The City of Colorado Springs marked its beginning on July 31, 1871, when the first stake was driven at what is now the southeast corner of Cascade and Pikes Peak Avenues. Fire prevention and protection activities began not long after, first with a volunteer department and later a paid department.
Bucket brigades were the first methods of firefighting. There were very few natural water sources in the town, therefore, most water was supplied by wells. The El Paso Canal was completed in early 1872 and took its water from Fountain Creek, providing another source of water. It is believed that pressure was put on the city government to furnish fire protection very early on.
On October 10, 1872, Ordinance Number 4 was enacted that provided for the election of a fire warden. The fire warden was charged with making inspections to reduce fire hazards and leveling fines against those with unsafe chimneys or other conditions conducive to fire. Those who dumped live ashes in the street or burned combustibles on a windy day could be punished with a fine of $5.00.
Several local fires motivated interested citizens to meet on December 27, 1872, where they promptly organized with over thirty active members. They named themselves Colorado Springs Hook and Ladder Company No. 1. Since this name implied they had a ladder truck (which they did not), on February 4, 1873, they changed the name to The Colorado Springs Fire Company. On May 7, 1873 they took delivery of a Babcock No. 1, which can be described as a fire extinguisher on wheels.
A second fire company, the Hook and Ladder Company, was formed on January 29, 1875. The hook and ladder truck arrived on May 11, 1875. It was a hand-drawn, four-wheeled wagon carrying about half a dozen ladders. There was some initial animosity between these two fire companies, but they quickly became friendly and began to work together.
Ground was broken on October 12, 1878, for the city's first pipe line. Water would be carried from a reservoir on the mesa northwest of town to a system of water mains in town. This system included 20 fire hydrants. A purchase was made of 1,000 feet of cable cotton hose and two hose carts. On December 4, 1878, organization was completed of the Matt France Hose Company No. 1. Matt France was a prominent citizen who had been mayor and a county commissioner. Five days later, the W.S. Jackson Hose Company No. 2 was organized.
The first fire chief was appointed in February, 1879. Benjamin F. Crowell was a prominent citizen who had served as a county treasurer and county commissioner and later was one of the incorporators of the streetcar line on Tejon Street. Over the next fifteen years, many other volunteer companies were formed to provide fire protection in other areas of town.
It wasn't until January of 1894, that the city council voted to organize a paid fire department and disband the volunteers. The new fire chief, J.G. Johnson from Minneapolis, was paid $100 a month, and the men each received $70 a month. The new department was housed in the remodeled lower level of city hall. The horse stalls were at the back, and the former city council chambers became the sleeping quarters.
The first motorized apparatus was put into service in October of 1910. It was a Gramm chassis with a four-cylinder, forty- horsepower engine with a top speed of thirty miles per hour and cost $2,476.50. A test run took it two and a half minutes to reach Glockner Sanitarium (now Penrose Hospital) from Station 2, whereas the horse-drawn wagon had taken twenty-five minutes. More motorized apparatus soon followed and the use of horses was slowly eliminated.
Intensive training for the men began in 1931. Prior to that time, the fire department had been expected to respond to an alarm, pour on plenty of water, make sure the fire was out, then return to quarters to await the next alarm. Now, emphasis was put on salvage work to help reduce loss. In July of the same year, the U.S. Bureau of Mines trained 10 men in the use of self-contained oxygen breathing apparatus. In March of 1932, the use of civil service examinations was used to fill officer positions on the department.
A progressive step occurred in the early 1960s when Chief Gus Cummings established company inspections. This included schools, hospitals, nursing homes, high rise building, hotels, and other high-risk buildings. The purpose was for the crews to familiarize themselves with the structures, as well as to draw a plan of each building showing exits, stairways, sprinklers, utility shutoffs, and special hazards.
Another step made by Chief Cummings was construction of a new training facility. Up to that point, training had been done on a dilapidated tower behind Fire Station #1. The new tower would be a five-story masonry tower in which controlled fires could be started. Another feature was a water pit from which pumpers could be tested at draft.
Paramedic service began on December 31, 1979 when two Type III Triple K ambulances were put into service at Fire Stations #3 and #7. Fourteen men took the 1,000 hour paramedic course at St. Anthony's in Denver. A federal grant of $250,000 funded the training, communication systems, and equipment.
Response to hazardous materials incidents began in April of 1981. State Senate Bill #55 mandated that local authority was responsible for control and containment of hazardous material, and the city council assigned this responsibility to the Colorado Springs Fire Department. Engine #6 was assigned these duties. By August of 1983, thirty men had received training in hazardous materials response.
A computerized fire inspection program began July 20, 1981. Commercial buildings were ranked as to how often they should be inspected and were then entered into the program. Another phase involved dividing the city into 1,000 zones, called Fire Demand Zones or FDZs, which are still used today.
The Colorado Springs Fire Department has continued to grow in size and has progressed in many different disciplines of rescue. There are currently twenty-three fire stations in the city. The department provides the citizens of Colorado Springs a wide variety of services besides fire suppression, making it one of the leading fire departments in the country.