History of the Cortez Volunteer Fire Department
The first recognized fire service for the area known as Cortez dates back to the spring of 1886. During this time the old fashioned bucket brigade was utilized to combat any hazards of fire. These brigades involved local ranchers, farmers and a few regular citizens. These individuals all volunteered when needed to help their neighbors.
The first formal Fire Department was organized in the spring of 1911. At this meeting, enthusiastically attended, were about twenty men. Jim Gawith was elected Fire Chief and Tom Omo was elected Secretary. Since there was no water system, and no need for fire equipment except perhaps a chemical engine, which was expensive, there was no fire department prior to 1911. Water was used from irrigation ditches running along the side streets, a few reservoirs, and a few wells. But in 1910 and 1911 the first city water system was completed, and fire hydrants were placed as they thought needed. The fire equipment was purchased which consisted of a two-wheel hose cart with hose rolled on a cylinder. It was manned by manpower, or it could be hooked onto a wagon or even horseback drawn vehicle. The fire hose cart and equipment and perhaps one ladder were behind where the Wilson Building now stands, and next to the alley. There was, for many years, a siren on the back of the Montezuma Valley National Bank (present Community Bank building), which was touched off from the Telephone Office.
Since this time the dedicated members of our organization have seen many changes that come with time. These changes included the development of a very active volunteer organization, new apparatus and equipment and the involvement of many important individuals from the community.
In 1986, it was determined that due to the increase in calls and the insufficient funding available that a Fire Protection District be formed. This change from a Volunteer Fire Department to a Fire Protection District was not without its own strife. Members of the community and the organization were torn by the change in tradition. It did not take long for the benefit of this transition to be demonstrated through the stipend program. Members were receiving their first official compensations for their time.
As with all things, the organization was due for another change in tradition. In 2005, it was discussed that due to the National and State requirements and the demands placed upon the Volunteer Fire Chief, it was time to hire a full time Fire Chief. In 2008, the next transition made its way into the Cortez Fire Protection District, as Don Eberly was hired as the first paid Fire Chief. Shortly after his arrival and through direction of the Board of Directors, the first part-time paid firefighters were hired. In 2009, the Fire District Board decided it was in the best interest of the community to respond to all emergency calls within the Cortez Fire Protection District boundaries to include medical calls. Prior to this, the Fire District would respond to specific types of medical calls when personnel were available. 2009 also saw the arrival of the first paid Assistant Fire Chief, Jeff Vandervoorde.
2012 saw another significant change with the implementation of career firefighters working hand-in-hand with part-time firefighters. Due to the awarding of a SAFER grant, the Cortez Fire Protection District hired their first six career firefighters in October of 2012.
“Major Fires That Threatened The Town”
Cortez has had our share of fires; however, some of the fires almost destroyed entire city blocks. According to the Cortez Journal newspaper archive:
- March 8, 1898 – Thirteen Buildings burned – only one building was saved and one stable. This fire was located on the south side of Main Street beginning with the business located on the corner of South Chestnut and Main Streets and burning six businesses on Main Street plus six on South Chestnut. In addition, two stables burned but one building (Herman building) in the area of Citizens State Bank and one stable (off of alley behind Cortez Travel) were saved.
- February 22, 1908 – Guillet Roller Mill
- September 29, 1908 – Everything west of the Stone building burned and known as the Hotel Clifton Fire.
- January 2, 1919 – Bozman Garage Fire – on the corner of South Chestnut and Main Street. This fire resulted in the loss of 32 cars plus the building.
- November 28, 1929 – D.H. Sayler Building on Main Street (area of El Grande Café) plus damage to other buildings.
- June 11, 1931 – Highway Barn (County Barn) which was located next to the First County Courthouse. This fire threatened the Montezuma County Courthouse and the Records, however, most of the Road Equipment was out at work and only the building and shop tools were lost.
- About 1930 – The Mosher warehouse fire – corner of First Street and North Beech. A mass meeting was called by the townspeople to form the present fire department following this fire. Only two hose carts were available to the fire fighters. The carts were utilized until November, 1934 when the city purchased a 1933 Chevrolet fire truck. The new truck was purchased after a blaze destroyed the three buildings on West Main in November 1934.
- November 16, 1934 – Buildings between Hopper Stone & Cortez Sentinel on the south side of Main Street. This fire sometimes referred to as “The Bensey Fire” and three buildings were destroyed.
- April 1919 – Episcopal Church Fire
- About 1930 – Congregational Church Fire
- December 29, 1949 – Wark Milling Company Fire
- About 1957 – Empire Electric Fire
- In the 1960s – The Central Hotel Fire