Tulsa Time Warp: 1897 fire

The second alarm company responds to a fire at the Ritz Hotel at 108 ½ N. Main St. in 1955. The Fox Hotel signage is still visible along North Main Street in today’s Tulsa Arts District.

In December 1897, just weeks before Tulsa became an incorporated town in Indian Territory, a fire erupted on Main Street destroying the eastern half of the business district.

With no water system in the early town and only a well nearby, citizens strategized a way to keep their structures safe. A pump and hose were attached to the well, fire alarms would be signaled by numerous gunshots, and the response would be the duty of all.

After nearly three years of this rag-tag effort, a group of townsmen gathered in 1900 at Bynum’s General Store to establish a department of trained volunteers to ensure organized responses to fire alarms. The store was owned by then-Mayor R. N. Bynum, great-great-grandfather of current Mayor G. T. Bynum.

The department quickly strengthened, first paying the firefighters in 1905, and becoming the first department west of the Mississippi to have fully motorized transportation in 1913.

By 1927, the Tulsa Fire Department was rated among the best in the nation by the National Board of Fire Underwriters with an average loss well below the national average.

Today, the department operates 30 fire stations protecting approximately 400,000 Tulsans.

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