(LaFrance Fire Truck)
In one century the Sleepy Eye Fire Department has gone from a bucket brigade for a scattering of frontier buildings to a group of volunteers who can handle half a dozen pieces of big equipment and who serve not only the 3,500 residents of Sleepy Eye but the farms in surrounding townships, which cover roughly 217 square miles.
They have a standard rescue unit and they have a boat for water rescue because of Sleepy Eye Lake, and the Minnesota and Cottonwood Rivers, all within a few miles. They send no more than three trucks and ten men to out-of-town fires so that Sleepy Eye is never left unprotected.
The department is rated one of the best. They know First Aid and CPR. They have 24 drills a year and send several members yearly to special seminars. They wear non-flammable coats. In a fire with toxic fumes firemen use masks with proper breathing apparatus for their own safety. They can transport water to a farm which runs short while they are fighting a rural fire. They can apply foam to a fire when water is unsafe to use.
Although Sleepy Eye was platted on September 18, 1872, it had no organized government until March 19, 1878. Houses were heated by stoves; food was cooked on wood or coal burning stoves. Kerosene lamps provided illumination. A need for fire protection was recognized.
Firemen used horses from a nearby drayline to pull the fire engines and if those horses were not available there were horses from livery stables. In the early days of fire fighting, there were no beepers, no home alarms, no telephones, and no cars racing about alerting firemen. Half of them never knew what had happened until they came downtown the next morning.
Firemen in the early days were paid by agreement with the Council a sum of 25 cents to each fireman helping at a fire and the same amount for anyone working on the engine house or the equipment. Almost every businessman in town belonged to the Fire Department near the turn of the century. Among early firemen were C.C. Hansen who owned the drayline across from the fire station and whose horses usually pulled the fire engines, carpenter Matt Raymond, William Grundmeyer and his brother-in-law William Ortwein, R. G. Larson, merchant Albert Durbahn, merchant Frank Riedl whose son Dr. F. Jerome Riedl later became a fireman as well. Joseph Ott, Gust Remmele, Joseph P. Fischer, J. P Geschwind, Ed Remmele and more….
In the early days firemen were expected to conserve water. Now they know that they must use it immediately and heavily. They are also trained not to enter a burning area without proper breathing equipment for their own safety and they must know what is in the building before they enter.
When a fireman goes to bed he lays out his clothing in such a way that he can dress rapidly. With each fireman having his own warning he can be at the firehouse so fast that by the time the fire whistle has stopped blowing people can hear the first sirens on the trucks. With the present day system firemen are well-trained and well garbed for safety, and they can handle any type of emergency, whether it is a common fire or a fire of dangerous materials, whether people need to be rescued from water, burnings, a car crash, or a heart attack.
The Sleepy Eye Fire Department looks forward to serving Sleepy Eye and its surrounding townships and neighbors for another century.