Soon after the incorporation of the Town of Littleton on March 8, 1890, the new citizens began looking into a number of civic projects to improve local life. High on this list was a fire department. In the 28 years since R.S. Little and his neighbors had settled the area, any fire which got started usually ended up burning out on its own. But in July of 1890 several public spirited gentlemen, many of them members of the Weston Lodge of Masons, gathered some equipment and volunteers for the purpose. At their first exercise, it was decided that most of the volunteers were too old for the task. Younger men were needed, and one boy's tireless recruiting inspired the organization's name.
|Littleton Hose Company #1 at foot of Main Street, 1892.|
Twenty-four (presumably younger) volunteers formed the John G. Lilley Hook and Ladder Company. To begin with, they had very little equipment, a ladder cart, two ladders, four hooks and thirty water buckets. Fortunately, they were only called out to one fire that year. In December, 1891, they were able to purchase their first real equipment, which the Littleton Independent described in action: "the men did not have fancy fire trucks, but were obliged to run and drag a heavy two-wheeled cart holding around 750 feet of 2-1/2 inch hose, a few leather buckets, a coal oil lantern or two, axes, crowbars, and a few other odds and ends to do damage with." Only a third of the men had any kind of protective jacket or hat.
In 1892, the volunteer company reorganized as Littleton Hose Company #1, and added Company #2 in 1901. In addition to fighting fire, the hose companies became the social nucleus of the community, sponsoring dances, socials, raffles and athletic contests to raise money for more and better equipment. They were so successful one year that they were able to donate money to buy books to begin the city's first public library.
The citizens of Littleton had good reason to be proud of their volunteers, as again, the Independent described the action: "The alarm of 'fire' called the boys from all directions last Wednesday morning and Mr. J.D. Hill, who timed them, said that they were just one minute from the time the whistle blew in getting the hose cart out of the barn. The fire, which originated from a defective flue, was extinguished with but very slight damage before the boys could possibly have been of any use, but the department deserves all praise for the promptness which characterizes their every movement."
|Littleton Volunteer Fire Department, 1908.|
In 1914, Littleton's famous hotel and popular resort, the Sunshine and Shadow Inn, burned to the ground despite the best efforts of both hose companies. At the very next meeting of the volunteer fire department a decision was made to purchase a "mechanized" fire truck to better protect the town. A year later, this chemical fire truck with a thirty gallon tank for soda acid went into service. The city continued to grow slowly until the post-World War II housing boom, and the fire department kept pace. With the boom, however, more organization and better funding was necessary for the also rapidly expanding department, so in 1948 a special fire district was created.
By 1960, population growth forced the City and the Littleton Fire Protection District to abandon the 70 year old volunteer system, and professional firemen were hired for the first time. In 1974 it became the first fire department in the state to include a paramedic unit, saving the lives of more than a thousand people since. In comparison to the last six months of 1890 when the Hook and Ladder Company responded to just one fire, during the same period a century later, the Littleton Fire Department responded to some 3,000 calls. In 1890, the fire loss was the value of one farm house; in 1990, 159 properties valued at $24 million were touched by fire, but the swift suppression techniques of the department limited actual loss to a mere $1.3 million.
In 2017, the Littleton Fire Department, now known as Littleton Fire Rescue, continues to respond to fires in the community, but it is not generally known that illnesses and injuries make up approximately 65-70% of emergency calls. Each Littleton engine and medic unit is fully equipped and staffed by a minimum of one paramedic for advanced life support capabilities. Littleton Fire also has special teams available for water accidents, Tactical Emergency Medical Support (TEMS), wildland/urban interface fires, and hazardous material. In addition, the Littleton Fire Prevention Division works to ensure that commercial structures in Littleton are following national fire codes and hazardous material regulations. The proud tradition begun by the John G. Lilley Hook and Ladder Company continues to this day.
Easton, John. Littleton Firefighters: a History, a Heritage, a Tradition, 1960-1995. Littleton: Littleton Fire Department, 1996.
Freemasons of Littleton, CO. Weston Lodge Number 22, A.F. and A.M., 1872-1973. Littleton: A.F. and A.M., 1973.
Littleton Museum. Photographic Archives.
____. Vertical File: "Fire Department".
McQuarie, Robert J. and C.W. Buchholtz. Littleton, Colorado: Settlement to Centennial. Littleton: Littleton Historical Museum and Friends of the Library and Museum, 1990.
Photographs courtesy of the Littleton Museum, unless otherwise noted; to order copies, contact the Museum at 303-795-3950.
Compiled by Pat Massengill
Updated May 2017