Department History

Boise’s first fire department—comprised of 28 volunteers—was organized on Jan. 24, 1876. Engine Company 1 and Hook and Ladder Company 1 were housed in the converted George Washington Stilz blacksmith shop at 619 Main St., a one-story wood building which, ironically, burned down on Sept. 23, 1883. It was replaced by a temporary fire station in another nearby blacksmith shop.

A new two-story, two-bay structure—built on the original firehouse site—was dedicated on Dec. 15, 1883. It was known as the “City Hall Station”, as an office on the second floor housed Boise City Hall.

Photo from around 1912. 2 story brick building with bell tower featuring horse-pulled fire wagons.
Central Station

On Sept. 1, 1903, the City Hall Station was replaced by the Central Station, built on the corner of Sixth and Idaho streets. The Central Station building still stands although it has not been a firehouse for many years.

The volunteer-based department served the city until 1902, when the mayor and city council established a paid, professional fire department. The new fire department was comprised of one part-time chief, two part-time assistant chiefs, three drivers, one assistant driver, one engineer, one hoseman and pay-per-call stokers and firefighters. Clearly, Boise was a very different town at the start of the 20th Century than it is today.

In addition to the Central Fire Station (which boasted the use of horses starting in July 1902) the department also operated the Idaho Street Station and the Resseguie Station. The mayor and city council upgraded the fire chief position to full-time status in September 1903 and hired EB Tage as the first full-time fire chief after part-time Chief Major Liddell turned the position down.

In 1912 the department gained 17 additional firefighters and two new stations: one at 16th and Front streets (Fire Station 5 today), and the McKinley and State Street Station (which was later relocated and became a private residence).

The economic struggles of the 1920s and ‘30s took a toll on the department. Firefighters faced pay cuts and reduced staffing, requiring the company to focus on fire prevention efforts such as educational programs and fire inspections (1932), implementing Fire Prevention Week (1935), and creating a fire inspector position (1938).

Boise’s population growth in the 1940s prompted a wave of modernization in the department. It built a new station at Kootenai Avenue and Federal Way, established a fire combat training program in 1951, radio system upgrades at the fire alarm dispatch office came in 1957 and the first state fire school was held in 1952.

These modernization efforts paid off: on Sept. 1, 1958, Boise Fire received an ISO rating of a class three fire department (the Insurance Service Office—or ISO—gives ratings from 10 to one, one being the best).

During the 1950s several major structure fires transformed Boise. The Sonna Building, Tennyson Transfer/Storage, HB Eastman mansion, Mode Department Store, Gem State Wholesale Drug and Sprouse-Rietz Variety Store all burned down.

The department’s expansion continued into the 1960s when a sixth fire station was built on Liberty Street (1964). Concurrently, a three-platoon schedule was established, staffing increased to 107 firefighters and the department’s call volume exceeded 1,000 alarms for the first time. After taking over Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) at Boise Air Terminal in 1965, Boise Fire built a new station at the airport in 1966.

The department was divided into five divisions: Administration, Fire Prevention, Combat, and Training and Alarm/Maintenance. Staffing increased yet again after the department acquired a station on Overland Road (Fire Station 8) from the Whitney Rural Fire District; by the end of the decade the department employed 139 people.

In the 1970s the department continued to grow. Fourteen pieces of equipment or vehicles were purchased between 1972 and 1977 and Fire Station 3 was relocated to Gekeler Lane in December 1978.

The Idaho Legislature passed the One Percent Tax Reduction Initiative in 1978, which reduced the department’s budget by 14 percent and forced layoffs and demotions in 1979. The Idaho State Firefighter Collective Bargaining Act was passed in 1979, and the City of Boise then recognized—and bargained with—the local firefighter union.

Boise’s population reached 102,000 in the early 1980s, and the city suffered over $1 million in fire damages per year for several years. In 1982 alone damages exceeded $2.46 million due to an arson spree. Department positions that had been eliminated in the One Percent Initiative were reinstated as staffing needs grew.

On April 1, 1984 the Fire Alarm Dispatch office was closed and the Ada County Sheriff’s Office assumed the duty of dispatching fire calls. By 1989, Boise Fire responded to more than 7,000 calls annually.

The 1990s saw a flurry of new construction for the department. In March 1991, Fire Station 6 relocated to a new station on Franklin Road, and the Training Division moved into the old firehouse on Liberty Street. The number of stations grew to 13 when Station 10 was built on McMillan Road in 1994. Boise Fire acquired the Cole/Collister Fire District on Emerald Street in 1996, and Fire Station 12 was built in 1998.

On Nov. 1, 2000, Boise Fire entered into a service contract with Whitney Fire District, making all Whitney firefighters City of Boise employees. Two firehouses were renumbered as Fire Station 21 (on Overland Road) and Fire Station 22 (on Amity Road).

On Jan. 23, 2006, the department launched Advanced Life Support Engine Companies, staffing Engine 22 and Engine 8 with firefighter/paramedics. Companies from Fire Station 21 were relocated to the newly-opened Fire Station 14 on Five Mile Road in 2007.

The department grew yet again in 2009 when, on Dec. 31, it entered into a Joint Powers Agreement with North Ada County Fire and Rescue (NACFR) and all NACFR staff became City of Boise employees. Three firehouses were renumbered (Fire Station 16 on Glenwood Avenue, Fire Station 18 on Chinden Boulevard, and Fire Station 20 in Hidden Springs), although the NACFR District continues to own the buildings and apparatus. NACFR Fire Commissioners and the Boise Fire Administration work together on strategic planning for the district.

Due to the economic downturn of the late 2000s/early 2010s, Fire Station 18 was closed on Oct. 1, 2010.

In February of 2019, Boise Fire Department entered into a Joint Powers Agreement for Sunset Fire Protection District.

Currently the Boise Fire Department has 288 full-time employees, 17 fire stations, a hazardous materials team, ARFF team, dive team and a technical rescue team. The department serves a population of 225,000 residents within approximately 130 square miles.

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