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Picture – Wilton hook and Ladder Running Team – Courtesy of John Shuger

History of the Wilton Fire Department

By William Hartley

Transcribed by Elizabeth Casillas, February 4, 2016

     “Some of our young men have taken up the matter of organizing a fire company and last Tuesday evening met and made the following organization: Captain – Henry Nicolaus; Nozzlemen – Andy Dwyer, N. M. Kellogg, Will B. McIntire and James Geisler; assistants – Jerry Donovan and Sam Arnell. A number of others belong to the company.

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     This page sponsored by John Shuger in memory of two members of the Wilton champion Hook and Ladder Running team, Mike and Cyrus Shuger.

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(No other information can be found in the records naming these other men.) Only one thing suggests itself against the complexion of this company. In case of fire this company would expect to handle the engine as a company should; but along comes some old fellow that would think they could not do so well as older heads and there would be trouble. But let us have the company or at least some organization that would know which end of the machine to take hold of. We venture there is hardly a man in town could couple the hose.”

     The above is an article appearing in the Wilton Review December 14, 1876. Earlier in the year the Council appointed a committee to investigate buying an engine for use by the town, and in the May 4, 1876 Wilton Review, it was stated that “the Council, at a meeting Tuesday evening, authorized the Mayor to purchase a Little Giant Fire Engine, for the sum of $425.00.

     So the town of Wilton had its first fire engine and a group was formed to take up the job of fighting fires.

     Ordinance #91, passed Feb. 20, 1882, in relation to the foundation and government of the Fire Department in the Town of Wilton, stated there could be one engine company, one hose company, one hook and ladder company and such other fire companies as the Council might authorize and accept; each company composed of no less than 15 men. Besides setting down rules and regulations for the fire companies of the town, the Ordinance also stated that “If any person shall knowingly and willfully drive any wagon, cart, or other vehicle over, upon or across any hose while in use by the fire department, such person or persons shall for each and every offense forfeit and pay a penalty of ten dollars.”

     Following the passing of this Ordinance, the earlier fire department became two groups, the Rescue Hook and Ladder Company # 1 and Reliance Hose Company # 2. There was much competition between these two groups of fire-fighters, not only in trying to be first to arrive at a fire, but in various tournaments engaged in together. On display in the Wilton fire Hall is a large trophy belt, awarded to the Rescue Hook and Ladder Company, for outstanding performance in winning at three separate tournaments at Dubuque, in 1886, Sioux City, 1887 and Clinton, 1888. The test they performed was to run 300 yards and raise a 30 foot ladder, with a man ascending to the top. Times on these three performances were 48 seconds, 47 ½ seconds and 46 ½ seconds, to make them the Iowa State Firemen’s association Champion.

     The motto of the Rescue Hook and Ladder Company was “Watchful and Active.” Membership was limited to no more than 50 men and all members, according to a book of by-laws dated 1895, were required to be bonded.

     Reliance Hose Company appointed a committee Dec. 5, 1895, to see the Hooks about blowing the whistle every Saturday evening at 6:00. The present day department continues the practice by blowing the whistle each evening, except Sunday, at 6:00. One of the old fire bells is now hanging outside the City Hall and can be rung by a chain leading into the Firemen’s Hall in the east room of the basement.

     In both companies, excuses were necessary when a meeting was missed, and were voted on by the members, and fines levied.

     Reliance Hose voted, in Aug., 1915, not to consolidate with the . . .

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Picture – Shugers’ Pet Bear – Courtesy of John Shuger
When the Shuger family returned to Wilton about 1915 from Colorado they brought Tommy, the Bear with them. He is shown with Cyrus Shuger. Sarah Shuger is in the background. Tommy was given to the Weed Park zoo.

. . . Hooks, but on March 13, 1919, Reliance Hose Co. # 2 and Rescue Hook and Ladder Co. # 1 consolidated to form the Wilton Volunteer Fire Department.

     Items taken from minutes of the meeting: Hook and Ladder, Oct. 9, 1899 – “Motion that we pay teamster 25 cents for hauling truck to and from fire, and 50 cents if he gets there first.” (meaning before the Hose Co.) July 11, 1898 – “Moved and Seconded that all parties taking part in parade at Muscatine June 15, sum of 86 cents be allowed for expense.” In the early 1900’s many motions were made by Reliance—“Moved and seconded that we go to show at expense of Company. Carried. Meeting Adjourned.” Then in 1915 minutes appears the motion, “Moved and Seconded that we discontinue going to show at expense of Company.”

     Social events taking place during this time were picnics, “feeds,” active tournament participation; a committee was set up for arrangements for a “blow-out” and several references were made to this affair without explaining what it was. In 1923, Gus Nopoulos said he would donate five gallons of ice cream toward a feed.

     During 1938, meetings were held in the I.O.O.F. Hall during the time that the new Hall was being built. Records contain this paragraph on Feb. 13, 1940—“This meeting was the first for the Firemen in their New Quarters in the New City Hall.” It was decided at this meeting to keep the room closed to outside organizations as nearly as possible, and a committee was appointed in regards to the purchase of some pool tables, which they later bought. In 1943, the rules were relaxed somewhat, and boys in service were invited to attend the meetings and to use the recreation room while they were home on furlough, on that night only.

     About 1947 the first Rural Fire Truck committee was formed. This is an unofficial date as no record was found of the exact time. The committee consisted of one man from each township protected by the . . .

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     This page sponsored for Tommy, the bear, by John K. Shuger.

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. . . Wilton Fire Department. There is such a committee in existence today, with the purpose of raising funds for equipment and trucks to help cover the rural areas. Thus there is a three-way agreement in the community; the Rural Fire Truck Committee agrees to purchase necessary equipment, the Town Council agrees to house and pay to maintain this, and the fire Department agrees to provide members to man the trucks and do the work of maintenance.

     One thing made clear by the listing of roll calls through the years is that nearly all of Wilton’s prominent citizens, lawyers, doctors, bankers, etc., were proud to be members of this Department and this is still a fact at this time.

     The Fire Department of today consists of 46 members. Equipment includes one 1000 gallon tanker, 1958; one 500 gallon per minute pumper with a 750 gallon tank, 1963; one 500 gal. per minute pumper with a 500 gallon tank, 1947; one equipment bus, and on purchase, due to arrive early in 1976, is a 1000 gallon per minute pumper with a 750 gallon tank and a 1000 gallon tanker with a 350 gallon per minute pump. This is quite an advancement since 1914 when “Members be allowed to hook Hose Cart on an auto, providing auto does not run over ten miles per hour and that hose man shall hold tongue and ride in auto.” Today’s equipment is housed in an addition to the City Hall, built in 1963. Membership is limited to no more than 75 men.

     Activities performed by the Department, other than fighting fires, include conducting fire drills at all schools in town during Fire Prevention week; sponsoring annually a gospel group, the Blackwood Brothers; decorating deceased firemen’s graves; participating in local parades; giving an appreciation supper once a year for the rural Fire Truck Committee, city officials and wives; and several social events.

     On Jan. 14, 1975, Articles of Incorporation of the Wilton Volunteer Fire Department were drawn up, executed and signed by these men: James B Sheetz, Kenneth R. Grunder, William D. Hartley, Douglas S. Kean, Barton G. LaCrosse, Richard A. Morrison and Charles R. Schneekloth.

     In 1975, the Fire District was extended to include parts of Sweetland and Bloomington Townships, which were no longer covered by the Muscatine Fire Department. This took the territory as far south as the outskirts of Muscatine, north nearly to Rochester, west to the Cedar River bridge on Interstate 80, and east halfway to Durant.

     Firemen are strictly volunteers, paying $5.00 dues yearly, receiving no expenses of any sort and no pay for attending meetings or fires. A large number of members carry First Aid Cards. Some attend college credit courses and fire training schools. The Department is a member of Muscatine County Mutual Aid Association and Cedar County Mutual Aid Association. Several men belong to the Iowa Firemen’s Association.

     While the United states is celebrating the Bicentennial this year, the Wilton Fire Department will have achieved its own Centennial on December 14, 1976, having given constant service to the community and surrounding area, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, for 100 years.

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Page created February 4, 2016 by Lynn McCleary