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October 7, 1885: The firefighters of Duluth Hose Company #1 threatens to resign

On this day in Duluth in 1885, the Duluth Volunteer Fire Department’s Hose Company #1 threatened to resign by November 1. Three days later, the Duluth News Tribune painted a grim picture. Without the hose company, it said, Duluth would essentially be without a fire department, and “there has been a fire every night for the past week.” Plain and simple, the men of the hose company wanted to be paid for their dangerous work. The paper mentioned that the company wasn’t looking “to be paid enough to loaf around the engine house all day” but rather, pay for each fire they fight. At the time Duluth was a village and did not have the money to pay for a non-volunteer department. Volunteers supplied their own equipment and were compensated at 50 cents an hour for the fires they fought. On October 21, Mayor H. B. Moore appointed a committee of alderman from its four wards to “meet with the firemen and see what was the matter with ’em and what they wanted the city to do.” According toFire & Ice: A History of the Duluth Fire Department, “in November, the Council arranged a part-pay system for volunteer firefighters and agreed to pay Hose Company No. 1 $250 per month, provided that the Company furnish at least 24 men to answer all fire alarms and work at all fires until they were extinguished.” Duluth regained its city charter in 1887, and by 1889 the Duluth Fire Department became a full-fledged, non-volunteer operation.

Member of Duluth’s “Hose Company #1″—the city’s volunteer fire department—posing on the steps of the Clark House Hotel in 1872. (Image: University of Minnesota Duluth Kathryn A. Martin Library Archives and Special Collections)