After World War II, the city and the surrounding area grew. In 1947, the old fire station was torn down and a new station built on the same spot, with more room downstairs for equipment and a meeting room upstairs. The 22” fire alarm bell was taken down and replaced with an air raid siren. The bell was stored for many years and was later located at the second fire station site on the corner of Bridge Street and Firehouse Road.
In midyear 1954, fire consumed the Rex Theatre (immediately adjacent to the west wall of United Lumber’s present location on Bridge St.). Police officer Everett Dean discovered smoke coming from the building and turned in the alarm at 4:30 a.m. Dean roused theatre manager Selby Doty, his wife and baby from their apartment on the second floor, but they had no time to save anything of value. Bernard Prostman suffered a broken heel fighting the fire, and Wayne Kendall was overcome by smoke. The theatre building was 34 years old. The accumulation of smoke and heat was so great in the building that a backdraft occurred when firemen broke through the windows. The explosion like effect shot flames most of the way across the street. Loss on the Rex Theatre was estimated at $250,000. The absence of wind, plus the help of four fire departments, saved the United Lumber Company Store next door, as well as other places of business.
Another large fire occurred on July 25, 1955, involving the Wire Building. The building, located on the southwest corner of Bridge and Main, was built in 1887. The fire reportedly started in the closet in one of the apartments about 7:30 a.m. on Monday morning. The building had been used during the previous 15 years to house businesses and apartments. D. F. Carmichael, foremost area pioneer, originally built the large building to house a large hall upstairs for meetings, dances, and theatre. The building was later sold to James A. Wire. Wire sold the building in 1946 to F. A. Erienborn of Denver for $50,000. The fire damage was so great that the American Red Cross proclaimed it a disaster.
Businesses that occupied the building at the time of the fire were Sharp Jewelry, Skelgas Appliances, Brighton Federal Savings and Loan Association, Austin Dry Goods, Brighton Beauty Spot, Merrill Reality, veterinarian offices of Dr. John Timmig, and Dr. Robert G. Scott, David Sarvas Law Offices, Walts Barber Shop, Blaise J. Jacobucci Law Offices, Brighton Grocery and Market, L.C. Fulenwider Reality, and Covert’s Café. There were twelve - second and third story apartments destroyed by the fire as well.
In 1961, The City of Brighton determined it could no longer support fire protection outside its boundaries. Rural residents later formed a Rural Fire District to provide protection. The Rural District took in approximately 196 square miles, one of the largest in Colorado. The Rural District entered into a contract with the City of Brighton to purchase fire protection on a cost-sharing basis.
A third major fire occurred in Brighton on Oct. 23, 1966. Flames destroyed half of a city block on the east side of the unit block of North Main adjacent to Strong Street. The $500,000.00 fire destroyed the Walls Clothing Store and the large Nitske Building that housed several stores on the corner of North Main and Strong Street. The fire was discovered at 11:20 a.m. on a Sunday morning by Mary Ellen Kilker; a receptionist for Dr. Fujisaki who went to the office to complete some records. She found the whole upstairs filled with smoke. Luckily, the records of Dr. Fujisaki, and Dick Butz were saved. Destroyed by the flames were Walls Shoe Store, Dempsey’s Barber Shop, Butz Insurance Agency, Mumford Real Estate Agency, Ladies Toggery, Walls Clothing and Sporting Goods, and the second floor offices of Dr. Charles Fujisaki and Dr. Kenneth Urehara. Nitske later rebuilt the modern building now on the same site as Wall Clothing Store (now occupied by The Salvation Army) and the Ladies Toggery.
Over the next 10 years few fires occurred, some tragic and some not. With change and growth came more traffic to the city and the surrounding area. The number of calls increased with the addition of auto and aircraft accidents. This was an early growing period for the fire department with the addition of Station 2 located at 5 Firehouse Road (just west of East Gate Mobile Park on Bridge Street) in the fall of 1972. The station was expanded in 1978; doubling the truck capacity and enough space for truck maintenance.
On the night of Dec. 7, 1978 the fire department was called to an explosion and fire at the Kitayama Greenhouses on Weld County Road 4. A high-pressure fuel ‘”feeder pipe” broke filling the boiler room with combustible fumes, causing the explosion and ensuing fire. The call was received about 10:20 p.m. The temperature was nearing 20 below zero and the winds were in the range of 20 miles per hour, a wind chill factor of nearly 50 below zero. The fire destroyed the equivalent of one square city block of greenhouses. Before the night was over, assistance from South Adams, Fort Lupton, Hudson, and Dacona Fire Departments were needed to contain the fire. Total losses were estimated at between $2 and $5 million dollars. The last truck cleared the initial call at about 8:00 am the following morning.
In 1980, the City Council of Brighton and Rural District Board entered into a joint process evaluating the working agreement between the two entities. In a joint agreement, the two entities established the present Fire Protection District, a special district under Statutory Law within the state. As a self-reliant District, the need for full time personnel quickly developed. Positions in administration, fire prevention, and maintenance were added within the first two or three years of the District’s existence.
During the next seven years few major fires occurred; mostly weed fires and a good snowstorm or two. During the storms, Fire Station 2 became a lodging house for stranded motorists. Then in May 1985 a fire occurred at the Tagawa Greenhouses northeast of Brighton. The call came in at 12:00 p.m. The temperature was about 85 degrees (as opposed to the Kitayama fire with temperatures of 20 degrees below 0). It took four fire departments (Brighton, Fort Lupton, Hudson, and South Adams County), approximately 50 firefighters, 16 pieces of fire equipment, and 2 ambulances over four hours to control the fire. Thick black smoke could be seen as far away as Aurora. A barn, some propane tanks, and a few pieces of farm equipment along with a third of the greenhouses were lost in the fire. The fire was thought to have been started by a welder’s torch. Losses were estimated to be around $2.5 million.
This report is part of an occasional series on the history of firefighting in Brighton.