Protecting Our Community With The Highest Level of Professionalism.

The Kalispell Firefighters do much more than just fight fires.

They are dedicated to the safety and well-being of the community and provide a wide variety of services within the community.

In 2010 the Kalispell Fire Department responded to a total of 2744 incidents. These numbers reflect fire, Hazardous Materials, technical rescue and EMS type of calls. With these numbers we average a call volume of 8 calls per day. In addition the typical Kalispell fire fighter averages a yearly total of 300 documented training hours.

Fire and Emergency Medical Response

Northwest Hazardous Materials response team

Advanced Life Support Transport

Technical Rescue

Mutual Aid to Neighboring Jurisdictions

Kalispell Police Special Response Team

Public Education

Fire Company Fire Inspections / Pre Fire Planning

Hydrant Inspections

Ice Rescue

Our History

Birth of a Fire Department

Shortly after the vigorous building era following the settling of the pioneer railroad town, Kalispell experienced its first major fire. The year was 1891. Pistol shots cracked in streets, alarming citizens of the blaze. The fire erupted in a saloon, spreading to adjacent buildings on 1st Ave West, between Railroad Street and 1st Street. The citizens and bucket brigade made gallant efforts to contain what was becoming a conflagration. However, the fire spread and destroyed an entire city block. The finest the bucket brigade could do was preventing the fire from spreading to surrounding blocks.

The Board of Trade requested a mass meeting of citizens on May 17, 1892 to be presided by J.H Edwards. It is here in history that the Kalispell Fire Department was essentially born. The volunteer department was founded with A.F. Sparling elected as Chief, J.W. Kneiff, Assistant Chief, Sam Hilburn foreman of the hook and ladder brigade, and W.M. McDonald foreman of the hose company. A constitution and bylaws were adopted, and on June 10 it was voted that members would wear a uniform consisting of a blue flannel shirt with small felt hat to match and a white canvas belt supporting black pants. In order to raise funds to pay for the uniforms, it was decided to hold a fireman’s ball on July 4th. The annual affair of the Fireman’s Ball became a tradition held every January 30th since January 30th, 1893.

Also in 1892, a purchase was made of two hose carts and one hook and ladder truck. These were housed in the Frohlicher Building, which also served as City Hall until 1903, when a dedicated City Hall was completed.

Tragically the first several fires resulted in life and property loss. On March 1, 1893 a witness to an important criminal case, E.H. Townsend perished in what was thought to be an arson fire. Three days later a small child left alone, is believed to have knocked over a lamp. The fire occurred in a small shack next to the Lake Theatre, later the Stockholm tavern, and now the parking lot west of Glacier Bank.

Perhaps the first large scale fire was the Burning of the Grand Central Hotel on February 27, 1894. The two story building which was located on the corner of Main and Second Street East was completely destroyed.

The first death of one of the volunteer firefighters was the suicide of Chas D. McCrary.

In February, 1893 the Board of Alderman passed a resolution deciding that firemen should be compensated and be paid fifty cents per hour while on duty.
In 1903 the council purchased a chemical truck and a team of horses. On July 1, 1903 the city purchased two horses after negotiating with Dan Ledgerwood. Both horses were bay geldings and weighed approximately 1,400 pounds each. The names of these two horses were “Don” and “King”.

Motorization of Apparatus

In 1914 the department went motorized. For $15,000 the city purchased a pumper and chemical and hose truck. After this purchase the city was given a reduction in fire insurance rates of $10,000.

1925 saw the purchase of an American LaFrance pumper which was able to deliver 1,000 gallons of water per minute. At the time this was the largest machine of its type in Montana. Also adding to the effectiveness of the fire department at this time was the completion of 354 fire hydrants supported by a superior water system. During these days, chimney fires were the main cause of fires.

In 1932, the large fire now remembered as the Kalispell Lumber Co. fire broke out. On February 1st, 1946 the National Hotel went up in flames, injuring numerous persons. Apparently an oil range in the café exploded, with someone attempting to extinguish it by throwing water onto the fire, and only worsening the situation. The Bjorneby Flour Mill was also claimed by fire during these years.

Also in 1932 the fire department evolved into Emergency Medical Services as part of the regular function of the department, where it operated an ambulance in all of Flathead County on a routine basis. In 1935, the department moved from a volunteer basis with four paid men, to a completely paid department, and in 1938 the firefighters joined the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) becoming IAFF local 547.

Kalispell Firefighters suffered injuries during the major fire that swept through the Koppang building on August 5th, 1948. Lost in the rubble were the Glacier Garage, Vista Club and Vista Café, Riley Jewelry, National Bar, and Western Neon Co. The cause was believed to be arson.

Elrod School was completely destroyed on January 4th, 1950 in an early morning blaze. The fire was discovered at 5:30 am by janitor Dick Williams, who had to run to the fire department to report the blaze having no phone available. Firefighters arrived on the scene to find the first and second floors heavily involved with fire making the structure too dangerous to enter. Within 20 minutes the entire school was in flames and the roof collapsed.

The Conrad National Bank fire of September 14, 1959 initially began as a smoke investigation when the fire department was called to check on smoke in the Woolworth building. The thickening smoke which filled the bank and Robbin and Robbin clothing store quickly erupted into flames that were unstoppable. As the intense fire grew, firefighters could only prevent it from spreading to neighboring buildings. The fire gutted the bank as well as destroying upstairs offices.

Arsons and the 1970’s

The fire department expanded in 1970 from 13 personnel to 21 in 1973. The 1970’s saw a rash of arson caused fires, not only here in Kalispell but nationally as well.
On May 29, 1970 burglars broke into the Buttrey Food Store and stole the safe with a forklift. It is believed that the blaze at the Animal Center at First Avenue West and Fourth Street had been started as a diversion.

During the month of July, 1972 the department responded to 17 fires of suspected arson. August 5th, was the day of the disastrous fire of Ewing’s Enterprise, Bomar Office Supply and Western Development Co, causing $500,000 in damages.

A suspicious fire broke out the morning of September 22, 1976 sending 5 persons to the hospital. The fire destroyed the historic Buffalo Block, and became the most expensive fire in Kalispell history. Lost in the blaze were Hillstead’s Department Store on the main floor, and every office on the second level, containing a dental lab, psychologist office, insurance office, business machine firm, attorneys’ office, and six medical offices. 36 hours later a fire broke out the Kelly-Main Furniture building.
Other fires that occurred in rapid sequence during these hectic and tiring times for the firefighters were, the Glacier Building, Village Pantry, J.C. Penney Co., Wheaton’s Cycle and Toy, the Blue and White Motel, Cornelius Hedges School and the B&B store.

The Chamber of Commerce offered rewards for the arrest and conviction of persons responsible. The Governor, Thomas Judge declared downtown Kalispell a disaster area, and Mayor Norma Happ declared a state of emergency calling for a curfew for all youths under 18.
The Equity Grain Elevator sent billows of smoke into the sky on May 25, 1977 when a fire swept through. Stewarts Carpet, Norge, and Amfax were destroyed in a fire that following December.

Arsonists struck Kalispell again in 1984, when fire destroyed the following business’ on the 200 block of Main street; Jack’s Tavern, Carmen’s Steak House, Fergusson’s Mode ‘O Day and the M&M Business and Professional Building.

The historic Fernwell Apartments were burned to the ground in a ferocious fire that broke out on November 15, 1993.

Moving into the Millennium

With the fire service progressing nationally, in taking on more responsibility to provide pre-hospital emergency medical care to citizens, Kalispell Firefighters urged the Department to move towards training personnel as Paramedics. With key leadership from floor personnel, Kalispell Fire Department trained many of their personnel to the Paramedic level in 1994. This allowed for a dramatic shift in the capabilities of pre-hospital care provided by the department to those sick and injured. The move from BLS (Basic Life Support) to ALS (Advanced Life Support), changed the way KFD would respond and train forever.

Kalispell firefighter-paramedics were met with a grueling shift on August 31st, 2004 when they responded to numerous medical calls, followed by a plane crash into a house killing the pilot and passenger as well as a dog in the unoccupied home. That night, the firefighters awoke to the alarm for a fire located at the Skyline Bowling alley. Firefighters arrived to find heavy smoke and fire coming from the roof of the building. After a brief interior attack was attempted the decision was made to pull out. The bowling alley structure, which contained the infamous, “bowstring” truss system, collapsed shortly after firefighters evacuated the structure. Firefighters battled the blaze through the night and into the next day, saving the neighboring buildings including a veterinary clinic and numerous animals within.

2005 saw the opening of Kalispell Fire Departments second station, 62 which was built to provide protection to the northern expansion of the city. Also in this time period, Kalispell experienced rapid growth with the population reaching 20,000 citizens. In 2004 the department implemented, in cooperation with the police department, tactical Paramedics, who work with the Police SRT team in high risk situations. In 2007, the department became the regional HAZ-MAT team, providing response and mitigation to hazardous material emergencies for the Northwest region. In 2008 the department went on to add USAR (Urban Search and Rescue) to its list of responsibilities, providing for confined space and technical rope rescues when called upon.

On November 21st, 2008 Kalispell Fire Department responded to what could have been potentially a large loss of life and property, when a fire erupted at around 1:00 am in the Mountain Villa Apartments located just north of Reserve and right outside of city limits. Responding with multiple engines and personnel, Kalispell Fire assisted and performed the rescue of multiple occupants while battling a large blaze that was engulfing the multiple family structure.

Kalispell Fire Department has proudly served the citizens and community for over 118 years, and will continue to sacrifice for many years to come. Fires and emergencies will always be a part of society and the history of Kalispell, and Kalispell Fire Department will forever be there in these times of adversity and need. We thank you for the honor.