When Sioux Falls was young, the city often was threatened by dangerous fires. Lightning striking trees and spreading to dry prairie grass was not uncommon. If the wind was just right, it would blow into town, threatening buildings constructed of mostly wood.
By 1877, a volunteer bucket brigade was put together. This was helpful, but as Sioux Falls grew, it quickly became evident that more was needed. By 1881, the Cascade Hook and Ladder company grew from the bucket brigade. It was still a volunteer organization, but the equipment grew beyond the leather buckets used to put out fires. Cascade had a two-wheel, hand-drawn pumper to move the water used to put out fires. Four men would pull it through the streets to the location of the fire.
In 1884, the City Council purchased a 2,600-pound alarm bell that was put in a tower at Ninth Street and Dakota Avenue, where City Hall now stands. This bell was moved to the City Auditorium in 1899 when that structure was built.
A major fire at the Cataract Hotel at Ninth and Phillips pushed the city to finally develop a fire department that did not rely solely on volunteers. This fire department used a portion of the City Auditorium until it eventually outgrew that space. In 1911, architect Joseph Schwartz designed Sioux Falls’ Central Fire Station at Ninth and Minnesota. The building, designed in an Italianate style, cost $35,962. The bell was moved to the station’s 80-foot tower and remained there for 57 years. In 1969, it was removed because more modern methods of alerting firefighters were in place by that time.
Central Fire Station was built with all the modern innovations in firefighting. Horses were kept on the main floor behind the fire apparatus. When the fire bell would ring, the horses were trained to come forward into position so they could be harnessed to the rigs they would pull to the fires.
In 1916, Sioux Falls’ first motorized fire equipment was purchased. It was a Seagrave fire pumper that could conduct 750 gallons per minute. This truck was in constant use until 1949. For several years after, the truck was used only in times of great need and eventually was sent to retire in Sherman Park in what would become Dennis the Menace Park. The engine thrilled children from 1959 to 1973 before being removed and renovated for use in parades.
On May 27, 1980, the Central Fire Station was added to the National Register of Historic Places and still operates today. It is one of the oldest working fire stations west of the Mississippi River.
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