BY: RACHEL WUMKES
In the face of turmoil and destruction, most people would run the opposite direction. Their ‘flight’ response kicking into high gear as they evade any type of harm.
For the past 150 years, however, numerous men within the Clear Lake Fire Department have done just the opposite. When the call comes in, there is no hesitation, only swift reactions to ensure they get there in time, doing everything in their power to put out the fire.
Thus, on the 150th anniversary, let’s take a look back at how the department has evolved over the years.
Organized out of necessity in 1871, after the incorporation of the town of Clear Lake, the CLFD came to fruition. On a cold January night, the Coates Brothers Furniture store burned to the ground, taking down a nearby building in the process. Had there been a team of firefighters, it may have been saved.
Back then, men fought fires with a bucket brigade; standing in a line as they passed the bucket until the final firefighter tossed it into the fire. Coupled with long poles used to push in walls to contain the flames, it was their only line of defense in those days.
In 1883, however, the fire department purchased a Button Hand Water Engine, one chain gear hose cart and 300 feet of hose. With the strategic placement of wells throughout town (as there was no running water at the time) firefighters would place the hose into the well, which would then be pumped by hand up through the box and out the remaining hose into the fire.
This was also the time of the first fire extinguishers. Unlike today, these were filled with only water. Firefighters would use a mixture of baking soda and acid to create the spray effect, pressurizing the unit. Once used, they would simply refill and mix a new soda acid combination for the next time it would be needed.
In the 1920s, with the invention of the automobile, the hand-pumps evolved into fire engines. This technology cut the lag time for firefighters arriving to the scene exponentially, allowing for more of a chance to save structures from total destruction.
In 1925, CLFD purchased its first Model T pumper, which was used to battle blazes for the next 50 years. Mounted to the side of this unit were multiple extinguishers using the soda-acid mixture.
The department expanded services again in 1989 when 13 members became certified EMTs. As time has evolved, so have the services needed from the Clear Lake Fire Department. Equipment and technology have expanded. There are bigger houses, more complex buildings, and more people to service. In 1990, they added Hazardous Materials Operations, and included ice rescue to their list of public services.
However, as the founding fathers drew up the by-laws of the department, they stated there would be no more than 30 men as members. That number has held true throughout the years, and even today.
In 2006, the Fire Department grew drastically, once again, with the addition of 2 ambulances. This resulted in the hiring of paramedics and more EMTs. This expansion made it possible for the CLFD to provide 24-hour medical services and ambulance transport. The new team received training to provide backup in fighting fires, as did the fireman train to assist the medical crew.
With this expansion, came the need for more room. At that time, they were sharing space within the police department facility, but plans were underway on the development of their new building. In 2010, construction began on the current fire station, a majestic structure along N. 8th Street in the heart of Clear Lake.
While the technology and method for fighting fires has changed from the line of men on the bucket brigade to what it is today, the heart of the firemen has not changed over the years. Their innate duty to serve the community, making it a better place for generations to come, still rings true in each and every one of them. Members take pride in being part of the Clear Lake Fire Department, dedicating their time selflessly to the betterment of our area.
Clear Lake is a unique place to be a firefighter, too. With the added feature of having water rescue, even in the winter months, the proximity to the interstate, abundance of farmland, the pipeline, and the sheer size of this “small town” each create their own added obstacles for fireman who serve and protect.
Regardless, their dedication has stood firm for the past 150 years and will hopefully continue for years to come.