From Hooks and Ladders to Engines and Bells
Composed of 60 paid-on-call volunteers, the Hartford Fire and Rescue Department responds and provides aid to 1,100 emergency calls each year. Their work is patently significant in our community, and we are grateful for their efforts.
It’s been a long path to the fire department we are familiar with today. Comprised of contemporary technology, our engines, alarms, and hydrants exhibit only a vague resemblance to the hooks and ladders of the past. Which leads to the emanating question; how was Hartford’s Fire Department established?
Located on North Main and State streets is Christopher Coerper’s blacksmith shop, or the birthplace of Hartford’s first fire department. It was there, on January 18th, 1863, that the Hartford Hook and Ladder Number 1 was organized.
The Hook and Ladder Company was chiefly supported by the community. It wasn’t until 1881 that The Hook and Ladder Company signed their first contract with the city. Even though the city supported the company, there often wasn’t enough in the treasury to fund their operations. Sometimes fire insurance companies would help contribute to The Hook and Ladder Company, but more often, they turned to the community for funding. Volunteer members would use their own money to put together fundraising dinners and dances. These events were always well attended. The town of Hartford was grateful to its firefighters and supported their endeavors.
In 1892, The Hook and Ladder Company moved to a new headquarters, City Hall. At that time, there were 45 members, including the foreman, Chris Coerper, a secretary, a treasurer, and a first assistant. The majority of the members were of German descent, and interestingly enough, the meetings and information about the company were recorded in German until 1921.
NEEDED: HOOKS, LADDERS, & WATER
The early firefighters of Hartford were the epitome of resourcefulness. To fight a fire, they needed three things: ladders, hooks, and water. The exact items their company was named for. The firemen would climb the ladders using the hooks to hoist buckets of water. To collect water or build ladders and hooks, The Hook and Ladder Company used what was around them. Ladders and poles were built from trees cut down in the Cedarburg swamp. For putting out fires, water was sourced from streams, rivers, and ponds. A hose would be placed in the water source, and someone would hand pump it. If there wasn’t water nearby, then the firefighters would fill a tank with water and transport it as efficiently as possible.
For a detailed account and visual component regarding this process:
A NEW DEPARTMENT
In 1878, to expand the fire company’s capabilities, a new department was established. Organized by S.M. Seeley, and it was called the Washington Engine Company No. 1. Fifteen members of The Hook and Ladder Company joined. Soon after, they procured a four-wheel pumping engine with fifty feet of hose. As they liked to boast, the hose could shoot a stream of water straight over the steeple of the old city hall. Both departments coexisted, hosting their meetings at city hall.
SOUND AS A BELL
When the Hook and Ladder Company had taken station at the city hall, they raised money for a bell. In 1867, the company purchased one for $400 and installed it in the bell tower.
Later, in 1888, the city hall was being rebuilt, forcing the companies to momentarily relocate. Afterward, the plan was for the city hall to comfortably house both The Hook and Ladder Company and The Washington Engine Company. After agreeing to the terms, The Hook and Ladder Company asked the city for $100 to purchase a new bell, for the reason that it would be their new headquarters also. Come 1895, the Hook and Ladder Company asked for the payment or would otherwise like the bell returned. In turn, the city gave them only $75. They then spent this money on firefighting equipment.
START THE ENGINES
In 1913, the city modernized its firefighting equipment by beginning to purchase Kissel trucks. The Kissel Motor Car Company was located in Hartford, Wisconsin. Each of the fire department’s trucks was custom-built. In the end, Hartford had a Hook and Ladder special built truck, a hose truck, and a fire truck with a pump, single tank, and hose. These three Kissel trucks, a complete set, revolutionized Hartford’s firefighting procedures.
Read more about the Kissel Motor Car Company here
THE HARTFORD FIRE DEPARTMENT
On February 1st, 1932, the Hook and Ladder Company and Washington Engine Company merged together, forming the Hartford Fire Department. With their efforts and resources officially combined, the future of the Hartford Fire Department followed grandly, eventually becoming what we know it as today.
Hartford’s Fire Department is built on the ingenuity, dedication, and courage of The Hook and Ladder Company’s first members. Through the years, much has changed, but their mission remains intact: protecting the community.
“Brave Men/The History of the Hartford Fire Department.” City of Hartford Wi, June, 9 2022, YouTube video, 23:24
“History.” City of Hartford. Accessed August 16, 2022,
Old Washington County Engine Company No. 1. Photograph. City of Hartford.
1920s Kissel. Photograph. City of Hartford.
2021 Department Photo. Photograph. City of Hartford.
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