December 09, 2023

Creston Fire Department celebrates 150 years

Creston firefighters from the early days pose for a picture. The department celebrates 150 years this year.

Just using averages, the Creston Fire Department will respond to a call twice a day.

Sometimes, those calls can be intense, like rescuing a person from a grain elevator. Other calls are not intense, like preventing people from driving down a street with a fallen tree during a storm.

That has been all in a day’s work for the department that celebrates 150 years of operation.

The department will recognize its anniversary starting 9 a.m. Saturday with a firefighter breakfast at the station at 500 N. Sumner. All firefighters in the area, active or retired, are invited. The department will have its annual open house with pancakes from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 4, at the station. During Fire Safety Week, which begins Oct. 8, Creston firefighters will have presentations in schools.

Creston Chief Todd Jackson said the events are a way to thank Creston and the residents who have supported them over the years and decades. Jackson has been chief since 2001 and with the department since 1999.

“People bring us food,” he said. Those gifts are common for those on call during major holidays, like Christmas Day. “We have had churches bring us things from their events. There are a lot of people who appreciate what we do.”

Creston Fire Department’s interaction with residents goes back to October 1873 when A.D. Temple was named fire chief. The year prior, wells were dug throughout town so the department had access to water. An organized fire department was needed since the town’s railroad industry was growing which was making Creston grow in population.

“There were three separate departments at one time,” Jackson said about Creston firefighting history. “Two of them were dedicated to the railroad. We are part of the town’s rich railroad history.”

The early 1870s was historic for fire calls. The Great Chicago Fire started on Oct. 8, 1871. The fire took about 300 lives, destroyed 17,450 buildings over 3.5 square miles and caused $200 million in damage.

“Even in 1873, that was still on everyone’s mind,” Jackson said. According to Creston Fire Department history, an early staff member of the department was in Chicago during the fire and lost his property. He moved to Creston.

Creston’s first fire engine was purchased in February 1874. A new engine house valued at $6,000 opened in 1902. The engines, which were a hose wagon and hook and ladder truck, were all horse drawn. On-duty firefighters and law enforcement were housed on the second floor.

The first motor-operated fire truck was in 1916. The Creston Chamber of Commerce purchased a 1928 International truck with a 1,000 gallon tank from its owner Clint Walters and it was donated to the city for the fire department. The 1916 truck was replaced in 1949. Department history noted an annual parade only of the fire department and its equipment. Jackson said he does not know when the last parade was held.

Jackson said vehicle and equipment replacement have shown the history, and technology, of fire fighting.

Jackson added a new truck, expected to arrive next spring, will replace a truck purchased by former chief Roger Nurenberg.

“That one was delivered when I took over as chief,” he said.

Jackson added, when he started the department had a limited number of airpacks, portable oxygen tanks firefighters used when working inside a structure. The department now has more packs. Thermal-imaging cameras, which detect heat, have also been added to the used tools.

Devices used to extract people from damaged cars have changed.

“The jaws of life have been designed to perform better because of the new steels used in vehicles because it’s harder to cut through,” he said. And rather than rely on hydraulic powered devices, those tools are battery powered.

Jackson said because of the size of Creston’s fire department, it has been called for assistance by other neighboring towns.

“We are such a small department but have a larger territory,” he said. “We have things from grain bin recoveries, confined spaces, ice, we’ve done them all,” he said.

Creston’s ladder truck has been called on by Greenfield, Lenox and Clearfield because those towns’ departments don’t have one.

“We have resources other don’t have. There is so much we have to know about,” he said of other areas.

The department has 20 total staff members and use that equipment for a rate of 800 calls a year. A majority of the calls are medical related.

“I remember when we were under 600 calls,” Jackson said.

Among all the calls over the years, Jackson said some of them will always be remembered.

The tornado that did heavy damage in 2012 in north Creston was the first one he referred.

“That was big,” he said.

There were only a few injuries as a tornado hit April 14. Weather warnings started at about 3 p.m. A tornado formed about one and a half miles east of Cromwell at 6:55 p.m. and tracked into northwest Creston.

Damage occurred at Greater Regional Medical Center and the Southwestern Community College campus at 7 p.m., as well as neighboring residences along Townline Street. Many cars were flipped or destroyed.

Jackson said Creston’s recovery of man trapped in a grain bin received some national attention through a news feature magazine.

“The man was cleaning the big and he was maybe 10 feet below grade (below the surface of the ground) and a pocket of corn collapsed and he went down with it,” Jackson said. “We only had a small opening to get him out and it took a few hours to get him out. He survived.”

Jackson said, sometimes it’s what appears to be typical calls that are more memorable to the victims because of the fire department’s response.

He recalled a story of a house in the country on fire. Jackson said the house had been added onto over the years and the sources of fire were within pockets of space between the additions.

“The family didn’t know the house was on fire until someone drove by and noticed,” he said.

The fire department responded in time to also ask the family were the valuables and sentimental items were so they can be saved while putting out the flames.

“They feared they were going to lose the house,” he said. “That was one of those rare situations because of the spaces in the additions.”

Jackson said during his time on the department the number of fire-related deaths have been few. But the emotions behind some calls are much greater.

“There have been vehicle accidents and house fires of people you personally know,” Jackson said. “Knowing the people makes it tough on all responders. Fortunately, there are ways to cope.”

A Creston Fire Department tradition has been hanging an American flag in front of the station on Sept. 11, in honor of the tragic events on Sept. 11, 2001, that included the deaths of 300 plus New York City firefighters. More firefighters have died since the incident because of the illnesses caused by responding.

“Today we have some people who don’t know about 9-11 because they were not born,” Jackson said.

John Van Nostrand


An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.