The Fire Department was Established 1892 and the Boulder Creek Fire Protection District Established in 1923.
By Steve Kuehl
Former Lieutenant, Boulder Creek Fire Protection District
The Boulder Creek Fire Volunteer Department was formed after two conflagration-sized fires nearly destroyed downtown Boulder Creek and the nearby village of Lorenzo in 1891. No department had existed prior to that time, and since the logging towns had grown for nearly thirty years without any organized fire suppression, the costly disasters had thrust the issue to the forefront.
Barely two days after the ashes had cooled from the last fire, the townspeople gathered their most active community members to form a fire department. Throughout that year and into the following spring of 1892, twenty of the local businessmen and laborers volunteered their efforts even further and officially began to train as a team of firemen. Funds were raised from the townspeople and a hose cart was purchased from an old Santa Cruz hose company, along with several hundred feet of hose.
This cart officially became the first fire “apparatus” of Boulder Creek. The cart was made up of a steel frame, two large wooden wheels, an independent spin-wheel to roll and store the hose, and pulling ropes with handles. It remained in service for over thirty-five years. The task of pulling this wagon to fires literally rested on the shoulders of these volunteers. Sometimes they were given a reprieve if the local milk-wagon horse team could be utilized, but the burden of helping save the town from the common structural fires was the daunting task given to these few men.
Bucket brigade details were trained on regularly, and another smaller hose cart was utilized, creating the issue of needing a storage place for these items, essentially a firehouse.
Throughout the history of Boulder Creek and its fire department, there has been a total of six “firehouses”. Prior to the current headquarters station at Highway 9 and Highway 236 in downtown Boulder Creek,
The “stations” mostly housed the two hose carts, other miscellaneous equipment and finally the first motorized fire apparatus to reach town. The first fire hall was where the current clothing store is located at the intersection of Forest Street and Central Avenue (Highway 9).
The structure burned down in another large fire several years later, but was again rebuilt. The date and title placed on the street side of this present building is “1891 – Old Fireman’s Hall”. The firemen then moved across the street during the town’s short stint as a city, flourishing as a progressive group of trained firemen until 1915. That year the burden of not having the financial support of the un-incorporated town took its toll. For eight years, the equipment languished, until in 1923, the townspeople once again stepped up, and this time created an official organization.
August 17, 1923 is the date that the Boulder Creek Fire Protection District was filed for and established. The resulting panel of directors consisted of a three person Board. The public voted for their staggered four-year terms. That same year, a little known reorganization took place. The Brookdale Fire Protection District, the first fire district formed in Santa Cruz County, consolidated with the newly formed group just north of the village in Boulder Creek. Both towns have since remained in that same district and the boundaries have grown to include much more of the surrounding areas.
With this rapid growth and increase in area served, the directors quickly appointed a fire chief; a gentleman named Art Waters, and appropriated money to purchase a motorized fire apparatus. They bought a 1924Ford Model T, and along with another 1924 Model T wagon from the Brookdale District, they now had a modern fire fighting force. Both wagons needed to be safely housed, so over the next fifteen years, they were alternately stored between the gas station at Central Avenue and Big Basin Road, and the old Community Hall, located where Joe’s Bar is now.
Finally, in 1939, a modern fire station was designed and built at the main intersection in Boulder Creek.
The following May the town welcomed in their brand new, state-of-the-art fire station with a grand opening celebration. The building had three fire engine bays, a large kitchen and a meeting hall. Over the next sixty years, three more engine bays, a second story with living quarters, a large training room, office building and an outdoor cooking and serving area were all added onto or near the existing structure.
The past and present personnel rosters making up the ranks of the 108 year-old volunteer organization just surpassed the 300-person mark. It has included such local names as George “Hoot” Cress, Pep Piccioni, Pete Robustelli and Larry Hustedt, with many long tours filled by the Hartman and Locatelli families. The fire chief position is a much-respected post and has only been filled by five people since 1923. Art Waters in 1923, Phil Hartman from 1924 to 1956, Bill Kleyn from 1956 to 1970, Bud Tomlin from 1970 to 1996, Sam Robustelli from 1996 to 2007, Kevin McClish from 2007 to 2019 and Mark Bingham 2019 through present day. The Fire Commissioners have helped supervise the expenditure of the taxpayers’ moneys for these seventy-seven years since formation, and have included such names as John Montanari, Ray Landi, Bill Frick, Bob Brimblecom, Joe Johnstone and Herro Irwin.