Prior to the use of the big, red fire engines that raced to the scene of an emergency, Greeley employed a hook and ladder company, comprised of men, and later horses, pulling a water wagon to extinguish a fire. The name “hook and ladder” derives from the two important tools used by firefighters; the ladder to gain access to taller structures and the hook to pull down walls and break windows.
On September 3, 1879 the first company was created in Greeley, called the Boomer Hook and Ladder Company, and later the Poudre Valley Hook and Ladder Company. Aside from being charged with fighting local fires, the Company participated in various popular tournaments against other area towns’ fire companies including Longmont, Berthoud, and Eaton, exhibiting their skill and speed.
These “Firemen’s Tournaments” were usually held during the Fourth of July weekends in Greeley, and were described in the Greeley Tribune at great length. They drew immense crowds and were often the center of attention during the celebrations for much of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Music drew the crowds to congregate along the streets and watch the firemen parade through town. The principal attractions were the foot racing events. To ensure a good and safe track, the then dirt 8th Street was fenced in between 7th and 9th Avenues, the course wetted, scraped and rolled until it was smooth and free from all impediments. It was an ideal track.
During the local 1902 Fourth of July, one competition involved a fireman, with the help of his team, running 300 feet of hose to the base of the First National Bank building. He would then place a tall ladder against this building, and ascend it while carrying a ten foot ladder on his back. The final task was to place the short ladder on top of the bank building. The winner that year completed the task in just over 28 seconds, winning fifteen dollars. One mishap during that year took place when the teams were required to run 400 feet, lay 200 feet of hose and get water on top of the bank building. During the running portion, Adelphus Carpenter was tripped by a small dog and dragged some ten feet by his team. His arm was injured but not so much to keep him from running in a later trial, as considerable money was wagered on the outcome of these contests, financed by the public!
Another memorable moment was when Greeley’s local company journeyed to Georgetown on August 10, 1886, and won the state championship in one of the events. The competition consisted of running 500 feet, pulling a 24 foot ladder from a moving truck, and climbing the ladder to the top rung. The record for this feat was set by the Poudre Valley Hook and Ladder team at 24.75 seconds, winning them a beautiful silver belt, (on display at the City of Greeley Museums Centennial Village fire station) and $250 in gold!
Originally printed in the Greeley Tribune, June 30, 2011
Written by Caroline Blackburn, former Archives and Digitization Specialist