As with all new towns that began to sprout up in America’s frontier in the mid 1800’s, Sioux City found itself in need of organized volunteer fire companies. The first volunteer fire companies in Sioux City began to form in 1858, shortly after the city became incorporated. These first companies were organized by concerned shop and home owners and had no financial support from the city, as it had very little tax revenue to work with. Their equipment was little more then strategically placed water tanks with several buckets at the ready; bucket brigade’s fought the early fires of Sioux City as they did in most mid-west towns of this era. However, these early volunteers fought for better equipment and by 1874 Sioux City had purchased one horse drawn steam fire engine, one horse drawn hook & ladder truck and two hose carts that were hand drawn by the volunteers whose numbers had grown to 22. The horses were owned by the firemen because the city did not have the money for both the equipment and the horses. It wasn’t until 1881 that the city began to purchase horse teams for use by the fire department.
In 1884, Sioux City lost it's first fireman due to injuries he received on a fire and lost another just one year later. Then on January 12, 1888, the city suffered its worst fire up to date. The Martin Block fire, as it came to be known, destroyed an entire city block, and as the fire occurred during a harsh winter night with temperatures dipping down to -32 degrees Fahrenheit, it was a very difficult fire for the firemen to fight. Thirty-six of the forty volunteer firemen who responded received frostbite injuries.
It was the recent deaths of volunteer firemen and the Martin Block fire that drove the city's council and mayor to adopt a budget that would allow for a paid fire department. And in 1888, the city began to pay its firemen and had twenty-five on the payroll by the end of that year.
Sioux City’s fire fighters were always a foreword looking, progressive bunch and by 1915 they were looking to better their lives and the services that they provided to the people of Sioux City. They decided to organize a union and had set a date to hold their first meeting for January 12, 1916. However, due to a large church fire that day, the first meeting was held on January 19th. It was decided at this meeting that they needed to promote better wages and working conditions for the firemen of the city.
The first regular meeting was held in the Labor Temple on February 3, 1916 at which time they became affiliated with the Sioux City Trades and Labor Assembly. The Association was very instrumental in getting the two platoon work system adopted in 1918. Up until this time most departments hired just enough men to man the fire stations, requiring them to stay on duty 24 hours a day for five to six days at a time with only one or two days off a week.
As early as May 6, 1917 our members were farsighted enough to realize the tremendous advantages of having an international group representing paid permanent members of fire departments. They wrote letters to other departments and urged the formation of such an organization. When the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) was organized on February 28, 1918 the Sioux City fire fighters were charter members and became IAFF Local No. 7. Local 7 members then helped to form the Iowa Association of Fire Fighters in 1923.
In the early 1930’s dissention arose among the members of the Local, a drop in membership occurred, followed by an attempt to organize a rival group. The dissention lasted only a few years and by 1940 the union had regained 100% membership among the fire fighters and has remained so to this day.
Today, Local 7 not only helps protect the lives and livelihood of its members, but also helps care for others through local charities such as St. Florian Burn Foundation, Muscular Dystrophy Association, Goodwill Industries, and many more.
Below is a video produced by the International Association of Fire Fighters celebrating 90 years of national representation.