OLDEST FIRE DEPARTMENT IN THE STATE OF NEBRASKA EST. 1856
"NEBRASKA'S OLDEST FIRE DEPARTMENT"
The Nebraska City Volunteer Fire Department is the oldest fire department still in existence in the State of Nebraska having been first organized as a bucket brigade in 1856 by A. F. Mollring in that portion of the town known as "Kearney Heights." In 1857, the first hook and ladder company was formed and named the "Otoe Hook and Ladder Company Number 1." The company was named after the Otoe Indians who inhabited the area. In 1865, Nebraska City Fire Company Number 1 was organized at McClellan's Hall. And in 1869, the Great Western Fire Company Number 1 was organized
On November 21, 1867, the City Council of Nebraska City contracted with the H. C. Silsby Company of Seneca Falls, New York, for a "steam fired rotary engine with a rotary pump on the same shaft." This engine weighed approximately 4,000 pounds and was drawn to the fires by hand. The cost was approximately $8,000 with the engine being delivered to Nebraska City in June 1868. The Silsby served the citizens well until 1884 when a new "Button" steam fire engine was purchased for approximately $2,800. The new engine was capable of pumping 400 gallons of water per minute. This engine is still in the possession of the Nebraska City Volunteer Fire Department and is presently on display at the Nebraska City Museum of Firefighting. Other antique fire equipment which the Department still possesses consists of an 1861 Deming four-man end-stroke hand pump, an 1865 Fire Extinguisher Company ladder wagon and two hand-drawn hose carts dating from the late 1800's.
The Fire Department received its first motorized fire truck in 1916. The vehicle was a Kissel Kar combination chemical, hose and ladder truck which cost the City $1,067.80. A GMC combination chemical and hose truck replaced this truck in the 1920's.
The advent of the motorized pumper in the early days of the Twentieth Century brought about the demise of the horse-drawn steam fire engine nationwide and Nebraska City was not immune to this progress. In 1926, the City purchased its first motorized pumper, a Seagrave "Metropolitan" class pumper capable of pumping 750 gallons of water per minute. This truck cost $12,500 and was delivered to Nebraska City by rail from the factory at Columbus, Ohio. This truck is still on "reserve" status today and can still "keep up" with its bigger new sisters when needed. With the arrival of this fire truck, the 1884 Button Steamer was placed into retirement having served the City of Nebraska City faithfully for 42 years. In 1938, a second Seagrave pumper, a 500-gallon per minute pumper, was purchased at a cost of $8.000.
A volunteer organization with over one and one-quarter century of service to its community naturally has much history to record, so that applies to the Nebraska City Department. Many major disasters have occurred here, starting with the conflagration of 1860 when most of the village burned. In December 1901, the City Hall and Fire Station burned. That structure housed the City Administrative offices upstairs and the fire station, with its team of horses and fire trucks on the first floor. The stable contained much hay so that the fire spread quickly. The horses were saved but some of the fire apparatus was damaged considerably, including the 1884 Button Steamer.
Through the years, several teams of horses were the main factors in the "equipment" of the department. Always a well-trained team was kept at the fire barn and one salaried fireman on duty. The last of the horses were sold in March of 1923, the building was remodeled by removing the stalls and hayloft, thus ending the "dual" equipment of part horse-drawn rig and automotive truck installed in 1916.
Finances of the Nebraska City Volunteer Fire Department have been. in good condition for many years. Prior to 1923, giving dances and having carnivals in the city raised money for the support of the organization. In 1923, the City officials for the volunteer fire fund, which has been ample for the insurance and other needs of the membership, established a tax levy. The purchase of equipment for the department is made from another fund of the city.
During the early 1960's, the need for additional fire protection in the rural areas surrounding Nebraska City was recognized and the Nebraska City Rural Fire Protection District was organized in 1964. A Board of Directors consisting of five persons who live in the rural district governs the district. The Board levies a tax against the property in the district to provide the necessary funds for the purchase and operation of the fire fighting equipment needed to provide the fire protection in the one hundred ten square miles surrounding Nebraska City.
Up until 1906, the three individual fire companies of the Nebraska City volunteer Fire Department operated as completely independent fire companies, each having their own fire house, equipment and men. In 1873, the three companies determined that it would be beneficial to have one common chief and asked the City Council to appoint one. The Council appointed James A. Barr as Nebraska City's first Fire Chief at the recommendation of the three companies. In 1906, the three companies once again reorganized into the Nebraska City Volunteer Fire Department, which continues today with the three companies still in existence.