Our History

History of Big Thompson Canyon Volunteer Fire Department

The following was compiled by Dave Legits with major input from Red Moore and to a lesser degree, Fern Huffsmith and family, Sam Gilliland, Beulah Creek and others. There are many holes in time that need to be filled with the correct names, dates and places added, but this is a beginning. As of 11/30/99

In 1963, there was a structure fire reported at the Canyon Inn Restaurant. Loveland Fire Dept. was there in less than 30 minutes but it was fully involved by then. Not enough water could be drafted from the river and building was completely destroyed. This wasn’t the first time there had been a fire in the canyon. There had been several brush fires and damage to a few homes. However, some of the residents decided they needed better fire protection. Three of the longtime residents, Art Gerhardt (owner of the Canyon Inn), Vic Huffsmith and Percy Jones met with the board of directors of the Loveland Rural Fire Protection District. After much discussion, the Rural Board placed the first piece of equipment in the canyon. It was 250 GPM trailer mounted pump powered by a 4 cylinder Wisconsin engine. It would be picked up by the first to arrive at where it was stored, which was in Percy Jones’ garage or at Viestenz Smith Park, since there wasn’t a permanent fire station.

Later in 1963, the Rural Board approved help for the canyon and the residents began building a fire station to store the equipment.

Cedar Cove – Station 7

The station was built with donated money and volunteer labor by Herb Salsbury, Floyd Hagan, Bob Graham and Glen Floyd. This is the current Station 7 at Cedar Cove. Upon completion, J-77, a 1952 ¼ ton military Willys jeep with a 50 gallon tank was moved into the station to join the high volume pump. The Cedar Cove Fire Dept. at this time consisted of 14 charter members: Vick Huffsmith, Bill Ashton, Floyd Hagen, Clem Young, Ray Coe, Percy Jones, Ellis Hobbs, Bill Bossie, Lee Wenz, Dennis Swedlund, Joe Creek, Sam Gilliland, Don Stocksleger, and Glen Floyd.

By 1968, more families had moved into the canyon and it was decided that another station was needed to help the residents of Drake and Waltonia. The land in Drake was leased to the Rural District by Sam Gilliland for $1.00 a year. Floyd Hagen and Ellis Hobbs headed up the project and with donated funds and volunteer labor, the station site was excavated and the station was completed

The original Drake Fire Station, on Hwy 34

within the year. Loveland Fire Department replaced one of their engines and the Rural Board sent the retired engine up the canyon to the Drake Station. It was a 1935 Diamond T, 500 GPM open cab pumper. It was kept in service until parts became impossible to find. Membership in the Cedar Cove Dept. had dropped to seven men and Fire Chief Dennis Swedlund decided that the two stations should combine under one name. This was to be the Big Thompson Canyon Volunteer Fire Department, 1968.

Big Thompson Canyon Flood, 1976

In the summer of 1976 was the flood, 129 people killed. Leroy Graham responded the Dodge 5/4 ton CSFS brush truck from Cedar Cove Station. He met the flood at Rosedale and drove the truck up the draw. He grabbed a bush out the window and climbed to safety. The truck was washed away. Clem Young saw it get swept away, turned around and rushed to Cedar Cove to warn people and called Station 1 to stop entry into the Narrrows. Past Chief Ellis Hobbs and his wife were lost in the floodwater at Drake. Bob Graham, Red Moore and others also lost family members on that night.

Also lost in the flood were all of the Canyon Dept. records and written history. After the flood, the Canyon Dept. was isolated from Loveland for a while as US Highway 34 was gone. Dept. members worked long and hard to help the community get back on its feet. The Rural Districts’ insurance replaced the lost Cedar Code truck with a 1976 1 ton Dodge/Pierce 4×4 mini-pumper that has remained in service there ever since.

Sometime around 1977, the Diamond T pumper was retired and replaced with a 1949 Ford/Howe F700, 500 GPM pumper. This truck ran good but took a good operator to pull a draft. It remained the pride of the Canyon until it was retired in 1989.

In 1978, the Cedar Park area began a rapid growth era and there was a cry for fire protection up there. In a meeting with the Forest Service, the Canyon Dept. was that “if you can find a garage or build something to house a truck, we will get you a truck equipped as a 1000 gallon tanker”. Red Moore and others organized a “pass the boot” fundraising campaign at the bottom of the Storm Mountain road asking for donations. Walt Railsback wrote letters to all the property owners, some as far away as Florida asking for money to build a fire station. Their efforts were successful and within 6 months a site was leased from the subdivision ($1/year), and by fall 1979 the station was done. The project was led by Delbert Kline, Walt Railsback and Jim Ewan. All work was done by residents and firefighters and resulted in a nice 2 bay station that was debt free and is also used as a community building. It housed a 1952 Willys Jeep and a 1976 Ford F100 4×4 pickup donated by the Mennonites with a slip-in tank and pump built by Vick Huffsmith and someone else. The Forest Service promise was forgotten for a while, but in 1989 was fulfilled with a  Colorado State Forest Service Kaiser/Jeep Military 2 ½ ton, 6×6, 1000 gallon/125 GPM tanker that has been there ever since. The Willys was auctioned and the Ford was sold. A CSFS 5/4 Jeep 4×4 brush patrol (Chicita) from LFD then joined the 6×6 to fill Station 9.

The 1980’s saw the “old guard” slowly retire and a young, green membership take over the reins. In 1984, there were 23 members. Dana Chicester was elected secretary and he developed Standard Operating Procedures that helped organize the Canyon Dept. fireground activities.

1986 saw membership rise to 28 men and a 4th officer portable radio was added. Chief Jim Aitken went to a Rural Board meeting and asked for money to fix the 1949 Ford, but was told by a veteran board member, “you don’t need a fire truck, all you need is a 55 gallon barrel of water and wet blankets”. That board member was not re-elected to another term and was replaced by Walt Railsback. The Canyon has been active in Rural Board meetings ever since. Dave Legits began organizing a mountain rescue team out of the membership, gear was purchased and training standards developed and adopted.

Station 9, Cedar Park

Station 9 was wired and received electricity in 1987 which was accomplished with donated funds and firefighter labor. Station 9 also received a handmade sign identifying it as an L.R.F.P.D. station. Super-Vac of Loveland donated a smoke ejector for the Drake pumper. Canyon by-laws were changed to require 36 hours of firefighter training to maintain active membership. The Rural Board established a $20, l000 capital fund to replace the Drake pumper.

In 1988, membership was at 22 firefighters and they ran 48 fire calls. A generator and scene lighting were purchased for the Cedar Cove pumper. The Rural Board established a pension fund for the Canyon Dept. and annual training hour totals for each firefighter were recorded and tracked. Total training hours for the year were 410. Two Canyon firefighters went to E.M.T. school and got state certified. Stronger by-laws were adopted and formal chain of command was approved by the Rural Board.

1989 saw membership fall to 16 as inactive members were dropped. The Drake pumper was retired and replaced with Tanker 3, a 1972 Ford F700 with a 1500 gallon tank and 300 GPM pump built by Bill Simpson. The new truck’s radio designation was E-88. The Canyon adopted a new policy whereby firefighters were assigned weekly station/truck checks. Also added were bumper stickers to identify each volunteer vehicle as an official Big Thompson Canyon Volunteer Fire Dept. rig. At Station 9, the CSFS 6×6 tender was put in service and a drafting access was developed at the Cedar Park Lake.

Early in 1990, the Rural Board purchased C-3, the 1968 Mack 1500 GPM pumper, from the city of Loveland and it became E-88. Surplus bunker pants were found and issued as the Canyon moved away from the ¾ length boots. Retired sirens from Colorado D.O.W. were donated and issued to each member. Mini light bars were purchased and issued to each member. A new policy was adopted which allowed Canyon members to respond to Loveland calls when in the district of call. The Canyon signed on to the Adopt-A-Highway program and began cleaning up a 2 mile stretch of US 34. Tender 9 was upgraded with the purchase of extension and roof ladders, fold-a-tank, SCBA’s, hand lanterns and tire chains. Truck specifications for a new E-88 were begun. Loveland Fire Chief Heckel passed on a requirement for all active firefighters to have no beards. A couple quit and the rest began shaving.

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Big Thompson Canyon V.F.D.

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Big Thompson Canyon Volunteer Fire Department

PO Box 97
Drake, CO 80515
Phone (970) 203-0348