About Groton Fire

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    The first fire reported in the Groton Independent was July 30, 1884, when S.B. Howes house (adjoining the town site on the southeast) caught fire and was almost consumed. In January 1885 the Hook & Ladder Company Number 1 was organized. Foreman was W.H. Johns; first assistant, John Landberg; second assistant, J.D. Reeves; secretary, G.M.L. Erwin; and treasurer, William Stoddard. A committee was also chosen consisting of J. Kraft, J.H. Troy and J.N. Lindly. They purchased “apparatus”, which they called their equipment, and the first fire house was built. They did use the Fire House for a City Hall and other things until the “Hose Boys” complained about their “apparatus” being housed in the street in May.

    The fire house was on the corner just south of the present Community Center at 3rd St and 1st Ave.

    In the middle of a blizzard, Groton had its first big fire. In January of 1886 people were awakened by the six o’clock alarm and found the town illuminated by the flames of the Putnam Elevator. There were about 14,000 bushels of wheat in the building and everything was lost, including the books kept in the engine room by Mr. Cakcard. The estimated loss of $12,000 was covered by insurance. In notes about the fire in the paper, Mr. Reeves reported in his unique style “that the hose boys did all they could and many had frozen ears, noses, and toes the next day. Dan Madden had a great wrestle with the hose nozzle when it got away from him and was throwing water every which way. Dan won by two falls out of three, but got wet and froze both his feet.” He also remarked, “Some of the boys showed good grit by starting to the fire before getting their pants on, which would have been all right in certain seasons, but wouldn’t do in a blizzard.” IN a serious vein, Reeves felt great fortune that the fire hadn’t opened to the north, or the wind would have swept the fire up Main Street.

    One must remember the first fire department had a little to work with, no water mains except on Main Street and continual problems with their wild well. Real fire trucks came later and about all they had were ladders and the hoses, which they had trouble drying. Their biggest asset was probably the wild well, which gave them so much trouble. Reeves figured in June of 1988, when Swan Brothers were more successful than Grey Brothers had been, that the well had cost the town about twelve thousand dollars, which was a lot then.

    By January 1886, Hose Companies Number 1 and 2 elected officers who included W. I. Agnew, C.S. Weeks, D.A. Madden, P.H. Bowler, A. Anderson, A. Richardson and Charley Forsythe. A committee was appointed to look into uniforms and the Hook and Ladder boys began having dances to raise money, and in February had their first.

    J.D. Reeves’ report to the fund raising as follows: “ The boys realized about $185 net from their dance and cane vote. The dance was most pleasant, and the vote for the cane to the most popular machinery man in town was red-hot and interesting until the judges were asked to whom it belonged. (There were at least eight firms in the farm machinery business at this time, some with two or three partners) A large number of the votes were objected to, which caused the election to be contested. There were just two judges and they were unanimous. One was one way, and the other was the other way. The can finally went to J.L. Cherry, who presented it to the hook and ladder company. Both Cherry and Bowler had reason to be gratified with the manner in which their friends went in for the, although neither would have cared to have kept the cane after the disagreement of the judges.” Both men were located where the present Wells Fargo Bank is, but on different lots and in friendly competition. It would be interesting to know who the judges were, but names were not given.)

    In 1887 they had a big masquerade dance at the Rink, which was just south of the fire house (corner of 1st Ave. and 3rd St.) They issued about 500 invitations to this New Year’s dance.

    The Fire Department, who after many dances, committees and years of discussion, finally got their uniforms about 1890. The uniforms consisted of a blue cloth cape, navy style with wreath and figure one (1) in the front and center, patent leather belts, figure one (1) on the clasp and the name of the company on the back; double breasted red shirts with covered buttons and black pants. No member could wear the uniform of this company or any part of the same, at any time, except when the company was ordered out in uniform or had special permit from the foreman.

    Any person over 18 and under 50 could be a fireman, and when reaching 50 could become an honorary member receiving $10 by a two-thirds vote, which was required for all expenditures of ten dollars and over. They each paid a 25 cent initiation fee, were subject to fines, and called their equipment “apparatus” in the minutes and By-laws. The fireman pulled their cart of equipment, and cities had contests for speed in various categories between the volunteer fire departments.

    The city had a fire on August of 1888 that could have been more serious. It involved the feed and sale barn operated by J.H. Troy which burned to the ground. The fire department saved the row of blacksmith shops and other buildings, including the old skating rink (then Bond & Aves livery stable on the former Sippel Oil corner), all on Third Street “Smokey Row”. The artesian well with all its mud is credited, but J. D. Reeves was concerned because the Main Street water main had not been attached since Swan Brothers had worked on it.

    Another fire that could have been worse involved a fire that started north of the school in April of 1889. A smoldering pile of manure spread to a Mr. Wagner’s house which burned to the ground. Cinders from the building started hay burning by the Dr. Evans stables and other places in town, but the citizens with water, brooms, and mops succeeded in controlling it. A veterinarian, Doc Starr, was then a part of Dr. J. W. Evans stables.

    Another fire of 1889 was the Main building of the school.

    After the 1890 fire that destroyed all of the west side of Main Street from American Legion to the present Tiger’s Den Youth Center, there was one line October 13; “The Fire Company was short one roof ladder and one bucket. Four pike poles were lost in the fire August 22-Groton’s Great Fire.”

    Three days after the fire, the City Council met on August 25, and a motion was made to formally thank the Fire Departments from Aberdeen, Redfield, Doland, and Andover that came to help. Clean-up duties were assigned and Ordinance 32 was passed with strict building codes.

    Reeves reported that the town was swarming with insurance adjusters and the coal and grain heaps that had been smoldering, blazed up again. Window panes had been broken in many buildings on the east side of the street and that only the effective use of water from the small hydrants had kept the fire fro spreading across the street. It had been reported first that the fire had started in the Brunswick Hotel, but actually it began in the Thompson family quarters behind the barber shop at the rear of the hotel. A defective chimney was the suspected cause and this prompted the council to have Virgil Rathbun, Chief of Police, inspect all chimneys in town. Everyone had found temporary quarters and most had ordered new merchandise before the fire was completely out J.D. Reeves, the postmaster, had moved the post office to his building (located where the present Pioneer Ford Office is), where it remained until 1912 when the Bank of Groton (present post office) became available.

    Everyone was just getting settled in new brick 
buildings on the west side of Main Street, when on December 22, 1892, fire broke out in the middle of the night at Stoddards Mammoth Store (where Pioneer Ford’s north building is now). Mr. and Mrs. Stoddard escaped from the second story but their store and the small building to the south, occupied by Mrs. Leach’s Millinery, were blackened ruins and Bartlett & Mallett, next south, was damaged. The J. C. Wolfe Building was scorched and all the Furniture taken out. In the next building was the post office, “and the fire was making great headway when it was discovered that the postmaster, who snores with an easy conscience, was not on duty,” Reeves reported. (Ironically Reeves helped organize the Fire Department and was a fireman as well as the postmaster.) The office was broken into and contents removed to safety, and the Independent office scuttled. There was activity all the way down the street, when the welcome report came that the fire was under control, with the muddy well again credited for saving other buildings. All of the insurance adjustments, with the company name and amount were given. The Independent’s claim with Springfield was placed at $84, but his policy had an adjustment percentage, and he was allowed $51.00 for removal loss.

    There was a 1911 fire to the east of Broobergs (BMI Rental Properties), that also crossed the street to the north, also the livery barn and first firehouse loss in 1935. A small new firehouse was built in its place but the Fire Department moved farther south and on the west side of Third St. location when they acquired new equipment and fire trucks, in the 1940’s.

     Groton’s only death from a fire found in research was the tragic Yellowstone Café fire in 1954. The Peterson’s young son, Johnny, lost his life, and his sister was badly burned in a brave attempt to find him. The old W.C. Funk Harness Shop and G. Stroh’s Barber Shop also burned with the Yellowstone Café, and the last wooded buildings on Main Street became a sad part of history.

    Other fires are given more detail in the lot history, but should be mentioned here. About 1920 the Wolfe, Reeves, and “Haug and Namtvedt” painter’s buildings burned between the two brick auto garages. The Atlas Elevator was in 1936. Young’s Service Station and Bowling Alley burned in 1971. In 1973 Amos’s Corner Café and Garage caught fire. The new Robert-Nichols Apartment Building on North Main wasn’t even complete when fire struck it in 1978. The Hop Inn Café also burned in 1978. Mike N’ Jo’s Body and Glass at its 1st Ave. location in December of 1988.

            After the 1890’s fire the City Council appointed fire patrols, and the fireman had in the past elected their own three foremen and chairman. Mike Bowler was the first chairman in January of 1885, followed by J.C. Kindschy in July. In 1887 they elected him the only foreman, and in May of 1890 unanimously elected H.R. Bartlett fire chief. The mayor and council then would approve their choice. In the spring of 1890 they paid J. C. Wolfe for a telegram and cigars (with no clue why) and $123.90 was divided between 14 older retiring men. (That must have been all the money they had, instead of the $10 each allowed in their constitution.)

Fire Chiefs
(with beginning date of service)

1890    H.R. Bartlett

1899    Virgil Rathbun

1901    J.H. Detling

1901    Carl Voy

1908    F.E. Crawford

1926    Harry Hartranft

1941    Jack Johnson

1947    W.J. Paetznick

1949    Frank Jiran

(Ed Paeth was a fireman for many years and was assistant to those serving in the 1940’s)

1953    Roy Mielke

1973    Edwin Nehls

1983    Tony Goldade

1983    David Anderson

1984    Dennis A. Larson

1986    David Anderson

1989    Dale Ringgenberg

1991    Brad Waage

1994    Dennis Furman

1996    Brad Waage

1998    Dale Ringgenberg

2000    Merle Harder

2002    Dale Ringgenberg

2004    Brad Waage

2008    Dion Bahr

2016    Tom Tietz 
2021 Cody Bonn

    Roy Mielke joined the Fire Department in 1928 at age 21. He served over 50 years as a fireman and Roy had just become Fire Chief six months before the Yellow Café fire in 1954. (He also served many years as the City Superintendent of Streets and Water.) Although he served a total of ten years as Chief, Fire Chief Edwin Nehls had no conflict with the Mayor from 1973-1978 because he was also the Mayor. (Eddy also served as police officer and Police Chief, as well as several other City jobs.) David Anderson, Brad Waage, and Dale Ringgenberg also dedicated may years of service as firemen and the job as chief. Vast changes have occurred in fire fighting just in the last 5 years. The paper work has become overwhelming. The need for training for not only fire fighting, but search and rescue, hazardous chemicals, emergency response, fighting terrorism, incident command, etc. starts to make one believe this will soon need to be a full-time position.

    The first Model T Ford replaced the horse drawn equipment, probably about 1915, when Aberdeen bought theirs. When the 1929 Chevrolet truck was purchased, the Ford was dismantled and the old back chassis with the hoses, tanks and chemicals was put on the new truck. Charles  Strom bought the Model T Ford and perhaps used it for milk deliveries. The family had a big milk route at this period.

    In 1936 two new fire trucks were purchased, one for the city and one for the townships. In 1959 both of these trucks were traded in for the new truck, and Groton, Putney, Riverside, Henry, East and West Hanson townships are serviced by the Groton Fire Department.

    In the late 1970’s questions of liability insurance started coming up, as well as what properties were covered under which departments. In 1980 and 1981 city attorney Richard Kolker helped the Rural Fire Department and City Fire Department (same volunteers) become a non-profit corporation. It was set up with a Board of Trustees to oversee the firemen and provide money from the townships and the City to fund operating expenses. The firemen continued to contribute with fundraisers and events. The bylaws were amended to include the Chief on the Board of Trustees as a voting member.  In 2002  Farmington Township in Day County petitioned to have 10 sections of their township join the Groton Fire District. A buy-in figure was negotiated and Jim Torguson became their first representative on the Board of Trustees. The 2006 Board of Trustees are: President Bruce Sippel, Riverside Twp.; Vice President Allen Walter, Groton Twp.; Chief Dale Ringgenberg; John Sippel, Putney; Marilyn Hoops, West Hanson Twp; Jim Torguson, Farmington Twp; Greg Clocksene, East Hanson Twp; Doug Abeln, Henry Twp; Deanna Hendrickson, City; Sherwin Nyberg, City; and Anita Lowary as the non-voting Secreatary/Treasurer.

    In 1984 a new fire hall was constructed. After many changes in design and a few grumblings  from township officials, a 60 ft x 100 ft building was constructed and since the City paid for the extra 20 ft x 100 ft of concrete, the newly formed Rescue Squad was allowed to have one section. Everyone soon agreed that having a concrete floor in all of  the building was nice and that the size wasn’t too big, that the garage doors really did need electric openers which were paid by the firemen, and that the Rescue Squad and Firemen could work together, especially when several men were members of both units.

    In 1987 a new Chevrolet truck and fire fighting apparatus was purchased. In 1958 “rural” truck was sold to Andover Fire Department, who were glad to get an update on their truck. Since 1987, three new, used water tank trucks have been purchased and reworked to be used fro firefighting. A new, used grass rig is ready to stop wild land fires. The department has also gotten a 4 wheeler and gama-goat for fire fighting in marshy areas. The department was called several times to fight wild land fires along the James River by Highway 12 and up in the slough areas north of Claremont in 2002. These fires gave our new firemen more experience than they wanted on how to sidestep a fire that is rapidly turning in the winds, and how to keep stuck equipment from being burned. New wildland fire protective clothing that was light weight was found to be a must to keep firemen from being overcome from the heat of their regular bunker gear. In 2004 and 2005 Fire Chief Dale Ringgenberg was able to secure several grants to help pay for gear, equipment, hose and breathing apparatus.