The Iowa City Fire Department's movement from an early stage volunteer force of irregulars to a fully paid career fire department can be separated into three distinct periods: The Volunteer Era, the Combination Department and the Career Department. Fire protection was an essential component of Public Safety when Iowa was on the frontier, just as it is now. Then, as is often the case today, the position of fire fighter was filled by a dedicated volunteer who was willing to sacrifice his (the fire fighters in those days were always men) time, energy, health and even his life to help protect his community. At some point in each town and city these volunteer fire fighters stopped simply congregating at the scene of a fire and formed themselves into fire companies and fire departments.
Through the 87-year "volunteer era" of the Fire Department in Iowa City there were 12 separate fire companies. Together, these fire companies had well over 400 members. Some of the companies lasted only a few years while others remained active for decades. There were as many as six different fire companies in Iowa City at one time. Eventually they were grouped under the umbrella name of the Iowa City Fire Department, while maintaining their individual identities and functions. These volunteer fire companies performed a much-needed public service, which Iowa City could not have otherwise afforded at that time.
Iowa City had one of the first fire departments in Iowa. The roots of the department go back to 1842, three years after the founding of Iowa City and four years before Iowa's statehood. According to the proceedings of the Fourth Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Iowa, Council File 109, a bill authorizing the Iowa City Fire Engine Company, was approved in February of 1842, largely for the protection of what was then the new state capitol building. Of course we know it now as the "Old Capitol"! James Higgins was the first "fireman pro tem". The company was finally formed on January 31, 1844.
The original fire fighting gear was stored in the basement of the Old Capitol. According to Benjamin Shambaugh, former president of the University of Iowa and the first historian of the Old Capitol, his state of the art equipment probably consisted mostly of leather buckets! Chauncey Swan, the founder of Iowa City, was the first president of the company, D. Cox the vice president and C. H. Buck the Treasurer. The names of the other fire fighters in the Iowa City Fire Engine Company are, unfortunately, lost. The Iowa City Fire Engine Company apparently went out of existence sometime in the late 1840's or early 1850's.
In the summer of 1854, just one year after the long delayed incorporation of Iowa City, several citizens petitioned the city council for the organization of a hook and ladder company. The council immediately ordered that the marshal "procure, upon the best possible terms, two 3-story, two 2-story, and two 14-foot ladders, also 6 poles with the necessary hooks, chains, and ropes, together with a carriage suitable for the conveyance of the same, and to provide a suitable central place for the keeping of the same."
As a result, the Iowa City Fire Company #1 was formed on October 26, 1855. Their monthly meetings were held at the Iowa City Brewery! The only surviving documentation from this fire company is a list of twelve members with ten or more years of service, dating from late 1869 or early 1870. The three founding members still active at the time of this list were: John Louis, Frank Freyder and Charles A. Vogt. They may have quartered apparatus in this building at the corner of Market and Gilbert, the current home of John's Grocery. You can still see the outline of where a possible apparatus bay door was located on the north wall along Market Street.
One of the motivations for volunteers in these days, and the reason for this list of ten-year members, was that members of a fire company were exempt from military and road service. In these days men were eligible for the draft. They were also liable to be forced into service for road construction or repair. Anyone who was a member of a fire company or who had been a member for ten years or more was no longer required to stand for the draft and were exempt from being pressed into service for the construction or repair of the state's roads.
The Iowa City Fire Company #1 was equipped with the items that the marshal bought in 1854. They may also have had a hand engine because on August 11, 1856, the council recommended the expenditure of three hundred dollars for the purchase of a fire engine. In 1861, in response to a fire that burned most of the buildings on Dubuque Street between Iowa Avenue and Washington Street, the city council passed an "Ordinance to Establish Fire Companies in Iowa City." The council also authorized the purchase of equipment for the fire fighters. Apparently their fire apparatus was still that single hand engine. It may have been pulled to fires by horses hired for each alarm from a nearby livery barn, possibly Foster and Thompson's Livery Barn. Once on the fire scene the pump was powered by hand by the firefighters in order to add pressure to the water from mains.
In 1872, again in response to a March fire that destroyed the famous Clinton House Hotel, the Council agreed to purchase $500 worth of fire fighting gear, including hook and ladder equipment and some buckets. This led to the founding of the entity named the Iowa City Fire Department. A new volunteer company, the Rescue Hook and Ladder Company #1 was formed on May 20, 1872 to take charge of the new equipment. The Rescue Hook and Ladder Company #1 was the only fire company in the new department at that time.
The next year the council corresponded with more than 25 other cities, asking about fire apparatus and equipment. They decided against the purchase of a steam engine, but they did buy a hand pumper. This new equipment brought about the formation of a second fire company, the Protection Engine and Hose Company #1, on July 10, 1873. Later, the Protection Engine and Hose Company #1 also had a two-wheeled hose cart. A two-wheeled hose cart was pulled to fires by firefighters. It's a wonder they had any energy to actually fight the fire once they got there! The local newspapers, always strong supporters of the fire fighters in these early days, said that the city was "waking up to the importance of having an efficient Fire Department." With the formation of two independent fire companies the fire department was established by city ordinance. The new regulation provided for companies of fire wardens, horsemen, engine men and ladder men (there would be no women on the Iowa City Fire Department for another 100 years!). These companies were autonomous and task specific, but, unlike rival companies in some other cities, they were considered part of one Fire Department. They were under the supervision of a Chief and two Assistant Chiefs. All fire apparatus was under the care of the chief. He was required to make a quarterly report to the Council on the condition of the Fire Department.
Despite the formation of these two fire fighting companies, large fires were still fought by calling on unorganized spectators to assist the fire fighters. Throughout the 1870's newspapers called for the city to double the number of fire fighters, arguing that the only proper way to fight fires was with a large number of "disciplined men" supervised by a "competent head". As a result of this need, in the late 1870's and early 1880's there were five more fire companies formed and added to the Iowa City Fire Department.
The Clark Hose Company No. 1 was the first, formed on June 18, 1879. They had a hose cart and, like the other two companies, they were headquartered in City Hall. They may have been named after then mayor Clark. The Clark Hose Company No. 1 held their "First Annual Hop" on September 26, 1879.
Like the annual firemen's balls of the other companies, this was more than a social function. Despite the fact that the city council occasionally approved money for the purchase of large items for the fire department, most of the equipment was bought with money raised either by "subscription" or at the annual dance. The invitations or tickets to the ball often had inscriptions such as "Yourself and a lady are invited to attend." Many businesses and prominent citizens would purchase subscriptions or tickets to the ball to help support the activities of one or more of the fire companies.
In 1879 the Iowa Firemen's Association began holding annual firefighting tournaments. Fire departments from across the state converged on the host city to compete in various fire fighting activities including hose cart races, water ball fights and horse drawn apparatus races. Iowa City was the host to this tournament in 1894, 1895, 1897 and 1915. These tournaments were very popular among other fire departments and for spectators here in town. By some reports there may have been an occasional fire fighter who may possibly have imbibed in alcoholic beverages while attending the tournament. This extra curricular activity was usually played down when possible. There had actually been laws preventing fire fighters from one city associating with firefighters from another in the 1850's and 60's due to perceived rowdiness on the part of the firemen. Most responsible fire departments worked hard to repair that image.
On March 8, 1881 the Sawyer Hose Company No. 2 was formed by disbanding and reorganizing the Clark Hose Company No. 1. D. F. "Fred" Sawyer, a local clothier, bankrolled the company and was responsible for their distinctive uniforms: red stockings, blue trousers, white shirts, skullcaps and regulation running shoes. They took over the old two-wheel hose cart of the Clark Hose Company No. 1 and were quartered at City Hall. But their real purpose was to compete in the Iowa Firemen's Association's annual fire fighting tournaments. The members of the Sawyer Hose Company No. 2 were recruited from the fastest of the Iowa City fire fighters from the other companies. They won the state competition in 1884. Many of the records of their fire calls focus on which company beat the rest to the fire scene and got hoses hooked up first rather than any other pertinent facts about the fire!
For example, an entry from the log of the Sawyer Hose Company No. 2 from 1884 states, "At 1:30 P.M. Apr. ___(sic) an alarm of Fire was sounded from the City Hall proceeded by the Water Works whistle. The Fire Dept. turned out well and thinking it was near the Water Works made for that part of town followed by a long string of people. The Sawyer Hose lead the Dept followed by the Protection No. 1. Hook & Ladder being third." A later report states: "April 21st 5:30 A. M. Alarm of Fire B.C.R. & N. Depot. Sawyers First and First water." The reports from all of the companies usually included the cause of the fire and a description of the damage, but the Sawyers always told who was first on the scene!
The Clark Engine Company was the next company, formed on June 15, 1881. They apparently responded to fires with a hand engine from City Hall. A slightly different type of company was formed on December 5, 1883 when the Clark Engine Company disbanded and reorganized as the Iowa City Fire Police. The Iowa City Fire Police were equipped with ropes, posts and clubs. As you might imagine based on this list of equipment, their main focus was not on actually fighting fires. The fire police had their own special uniforms and badges and their main jobs were code enforcement and crowd control. Some members of the council were concerned with giving the fire police the power of arrest, but most citizens acknowledged the fire police to be a step in the right direction.
In 1881 Iowa City built a new City Hall Building at the corner of Linn and Washington streets. The Fire Department headquarters was moved to this building. Ironically, the building nearly burned to the ground that year when a gas hose dryer was left on in the fire department, starting a fire that caused about $17,000 in damage. The cost of rebuilding the hall was $9,925. The fire department managed to prevent any more fires in their new quarters and remained in that building until 1961.
In 1883 a second fire station, the Alert Hose House, was built at 206 North Linn Street, just north of Market Street. On March 8, 1884 the Alert Hose Company No. 2 was formed and moved into the new house. They had a four-wheel hose cart and protected the north end of the city. A four-wheel hose cart was too heavy for fire fighters to pull by hand. The Alert Hose House may have had a horse in the station, also, but records about this animal are sketchy. Some reports also say that they used horses from the Graham Livery. The Alert Hose House was the first substation of the Iowa City Fire Department, and signaled a change in the focus of fire protection from the downtown business section toward residential neighborhoods. There would be one other short-lived experiment with residential fire protection in the late 1890's.
In 1890 the Iowa State Legislature passed a law allowing second-class cities (those with a population between 2,000 and 15,000) to levy a tax "for the purpose of maintaining a Fire Department." As a result, the city was able to purchase more and better equipment. An even greater impact on the department was that the law also allowed cities to pay fire fighters for the time actually spent at a fire.
The members of the Iowa City Fire Department took full advantage of this new state law. Each fire company began keeping meticulous records of who responded to each fire call, how much time they were there and the amount that they should be paid.
An entry in the 1891 city directory lists five fire companies and their strength: Fire Police, 15; Sawyer Hose, 25; Hook & Ladder, 40; Alert, 30; and Protection Engine, 40. There were a total of 150 men on the fire department at that time. In contrast, the current staffing level of the Iowa City Fire Department is 57 sworn members, men and women. Their 1891 equipment consisted of one hook and ladder truck, two Babcock Extinguishers, 3 Hose carts, 2000 feet of rubber hose and one hand engine.
Another fire company was created in 1895. The Relief Hose Company Number 2 of Summit Hill, was organized on January 8, 1895. According to documents from that year, they supposedly quartered their hose cart at 504 East Court Street. However, there has never been a 500 block of East Court. The house may have been at 604 East Court. If so, that building is no longer standing. It may also have actually been on Summit Hill, some five blocks further east. At any rate, the company only lasted for three years, the last mention of them being on February 24, 1898.
A volunteer fire fighters' uniform was very important in these early days. When a member left (or was asked to leave) the fire company, his uniform had to be returned. There is a long drawn out story covering in many months worth of minutes of one of the companies about the return of a uniform. The former member resisted every attempt to get him to return the uniform. Finally two current members were dispatched to Davenport, Iowa to affect the return of the uniform from the wayward former member! This trip no doubt cost several times the monetary value of the uniform, but the pride of the organization was at stake!
On Saturday, June 19, 1897, the Iowa City Fire Department lost its first fire fighter in the line of duty. The Mechanics Academy, located at the current site of Seashore Hall, was struck by lightning at about four o'clock that morning. The Mechanics Academy served as the University of Iowa's Library. Lycurgus "Kirk" Leek of the Protection Engine and Hose Company No. 1 was fighting the fire on the third floor when the roof collapsed, trapping him. He was knocked unconscious and burned to death.
August Schindhelm, secretary of the Protection Engine and Hose Company No. 1, wrote that day in the official minutes: "On Saturday evening June 19th 1897 the Iowa City Fire Department met at City Hall at 7 O'clock to attend the funeral of our late brother fireman L. M. Leek, an active member of the Protection Engine and Hose Co. No. 1, who met his death while on duty at the burning of the University Library building on Saturday morning June 19th, 1897 at about 4:30 O'clock.
The Department was led by Chief Leuz, 1st Asst. Chief Louis Messner and 2nd Asst. Chief John Welch and the following companies were in attendance:
- Iowa City Fire Police
- Rescue Hook & Ladder Co.
- Protection Engine & Hose Co.
- Sawyer Hose Co.
- Alerts Hose Co.
- Summit Hill Hose Co.
Mr. Leek left a wife and two children. He is buried at Oakland Cemetery. The president of the University of Iowa spoke at his funeral. Kirk Leek's head stone reads: "LYCURGUS LEEK WHO SACRIFICED HIS LIFE JUNE 19, 1897 WHILE FULFILLING THE DUTY OF A VOL. FIREMAN AGED 40 YRS. 4 MS. 14 DAYS."
Kirk Leek's death almost led to the disbanding of the Iowa City Fire Department. Some citizens had charged that his death was due to the department's incapacitation caused by too much alcohol consumed by its members at the fire fighters' tournament held in Iowa City earlier that week. The minutes of many of the fire companies reflect a significant drop in morale and in a desire to continue to serve the community. Once again, the local newspapers whole-heartedly supported the fire fighters. They called on residents to remember the good service provided by the fire department over the years.
The fire department began improving its alarm system at about this time. By 1897 there were eight alarm boxes set up on corners throughout the city. They were connected to strikers at the chief's residence, the water works and Foster and Thompson's Livery Barn. There were indicators at City Hall and at the Alert Hose House to tell the fire fighters the vicinity of the alarm. And there was a repeater at the telephone office. When an alarm was received, fire fighters were notified by a series of long and short tones that corresponded to the location of the alarm box. The bells of the Baptist Church also rang out the alarm. The fire fighters then responded to the location of the alarm box and looked around for evidence of a fire. This system, primitive as it seems now, greatly reduced the department's response times. Over the years, the city continued to improve its alarm system, with 13 boxes throughout the city in 1907 and 16 boxes by 1911.
The Protection Engine and Hose Company No. 1 and the Sawyer Hose Company No. 2 were combined into the Central Hose Company No. 1 on January 4, 1911. But the original companies' names are still mentioned in the minutes of official proceedings. This company is only rarely listed in any surviving documents. It seems to have simply ceased to exist shortly after the 1915 Iowa Firemen's Association Tournament.
This reorganization was just a taste of a series of far reaching changes in the Iowa City Fire Department that would occur in 1912. The first was the purchase of a motorized 1912 Seagrave fire truck on January 13. This truck, the first motorized fire apparatus in Iowa City, was housed at the City Hall building and remained in service until 1932. It originally had hard rubber tires. It could not have been very comfortable to ride over brick and dirt roads.
The second big change was the purchase of Snow Ball and High Ball, Iowa City's famous fire horses. Snow Ball and High Ball were quartered at the Alert Hose House on North Linn and pulled the hose cart. The Alert Hose Company No. 2 may have had either a single horse or a team of horses at some time in the past, but they were not nearly so photogenic as Snow Ball and High Ball! There are more pictures of these two animals than of anyone else connected with the fire department at any time in history. They were a great improvement over the practice used at city hall of hiring horses from a livery barn at the time of the alarm! When an alarm was received at the Alert House Snow Ball and High Ball would start prancing the floor, itching to get on the way. Snow Ball and High Ball were in the care of the Alert Hose Company No. 2 for their entire careers.
These two changes helped bring about a need for the third change, no doubt the most important and farthest reaching of the three. A partially paid, or combination, department was instituted on October 1, 1912, when James Clark, Herman Amish and George Kasper were hired as Iowa City's first full time paid fire fighters. It is unclear from contemporary records whether they started work then or if their appointments were effective January 1, 1913. James Clark, then the chief of the volunteer department, was hired as the paid chief. He and Herman Amish were stationed at headquarters in the City Hall building. George Kasper was stationed at the Alert Hose Company on North Linn.
The new fire fighters were close to their stations. In fact, Chief Clark lived across the street from headquarters and George Kaspar lived on north Linn, across the street from the Alert Hose House.
After the first paid fire fighters were hired some of the remaining volunteer companies started to disband. Records of the Iowa City Fire Police and the Central Hose Company ceased in 1915. Their last official acts seem to have been participation in the Iowa Firemen's Association tournament held in Iowa City that year.
In that tournament Snow Ball and High Ball were entered in the horse drawn apparatus competition and race. They were heavy crowd favorites. No fire horses in Iowa looked more beautiful as they ran through the streets than these two fine animals. The citizens considered them a matched set but they were not. Snow Ball had a pink nose and High Ball had a black nose. High Ball was also a bit more high strung. But unfortunately their beauty did not translate into success in the tournament race. They were beaten by Bob and Bob from Clinton, perennial victors in the race. But Snow Ball and High Ball did manage to defeat the world famous team of Lou and Herb from Marion, South Carolina, who traveled almost 1200 miles to compete in the tournament.
A second piece of motorized apparatus was purchased on October 8, 1922. This 1922 American LaFrance pumper was housed in the City Hall building. It had a 750-gallon per minute pump and came with inflatable tires! This durable engine was actually still used at the Community Building fire in 1955!
With the purchase of the American LaFrance, the age of the horse drawn hose cart was coming to a close. In 1925 Snow Ball and High Ball were put out to pasture at a farm near Solon. The day they retired there was a parade in their honor and they posed for a photograph with the 1912 Seagrave, the 1922 LaFrance pumper, the fire chief's car and members of the paid fire department. Just after the pictures had been taken a fire alarm came in. Snow Ball and High Ball actually beat the motorized apparatus to the call, which turned out to be a false alarm. Many spectators suspected, probably correctly, that the alarm was set up to show that the horses were more efficient than the "new fangled" gasoline engines!
Throughout the 1920's additional fire fighters were hired. By 1926 there were seven fire fighters on the payroll. As manpower (remember, there still were not any female fire fighters) increased the two fire stations were staffed 24 hours a day. In these days paid fire fighters in Iowa typically worked 24 hours a day, six days out of seven or four days out of five. Iowa City was moving slowly toward a career fire department.
But still, even after the first paid personnel were hired 1912, the volunteer companies continued to be an integral part of the Iowa City Fire Department. They responded to fires alongside the paid fire fighters, providing the extra personnel necessary to control fire emergencies. Records exist for the Rescue Hook and Ladder Company until August 8, 1921. It appears that they responded to their last fire on that date. This venerable company, the charter company of the Iowa City Fire Department, survived for almost 50 years. Finally, in 1929, the last of the dedicated volunteer fire companies was disbanded to make way for a fully paid fire department. The Alert Hose Company No. 2responded to its final call on June 2, 1929.
On July 14, 1929 the Alert Hose House on North Linn finally closed. Without Snow Ball and High Ball the station had not been needed anyway. George Kasper moved his quarters to City Hall and joined the rest of the department there.
That same day, a two-platoon system was created. The six paid fire fighters now each worked every other day. The inclusion of the chief brought the total strength of the department to seven. Irregular volunteers continued to be an important piece of the fire protection system in Iowa City. Individuals were still recruited to help the fire department fight fires. In fact, records exist of payment to volunteer fire fighters as late as 1965. But there were no more organized Iowa City Volunteer Fire Companies. The Iowa City Fire Department had become a fully paid, career fire department.
The institution of the fully paid, career department surely improved safety and operations within the fire department. But it also reduced the community's involvement in this important civic responsibility. The result was a fire department that was, at once, more effective, yet less and less a part of the Iowa City community. As the Fire Department has moved into new areas of responsibility and expertise it has continued to strive to be a truly "professional" force. It has struggled with the need to remain an effective force of emergency managers, yet become and remain an integral part of the community it serves. Only by walking that thin line can it do the job that you pay it to do, that it, as an institution wants to do: Serve its customers: the entire Iowa City community.
When the Great Depression hit, the fire department was the first group of city employees to offer to take a pay cut. When the city was able to put together a balanced budget during those lean years it was partly due to the members of the department giving up a portion of their pay.
Despite the financial difficulties of the day the department still continued to update its operation. A Seagrave Pumper was delivered on July 1, 1932 replacing the old 1912 Seagrave.
The department was also able to increase staffing during the Depression. There were 7 fire fighters in 1930. Staffing increased to 11 by 1940. The fire fighters still worked a two-platoon system, with 5 men on a shift. The chief worked a 40-hour week.
Local 610 of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) was organized in Iowa City on February 7, 1939. Local 610 has maintained continual affiliation with the IAFF since that time. The original charter was signed by: J. J. Clark, Albert Dolezal, J. T. McNabb, Ray Morgan, Jean Rose, Vernal Shimon, Adrian Rittenmeyer, Theodore F. Fay, W. A. Vorbrich, and L. A. Villhauer.
WWII had a greater effect on the Iowa City Fire Department than the Great Depression. Not only were no new fire fighters hired, but no fire apparatus were available because all production was geared toward the war effort. The war years were years of stagnation for the department.
Once the war was over domestic production began again and the department soon ordered a new fire engine. An American LaFrance Pumper arrived on September 5, 1947 and replaced the old 1925 American LaFrance.
Less than a year later the department took delivery of an American LaFrance Ladder Truck on July 6, 1948. This gave the department a new engine and truck and a reserve engine that was 15 years old.
The new ladder truck was difficult to get into and out of the 70-year-old fire station. As a result, Station #2 was opened on January 13, 1949. Station #2 was located at 314 South Gilbert Street. Although a much smaller building, it was better situated to house the ladder truck. The 1935 Seagrave and a panel truck were also housed at Station #2. It was staffed with four fire fighters.
The department grew in personnel after the war, also. Staffing increased to 21 men by 1950. The increase in staffing allowed for a practice that was becoming widespread in the American Fire Service, the "Kelley Day". Kelley days were extra days off from the usual schedule. Remember, fire fighters worked 24 hour shifts, every other day. In 1947 fire fighters were given one Kelley Day for each 16 days worked. In 1952 the Kelley Day was one day in 12 worked. By 1957 it was one in 10. By 1964 fire fighters got one Kelley Day for every eight days of work. Finally a three-platoon system was implemented on January 1, 1966. The shift rotation chosen is known as a "California Roll". Fire fighters work three 24-hour shifts in five days and then get four days off. (Of course they work 7 hours, from midnight to seven a.m, of that first "day off"!)
After 80 years of service the old fire station was retired on January 1, 1961. That station sat on the north west corner of Washington and Linn Streets. The new station at 10 South Gilbert, part of the Civic Center Complex, was opened and staffed that day. The old Station #2 on South Gilbert Street closed that day, too, and all apparatus and fire fighters were now housed in one place.
The 1950's and 60's brought an almost complete turnover on fire apparatus. In 1957 a new engine was purchased, a Peter Pirsch. Two American LaFrance engines were purchased, one in 1964 and one in 1965. In 1970 the department took delivery of an American LaFrance 100 foot Aerial Ladder Truck. The truck had been sent by rail to keep it in new condition. Ironically it was damaged when it came loose from its anchors while en route.
The ICFD started absorbing increases in staffing in 1968. The increases were due to the opening of Station #2 August 23, 1968. Station #2 is located at 301 Emerald Street, just off of Melrose. It is hard to believe now, but when Station #2 was opened it was just about the last building in the city. It was surrounded by cornfields.
The engine at Station #2 was the 1957 Pirsch. On April 7, 1969 Lieutenant Bob Hein's crew responded from Station #2 to an alarm at Mercy Hospital. It was the last alarm for Lieutenant Hein. He was injured in an explosion that morning and died from his injuries two and a half years later on October 15, 1971. He left a wife and 16 children. Lieutenant Hein is buried in St. Joseph's Cemetery. In addition to Bob Hein, six other fire fighters were injured in the explosion, some of them badly. Chief Dean Bebee had to return to shift work for a while to help make up staffing shortages.
More fire fighters were hired to staff another firehouse, Station #3, which opened on February 12, 1972. Station #3 is located at 2001 Lower Muscatine Road. With the addition of the fire fighters hired to staff Station #3 the total strength of the department was 51 fire fighters.
The 1970's brought some changes in fire apparatus, some substantial and some cosmetic. Diesel engines and yellow paint made the apparatus look and sound different. The diesels also came equipped with automatic transmissions! The department purchased four yellow diesel engines between 1971 and 1982: two Ward Lafrance's, one American Lafrance, and one Pierce.
On August 18, 1977 there was a much more important change in the make up of the Iowa City Fire Department. Linda Eaton was hired as a fire fighter. She was the 104th person hired as a paid fire fighter in Iowa City, but she was the first woman. Her three years on the department were not without controversy. Some of that controversy was played out under the glare of the national spotlight. Regardless of any other issues involved, Linda paved the way for the department's current women members.
The American Fire Service as a whole began changing focus in the 1980's. The ICFD was right on the front of the wave as we moved into Emergency Medical Services. Later in the decade the ICFD started responding to Hazardous Materials (HazMat) incidents. Of course, the fire fighters knew they had always been responding to these types of calls. The difference now was that the fire fighters had proper training and equipment to successfully deal with these types of problems.
Another national trend that started in the 80's was the hiring of "Outside Chiefs". Iowa City hired our first chief from "the outside" on February 17, 1986. Chief Larry Donner had come from the Poudre Fire Authority in Colorado. In his tenure we were able to look at a number of traditions with a more critical eye and streamlined many aspects of the operation.
One of the operational changes Chief Donner brought about was the creation of "Specialty Stations". On July 1, 1989 Station #2 became the Hazardous Materials Station. Fire crews stationed there were all members of the Johnson County Hazardous Materials Team and all became HazMat Technicians. Station #3 became the Public Education Station with responsibility for Fire Prevention Week activities and for coordinating all public relations and education events.
Also in the 1980's the department began purchasing enclosed cab apparatus. The first was a new 102-foot Gruman Aerial Cat platform ladder truck. Other enclosed cab vehicles include a 1991 E1 engine, a 1992 Smeal Engine, two Toyne Engines, a 1996 and a 2001, a 2003 Pierce Engine, and a 1998 Toyne Heavy Rescue Truck.
In 1996, after two "Outside" fire chiefs the ICFD "Came Home" when Andrew Rocca was promoted to replace Jim Pumfrey. Chief Rocca has been able to balance the critical eye with an understanding of local traditions to lead the department into the new millennium.
The first increases in staffing in thirty years happened in July 2001 when six firefighters were hired in anticipation of the opening of a fourth station. Their hiring brought the total strength of the department to 57 uniformed personnel with between 15 and 18 people on duty each 24-hour shift.
Additional personnel were hired in 2011 to complete staffing upgrades for Fire Station 4, which was also opened that year. Station 4 brought the total strength of the ICFD to 64 uniformed members and contributed to lower response times throughout the community.
In 2013, Fire Chief Andy Rocca retired following 35 years of dedicated service to Iowa City, with seventeen as chief of the department. Fire Marshal John Grier was appointed to lead the department, becoming the 14th chief in the career department’s history.
Under Chief Grier’s leadership, the department has continued to provide exemplary service to the community, and has continuously earned the prestigious accredited agency status by the Center for Public Safety Excellence. Fewer than 250 fire departments in the world have satisfied the rigorous requirements for accreditation, and the Iowa City Fire Department is proud to have the distinction of being among them for fifteen consecutive years.