The Beginning A Big Fire in 1883 caused the organization of the first volunteer Fire Company which was named Billings Fire Brigade. Their equipment consisted of buckets and axes.
Water had to be hauled to town in wagons from the Yellowstone River. Each householder and storekeeper was encouraged to keep a barrel of water handy with a bucket so that incipient fires could be put out before they had a chance to make headway. After the 1883 completion of the Big Ditch, water was brought into town by open ditches, one of which flowed along Montana Avenue.
In 1886, after fire razed an entire block of buildings for the second time in as many years, the Yellowstone Hook and Ladder Company was founded. A large bell was also purchased with which to sound fire alarms. Prior to this, firing three gunshots into the air was the method used to sound fire alarms.
Yellowstone Hook and Ladder Company functioned until around July 1888, when it angrily disbanded after the mayor criticized them for the way they had fought a livery-stable fire. The fire bell was donated to Washington School. Billings was left vulnerable and without a fire department for almost six months.