Eatonville residents were quick to build the town, but slow to put together a fire department. The first fire department wasn’t organized until 1933 after the Sabourin Building burned.
The two-story Sabourin building caught fire in the middle of the night and Eatonville residents rushed over with the hose cart on buggy wheels, unrolled the line, fastened the nozzle and waited. No water. It turned out that on Halloween kids had made off with the town’s only wrench that would turn on the water.
“In a frenzy, men beat on the standpipe valve with stones, whanged it with hammers, fought it with wrench and in about half an hour got water,” said Joseph C. Larin, one of Eatonville’s first volunteer firefighters in a 1948 article.
Unfortunately, the hose hadn’t been drained or stored properly and the canvas lining burst in four places. The building was lost.
First Fire Chief
Soon after Eatonville elected a fire chief and secretary of the first official volunteer fire department and badges were ordered from a mail house. They quickly realized to keep up the interest of the volunteers they would have to get a motorized vehicle. “Tottering about town with the buggy-wheeled horse cart, followed by a half dozen yapping dogs, proved to be too much for all but the most hardy spirits,” said Larin.
The fire department raised $25 and purchased a 1927 coupe from a farmer that had used it to take chickens to market. Men donated time to transform the vehicle. Among other things, a large box was placed on the back to carry the hose, and a running board was built around the coupe for the firemen to stand as they raced to fires.
A siren was added too, which was critical. “The rig had no brakes and was dependent on the siren to clear the way,” said Larin.
A siren in town was added by Fire Chief Dan Christensen to replace the bell. On the test, a cow’s mooing overpowered the quiet siren and it was back to the bell.
“The whole town was waiting tensely for someone’s house to catch fire so the new outfit could perform,” said Larin. “But week after week went by, until the eager volunteers became despairing”.
Finally a fire broke out at a store in Elbe, but Larin said the night seemed jinxed form the start. One of the firemen came running with his clothes in a bundle. He climbed in the hose box and dressed as they sped down the highway as fast as possible.
“Over the rattles and squeaks of the truck, and the roar of the wind past our ears, in the windshieldless truck, the fireman’s voice rose in a wail: “Boys, I grabbed up my clothes so fast I forgot to bring my pants.’”
That was only the start. The coupe’s wheels and tires weren’t built to support heavy equipment or the weight of a dozen 200-pound men. The first flat tire caused a half hour delay, not to mention embarrassment. “It was witnessed by half the population of Eatonville, who were following us in cars,” said Larin.
Two more tires burst along they way, but they didn’t stop. When the truck pulled into Elbe it was riding on rims and the tires were shredded. The firefighters couldn’t save the store, but they did save the neighboring house and garage.
A firemen’s ball (35 cents a ticket, 50 cents a couple) raised enough for replacement tires and wheels.
Where’s the Fire
The switchboard operators also added hurdles. When someone called to report a fire and to ring the fire bell, the operator sometimes got so excited he or she would forget to ask who was asking for help.
“We had no alternative but the embarrassing expedient of driving up and down the streets shouting to passers-by as we went: “Hey, do you know where the fire is?”
Photo courtesy of Diane Mettler.
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