The early history of the Yuma Fire Department reads more like a chapter of fiction than real facts. Up until the year 1897, the village of Yuma was without a means to fight fire. The citizens were called to the scene of a fire by the firing of the well-known six-shooter into the air two or three times, which sometimes worked and more often did not alarm anyone for the simple reason that it was a familiar sound in the populace. Being without fire hose of any kind, a bucket brigade would be formed and the fire put out in that manner, if and when possible.
Sometime in 1898 a hose cart with 250 feet of hose was brought to the village. It is believed that large companies, such as the railroad, provided their own fire brigades. Pictorial accounts show the Southern Pacific Railroad Hose Company #1. Personnel organized, trained and in a small way, provided Yuma with some form of fire protection, but early photographs only portray these hose companies drilling or in parades.
The abilities of this fledgling hose company went unrecorded, if not untested, until August of 1899. At 3 am on August 30 the Gandolfo building on the corner of Second and Main Streets, occupied by the Sanguinetti and Gandolfo General Merchandise Store, caught on fire. This building was among the few, if not the only, two story structures in town. Hose carts were brought to play upon the flames but were ineffective in reaching the seat of the fire on the second floor. As the fire spread on the second floor, citizens helped with the removal of merchandise from the lower floor. Disaster struck when the top floor collapsed, trapping five men in the burning building. The victims were identified as Jerry Tapia, Refugio Riveras, father of six, and City Councilman Harry Neahr and Julian Preciado (who was to be married later that same day). Richard Wilson was rescued from the burning building but later succumbed to his injuries.
Yuma's Sentinel Newspaper caught the mood of the town when the editor wrote, "a pall is cast over the city. Flags fly at half-mast and all business has been suspended."
Shock and the realization of the need for ladders capable of extending high enough to fight a second story blaze soon brought action. At the city council meeting of September 15, 1899, the decision was made to order ladders, helmets and protective clothing for the volunteer firemen. Two months later, the council decided a special volunteer company was needed to handle the ladders.
Based upon the recording of these as facts on January 25, 1900, Hook and Ladder and Chemical Company No. 1 of the Yuma Volunteer Fire Department was organized.