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The Rogue River Fire Department standing in front of the fire station, wheeled water barrels at hand, circa 1912. (Photo courtesy of Suothern Oregon Historical Society, image No. 10161)

As It Was: Rogue Valley established fire departments

In the late 1800s, Rogue Valley residents wanted more than just red and green buckets stored under the saloon steps.

With houses frequently burning to the ground in less than an hour, communities needed more than a bucket brigade.

Jacksonville bought the first fire engine in November 1883, a red hand-pumper powered by a dozen men moving hand rails up and down while the engine drew water from city cisterns.

In 1887, the Ashland City Council invested $7,200 for a system of hose carts, water pipes, hydrants and fittings.

Then in 1890, Medford formed Protection Hose Company No. 1 and authorized the purchase of hose, hose cart, and nozzles.

All of the companies ordered the uniform of the day for the volunteers: eight-ounce red flannel shirts at $3.75 each.

The communities did not pay their firemen until after 1912, when Medford passed an ordinance that set monthly pay rates at $85 for a chief and $65 for each of four firemen. Typically about 20 volunteers received $1 for each fire call and an additional $1 per hour for fighting a blaze. It wasn’t until 1913 that Medford bought a motorized fire truck that could race to the scene at 45 mph.

Sources: Curler, Dawn. “Red Flannel and Flame.” Table Rock Sentinel. May/June 1989. As It Was is a co-production of Jefferson Public Radio and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. As It Was stories are broadcast weekdays on Jefferson Public Radio and are available online at asitwas.org.

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