From our very beginning in 1871, the early settlers of Colorado Springs saw the need for organized fire protection. They soon progressed from volunteer bucket brigades with water from hand-dug wells to the development of the El Paso Canal, bringing water from Fountain Creek in 1872. In May of 1873, the first “fire extinguisher on wheels” was purchased. The next big step was made in 1878 with water “piped” from higher reservoirs, making water available throughout the “city” as it grew, starting with 20 fire hydrants. Early Hook and Ladder companies, formed initially as competitors, soon grew into a coordinated “protection team”.
Benjamin Crowell was the first appointed fire chief in 1879, and in 1894 J.G. Johnson became the first paid fire chief, earning $100 a month, and firemen were paid $70 monthly.
Motorization came in 1910, and in a test, the new fire truck covered the same distance in two and a half minutes that took the horse-drawn wagon 25 minutes! Mechanization was here to stay, as horses were gradually phased out of service.
It soon was determined that fire fighters needed advanced training as buildings became bigger and more complex. This training involved the study of schools, high rises, hospitals and hotels, apartments, and private homes. By 1932 civil service exams were used to fill officer positions in the department. In 1979, Paramedic service began with 1,000 hours of training necessary for the firemen. Hazardous material response training followed in April of 1981.
With the continued growth and responsibility of the fire department, currently with 22 fire stations, it was apparent that women firefighters were needed, and on February 27, 1984, the city and the fire department marked a historic day. Ann Pettinari was sworn in as the first female firefighter in the history of the department! Chief Richard Smith had been actively recruiting women for the fire department and Ann was the first to meet the mental and physical requirements for the position. By 1988 there were four professional female firefighters. Currently there are 18 sworn female firefighters who represent every rank: battalion chief, captain, lieutenant, driver engineer, paramedic, and firefighter.
Fire protection is at its highest level today, and Colorado Springs is proud to have the outstanding fire department that now serves our city.
Generously Submitted by John Orsborn, CSPM Volunteer Educator