By Marty Mendenhall
There is probably no other organization in Georgetown that better represents the spirit of the founders than the Georgetown Fire Department. The department is located in a brick building directly on Main Street and houses not only the fire department but also the ambulance service. These people dedicate part of their lives to protecting and preserving Georgetown and The Divide. The department also consists of neighbors and friends in the community.
The Georgetown Fire Department is the second oldest continuously operating fire department in the state of California. The Auburn Fire Department is the oldest. After the gold discovery in 1848, a settlement called George’s Town emerged, which mainly consisted of a cluster of tents and primitive timber frame buildings. This early “city” burned down completely in the first of many fires in 1852. Realizing George’s Town was important, residents immediately began rebuilding.
As Georgetown was rebuilt in a more respectable way, community leaders saw the need for a more formal organization to deal with fire emergencies. Shortly thereafter, the Mountain Hook and Ladder Company was formed to meet the demand. Interest in the project was clear and funds were quickly raised to purchase equipment. The $ 400 sum was raised and the department set out to raise an additional $ 200 to host a fire brigade ball as a fundraiser, which was so successful that a second ball was held the following year. Equipment was then purchased and the Mountain Hook and Ladder Company led the July 4th parade in 1856, demonstrating the new equipment to the community.
Shortly thereafter, the 1856 fire began in Georgetown and it destroyed most of the community despite the efforts of the Mountain Hook and Ladder Company. After most of the community was destroyed, the citizens set about rebuilding and the fire brigade got a new engine and new equipment. Further fires occurred in 1858, 1859 and 1869, which in turn destroyed various parts of the city, which were rebuilt by committed citizens.
Then came the great fire of 1897 when a fire broke out in the Tahoe Saloon on Main Street and it became catastrophic. The fire spread across the block, even though the buildings had been reconstructed with brick. Although the bricks withstood the fire well, the wooden roofs and interiors succumbed and succumbed quickly. The fire eventually spread to Shornberger’s Mercantile, where dynamite was stored, and the store exploded under the eyes of townspeople.
In 1937 a vote was passed by the residents of the district providing more adequate funding for what had become the Georgetown Fire Department. This funding enabled the department to purchase a new fire engine, a 1937 Studebaker fire engine. The bright red Studebaker was purchased from Clarence S. Collins for $ 1,049.97. Collins was also Fire Chief at the time. The Studebaker has since been restored and is now owned by the existing fire brigade. It can be seen at community events year round and is often part of the annual Founder’s Day Parade.
In the early days of the fire brigade, there was a bell on the roof of the IOOF hall in 1881 to collect the fire fighters. In 1930 the bell was moved to a clock tower in the middle of Main Street. The doorbell asked for someone to come and ring to notify the fire department. In 1928, however, electricity arrived in Georgetown and more modern sirens were installed to call fire fighters. The bell has been withdrawn to its current location in front of the new fire department. It can be seen there as a reminder of the past firefighters and their commitment to the community.
For several years from 1938, the fire department was housed in the building on Main Street that is now Murchie’s Smog Shop. This location has been replaced by the new brick building the department is currently in. Mark Smith volunteered as general contractor and many volunteers helped build the new fire station. It was officially inaugurated in 1967 and moved into in 1968. Since then, the department has grown to include the 24-hour Medic 6 rescue station, which has a full-time paramedic and, although there are still many volunteers, also paid staff who manned the station at all times.
The current fire department has a large community mural painted by local artist and illustrator Bob O’Hara. The mural has shown its age in recent years and is being replaced with a new community mural updated by artist Shannon Chard. The mural is reproduced on a more weather-resistant background. The new mural is slated to be unveiled at the Founders Day 2021 celebration on Sunday, September 19. The unveiling of the new mural will be an exciting event to commemorate the long and colorful history of the Georgetown Fire Department.