Our History

Founding of a Fire Department

From the pages of time, over 100 years ago on August 23, 1873, in Columbus, Nebraska, a group of citizens gathered for a meeting - the purpose - the founding of a fire department. The Chair, Captain D.D. Wadsworth and M.T. Kinney, Secretary called the meeting to order. The following men signed their names signifying their desire to become members of the company:

  • A. Bradt
  • A. Lockner
  • A.M. Darling
  • Chas Hudson
  • Chas Richly
  • Chas Waker
  • D.D. Wadsworth
  • Dan Clother
  • E.A. Gerrard
  • E.H. Jenkins
  • E.W. Tongray
  • Ed Shehan
  • F.G. Becker
  • Fred Matthews
  • G.A. Schroeder
  • Geo. Brindley
  • Geo. Collidge
  • Geo. Fairchild
  • H.P. Becker
  • H.P. Coolidge
  • Harry Davis
  • Ida Brindley
  • J. Rasmussen
  • J.A. Turner
  • J.B. Wells
  • J.O. Channon
  • J.P. Becker
  • James E. North
  • John Compton
  • John J. Richly
  • John Juber
  • John M. Kelley
  • John Robinsen
  • John Sanderson
  • John Schram
  • L. Cockburn
  • L.M. Cook
  • M.T. Kinney
  • Marshall Smith
  • O.E. Shannon
  • R.H. Henry
  • S.A. Burgett
  • Schuyler Clark
  • W.H. Sutton
  • Wm Frederick
  • Wm Shultz
  • Wm Speies


These 47 men who signed the Charter Roll on August 23, 1873, organized Engine Company Number 1, which later become Hose Company Number 1 and Hose Company Number 2 and elected the following officers:

J.B. WellsChief Engineer
D.D. Wadsworth1st Assistant Chief
J.P. Becker2nd Assistant Chief
J.E. NorthSecretary
John ComptonTreasurer

Hook & Ladder Company

On January 3, 1874 the Pioneer Hook and Ladder Company was organized, and the three companies struggled along with what makeshift equipment they had. Discipline was lax in early 1887, and some disagreements arose as to the efficiency of the department. On June 28, 1887, W.Y. Bissel organized the W.Y. Bissell Hose Company. The town council recognized the Bissells on July 2, 1887, but diehards in the older organization refused to admit the new unit into the department until February 27, 1888.


According to the records of Chief Bert J. Galley, the first piece of equipment arrived in Columbus the evening of October 16, 1899 via the B&M Railway. The new Hook and Ladder truck was unloaded October 18th and housed in the firehouse on 11th and North Street. Everyone pronounced it a beauty.

The Columbus Fire Department never owned or maintained a team to pull the Hook and Ladder rig. Instead there was an understanding that, whenever the fire bell rang, the drayman would rush to the firehouse with their teams and hitch onto the fire wagon. It was not considered a chore, but an honor, to be the first drayman to arrive, hook his team to the rig, and with manes flying, gallop to the fire. As the City of Columbus grew, more efficient equipment was needed, and City Clerk Wm Becker placed a notice in the newspaper that sealed bids would be received on March 24, 1911, for a combination chemical fire hose wagon.

Motor Wagon

Again from the records of Chief Bert J. Galley, a new motor propelled combination hose wagon and chemical engine arrived Thursday morning, July 20, 1911 over the Union Pacific Rail Road. It arrived on Thursday afternoon and took a ride around the city after which we placed the truck in Gottbergs garage. Friday morning July 21st the City Council and chief met at the garage and took a ride around the city in order to try the new truck. After riding for about one hour they returned to the garage. It was decided to hold the demonstration on Monday afternoon July 24, 1911. Monday afternoon at 3:15 pm the demonstration took place on 13th Street. A run was made on 13th Street from the North Opera House to Gottbergs garage where a fire had been kindled. The chemicals worked splendidly and the fire was put out in a short time.

After the run, members of the City Council and the mayor made a trip in the wagon, in order to find out how the motor propelling was powered. After going about the city they went down to the Loup River Wagon Bridge to find out the pulling power of the said truck. They reported that the truck went through the sand almost to the hubs of the wheels. After the trip they returned to the council chambers where a photograph of the City Council and members of the department was taken. Council held a short session with the fire boys and held a celebration in honor of the new apparatus. The festivities were held at the Orpheus Hall and was a great success. All who were present report having a wonderful time. The new chemical hose wagon was accepted by the City Council on Tuesday evening, July 25th of 1911, and turned over to the Chief of the Fire Department for actual service.

Truck #5756 weighed 7,150 pounds, had four cylinders and an air-cooled engine, was 60 horses powered at a speed of 30 miles per hour, contained two 35-gallon chemical tanks and was chain driven with solid tires. Originally it was equipped with a lighting system that was the last word, the presto-gas operated with the battery ignition provided automatic starting of the lights. Later, Lew Williamson, Pioneer Columbus Auto Battery and Electric Service Dealer equipped the truck with a modern lighting system.

Old Smokey

Old Smokey, as it now is known, served the city until 1921, when the first actual pumper was purchased. At one time, Old Smokey was in the State Museum for old engines located on the State Fair Grounds in Lincoln, and in the Elkhorn Historical Society in Norfolk. Today, Old Smokey is housed in the south side fire station, and is the pride and joy of the department. The brass is always polished and ready for a parade or exhibition.

Some of the fire equipment available in 1908, included service hose cards, 2 1/2-inch cotton cover hose, rubber coats, lanterns, trumpets, play pipes, axes, wrenches, ladders, pole hooks, and other such equipment. Each company was responsible for their own equipment.

Accidental Death of a Horse

On November 21, 1914, the fire alarm sounded and the department responded promptly for the fire in District 2. A barn owned by Michael McCabe on Washington Avenue was burning. In going to the fire, members of the Pioneer Hook and Ladder Company 1 hitched the team belonging to Ray Miller to the Hook and Ladder truck and at the end of the run, which was five blocks, one of the horses died. Mr. Miller estimated the value of the horse at $85. The accident was reported to the mayor and members of the City Council. The Hook and Ladder Company paid Mr. Miller for the horse.