Chisago City volunteer Fire Department


Through the years Chisago City experienced many fires. In Old Towne the mill was destroyed several times by fire as well as other buildings. After the railroad came through north of Old Towne in 1880 and wooden retail buildings were constructed the fires followed.

In 1883 the first general store across from the railroad station burned down. This was reported in the Taylors Falls Journal in their August 16, 1883 issue thusly: "Otto Wallmark's store at Chisago City Station was burned on Tuesday morning of last week. Conductor Mott's train from the Falls came along just as the fire broke out, and he stopped his train there long enough to allow the passengers to save most of the contents of the store, and the household goods in the second story."

In 1896 the first creamery was destroyed by fire. Zion Church burned down in 1908 but was soon rebuilt. The Dahl House Hotel and Resort also succumbed in 1910 and was also rebuilt. In 1894 the J.A. Bloom and Bro. store would open and in 1911 it too succumbed to fire.

The New Town incorporated as Chisago City in 1906. With the coming of local government, the history of fires and the ability to organize resources to buy equipment, as well as the incentive of the recent Bloom Building and Dahl House  fires, the Chisago City volunteer Fire Department was organized in 1912.

Through the years the department has assisted both Chisago City and the neighboring commuities in many ways other than just putting out fires. The department has been there when needed - helping in times of disaster, raising money to support local charitable activities and in the early days even sponsoring and providing equipment to start the Almelund volunteer fire department.

From the August 8, 2012 Chisago County Press article by Paul Rignell:

Firefighters in Chisago City held a signature event to celebrate 100 years of fire fighting service Aug. 4, hosting a car show at noon and then a street dance deep into the evening. Chief Bruce Peterson said the department formed in March 1912 with 18 volunteer members, and their equipment included 25 galvanized buckets which they were ready to fill with water to fight any fire. 

Current volunteers honored the memories of the first crew members last week between the car show and street dance, thanking them for starting the town’s tradition, and re-dedicating Chisago’s first fire bell was used to alert the early firefighters when their help was needed. David Lilygren, of Cambridge and formerly of Chisago, is a surviving nephew of one-time Chisago mayor and fire chief J. Ernest Johnson. David’s mother, Mildred, was a sister of J. Ernest’s wife, Edith. Surrounded by the retro cars displayed along Highway 8 last week in front of the Fire Hall, David told the crowd of how the town’s bell had been in his family’s possession for most of its existence. Mildred and Erick Lilygren bought farmland on rural Maxwell Road, in 1928. David was born in 1930. Sometime in the early ’30s, when J. Ernest was fire chief, the city installed a civil defense siren in the first fire station – which stood across from an early city hall, at the corner of Stinson Avenue and west of Old Towne Road. (correction: The original location of the bell was the corner of what is now Old Towne Road and Railroad Ave. on the left next to the telephone building - see picture below.)

Fire bell, telephone bldg

The department had no siren from the start because the station was not yet powered by electricity. When the siren was hooked up to power, rendering the bell obsolete, Erick and Mildred asked to buy the bell for their farm. Department members agreed the Lilygren’s could have the bell as a gift on the condition they would never sell or dispose of the bell. Family members hoisted the bell onto the Lilygrens’ windmill – “That sucker was heavy,” David said – and secured it with baling wire. Erick died in the mid-1970s, and Mildred sold the farm in 1981 to her granddaughter and David’s daughter, Jill Waldren and her husband Tom. When the Waldrens were selling the land to someone outside the family in 2003, David reminded them of the family’s pledge regarding the bell, and the item was returned to the Fire Department’s. 

Waldren family friend Tom Alldritt, who has been a Chisago firefighter for 16 years, gave the department a low bid for restoring the bell for preservation and display. He began by sand-blasting rust from the cast-iron bell, and other work, including some painting when he wasn’t fixing cars in his TLC Collision auto body shop. For hanging the bell, Alldritt donated the labor to build an arch using two-inch wire stock steel, total materials costing $250.

From By The Shores of Ki-Chi-Saga by Moira Harris: 

Chisago City's volunteer Fire Department met for the first time on March 19,1912. The Village Council had already purchased two chemical engines, two 30-foot extension ladders, four shorter ladders, two fire axes, a crowbar, a ladder cart, and two dozen galvanized iron pails. All of this material was stored in a room rented from the Bloom Mercantile Company. The fire alarm bell was hung in the tower next to the Chisago City Telephone Company. There it could ring and Central's operator could alert everyone from the park by the railroad depot.

Fifteen men joined at the first meeting. In 1924 J. H. Gustafson was elected chief, an office he would hold for many years. Eric Lind was chosen assistant chief and J. E. Vanstrom, secretary-treasurer. At first all firemen were required to live in the village and to pay twenty-five cents as monthly dues. Later dues were raised to fifty cents and the department's residency requirement established a three- mile boundary.

As Paul Bergquist wrote in his history of the department, the equipment was upgraded with the purchase of a Ford truck in 1926 and then an Internationall 1-1/2 ton truck in 1932 (Bergquist, WPA Interviews, Fire Department History). Since 1924 a major fundraiser for the fire department has been the annual Firemen's Ball, held in Green Lake Hall at the end of January. A button, showing either a firefighter's helmet or a fire engine, was the admission ticket for each year's entertainment. More recently the department has raised money through pull-tabs.

An unusual fundraiser, organized by the fire department, was the Monstrous Celebration held over the Fourth of July weekend in 1930. Both the St. Paul and Minneapolis fire departments sent their chiefs; there were carnival rides, a Ferris wheel, dancing at the Green Lake Hall and the Dahl's House pavilion, concerts by three high school bands (including Lakeside's), and fireworks. Governor Theodore Christiansen spoke and Gene Shank, head of Minnesota's first aerial police patrol, gave rides and exhibitions of stunt flying. The holder of the lucky winning ticket won a Graham-Paige four door sedan (Chisago County Press, July 3,1930: 1, 4, 7).

Harlan Henrickson Slides 1963-1971

Joe Todd Photos c1995

Miscellaneous Photos

Fire Chiefs:

J. H. Gustafson 1912-

Harlan Henrickson

Lambert Greene

Joseph Todd

Herbert Letourneau

Daryl Montbriand

Pat Boland

Bruce Peterson