Morton’s fire department officially dates from June 5, 1888, when a hook and ladder wagon was bought from New Ulm.
That predates the name of the town itself. Back then, the residents called their village “Pleasant Valley”.
At the same time the wagon was bought, the residents built a firehouse over a 500 barrel cistern to house the wagon.
Eleven days after the hook and ladder wagon was bought, E.L. Haskins was appointed the first Chief of the volunteer fire department.
By 1925 the department had 18 volunteer members. They practiced regularly in part because “it is the desire of our village to keep the insurance rates down as low as possible.”
Current Fire Chief Tony Mages said this month, “People are surprised by how well-equipped we are for a town of only 400 people.”
The first motorized fire truck was a 1924 Chevrolet built by the Baldwin Brothers of Winona.
It was then state-of-the-art, putting out fires with a tank full of flame-snuffing chemicals instead of a stream of water.
One problem the department faced in the early days was too much volunteering from the public.
In late 1926 it got so bad that Fire Chief E.G. Feil had to put the following announcement in the newspaper:
“When a fire alarm sounded, no one but the firemen are to ride on the truck.
“At the fire, in the state of excitement that prevails at the time, everyone seems to want to do their best, but as a general rule are a hinderance for the firemen.
“No one is to touch the fire equipment except the firemen. If assistance from the spectators is necessary, then men will be commanded to help.
“Otherwise, let the firemen fight the fire and the others keep a safe distance away from the blaze and work of the men.
“Those who do not comply with the above requests will be punished to the full extent of the law.”
The request didn’t work. Two years later the department considered levying a $20 fine for “pleasure cars” of spectators who passed the heavy fire truck on its way to fires.
At one house fire, by the time the firefighters finally arrived, the surrounding street and driveway were packed with spectators’ cars.
During World War II, Morton Volunteer Fire Department members were assigned as black-out wardens in case the town was attack from the air.
Each firefighter was assigned several blocks of houses and businesses to make sure all lights were out.
From the very beginning, the department’s equipment has been largely funded by donations and fundraisers from the community.
Page 2 of 2 - For example, the Morton Enterprise of Jan. 28, 1926 noted “the Firemen will give an Old Tyme Dance at the Community Hall. Flor’s Little German Band will furnish the music.”
That dance was so successful it made over $150, a fortune for the time.
In the past 25 years, the department has paid for equipment with pulltabs, softball tournaments, and annual pork and steak feeds during the summer and early Christmas seasons.
In more recent years, the department has received grans from FEMA and the Department of Natural Resources.
In return, the department gives back to the community in many ways.
Mages said the department has donated to, among others, the area hospice and Relay for Life, the Morton Seniors, and the hockey association.
Seven years ago the Morton Fire Department took over putting on the annual Fourth of July fireworks display.
The department currently average one or two calls per month, often working with its first reponders working alongside North Ambulance.
However, the department has mutual aid agreements with all other area fire departments, and helps out as necessary.
The department currently has 22 active members, the longest-serving being Chuck Robinson with 30+ years.
Today the department holds training exercises once a month for most of the year, and twice a month during summer.
But Mages said most of the department’s success goes to the people of the community for supporting it so enthusiastically.