Placerville Fire Companies
Fire Companies of the Placerville Fire Department
- June 23, 1853 – January 1858: Neptune Hose Co. N0. 1
- December 21, 1853* – Unknown: Hope Hook & Ladder Co.
- May 22, 1857 – June 1857: Mountaineer Engine Co. No. 1
- June 1857 – Unknown: Confidence Engine Co. No. 1
- January 1858 – Unknown: Neptune Engine Co. No. 2
- June 1, 1860 – Unknown: Young America Engine Co. No. 3
- December 4, 1907 – Unknown: Eureka Hose Co. No. 3
- December 4, 1907 – Unknown: Excelsior Hose Co. No. 4
- December 4, 1907 – Unknown: Placerville Hook & Ladder Co.
The foregoing was assembled on April 19, 2004 from a letter compiled by Tom and Ruth Meyer and Frank and Frances Romberg circa 1953.
* The Hope Hook & Ladder Co. attended a grand Fireman’s ball in Coloma on December 21, 1853 and was most likely created prior to this date, but can not be verified at this time. Neptune Fire Co. No. 1 also attended.
Fire Houses of early Placerville
The first hose house of Neptune Hose Company No. 1 was situated on Maiden Lane, now Stage Coach Alley, which location involved great inconveniences; and when the City was incorporated the company applied for an appropriation to purchase a house and lot in some more convenient locality with. The City went on to purchase a house and lot for the use and benefit of the department on Main Street, which was the location of the Firestone store in 1953.
The fire on July 6th, 1856 swept everything before it, rendering the Neptune Hose Company No. 1 homeless. For a full year the Neptunes without a home, destitute of enough means to provide a house for their carriage or accommodations for themselves, kept their regular meetings at any place they could obtain the privilege for doing so, and more than one time the idea of disbandment turned up. But they went through the struggle victoriously and about a year after the big fire they again came in the possession of a house and lot situated on Coloma Street, purchased from Mr. Conrad.
The Neptune Hose Company No. 1 purchased a new engine which arrived about the first of February 1858 and bore the following inscription: “Neptune No. 2” “We’re Ready”. The engine house of the Neptunes was built in the fall of 1860; the stone for the beautiful front was quarried by county prisoners at Stony Point. The building was torn down in 1903 to make room for a railroad right of way.
The Confidence Engine House, after the old building had been partially destroyed by fire, on September 1860, was erected at the present site (City Hall, 487 Main Street) in the fall of 1860.
On December 4, 1907, Confidence Hose Company No. 1 had charge of Hose Cart No. 1 stationed at Confidence Hall on Main Street. Neptune Hose Company No. 2 had charge of Neptune Hose Cart No. 2 stationed on Sacramento Street. Eureka Hose Company No. 3 had charge of Hose Cart No. 3 stationed on Clay Street (Ivy House) and Excelsior Hose Company No. 4 had charge of Hose Cart No. 4 stationed on Coloma Street. Placerville Hook and Ladder Company had charge of Hook and Ladder Truck No. 1 stationed at the City Hall.
After many attempts to secure a new fire house, it finally started to become a reality after the voters on February 28, 1950 approved a $70,000 bond issue for the purchase of a lot, new fire truck and the erection of a fire house. On February 19, 1951, the City Council accepted the new concrete block fire house at 14 Sacramento Street (current Station 25 at 3034 Sacramento Street).
Fire Engines of early Placerville
On the evening of June 23, 1853, the Neptune Hose Company No. 1 was formed and Mr. Frank Allerton undertook to build the first carriage, and the hose was ordered from San Francisco.
The great damages by the fire of the year 1856 had shown the citizens of Placerville that even the best organized fire company will be lost confronting a great fire without a fire engine; thereupon a meeting was held on the 13th of April, 1857, for the purpose of organizing an engine company and a committee of five were appointed to solicit subscriptions for the purchase. On May 22, 1857, at a meeting at Concert Hall, a committee was appointed to purchase an engine built by John Agnew of Philadelphia from Engine Co. No. 1 of Sacramento, together with 250 feet of hose, for the sum of $2,500.
A subscription was made up in January, 1858, towards purchasing an engine for the Neptune Hose Company No. 1, whose name was changed into Neptune Engine Company No. 2. A new fire engine was ordered from the celebrated manufacturing place of Messrs. Hunneman & Co., of Boston, which arrived by ship Hesperus, about the first of February at San Francisco. The engine bore the following inscriptions: “Neptune No. 2″ ” We’re Ready”, the motto of the company.
Confidence Engine Company No. 1 was reorganized on July 9, 1869 and had a new Jeffrey’s Engine and continued to take an active part when called for any assistance.
In July 1922 a Packard fire truck with combination chemical and hose body was purchased for the fire department by the City at a cost of $5,883. The truck was stored at the Hirst Garage, the building between the Chevrolet Garage and the Associated Gas Station (circa 1953).
The minutes of a special meeting of the department held on June 23, 1924 stated that it was moved, seconded and carried that the department buy an Evinrude fire pump and motor for $358.00. The minutes of July 15, 1924 stated that it was moved, seconded and carried that the department buy for $450.00 from Mrs. A.P.T. Elder, a Locomoblile car as well as 1000 feet of hose for $257,40.
At the November 15, 1926 meeting, it was regularly moved and carried that the department send the Locomobile truck to Georgetown as soon as the Pierce truck was completed and ready for service. Prior to February 15, 1927, the Pierce Arrow Truck was put into service by the department.
On September 11, 1931, bids were opened by the City Council for the purchase of a fire truck. After considering the bids, the Council and the Department were unanimously in favor of the La France and form the minutes it appears that the La France was delivered prior to the meeting of October 15, 1931. This engine is still used today by the Placerville Volunteer Firefighter’s Association for parades and other special functions.
In the first part of 1940 the Fabco truck was put in service and it replaced the Packard which was taken over by the City Street Department.
On February 28, 1950 the voters approved a $70,000 bond issue for the purchase of a lot, new fire truck and the erection of a fire house. On May 11, 1951 the new American La France fire truck arrived. This engine is also still used today by the Placerville Volunteer Firefighter’s Association for parades and other special functions.
The Fires of 1856
Up to the year of 1856, from the time of the first settlement, Placerville, contrary to most other mining places, had been spared from the fire friend. But on April 15, 1856, while a great part of the population were assembled in Placerville theater, to greet McKean Buchanan in the character of “Richelieu” a fire broke out in the Iowa House on Sacramento Street, spreading rapidly over the neighboring buildings. Dr. Rankin’s office and adjoining dwelling, the Placer Hotel opposite, the Orleans Hotel, and a number of smaller buildings were all devoured by the flames. Stevens’ new livery stable then caught fire and had it not been for the changing of the wind, the town might have been swept notwithstanding the greatest exertions of the fire department, assisted by many citizens and the members of the Theater Company.
Another fire broke out on July 6th, the same year, and what had been feared only on April 15th, became reality for this time; the town was literally swept by the flames; the fire evidently of incendiary origin, spread with such rapidity that all efforts to stop its progress proved fruitless and hopeless. The hungry flames devoured as well as the houses rebuilt since the fire in April, the remainder of the town, and hardly any of the shanties of Old Hangtown had been spared. The Neptune Hose Company No. 1 was rendered homeless as well as losing all their furniture, hose and fixtures to the fire. A few days after the fire the Council sold the lot upon which the house had stood to Mr. Dorsey. For a full year the Neptunes were homeless before acquiring a house on Coloma Street, purchased from Mr. Conrad.
And still for a third time in the same year, Placerville was visited by the hungry flames. On October 7, 1856, a fire broke out in the Pittsburg House of Upper Placerville, destroying the greater part of the flourishing village. It originated as supposed under the following circumstances – a man named John Murdock had been on a drunken spree during the evening and returned to his room in the Pittsburg with a candle about one-half hour before the fire was discovered; it is presumed that he placed it near the railing. The poor fellow was the victim of his own folly; he being burned to death.
THE STORY OF THE BELL TOWER
The following segment was taken from the City of Placerville website -
The Bell Tower on Historic Main Street is a unique sight. Not many towns can boast of such a structure in the middle of their town. It has its own history, and in its day served a most vital and important role. It was first called the Plaza.
Placerville suffered three fires in 1856 which destroyed a good portion of the business section. The citizens realized the need for an alarm system to quickly call their volunteer fire department, so a bell was ordered from England to serve their purpose.
Cast in 1860, it arrived in Placerville in 1865 and the City gave approval to place it in a tower on the Plaza - at the cost of $380.00. First a 25 foot high wooden tower was built in 1878, and then in 1898 a steel structure was built to replace it. This tower rose 50 feet from an 11 foot square concrete base, with a drinking fountain in the center. It had cast-iron ornaments topped with a weather vane and featured a miniature bronze fireman holding aloft a red globe containing an electric light. When completed it was presented to the city on September 8, 1898 during their Admission Day celebration,
The Tower was dismantled and moved to Cannon Hill in 1911. Cannon Hill received its name because in the early days, there was on top of the hill a National Guard Armory that had a mounted cannon in front of the building and thus the name Cannon Hill was given to the area. Electrical difficulties in ringing the bell from Cannon Hill resulted in the bell being moved back to the plaza in 1912. It stood there through the years until a car struck the Plaza in 1965, almost toppling over the bell.
It had become somewhat shabby over the years and some were in favor of its removal. But the old timers, remembering why it was there, insisted it should be saved. Finally, in 1969, the City Council and the Placerville Fire Department voted to renovate the structure and the project was completed in 1970 with an electric siren installed to replace the new silent bell for the second time. The first electric siren was installed by the late Joseph Leonardi assisted by several linemen of the old Western States Gas and Electric Co.(later purchased by P. G. & E.) This occurred sometime between 1920 and 1921 shortly before the Ohio House burned. Along with the 1970 installation, three other sirens were installed; one near El Dorado High School and Bennett Park; one in Upper Town(now Broadway) near the Lutheran Church; and one on the Sacramento Street Fire House (Station No. 1).
The tower has watched most of Placerville's history pass beneath it, especially in the days when the plaza was the center of life. People met beneath its bell to share the news, discuss the weather and to watch the world go by.
Celebrations were big occasions in days gone by with bands, parades, dances, speeches and picnics, and they usually were centered on the Plaza. Pictures taken on Main Street on these special days show large crowds, and in the background, the Bell Tower, with glorious decorations of bunting, flags, and garlands. Even today, a long standing tradition of decorating the Bell Tower on the 4th of July remains.
Fire District History: Northside Fire Protection District
The Northside Fire Protection District was formed from the El Dorado Northside Improvement Association. The El Dorado Northside Improvement Association was formed as a civic group for zoning, etc, of the Cool-Pilot Hill area around 1963 by Darrel Nance of Pilot Hill and Eugene Chappie of Cool.
In 1964 a few concerned citizens of the Cool-Pilot Hill are got together and formed the first volunteer fire company under a Certificate of Organization, operating under a mother organization, El Dorado Northside Improvement Association, know as the Northside Volunteer Fire Department. The Board of Directors for the volunteer fire department was also the directors of the El Dorado Northside Improvement Association.
The Northside Volunteer Fire Department operated on public donations, and money making projects such as annual dances, bar-b-ques, rodeos, and contributions from various civic organizations of the community.
The first acquired fire trucks were two 1951 Dodge 500 gallon pumpers which required continual maintenance by the volunteers.
In 1966 the Constitution and By-Laws were written forming the Northside Volunteer Fire Department, Northside District El Dorado County, with 34 active members and 3 honorary members.
The Northside Fire Protection District was formed by a 51% vote of property owners in the proposed district which consisted of 26.24 square miles or 16,799 acres. The income to operate the fire district was based on a tax rate of $.10 per $100 of assessed valuation which brought in approximately $7,200. In, approximately 1977, the district’s voters authorized increasing the tax rate to $.60 to upgrade the capabilities of fire protection. By this means and without borrowing money, the District built the Pilot Hill fire station and acquired two used, but upgraded, pumper trucks and obtained the part-time services of a paid fire chief.
Then came Proposition 13 with its funding uncertainties. The District’s fire tax rate of $.60 per $100 of assessed property value was reduced and the District’s funds shank to 28.5% of the previous funds. This reduction would have had disastrous results for the District, except that the State saved the day with augmentation funds.
With frugal management the Fire District Board of Directors was able to upgrade the District by building two complete fire stations, one in Pilot Hill and one in Cool. In 1984 the District’s equipment consisted of:
- 2 – 1984 Emergency One, 1000 gpm Pumpers
- 1 – 1980 Beck Attack Pumper (rescue squad)
- 1 – 1956 Coast 1000 gpm Pumper
- 1 – 1954 Van Pelt 750 gpm Pumper
- 1 – 1952 2200 gallon Water Tender
- 1 – 1968 Chevrolet Pickup Fire Support Vehicle (Assistant Chief)
- 1 – 1980 Ford Bronco 4×4 with medical equipment (Chief)
In 1993 the Northside Fire Protection District reorganized and consolidated with the El Dorado County Fire Protection District.
*The preceding information was taken from a 1984-1985 fiscal year annual report.