Protecting, Predicting, and Preparing: A Look Back at How Blue Earth County Prepared for Disasters.

Harris Burkhalter and Danelle Erickson
Issue Date: 
Summer 2014

This article focuses on the history of fire departments, weather observers, and fallout shelters throughout Blue Earth County.  Many fire departments were started as a reaction to a large fire in the community. The Mankato Fire Department started in 1860 and in 1894, a Gamewell Fire Alarm System was installed and they added a chemical tank. In 1914 and 1916, Mankato added its first two motorized vehicles and customized them to fight fires. Since then, major advances have been made in firefighting technology and the Mankato Fire Department has kept up each step of the way.

For over 100 years, local weather observers have been predicting the weather. John Pihale officially became a weather observer in 1920, something he had been doing as a hobby since 1902. Each day he would record the temperatures, weather patterns and moisture. Pihale would receive calls from local people each day, wanting him to predict the weather. He answered about 150 calls per day into the 1950s. In 1961, Warren Heisler became the official weather observer in Mankato and held that position until 1984. He added measuring river water levels to this position. Although he didn’t get paid, Heisler did receive some compensation from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Mankato Free Press for his efforts.

Throughout the Cold War era, fallout shelters were encouraged by leaders. They were to be fully stocked with food and water for two weeks in case of a nuclear war. They were mainly located in schools and other government buildings and by 1967, Blue Earth County had 11,213 licensed fallout shelters, more than any in the area. By 1980, most of these shelters were emptied of their supplies. After 1989, when the Cold War ended, the shelters were all but abandoned. Many were demolished or remodeled and used as recreation centers.

Key Word Search Terms: 
Fallout shelters, Disasters, Fires, Weather,