The City of Red Wing’s Fire Department is rich in history. Fortunately, there are a few individuals, who have researched and spent many hours gathering and studying the department’s past. These next pages are dedicated to both firefighters of the past, present and future.
The Red Wing Fire Department has provided fire and EMS services to the citizens of Red Wing and the surrounding area for over 150 years. The Protection Hook and Ladder Company #1, Red Wing’s first fire company, was organized in 1857 with Jessie Mc Cintire elected as the first Chief Engineer. Red Wing’s City Council refused to recognize them as a legitimate company so they relied on subscriptions and donations to meet expenses. Equipped with a wagon, a couple of ladders and a few buckets, the company was not called on to extinguish many fires. They were once used to demolish a home whose occupants had “an unsavory reputation.”
The Protection Hook and Ladder Company listed its 1858 equipment inventory to include: one wagon, seven ladders, three axes, three small hooks and a pair of grapple irons. The Protection Hook and Ladder Company reorganized on December 6, 1858 as the Torrent Engine Company #1. They disbanded in 1865 because they were unable to obtain an engine. Throughout the 1860s, several companies were organized including Cataract Hose Co. #1, The Niagara Engine Co. #2, and the Champion Extinguisher Co. These Companies were formed in name only as they were unable to obtain the equipment needed to be considered legitimate fire companies.
In 1865, fire claimed the Teepetonka Hotel. The Fire Department felt that with modern firefighting equipment, the hotel may have been saved. Department officers approached the City Council and asked that a tax be levied so the department could purchase an engine. “If the property owners and principal taxpayers of this city don’t like the proposition, they can vote no and perhaps the City Council, to meet their case, will vote for another two dozen pails!” Later that year, the City Council agreed to purchase two hand pumped engines and two hose carts (second hand) for $1050.
Another hose cart was purchased in 1869. The cart was put on public display on the third floor of the music hall. In order to exhibit the new cart on the third floor, it needed to be dismantled and carried up the stairs. During the exhibit, the fire alarm sounded. The cart had to be dismantled and brought down to the street. Before the cart could be reassembled and drawn to the fire, the Metropolitan Hotel on Levee Street had burned to the ground.
The city’s first firehouse was built downtown on West Third Street in 1860. Three additional stations were built throughout the city before the turn of the century. The first fire bell was purchased and installed in 1871 at a cost of $900.
In 1877, the city laid water mains downtown using the Diamond Flour Mill powerhouse to pump water into the loop. Residential neighborhoods relied on private wells and cisterns for firefighting water supply. By 1884, the city’s water works was constructed including fire hydrants to replace the cisterns and wells in residential areas. Red Wing saw many costly fires in the 1870s and 80s including the Diamond and Red Wing Flour Mills, the Betcher Lumber Company, the sewer pipe factory and the potteries. The loss of the flour mills was considered the most damaging.In accordance with a resolution adopted by the City Council on March 6, 1885, the Red Wing Fire Department reorganized.
On June 1, 1885, the City Council awarded charters to four hose companies and one ladder company to work under the direction of Chief Engineer C.J. Kempf and Assistant Chief J.H. Webster. Each company was allowed to elect a Captain and two Lieutenants to act as company officers. One additional company was incorporated into the department but did not receive a charter. The Champion Extinguisher Company #1 had quarters on the campus of the Red Wing Seminary on College Hill. The company was commanded by Captain Chally, an employee of the Seminary, and provided fire protection for the campus.
A Relief Association was chartered to provide a small pension to those members who served honorably for 20 years or more. Each company selected delegates to represent them on the Relief Association Board. Each of the four hose companies (Cataract #1, Athletic #2, German #3 and LaGrange #4) was equipped with a two-wheeled hand drawn hose cart. The carts were loaded with 700 feet of hose, nozzles, axes, rope and lanterns. When fully loaded, these carts weighed up to 1800 pounds. Each hose company was assigned 12 men.
Phoenix Hook and Ladder Company #1 operated a ladder truck purchased in 1875. This 5600 pound truck carried 210 feet of ground ladders as well as pike poles, axes, rope and salvage materials. The rig was drawn to fires by a two-horse team. 13 firefighters were assigned to Ladder Company #1.
In addition to the hose carts and ladder truck, the department also had at their disposal a Silsby steam fire engine purchased for $900 in 1871. Because of exceptional hydrant pressure within the city limits, the steamer was seldom used, and was held in reserve in the first ward engine house.
By the turn of the century, the department placed the hose carts in reserve and upgraded to horse-drawn combination hose wagons. Each wagon was loaded with 1000 feet of hose and two ladders and was pulled by a team of draft horses. With the arrival of horsepower, the companies no longer needed 12 men to get their equipment to fires and were reduced to ten members each.
In addition to the wagons, the department also purchased two sleighs for use in the winter. Horses used by the department were purchased or leased from area farmers. Belgians and Percherons were chosen because they were able to pull heavy loads at a fast pace. The last horse purchased by the department was named Mike and was assigned to Central Station in March of 1919.
The city purchased its first piece of motorized apparatus in 1913. By 1925, the department had completed the switch over to motor driven equipment and the last horse was sent to pasture.
It was considered a high honor and a special privilege to be a member of the Red Wing Fire Department in the 19th century. The department was not only prominent socially, but politically as well. A candidate for membership into one of the companies had to meet the approval of all the members of the company. Excellent health, good moral character and residence within the city limits were minimum requirements.
Until 1906, all of Red Wing’s firefighters (except the Chief) were volunteers. They were required to answer alarms day and night. They were required to attend all meetings and training sessions. If they were leaving the city for any reason, they first had to have permission from the company Captain.
The 19th Century Red Wing firefighters'; personal equipment offered little protection from the hazards of firefighting. A rubber rain coat, rubber boots and a tin or leather helmet was what each was issued. Each firefighter was also required to purchase a dress uniform to be worn at public functions.
By 1906, the city had grown at such a pace that it needed to change how fire protection was delivered. With new manufacturing plants and increased housing, Red Wing’s fire risk was increasing.
The City Council voted to approve the formation of a company of paid firemen to be on duty day and night. Hart Cook was named Chief of the Department and August Olson was named Assistant Chief.
Six men were selected from the ranks of the volunteer companies to be Red Wing’s first paid firefighters, each earning $50 a month. The Council also agreed to pay for three part time “Sleepers” at $5 per month. These men were paid to cover night calls out of the 4th Ward engine house. In addition, Henry Maetzold was retained as engineer to operate the steam pumper for $8 a month.
With the formation of a paid company, the department no longer needed a large complement of volunteers. Athletic Hose Company#2 and German Hose Company #3 were disbanded and their members were released or folded into the remaining companies.
In 1906, all the ward houses were closed except the LaGrange Company #4 house on West 3rd Street. Hose Company #1 and the Ladder Company #1 joined the paid crew in a new fire station attached to City Hall. This station was known as Central. The LaGrange house closed in 1926 bringing all men and equipment to Central where they would remain for 77 years.
In 1923, more paid men were hired to adequately staff a two platoon system with one platoon working days and the other working nights. In addition to his regular salary, each firefighter also received ten days of vacation annually. By 1940, with the addition of new personnel, the schedule changed to 24 hours on and 24 hours off with an increase in pay to $125 per month.
In 1972, the City Of Red Wing annexed Burnside Township along with the Prairie Island Community. Seven new men were added to the paid roster. The increases in manpower enabled the department to schedule three 24 hour shifts with eight men assigned to a shift. Prior to annexation, Burnside Township ran a small volunteer fire department with a station on North Service Drive. At the request of the residents of Burnside, the Red Wing Fire Department manned the township station with two firefighters and an engine. Burnside Station remained staffed 24 hours a day until 1977, when the decision was made to close the station and return the men and equipment to Central.
By the late 1970s, the Fire Department outgrew its quarters at Central. A station that was designed for horse drawn apparatus was not adequate for the heavy trucks the department now used. When a new ladder truck was backed into Central in 1975, the beams holding up the apparatus floor began to crack. A referendum was put to the citizens of Red Wing for a new fire station. The referendum passed and a new station on 5th and Plum Streets was built and occupied in 1983.
The 1990s found the city with a shrinking industrial tax base, forcing the City Council to make cuts in city services. Five positions in the Fire Department were eliminated, resulting in rescheduling some personnel to a 40 hour workweek, and reducing shift strength to six firefighters per shift. Hose Companies #1 and #4 as well as Ladder Company #1 were designated as paid on call companies rather than volunteer companies. Each company has ten members and is dispatched to assist the paid department with fire emergencies.
Today, the department operates four engines, one ladder truck, one brush fire rig, four ambulances and support vehicles out of one station. In his annual report to the City Council in November of 1906, Chief Hart Cook reported the department had been called out 30 times. In 2010, the department responded to 3,575 calls for service.
Chief Service Chief Service
Jessie MacIntire 1857-1861 Ed D. Morris 1888-1890
Charles Baker 1862-1864 John H. Webster 1891-1897
T.B. Sheldon 1865-1866 C.J. Wiech 1898-1904
W.P. Brown 1867-1869 Hart N. Cook 1904-1916
W.E. Hawkins 1870-1872 Fred Retschlag 1916-1921
W. C. Wiliston 1873 John A. Gross 1922-1925
B. C. Stevens 1874 August Olson 1925-1929
Jacob Christ 1875 Joe Reinboldt 1930-1942
B. C. Stevens 1876 Steve Rosener 1943-1964
W. E. Hawkins 1877 Walter Engeldinger 1965-1976
M. Kappel 1878 Richard Kosek 1976-1995
John Veeder 1879 Phil Mathiowetz* 1996
B. C. Stevens 1880-1883 Richard Rabenort** 1997-2003
John Kuhn 1884 Scott Nelson* 2003
C.J. Kemp 1885-1887 Mike Amendolar 2004-2008
John H. Webster 1888 Tom Schneider 2008-present
*Phil Mathiowetz and Scott Nelson were designated as Acting Chief.
**Richard Rabenort was appointed Public Safety Director.