Early Prescott Fire Department

Looking back into the early history of the Prescott Volunteer Fire Department we find that it is very closely linked to the early history of Prescott.

Some of the men who were the backbone of the social and business life of Prescott were the organizers and active members of the Fire Department. Many of them later became very prominent in the business and political life of Arizona. To name a few of them reads like an Arizona Who’s Who:

  • F.A. Tritle Sr. early day Governor of Arizona Territory.
  • F.A. Tritle Jr. and Harry Tritle, businessmen of Phoenix.
  • Thomas E. Campbell, Governor of Arizona.
  • Sam Goldwater, Morris Goldwater, Henry Goldwater, and Barry Goldwater Sr. were all merchants of Prescott and Phoenix.
  • Morris Goldwater will be remembered as the tentative Prescott Mayor for forty years, Secretary of the Dudes Hose Company No. 2 for many years, and very active in the Territory and State Legislature.

In 1875, the Prescott city council commissioned local blacksmith Fred Bretch to fabricate ladders and hooks to be distributed around the downtown area for firefighting purposes.

Prior to 1884, Prescott had no water system for fire protection in the business section, so wells were sunk at the four corners of the courthouse plaza and double acting hand pumps were installed. Water for the residents of Prescott was obtained from wells and brought to the surface via oak buckets, hand pumps and windmills. There were also several springs available, as well as water delivered in barrels.

We have no record of any fire hose available at that time. When a fire occurred the bucket brigade went into action with rubber buckets, metal buckets, tubs and pots or anything that would hold water.

In 1884, Prescott got its first water system. A stone dam was built across the creek just below the junction of Pott’s and Miller Creeks, to impound the runoff from the mountains.

A reservoir was built on the hill on South Mt. Vernon Street to store the water. Water mains and fire hydrants were installed around the plaza and business section, then later extended into the residence section.

A stream pumping plant was installed in a brick building located on the south side of the dam. When the plant went into operation and water began to flow through the mains, the citizens of Prescott felt secure that they had a water supply.

The First Companies

With the adoption of City Ordinance #25 on March 3, 1885, the Prescott Volunteer Fire Department was formally recognized and supported by the city. These four 25-man companies gave the department 100 men plus the Chief and his assistants.

The Mechanics Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 were made up of painters, carpenters, plumbers, and second story men. The City of Prescott purchased a light hand drawn four wheeled ladder truck for this company back in 1879. This ladder wagon was housed in a wooden building behind the Masonic Temple on N. Cortez Street and faced Gurley Street.

The Dudes Hose Company No. 2 was made up of Prescott’s elite: bankers, bank clerks, storeowners, and clerks. Their hose cart had been purchased in 1881 in anticipation of the developing water works.  It shared quarters with the ladder wagon on Elks Hill.

The Toughs Hose Company No. 1 was comprised largely of the saloon men, gamblers, and businessmen of Whiskey Row. A two-wheeled cart hand-drawn with 600’ of 2 ½” hose on a reel or drum was purchased by the city and housed in a building in the center of Whiskey Row.

The O.K. Hose Company No. 3 of 25 men was made up of deliverymen, teamsters, store clerks and livery stable men. The City of Prescott purchased a light 4-wheeled hand drawn rig with a bed that carried 600’ of 2 ½” hose and housed in a building on Fluery Street and Gurley Street across from Sharlot Hall Museum. 

The most common method of sounding an alarm was three pistol shots fired in quick succession. The clock bell on the Courthouse, locomotive whistles and the steam whistle at the electric plant would also be used as an alarm, or any kind of noise that would let people know there was a fire. Fires would get a good start before any hose companies would arrive. Pulling the hose carts through mud and up Prescott’s hills was a slow job.

Each hose company boasted that they had the fastest team. To prove their point, hose cart races were run on July fourth. These cart races continue today as teams come from the local area and any other interested teams still compete. Bucket brigades are also part of the competition during the races for the best time.

A Changing Department

In 1956, the old Volunteer organization was overhauled and streamlined. All four companies were merged into one and the name changed to Prescott Fire Department. Thirty-five of the younger and most active men were selected as regular volunteer firemen. The Chief and first and second assistants were paid part-time and three full-time paid engineers were added on the payroll. These groups together with the older and inactive members were known as the Prescott Fireman’s Association.

In 1956, the Department moved into its new quarters in the Prescott Public Safety Building at Goodwin and Granite streets.  The building was shared with the Police Department. There were always two engineers on duty who responded with two trucks on every alarm. The men off duty reported to headquarters and were available if needed. 

Today the Prescott Fire Department has sixty-six full-time suppression personnel, four full-time and one part-time prevention personnel and two office staff personnel. Five fire stations in the City of Prescott are manned twenty-four hours, seven days a week. Three to four personnel with one to two Paramedics highly skilled in Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support personnel are on every Engine Company. The department responds to over 10,000 calls every year.