Spokane Fire Station No. 10: Lives of Early Spokane Firefighters

Replaced after 48 years of service, No. 10 was a stick cottage-style building constructed in 1904 and located at the northeast corner of Gordon and Division. In widespread attempts to modernize the fire department, the new station was constructed of brick and stone in a modern single story fashion.

The men who worked at this station in the early days led hard, dangerous lives. "We had to work violently in those days," recalled one early fireman. "We had a lot of studying to do. We had to know a lot about first-aid, about the law, what you should put water on and what you shouldn't put water on, and where all the fire hydrants in the district were."

Life as a Spokane firefighter in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was similar to the lives of other firefighters nationwide. The men lived at the station, and were on duty twenty-four hours a day, six days a week. Families lived close by so they would be able to visit. The men purchased their own equipment, uniforms, and building and maintenance supplies.

Before the advent of motorized fire apparatus, firefighters rushed to conflagrations via horse-drawn carts and buggies. Teams of 2-4 horses would pull some of the largest firefighting apparatus, and the horses needed to be trained, fed, watered, and exercised. When the horses would become ill or injured, they would be treated by the firefighters in the stations.

When motorized apparatus came about in the first quarter of the twentieth century, Spokane firefighters built and maintained many of the original trucks themselves, and even built trucks for the Spokane Police Department and Water Works Department. The firefighters were known to design their own apparatus, and build them from spare parts. Firefighters not only built the trucks and engines, they also built many of the original fire stations.

Henry C. Smith was a firefighter first hired in 1918. He was a driver for a truck called the Robeson. "It had to be cranked by hand. It had a long handle and you had to turn the handle three times to make the motor turn over once. Many men had their arms broken when the motor would kick back. This rig had hard rubber tires and a chain drive with no windshield." In the summer bugs would batter his face as he drove to a conflagration.

In 1910 two fire engines collided in front of the Davenport Hotel. A horse was killed, and one of the drivers was thrown under a wagon where his arm was severed, and the equipment destroyed.

Firefighting has advanced considerably since those days, but remains a dangerous profession. In 2012 in the United States, 81 firefighters died in the line of duty; in 2013, 107 fatalities; and by 17 June 2014, 45 firefighter fatalities were reported for the year.


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