Carson’s Warren Engine Co. tasked with new mission

Warren Engine Co. No. 1 Trustee Paul Webster in front of an 1847 handpump fire engine in the company’s museum on April 17.

Warren Engine Co. No. 1 Trustee Paul Webster in front of an 1847 handpump fire engine in the company’s museum on April 17.
Photo by Scott Neuffer.

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The way members of Carson City’s Warren Engine Co. No. 1 describe volunteer firefighting in the 19th century has something of a tragicomic aspect to it, how different fire companies in the nascent community of Carson City battled for “first water.”

“Back in the day, when there were three different entities, when there was a fire, they would fight, physically, to get first water on the fire,” said present-day Warren Engine Co. President Pete Baker.

Paul Webster, Warren Engine Co. past president and trustee, added that insurance money was at stake for those who performed “first water,” and this caused competing companies to hide cisterns from one another.

“They didn’t have hydrants then,” Webster said. “The guys would put a blanket over them (the cisterns) or bales of hay or something.”

As a result of this rivalry, buildings would burn down. In those days, without modern fire suppression, lots of buildings burned down. But the “Warren boys” were nonetheless lauded by the Carson Daily Appeal in 1864 as being part of a “gallant and efficient company.” Established one year earlier, the company had been named after a Revolutionary War general.

Members of the same company are preparing to celebrate 160 years on June 17. Their mission has changed over the years, from firefighting to protecting the history of firefighting. They now tend to the museum housed inside Carson City Fire Department Station No. 51 on South Stewart Street. The museum has an 1847 Hunneman handpump engine, several 19th century hose carts, two early 20th century motorized fire engines, and more equipment and sundries from a bygone era.

“We’re kind of in that transition,” said Jake Helget, grandson of Webster and a third-generation member of the volunteer company. “We’re going more from the actual active firefighting to the history of firefighting in this town and in the state.”

The June 17 celebration will be a private function, but members hope for more community involvement in the future. In the 20th century, the volunteer company provided fire protection for the city after other companies disbanded. Even after the Carson City Fire Department was created in the 1960s, the Warren Engine Co. responded to the call of duty alongside new career firefighters. In fact, Warren member Les Groth was appointed fire chief of the new department in 1964. Other past members of the company include U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei and Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong.

“We have people that were Warren Engine members and are now in the fire department,” said Baker. “In a way, our members are still fighting fires but not in a volunteer capacity.”

CCFD firefighter Scott O’Brien, who has been with the department for 19 years, recalled working with Warren firefighters before the company left the front lines.

“It’s extremely important,” he said of the company’s new mission. “A lot of history gets lost.”

In the museum, he said, one can see how fire apparatuses have changed.

“They still do the same thing but in a different way now,” he said.

“That’s the thing about this museum,” said Helget. “Everything in here still works.”

Helget pointed out the 1927 Seagrave engine in the museum never misses a Nevada Day parade. He said it was kept in service until the 1970s because “It was the only thing that would fit between the gates to get to the Capitol.”

The handpump engine is also used in community events, although it takes numerous people to move and operate. Webster said in the old days, company members took turns hand pumping during a fire to avoid exhaustion.

Nowadays, Warren members can support CCFD logistically if there is a major event, said Baker, but their main goal is to protect and share history.

“We’ve got new guys hired on, paid, and they want to learn the history, and they want to know where the roots of their career came from in Carson City,” said Baker.

For information about Warren Engine Co. No. 1, visit


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