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A History of the Toledo Fire Department

(From John M. Killits, ed. (S.J. Clarke Publishing Co.: Chicago, 1923, pp. 307-313)

The first movement toward providing fire protection for the City of Toledo was made on May 29, 1837, when the council appointed a committee to ascertain the cost of two fire engines. Sometime that summer, two engines of the old hand-power type were purchased from a Mr. Platt, of Buffalo, New York, for S1,909.50. In September, Hoisington & Manning were employed to erect two engine houses - No. 1 on Cherry Street, not far from Summit, and No. 2 at some suitable point in the western part of the city. House No. 1 cost the city $68.00 and No. 2 cost $13.00. On November 27, 1827, the council passed a resolution to the effect that whenever forty or more citizens should form themselves into a fire company, such company should be placed in possession of an engine, hose, hose cart, hooks and ladders, etc. The resolution also provided that the companies should be designated by numbers: the first company formed to be No. 1, the second, No. 2, and so on.

On December 11, 1837, an ordinance regulating the fire department was passed by the council. Among other things, this ordinance provided that "Every owner or occupant of a building shall keep good fire buckets, made of leather, as follows: For a building with one or two fireplaces or stoves, one bucket; for buildings with more than two fireplaces or stoves, one bucket for every two such; the buckets to hold three gallons each." The ordinance also provided for the appointment of fire wardens - one for each of the three wards - and on December 29th, James M. Whitney, Worden N. Richardson, and Daniel Segur were appointed.

Engine Company No. 1 was organized late in the year 1837, but its records, if any were kept, seem to have disappeared. In looking through the old newspaper files, the first mention found of a No. 2 company is on November 21, 1838, when Joseph B. Gardner, Secretary, gives notice of a meeting of the "Davy Crockett Fire Engine and Hose Company No. 2." to be held on the first day of December, "at the Engine House." In February of 1839, J. W. B. Hyatt, Second Assistant Foreman, issued a call for a meeting of the same company. It would no doubt be interesting to know the names of these early volunteer fire companies, but the writer has been unable to find them.

At a meeting of the council on November 30. 1840, Edward Bissell was elected Chief Fire Engineer; Richard Mott, First Assistant; Walter Titus, Second Assistant; and Junius Flagg, Peter H. Shaw, and William Hoskins, Fire Wardens for the three wards, respectively. At the same session, a resolution to organize two hook and ladder companies was adopted and the engineer was directed “to procure two fire hooks and two ladders of sufficient length and strength for the purpose for which they are intended.”

By this time, the interest and enthusiasm of the volunteer fire department seems to have waned, for on February 8, 1841, the council instructed the committee of the fire department "to ascertain whether any fire companies do in fact exist at this time, and report upon the expediency of disbanding the same." The committee reported that the companies nominally in existence were inactive and a reorganization of the department was recommended. On the 22nd of the same month, C. W. Hill; W. N. Richardson; and C. G. Shaw were authorized to organize a company, "to be known as Fire Engine and Hose Company No. 1, to be the successor of Engine Company No. 1, which is hereby disbanded." Two days later the company was organized with the following members: Edson Allen, Aldrice A. Belknap, C. H. Bentley, Leverett Bissell, S. S. Blanchard, Charles Border, Manly Bostwick, S. H. Bradford, George P. Clark, Henry Clark, H. G. Cozzens, Joel W. Crane, Samuel Eddy, W. H. Elder, A. W. Fairbanks, Junius Flagg, J. J. Fullerton, Elijah S. Hanks, C. W. Hill, Joseph Jones, Valentine H. Ketcham, R. N. Lawton, T. N. Mount, B. P. Peckham, W. H. Raymond, John Ream, George Redding, George H. Rich, W. N. Richardson, Erastus Roys, Daniel Segur, Cornelius G. Shaw, Thomas Southard, and and Walter Titus, Jr.

J. J. Fullerton was elected Foreman; Cornelius G. Shaw, First Assistant; Leverett Bissell, Aecond Assistant; Erastus Roys, Secretary; and William R. Raymond, Treasurer. Engine House No. 1 was remodeled and improved and the company was placed in possession. For some time, this was the only fire company in the city. Better discipline prevailed after the reorganization and the company proved to be more of a success in fire fighting than those which had preceded it. A No. 2 company was organized in the spring of 1842, but the names of the members cannot now be learned. On May 3, 1842, the council passed a resolution directing the chief of the department (David Crane) to "organize a hook and ladder company and superintend the erection of a house for the same, located on Summit Street, between Adams and Cherry streets, for which he shall receive compensation at the rate of $1.50 per day."

Mr. Crane delegated the work of building the house to his first assistant, Mayor Brigham (his name was Mayor), and the structure was completed sometime in July. The city now had two engine companies and a hook and ladder company, as well equipped as those in most cities of Toledo's size. During the next five years, considerable progress was made by the department. A third company had been organized and on September 24, 1847, the council passed an ordinance providing for the purchase "of a portion of lot No. 161, Port Lawrence division, and the erection thereon of an engine house, the cost of which shall not exceed $2,500." This house, when completed, was occupied by the No. 3 Engine and Hose Company.

Under the ordinance of March 20, 1848, the Toledo Fire Department began to put on style," as the following extracts will show:

"The mayor and aldermen, acting as such at fires, to bear a staff, painted white, with a gilded flame at the top; the chief engineer a leather cap. painted white, with gilded combs, and having a fire engine and the words 'Chief Engineer' in gilt in front, and carrying a black speaking trumpet with the same words in white and a gold rim; the assistants to wear white leather caps, with black combs, gilded front, and the words 'Engine No_' in black: . . . Fire wardens to wear hats with black rim, the crown and front white, with the word 'Warden' in black, and carry trumpets; foremen to wear black leather caps, with white fronts and the words 'Foreman No._' in black; foremen of hook and ladder companies to have a hook and ladder in black on their caps."

The ordinance provided that all persons present at fires should be subject to the orders of the mayor and aldermen, fire wardens or other officers, and made liable to arrest and a fine of $5.00 for refusing to obey such orders. Members of fire companies were required to meet at their respective houses on the first of each month for the purpose of exercise and for cleaning the apparatus. A premium of $10.00 was provided for the company which should first arrive at a fire with its apparatus ready for use, and S5.00 for each company arriving in ten minutes thereafter. The several companies were required to meet in joint convention in March of each year and nominate a chief engineer and two assistants, to be submitted to the council for confirmation. Sextons of churches provided with bells were required to ring the same for a period of twenty minutes, immediately upon an alarm of fire. Failure to do so was punishable by a fine of $2.00.

One might reach the conclusion that, with all the "pomp and circumstance" of white staffs, gilded caps and speaking trumpets, the Toledo fire department was more of a parade than a utility. But there were many earnest, conscientious members of the several engine companies, whose foremost ambition was to render effective service at fires. Among these may be mentioned Junius Flagg, B. P. Peckham, Coleman I. Keeler, Richard Mott, Peter F. Berdan, Cornelius G. Shaw, Valentine H. Ketcham, Mayor Brigham, Peter H. Shaw, E. B. Brown and a number of others, who were or afterward became prominent in the business circles of Toledo.

By the ordinance of June 14, 1851, the council directed that the foremen of Engine Companies No. 1 and No. 2, and Hook and Ladder Company No. 1, should each procure a key to the Episcopal Church and keep the same in the houses of said companies. In case of fire, any member of either company was authorized to open the church and ring the bell "until relieved by the sexton of the church, or until the bell of the Catholic Church shall begin to ring." To stimulate watchfulness, it was provided that the company whose member should be the first at the church and the first to ring the hell should receive a premium of $2.00, which the company might give to the member by vote.

In 1852, Fire Company No. 4 was organized. As most of its members were Germans, it was named the "Germania Fire Company." On October 27, 1853, the council passed an ordinance providing for the purchase of an engine for this company. At the same meeting, an appropriation of $1,000 was made for the purchase of new hose, "provided no commission shall be charged or received by the chief engineer for the purchase of the same.

The decade between 1853 and 1863 witnessed several important improvements in the fire department. Two new companies and two companies of fire guards were organized, and the city spent considerable sums for new engine houses and equipment. In 1861, a new house was erected for Engine Company No. 1, on Cherry Street between Superior and Huron streets. Connected with this house there is a little incident, which contains both romance and pathos. William P. Scott, who was very much interested in the new engine house, enlisted as first lieutenant of Company K, Twenty-fifth Ohio Volunteer Infantry. When the building was completed, a picture of it, with the company; engine; and hose cart in front, was taken and sent to Lieutenant Scott at Cheat Mountain, Virginia, where he received it in August of 1861. He carried the picture with him during the remainder of his service and upon his return used to tell how homesick he would get when he looked at it. Lieutenant Scott, after the war, served for thirty-three years upon the Toledo police force. He died in 1898 and his daughter, Mrs. Nellie Young, had the picture enlarged and framed for her parlor.

The annual report of Robert Cummings, Chief Fire Engineer, in March, 1863, says: "There have been during the last year 22 fires, involving a loss of S285,000, which was covered by insurance to the amount of S131,000, making a total loss over insurance of $154,000. Of this loss, $225,000 occurred at the burning of the Michigan Southern Elevators. The above returns of loss are as accurate as could be obtained.

"There are now connected with the fire department, two steam engines, three hand engines and one hook and ladder company, with their hose carriages and carts - all in good order with the exception of the hose carts, which are now being made. At the close of my term of office, I wish again to mention the importance of having cisterns built at various points through the city for fire purposes. It is also important to have a coal cart to run to fires, to carry coal to the two steamers. The city should own the cart and make arrangements with a drayman to haul it to fires."

At the time this report was made, the Civil War was at its height and little attention was paid to local affairs such as building fire cisterns. In 1866, Toledo had a population of 20,000 and was advanced to the rank of a city of the first class. The old volunteer department was then superseded by a paid department, with the exception of the engine companies in the Fifth and Sixth wards, which were also placed upon a paid basis in 1868. In the early history of the department, when the old hand engines were used, these engines were drawn by hand to the scene of the fire. With the pumps properly manned, one of these machines would throw a stream from 250 to 300 feet through an inch and a quarter nozzle. After the introduction of steam fire engines, arrangements were made with some owner of a team of horses to draw the engine to fires. This plan was abandoned when the department went upon a paid basis, the city then purchasing horses for the several fire companies. With the invention and improvement of the automobile, motor-driven fire apparatus came into use and the horses were discarded.

Under the charter of 1913, the fire department is under the Director of Public Safety, the chief of the fire division having exclusive control of the stationing and transfer of firemen. He may suspend a fireman, though the suspended member of the department may appeal to the civil service commission, whose decision shall be final. At the beginning of the year 1922, Toledo's fire department numbered 411 men. There were then eighteen fire stations, or engine houses, fully equipped with modern firefighting apparatus, and an electric alarm system with 234 signal boxes, so located that no part of the city is without fire protection.