An article written for the
Fire Museum Network's web site by David Lewis,
March 1, 1999
If this article is to be reproduced please credit
the Fire Museum Network AND the original
Fire Water!? - No, I'm not talking about
rural tanker operations, some new firefighting foam
compound, or even getting water out of the booster
tank. I'm talking about alcohol, liquor, beer, you
know - BOOZE!
One verse of a poem written in the 1850s about
the joys of being going to fires and being
associated with a fire companies states,
...and when the fire was mostly
and the smoke obscured the stars,
Some trump with open heart would treat,
to lager and cigars...
- from, "Runners Lament" by an
anonymous poet - 1854
While firemen have frequently been known to
enjoy a little libation after a fire, and some
legends say that they have even filled their boots
with beer to ward off frozen toes during cold
winter fires, who would have thought alcohol could
be used to extinguish more than your thirst?
click here to see
cartoon - Bad Hose Drives Men to Drink
In 1890 the Fabric Fire Hose Company published a
lighthearted booklet touting the benefits of the
company's new superior woven linen fire hose over
other older types of hose. The advertising piece is
filled with slogans and cartoons which try and
bring this point home to prospective fire chiefs.
One comic strip entitled Bad Hose Drives Men
to Drink shows a brewery in flames and no
water supply. Firemen draft from a beer vat, and
then end up drinking the "fire water" when the
inferior hose bursts. Little did the Fabric Fire
Hose Company know that fifteen years later beer
would in fact be used to quench a fire.
In the early 1900s, the rough and tumble frontier
town of Goldfield Nevada, had a population of about
2,000 and was served by a fledgling fire company.
Several shallow wells and a 12,000 gallon tank
supplied the town's water, yet an earlier fire
proved this was woefully inadequate. On July 8,
1905, a fire broke out and quickly spread to
I'll let Phillip Earl, Curator, Nevada Historical
Society finish telling the tale...
The fire began in the Bon Ton Millinery
on Columbia Street just after 5 p.m. The firemen
arrived moments later and began stretching lines
of hose from the hydrant, but found that they
had no water pressure. Householders in the
surrounding neighborhood, fearing that the blaze
would reach their homes, were filling every
bucket and tub they could find. By the time the
men got that situation under control, the flames
had spread to business houses from Ramsey Street
to Meyer Street and from Columbia to Crook, but
all was not lost. As the last trickle of water
from the tank dribbled out, Bert Ulmer of the
Little Hub Saloon arrived on the scene with two
large kegs of beer. When his bartender, Frank
Heaton, got there with a stock of blankets and
sheets, the pair set to work soaking the
materials in the golden liquid and nailing them
to the walls of various business houses, one of
which was the Enterprise Merchantile Co., a
stone structure, which they hoped to keep cool
enough to prevent the outbreak of fire inside.
Other volunteers got on the roof and laid down
beer-soaked tenting while another energetic crew
saved the Oxford Restaurant with buckets of the
Barkeepers who had never stood a round of drinks
in their entire lives were soon rolling out
dozens of full kegs and cases of unopened
bottles, the latter to be used by the firemen to
quench fire-induced thirsts or soothe parched,
cracked lips. The beer also worked well enough
to prevent the clothing of the men from catching
fire and dozens of beer-soaked Goldfielders were
soon sloshing around in the flames as billows of
acrid smoke wafted the reek of hops over the
The spread of the fire was checked within an
hour, but the stench of stale beer emanated from
cracks and crannies all over the downtown
section for weeks afterwards. Those men passing
by did not mind, however, taking deep,
appreciative whiffs, just as though it were the
finest Parisian perfume. For this was the beer
that saved Goldfield.
Excerpted from "Beer Saves
Town of Goldfield from Raging Fire."
Earl, Curator - Nevada
Lake Tahoe Bonanza, Wednesday Feb.
Fire Hose Drives Men to
from a advertising flyer printed in 1890
by the "The Fabric Fire Hose Co."
Brewery On Fire
Hose - Good Beer!