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SLOJX FireJK SAN LUIS OBISPO FIRE COMPANY No. 1 It rains sometimes. Those three words were often used to describe the protection from fire that was available to the citizens of the Town of San Luis Obispo during the first years of its incorporation. Fire was no stranger to the early settlers. In fact, a fire in 1776 had destroyed most of the original mission church. With structures built mainly from adobe mud, very little thought was given to the “fire fiend”. Following the end of the Civil War, San Luis Obispo began to grow. A census taken in 1868 found 600 people within the one square mile town limits. False fronted buildings constructed of wood and built close together, narrow dirt streets, many which simply dead-ended, and a reliance on water that was carried from the creek in buckets all pointed to a disaster waiting to happen. During the night of August 12, 1869, an alarm of “fire” was shouted out. The scene of the conflagration was a wood building under construction on Higuera Street. The arson sparked blaze resulted in a total loss estimated at 3,500 dollars. Not only had the building gone up in smoke, but so did the claim of some long time residents that there had never been a successful fire in the Town. One year later in August 1870, a group of citizens met for the purpose of taking steps to raise money for an organized fire company. While their intentions were good, the lack of funds and no readily available water supply placed such an organization on hold for a few more years. The Town’s people could rest a little easier at night when in December, W. M. Farmer, a former San Francisco policeman was hired as the Town’s night watchman. Walking a set route from 9pm to sunrise, he was to be on the lookout for fires. If one was discovered, he was to give out the alarm by shooting his pistol and shouting “fire” to arouse the nearby residents. Following a house fire in May 1872, the editor of the local newspaper wrote in part “if the chance of organizing a regular fire company be remote, let us at least do something in the right direction”. The Board of Town Trustees took up the appeal and in June of 1873 action was taken on two items to help the situation. First they passed an ordinance that banned the use of fireworks within the Town limits. The second action was to sign a contract with the recently formed San Luis Water Company. For a subsidy of $2500, the Town would be furnished with a sufficient supply of water for fire fighting purposes for 25 years. Ten fire hydrants of the latest New York design would also be furnished and placed where the Town Trustees wanted them. With work set to begin on the allaying of a water pipe line along Monterey Street, a meeting of interested citizens was held at the County Courthouse on March 18, 1874 to organize a fire company and to procure a fire engine. Those at the meeting took the task seriously. The name, San Luis Fire Company No. 1, was chosen by the twenty men present. An election was held and Edwin B. Morriss, co-owner of the Cosmopolitan Hotel, was elected as the company president. Albert A. Oglesby, County District Attorney, was selected as the company secretary. The membership of the company was made up of merchants and other local businessmen who wanted to provide the needed protection to their establishments. One of the new volunteer firemen was Levi Rackliffe who would later be elected to the office of California State Treasurer. Another member was Edwin F. Sanborn, a former volunteer fireman from Cambridge, Massachusetts. A committee was appointed to draft a petition and obtain signatures of local citizens asking for financial assistance from the Board of Trustees. While the Board supported the idea of a company, no money was allocated. This did not stop the volunteers as they raised their own funds by various means, including hosting a traveling entertainment group, a picnic and a firemen’s dance. Added to these funds were individual donations which quickly amounted enough to provide a hand drawn two wheel hose cart, 500 feet of good quality fire hose and other necessary appliances that were purchased in San Francisco. The new water system was tested in November. Starting at the corner of Santa Rosa, nine fire hydrants were located along Monterey Street to Broad Street. A tenth hydrant was located at Palm nd Chorro Streets. The hydrant in front of the Cosmopolitan Hotel was chosen for the demonstration. The pressure was great enough to send a stream of water through the length of the hose with a nozzle attached over the roof of the two story tall structure. Town residents felt confident that with all the improvements, fir insurance rates would be reduced by up to fifty percent. The organization was completed in March 1875 with the construction of a hose cart house to store the fire apparatus and equipment. Located on Morro Street between Monterey and Palm Streets it cost of two hundred dollars was approved by the Trustees. Although Fire Company No. 1 ceased operations in July 1876, it was immediately succeeded by another Volunteer Fire Company, The Goodwill Hose Company No. 2 with Edwin Sanborn as the company foreman. Forty of the new company’s 50 members were former members of Company No. 1. From a simple beginning, the volunteer firemen built an organization that at one time was said to be the finest in the State. The “old fireboys who ran with the machine” were also well known locally for their dedication, bravery and honesty. Over a span of some 80 years, the volunteers provided service to the citizens of San Luis Obispo. They would be proud of being remembered during the Sesquicentennial Celebration. Jack Krege (805) 543-2785