Alta Fire Dept. begins planning for 140th anniversary

Friday, December 11, 2020
Alta FD training officer Lindsay Brown, assistant chief David Suhr and secretary-treasurer John Wilson with a display in the fire station honoring the 494 volunteers who have served on the department through its history. Two - Kenny Carter and Jim Grienke, served 50 years or more. / Photo submitted

Alta Fire Department is gearing up to celebrate its 140th anniversary - a bit late.

This year is actually the anniversary, but due to COVID concerns, planning for an event has been pushed back to 2021. “When we get past the pandemic, it will give people a reason to get out of the house,” says assistant chief David Suhr.

The department is still working on ideas for what form the celebration may take - an open house, parade, slide show of historical photos and other possibilities are being discussed. A date for an event will be set later.

Current Alta Junior Firefighters taking part in training - Schuyler Crum, Jacob Arnts and Kile Hussey. / Photo submitted

The Alta department dates to the pioneer era of the community in 1880, when a committee proposed obtaining a steam fire engine, two ladders, buckets and axes to protect the homes. Record books and bylaws that date to that first meeting that year still exist in the department safe. In 1889, the volunteers officially established Alta Engine and Hose Company #1. Forty-two volunteer firefighters stepped forward as the initial members that night.

The community would suffer a major loss in the 1880s, as a late night fire raged through a full block of the main street. A few years later, around 1890, another destroyed the other side of the street.

“It’s kind of neat to see how things were done in the earlier years. The old fire trucks only carried a couple of hundred gallons of water, and at best did 40 or 50 miles per hour,” Suhr said.

The department currently has 27 members, with capacity for 31.

About 10 years ago, a Junior Firefighters program was formed, allowing high school participants to learn about firefighting and provide some non-dangerous support. Each junior has a mentor on the department. Several of those students have gone on to become full-fledged firefighters as adults.

In addition to fires, the department responds to accidents, medical emergencies, and support for the racetrack, football games and community events. It responds to up to 28 calls per month - a total of 178 calls in 2019 and 199 in 2018.

As planning for the anniversary continues, more announcements will be made in the Pilot-Tribune.