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Thu, Feb 06, 2020

Firefighters & Diamond Encrusted Belts

Flashback to the 1880s when local volunteer fire departments showed off their skills and speed in the name of community pride and winning a diamond-encrusted belt.

Throughout the 1880s, new and veteran volunteer departments went head-to-head in organized competitions to see who could be the “first to the fire”. Starting out as a literal race to put out large fires in town, the competitions became organized community events in 1881.

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The competition was held annually in nearby cities like Santa Cruz, Watsonville, and San Jose. The prize after towering ladders, saving citizens, and dousing out fires as a team? A very snazzy “diamond belt." Made of silver and encrusted with sparkling diamonds, it was a flashy symbol firefighters brought back to their towns with beaming pride. Complete with an engraving depicting the rescue of a victim by a heroic firefighter.

In 1886, firefighters gathered for the final competition. Taking home the belt for the last time was the Pajaro Hose Company. The Pajaro Hose Company later joined with several other companies to form the Watsonville Fire Department, who still owns the belt with pride.

More information can be found online at:

More Than 100 Years of Service: A Brief History of the Santa Cruz Fire Department

By Jerry Ochoa.

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