Craig Fire/Rescue celebrates a century of service |

Craig Fire/Rescue celebrates a century of service

Craig Fire/Rescue works to douse Brinkley's Supply and Craig theatre on the northwest corner of W. Victory Way and Breeze Street as they burn on May 9, 1947.
Courtesy Museum of Northwest Colorado - Craig

This weekend, Craig Fire/Rescue celebrated 100 years of service, full of fire truck rides, cornhole games and tours of the department’s state-of-the-art equipment. However, that wasn’t always the case.

Dan Davidson, director of the Museum of Northwest Colorado, said that before Craig established its fire services, the tools that the community did have were primitive. Volunteers, horses or early automobiles would pull a cart with the hose bundled on top to the nearest fire hydrant or water hookup.

“Their first fire truck was a 24 Model-T LaFrance,” Davidson said. “It was mainly for quick responses, and that was in the mid 20s. Before that (and the formation of the fire department), they sort of only had an old hose cart. In Craig’s earlier case, the reason they got (the truck) was because they lost a lot of large buildings to fires. They were tired of burning down their own buildings.”

Craig Fire Department members in front of 1942 Dodge fire truck which is parked at the fire station at 538 Breeze St. The stone building, which also served as the town hall, was built from local quarry stone in the early 1920s. Front row: left to right: Joe Edwards, George Welch, Ray Green, Fire Chief Oliver Haughey, Joe Self, Assistant Fire Chief Dick Miles, Harry Morrison. Back row, left to right: Dick Toole, Bud Jones, Jay Brinkley, George Gore, Don Showalter, Frank Adamek.
Courtesy Museum of Northwest Colorado - Craig
Fire rising from top floor and roof of Brinkley's Supply building during Craig Theater fire May 9, 1947.The fire spread from Craig Theater building to Brinkley's Supply.
Courtesy Museum of Northwest Colorado - Craig
1921 Craig Colorado Fire Chief badge. 2 1/4"x 3" Nichol badge with "Fire Chief Craig Colo." imprinted on it. Belonged to Walter Winberg.
Courtesy Museum of Northwest Colorado - Craig
Group of men in front of Craig firehouse on Yampa Avenue circa 1970's; Earl Robacker, Clyde Stehle, Chuck Ellsworth, Bruce Johnson, Jim Meineke, Carl Chapman, Gary Lippard, Dorman Silver, Werner Schwingdorf, Frank Sadvar, Bob Estey.
Courtesy Museum of Northwest Colorado - Craig

Craig in 1921 was booming, Davidson added. The Great Divide homestead boom was bringing in more residents, prompting more growth and resources in the region.

“Moffat County had a big boom because of it,” he said. “ The railroad came in 1913. The first big building came in the late teens. The Yampa Building was finished in 1921. There had been an explosion of people in 1921, and it was the end of the big building projects. I’m sure that was a big impetus to get a full fire department put together.”

Davidson said the early days of the department was probably all volunteer, and, to this day, that’s the case. There’s only one full-time employee, but nearly everyone else is a volunteer who is paid per call. One of those volunteers is battalion chief Chris Mercer, who has been part of the Craig crew since 2003.

“We’re out here to showcase the trucks we have, our equipment, and to show the public what we do,” Mercer said of Saturday’s celebration. “We do all fire suppression for the city and outlying areas in the county. We also help EMS and do emergency response when they need it.”

Of the 28 members of the team, there’s a wide range of experience. Some are in their first years and others have dedicated decades to the department. Favorite calls among the firefighters are extrications (such as when someone is stuck in a vehicle that’s been crushed) and structure fires that you would see in buildings. Those are relatively rare, but most common calls are medical calls and car accidents that don’t require extraction. It’s also common for Craig firefighters to be called on brush fires and other concerns out in the wildlands.

“We plan for the worst-case scenario in training, but hope for the best-case scenario in the real world,” Mercer said.

Currently, the department is looking for new prospective firefighters. Mercer added that though 28 crew members is a solid team, a goal in recruitment would be to have a total of 35 firefighters on call.

When a call does come in, all firefighters are paged — with one battalion being on call one month while the other is off, for flexibility — and anyone available can go out to help on calls. Mercer said that though it’s very subjective on how many people are needed for each call, it’s common for about four people to go to medical calls while structure calls and extractions can garner up to 20 or more.

The adrenaline rush is what initially brings a lot of young rookies to start training for the field, Mercer said, but it’s the camaraderie that gets them to stay.

“Everyone wants to be the guy carrying the baby out of a burning building,” Mercer said. “But this is a family. If any one of us needs anything, they’ll drop everything to help them.”

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