Still going strong after 125 years

Bayport F.D. marks anniversary during Derby Days

BAYPORT — In addition to the traditional Derby Days events Saturday, the Bayport Fire Department celebrates its 125th anniversary in Lakeside Park.

“The folks who put on Derby Days have allowed us to celebrate with them, which just goes to show you what a great community we have,” said Bayport Fire Chief Mark Swenson said.

The Bayport F.D. has come a long way in more than a century, according to BFD Capt. Jake Eisinger, who has researched the department’s history in anticipation of the anniversary.

The fire department has grown from bucket brigades organized to put out sawmill fires to a department that now covers Bayport, Oak Park Heights, Baytown Township and West Lakeland Township.

“(The 125th anniversary) is a really good thing. Bayport is continuing to grow and we’re staying solid. When Bayport helps us celebrate our 125th, we hope that those that don’t know us can learn about what we stand for and who we are,” Swenson said.
“(The 125th anniversary) brings a lot of pride to current and former members of the department. As we’ve been preparing for the 125th we’ve done as much research as possible including finding 110 year old ledgers to try and create a list of everyone who’s been employed at the fire department,” Eisinger said. “We’ve found 174 names so far and there’s lots of common names and family history, which is pretty cool.”

Other historical facts Eisinger has found during his research revealed many things about how the BFD changed over the years.

“Obviously the services have changed. With personnel, we started as a bucket brigade working in the sawmills in Bayport and when a fire would break out they’d all rush to the site dragging hoses however many blocks they needed,” Eisinger said. “In 1921, after using a pull cart for some time, the department finally got it’s first motorized truck and would use it to carry the hoses. We continued to have motorized vehicles through the 20s, 30s and 40s. Then we bought our first engine model.”

He added that fighting fires is more efficient today as safety improvements and better equipment help make the department more reliable.

One mystery Eisinger could not solve is when the department began providing fire protection to the other areas under its jurisdiction.

“This is still something that I’m trying to find out. The members of the East City Fire Line took care of Lake Elmo, but didn’t really go past Manning (Avenue) which resulted in the fire department need. Oak Park Heights wanted to start looking at buying equipment in the 50s, but it was too expensive, so that might be when it all started,” he said.

Despite the changes, one thing has remained the same throughout department’s history.

“We’re all essentially paid on-call volunteer firefighters, which is something you don’t usually find in Minnesota, especially in a department as old as ours. It’s hard to believe. Most departments we have in the state have administrators and full-time workers,” Eisinger said.

The fire department anniversary will be celebrated in Lakeside Park from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. in conjuction with Derby Days.

The department will showcase fire trucks from a variety of eras and a piece of equipment from North Saint Paul will show children the importance of staying low to see through smoke and get out of a fire safely.

“The equipment that will be featured at the celebration have been donated from private owners as well as other cities. The oldest one we have is from 1886 up through the Oakdale Fire Department’s 2012 new engine they procured so people can see the changes in the engines through the years. We’ll have 37 apparatuses total,” Eisinger said.

The celebration also includes food, a DJ with music and fire fighting and extraction demonstrations.

Traditional Derby Days events also take place throughout the day in Bayport and include breakfast at the Hesley Jensen American Legion Post No. 491, the popular Duck Derby in Perro Creek, medallion hunt, Pet Parade, Taste of Bayport, an ice cream social and fireworks. A full schedule of the day’s events can be found at

Contact Avery Cropp at [email protected]