truck was added to the fire house, a 1952 Ford attack mini pumper was put into service, and over 750 attended the Tri-County competition event in Westminster. The Tri-County event consisted of several fire-related running events held on two blocked off streets. A dinner followed the event where trophies were handed out to the winning teams.

Training and equipment continued to improve within the department -- first aid, respirators, gas masks, helmets, fire coats and more were incorporated into the volunteer department.  Mutual aid also began; an agreement was worked out among area fire departments to help one another (if a serious fire occurred each department would send five men and one truck).

In 1956 Westminster purchased its first brand new fire truck, a Seagraves, for $19,700. The Westminster Fire Department still has this truck; it is housed at Fire Station #1 and brought out for community events.

In 1957 Howard Horton was hired as the first paid member of the department. He received $350 per month and was responsible for such duties as coordinating department operations, inspections of businesses and homes, and maintaining fire hydrants and other equipment. Horton held the position until January 1960.
The Westminster Fire Department ventured into emergency medical response with the purchase and refurbishment of a used dairy truck for medical calls. The Ladies Auxiliary purchased a resuscitator as well.

1960s
The new Westminster Fire Station No. 2 opened at 9099 Lowell with a price tag of $21,000 in 1962, and a second fire truck was added.  A metro dive team formed with personnel from fire, police, District 50 life guards, and Adams County Sheriffs. A brand new rescue truck was placed into service; it was equipped with a winch, generator, acetylene torch, power saws, hydraulic rescue tool, and other hand tools.  City Council voted to re-build Fire Station No. 1; the original Fire Station No. 1 was torn down and the new Fire Station No. 1 opened at a cost of $154,000. Westminster's first EMT's were Howard Horton, Joe Michaelson, and Don George -- all awarded an EMT certificate for completing a three-day training in Advanced Practical Course and Initial Emergency Care and Transportation of the Sick and Injured.

Unfortunately, the first Westminster firefighter death was recorded in 1968. Former Fire Chief Clyde Bussy died on a dive training exercise.

1970s
A large fire at the corner of 72nd and Federal in the Stag Bar prompts the city to consider a paid fire department. Voters approve a sales tax increase to support recreation, police, and fire services. The City starts the transition from a volunteer fire department to a paid-volunteer combination fire department and hires Chief Robert Panuccio and two more firefighters, Tim Eckberg and Bill Work (Work is now a Deputy Chief). Station #3 is opened. Steve Rondinelli becomes the first department paramedic and the department buys a Chevy Suburban and begins providing paramedic service to the citizens.

1980s
Station #4 and #5 open during the '80s. Staffing continues to be a combination of paid and volunteer firefighters.  Stephanie Race becomes the first female firefighter for Westminster.  In 1983 the Westminster Fire Department softball team takes first place in the Colorado firefighter softball tournament; the "Burn Fund" (a charity to help victims of fire) is established that year as well. In 1987 the city adopts the enhanced 911 emergency system.  In 1988 Station #6 opens.  In 1989 Chief Jim Cloud, from Wichita, Kansas, is hired (he remains Fire Chief today).

1990s
The Westminster Fire Department took over ambulance operations from District 50 Rescue in the '90s. The Westminster Med Program is developed to provide affordable ambulance care for local residents. Station #2 is remodeled; bunkrooms are added to house paid firefighters. In 1993 a consolidation study involving Westminster, Thornton, and West Adams County Fire Protection District is conducted but the City ultimately decides not to consolidate.  In 1994 the Westminster Fire Department Combat Challenge Team finishes second nationally.

2000s
The volunteer firefighter program officially ends in 2000. Reverse 911 service begins in the City through the efforts of the Emergency Management Division. The official color of fire trucks is changed to white; the old yellow/green trucks are to be phased out.  In 2002 Fire Administration offices move into the new Public Safety Center. A Public Safety Tax is approved by the Westminster citizens in 2003, enabling the hiring of 35 new personnel. A statue honoring Westminster's volunteer firefighters is placed in front of Station #1.

 

 

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