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A History of our Local SPAAMFAA Chapter

The national SPAAMFAA organization began in Syracuse, NY in 1958. Early chapters were concentrated in the East. By 1970, the first quarterly “SPAAMFAA NEWSLETTER” emerged, evolving into “ENJINE! ENJINE!” by 1974. Professional typesetting and color pictures followed. By the time we in Colorado got on board, SPAAMFAA was well-respected and rapidly growing in the US and Canada.

In the Denver area, a small group of fire buffs became aware of SPAAMFAA even without formal advertising from Syracuse. Before 1980, there were just a few locals interested in fire rigs. John Bergquist, a longtime fire buff and antique dealer, recalls a 1975 meeting with Jim Jordan Jr. and others to form a viable chapter of SPAAMFAA. However, nothing lasting came of that effort. In early 1980, Bergquist tried again by sending postcards to potentially interested individuals and volunteer companies, announcing an organizational meeting on February 3 in Loveland. That chapter, with Bergquist as president, encountered problems and experienced long gaps without meetings or activities. However, those early members managed to craft a set of by-laws.

In 1983, apparatus collector Pete Van Huysen attempted to establish a SPAAMFAA chapter in Parker, creating confusion about the chapter’s leadership. Bergquist clarified the situation to the national office, providing a current list of members and officers, including:

A New Master Event Is Created

In March 1985, Kevin Sweeney of Aurora and Bart Thorpe of Littleton reorganized and revitalized the chapter, which has operated without interruption since then. They gathered interested people at West Adams County Station 4. Thorpe became president, and Sweeney, who had just bought his first rig, considered making it the chapter’s focal point. However, other members had their own rigs to work on or were looking to buy one. Despite this, the chapter continued.

The club found lasting focus in 1986 with a fire apparatus muster at Schomp’s South Broadway campus in Littleton, thanks to Jim Biner and Ralph Schomp’s enthusiasm. The first muster was dampened by rain, so the following year, a two-day event was planned in July. A parade from a shopping center along Littleton Blvd to Schomp’s lot became a highlight, with Schomp’s covering costs. However, the two-day format proved too much, so it settled into a one-day event in July, featuring a fund-raising raffle supporting various charities.

By the fourth year, staging space was expanded to Arapahoe Community College. At its peak in 1992 or 1993, over 100 rigs participated, coming from all across the front range. The muster included a variety of competitive events, food vendors, and crowd-pleasers like mock auto crash extrications and a Flight for Life Helicopter landing.

At its peak in 1992 or 1993, over 100 rigs participated in the Muster, coming from all across the front range.

Mile High Hook and Ladder Is Born

Key figures included chapter presidents Bart Thorpe, Kevin Sweeney, and others, with members like Garry Aranda as the perennial Muster Chairman. Many contributed to the chapter’s success, such as Rich Curtsinger, Buzz McEldowney, and others.

In 1995, Kevin Sweeney was president, succeeded by Mike Barth in 1999, Les Benoit from 2000-2002, and others. The chapter hosted mini-musters and joint shows with the Denver Firefighters Museum. Parades were frequent, including the annual St. Pat’s parade until 2001 when costs became prohibitive.

The chapter also enjoyed pump-ins at various parks, a Christmas party tradition hosted by Nat and Kathy Fay until 2001, and the monthly newsletter “THE ROTO RAY,” edited by Ray Bowman. The chapter eventually adopted the name “Mile High Hook and Ladder” in 2003.

Regular meetings are held monthly, often at firehouses or the Denver Firefighters Museum. A memorial award in honor of Dave Dollarhide was established, with recipients including Jim Biner and Kevin Sweeney. The chapter’s membership remains steady, with new members joining through word of mouth and public events. Our club represents an interest as old as America, and we plan to continue for many years to come.