In the early years of Glacier National Park, the fire management strategy was to look at the sky and hope for rain.
Not a good plan for the national park that historically has the most fires per year, Terry Peterson noted recently.
Peterson, the Park’s citizen science coordinator, and Jack Polzin, historic preservation specialist, put together a comprehensive history of West Glacier’s Fire Hose Tower for Waterton-Glacier Science and History Day last week.
Peterson explained that in 1916, when the National Park Service was created, fire suppression depended on congressional funds. Attracting people to the parks meant also increasing the fire risk with more campfires.
In the 1920s, management strategies were divided between fire suppression and prescribed light burning. Lookout cabins were built and telephone line was strung in 1922, and the NPS had an appropriation of $25,000 to fight fires, Peterson said.
In 1926, Glacier had funds and new technology to fight fires, with $38,000 and the first use of the “advanced” Pulaskis - which are still in use today. A Pulaski is a cross between a hoe and an ax, that is used by crews to fight fires. Glacier also bought horse-drawn pumps like those used in Canada, but this meant that barns and corrals had to be set up next to the fire equipment in headquarters, with pasture and water nearby.
The devastating Halfmoon Fire of 1929 resulted in the implementation of the first fire lookouts in the park, and automobiles that could be “safely driven 50 miles per hour” were used to carry tools.
Back in the 1920s, though, firefighters had to dry their hoses by stringing them over all the buildings in headquarters, Peterson noted. The hoses strung over sharp edges would crack, and in cooler periods they took days to dry.
Thus, the West Glacier Fire Hose Tower was born. The Civilian Conservation Corps built the tower in 1933 and 1934.
One person walks down a ramp and enters the tower through a door, while another climbs the wall using a ladder. The lower person puts a hose on a pulley system and the upper person pulls it over pipes until each length of hose is draped on the pipes to dry.
The most unique building in headquarters, it’s on the national register of historic places, Peterson said. And it’s still used to dry hoses used in today’s fire suppression efforts.