SWEETWATER COUNTY– Many of the changes in firefighting tactics and history which occurred in Rock Springs also took place in Green River.
“The Green River Fire Department was organized in 1893,” Department Chief Mike Nomis said, “and received $50 per (yearly) quarter for operating costs.
For Green River’s first 30 years the town marshal was also street commissioner and fire warden. Fire Chiefs for the Department can be traced back to 1905. Since that time, the Department has had 11 Chiefs with service terms ranging from one year to 30 years.”
Currently, the GR Fire Department consists of three fulltime personnel and 33 volunteers, Nomis continued.
The GRFD’s Duties
The Department’s primary responsibility is the city of Green River, although GR firemen also provide protection to the Jamestown-Rio Vista Water District and to western Sweetwater County.
“The Green River Fire Department responds to approximately 350 calls per year,” Nomis said.
“We provide a wide range of services which include fire suppression, medical assists, fire prevention education in the schools and community, flag presentation by our Honor Guard, extrication, high/low angle rescue, swift water/ice rescue, confined space rescue, hazardous response capabilities and various community service requests and needs to the citizens of Green River, Jamestown and the western half of Sweetwater County.
“We have two certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians who work with vehicle child safety restraint installation instruction and inspection.
“We also participate in fund raisers in the community which include Make a Wish with the High School and fund raisers with Smith’s,” Nomis continued.
“We are also a big part of the Battle of the Badges blood drive [with the Sweetwater County sheriff’s department, Rock Springs personnel, ambulance service and other entities] along with supporting events that occur within the county.”
The History of Green River’s Major Fires
Brigida (Brie) Blasi, Executive Director of the Sweetwater County Museum, provided information about several large Green River fires.
The Morris Mercantile building fire occurred on March 30, 1917. The edifice had been built in 1891 by brothers Edward and Robert Morris, twin sons of Esther Hobart Morris, sometimes called the Mother of Women’s Suffrage in Wyoming.
The Morris brothers had just sold the building to the Green River Mercantile Company when it burned in a fire caused by a defective furnace. Great care was taken in opening the bank vault located in the building lest it self-combust upon opening.
Some of the bricks of the mercantile building were salvaged by Father Henry Schillinger, the local Catholic priest, who used the material to help construct a rectory for himself. He had been living in the basement of his church.
Then there was the Lincoln School fire during the early morning hours of Oct. 16, 1940.
In a history of the Green River schools by Mrs. Charles Viox, “…the fire alarm was turned in by Mrs. Allen Kemp who heard the bells ringing caused by the fire melting the electric wires which supply current to the bells. This caused a short and set the bells to ringing.
All of the building except for the gymnasium burned. This was a sad day not only for the faculty but also for the scholars…The estimated loss was $155,000, $135,000 to the building and $20,000 to the equipment.
Insurance covered $100,000 of the building loss and $9,000 on the equipment and work shop.”
Fire departments from Green River, Rock Springs, and the Union Pacific fought the Lincoln School blaze, along with dozens of volunteers from the local Civilian Conservation Corps.
The Fire of September 17, 1952
The next major blaze occurred on Sept. 17, 1952, when a fire swept through a business block on the south side of the railroad tracks, destroying the Owl Club, Rancho Café, South Side Rooms and the Up-To-Date Grocery store.
The fire started when paint fumes from spraying equipment used by workmen painting the interior of the South Side rooms ignited into flames. Green River and Union Pacific firefighters responded to the blaze.
The fire could have been worse but for some new firefighting equipment used by the Union Pacific crew. Following this fire, a citizen’s committee was formed to locate better equipment and a new organization for the Green River Fire Department.
Teton Café Fire
The most recent major fire in Green River occurred on Halloween night in 1987 when the old wooden frame building housing the closed Teton Café burned down, along with damage to adjacent property.
A new restaurant was built on the site a year later, called, appropriately, the Embers.
Green River Fire Chiefs
- James Moriarity 1905-1921
- William Hutton 1921-1925
- Otto Jensen 1925-1927
- Kenneth Brown 1927
- Charles Ramsey 1927-1928
- Howard Moffitt 1928-1936
- Roy Cameron 1936-1965
- Glenn Hill 1965-1995
- Byron Stahla 1995-1999
- George Nomis 1999-2008
- Mike Kennedy 2008-2016
- Mike Nomis 2016-present
This is Part 3 of a four-part series on the history and evolution of local firefighting, with lots of historic photos courtesy of Rock Springs Historical Museum and Sweetwater County Historical Museum. Keep your eye out for the next installments. Check out part 2 of The Story of Local Firefighting.