On June 11, 1864, there was talk of starting a fire department for the City of Rochester. Nothing was done at this time. Again in 1865 the question of fire protection was raised and finally on January 22, 1866 their dreams came true. The following excerpt is from the Rochester City Post on January 27, 1866. "Contained in the proceedings of the Council dated January 22, 1866; A petition, numerously signed by leading businessmen and taxpayers, was presented praying the Council to authorize and provide for the organization of a Hook, Ladder and Bucket Company to protect the city against losses by fire.
On motion ordered that R.B. Graham, O.P. Stearns and G.C. Cook be authorized to recruit and accept such persons as they shall deem suited for the organization of a Hook, Ladder, and Bucket Company, agreeable to the provisions of the City Charter in such cases made and provided; that when said Company shall contain full fifty members, shall complete their organization by election of a member as foreman and two other members as first and second assistant foreman respectively, and that when so organized, said Company shall be furnished with Hook, ladders, buckets and all other necessary equipment at the expense of the City.
On motion ordered that the Finance Committee be authorized to furnish, at the expense of the City, said Company with all proper and necessary apparatus and fixtures pertaining to the discharge of their duties under such organization. On motion ordered that David Lesuer, First Ward, A. Ozmun, Second Ward and J.M. Cole, Third Ward, be appointed Fire Wardens in their respective Wards, and whose duty it shall be to personally examine and inspect all stores, stove pipes, chimneys and other fixtures in and about each and every building with reference to the security of same in regard to accidental fires.
This is all the City had until 1870. On July 2, 1870 the department was first organized as a volunteer department. The City provided the following firefighting equipment: One stationary pump to be put in Old's and Fishbach's Mill and run by water wheel with hose attached. The mill was located at Third Street SE and the Zumbro River, or adjacent to the Holiday Inn Downtown. In addition to the stationary pump, a Silsby portable steam pump, three hose carts and 2,000 feet of fire hose were purchased. The entire cost to the City was $9,750.00. The first Rochester fire house was completed on October 8,1870 and was located on the west bank of the Zumbro River, south of Third Street SE directly over the mill race. It housed the Silsby Little Giant portable steam engine pump that provided water pressure for commercial buildings on Broadway. It was purchased in conjunction with the original pump powered by the Olds and Fishbach Mill water wheel. The Little Giant was located directly over the mill race above two trap doors in the floor, one to lower the hard suction into the water and the other to safely dispose of ashes and cinders from the engine. The record shows the engine could get up working steam in three minutes and twenty seconds.
In 1873 an elevated water tower and a wind mill pump were installed at Fourth Street SE and South Broadway. In 1874, four underground cisterns were built at various points of town to provide water for areas out of reach of the stationary pump. In 1879 the school bell served as the town fire alarm. The night watchman and key officers in the fire department had keys to the school. In 1886 a ward Gamewell alarm system of call boxes to the hose house was installed. In 1887, eight miles of water main and 120 hydrants were completed. Several Hook and ladder companies organized and were disbanded throughout this time period. Some of the names were; Alert Hook and Ladder, Turner Hose Company, The Third Ward Tigers, Nighthawk Hose Company and The Sound Sleepers.
In 1890 a new Main Fire House was built adjacent to the city light plant, just east of old City Hall on historic Third Street SW. W.S. Elkins was elected Chief that same year and in 1891 the Fire Department Relief Association was incorporated. In 1893 there was talk of building a new fire station on South Broadway and in 1895 a new state law required fire extinguishers in all school houses. A new Central Fire Station was built in 1898 on the south side of Fourth Street and South Broadway facing north directly on Broadway. It was recorded that it was built on solid rock.
In 1912 the first piece of state of the art motorized equipment was placed into service. It was an American La France pumper equipped with a supply of hose, a small pump and a chemical tank. In 1917 a seventy five foot aerial ladder was put into service. In May 1915 when William Letford was Chief, the department became full-time and in 1918 began a two platoon system, one week of nights and one of days. Sunday was change day. This continued until 1934 when firefighters went on a 24 hours on, 24 hours off schedule. The bell tower clock was made by Seth Thomas at a cost of $3,500.00. It was restored in 1982 and is currently located at the Rochester Civic Center.
The Fourth Central Fire Station was completed in 1930 at a cost of $50,000.00 and housed a 750 gallon per minute Ahrens-Fox , a Seagraves 1000 gpm and a 500 gpm International pumper. One 75 foot American La France Aerial and Packard chief's car. The department consisted of 24 firefighters, 3 officers and Fire Chief C.E. Ginther. The same fire poles used in the old Central Fire Station were re-installed in the 1930 building and reinstalled again in the current Fire Station Number One. The 1930 Central Fire Station was razed in July 1995.