Valpo Fire Department History: The Beginning

By: Contributor Last Updated: January 22, 2010

The Valparaiso Fire Department was first organized in 1868. A hook and ladder company was organized and the first engine house was built on the east side of the Court House Square. The equipment was pulled by men until 1898. That year Valparaiso, purchased their first team of horses Fred and Charlie named after two City Councilmen Fred Shoemaker and Charles Gogan who were instrumental in the purchase of the horses as well as a new Engine. The new equipment and horses were then housed on the south side of the Court House in what is now the Police Department.

There were two stalls in the back of the station and the harness, preconnected to the fire engine, hung from the ceiling. When a call came in, the horses would move to the harness and it would drop and lock onto them.

In May of 1920 the City Council, in a four to two vote, decided to buy a motorized fire engine. It was a 1 1/2 Ton "Service Truck," manufactured by the Service Automobile Company of Wabash, Indiana at a cost of $6,372.25. The chassis was made in Wabash, but the truck had to be driven to Kenosha, Wisconsin, to have the firefighting equipment installed. (Picture above). The truck was finally replaced in 1923 when it was found that the only way it could make it up Mechanic's Hill (east of Morgan on Indiana Avenue) was if the firefighters helped pushed it.

At the time, the 1920 truck was purchased, the city had two paid teamsters (John Deardorf and George King) to drive the horses, but who were unable to drive a motorized vehicle. So, on December 3, 1920, Wilbur "Fish" Cowdrey was hired because he had been a truck driver in World War 1, and had a driver's license.

With the hiring of Fish, the Department's work schedule went from working six 24-hour shifts with 12 hours off on the seventh day to working three 24-hour shifts with 24 hours off on the fourth day. Fish stayed on the department for 36 years, being Chief from 1942 through 1955.

Today's fire department has three shifts of thirteen men per shift, working 24 hours on duty and 48 hours off-duty. We have two stations, 4 engines, a tower, 2 rescue trucks and a tanker. We protect 30 square miles of homes and industry and more than 80,000 residents.

Michael J. Atwood, Captain