CHAPTER XIX.

THE FIRE DEPARTMENT.

THERE was no regularly organized force for extinguishing fires in Grand Rapids until about 1848. The citizens of the village had not been awakened to the necessity of a fire department organization. The place had until then been visited by very few fires, and those in detached and not very valuable buildings. Not until 1846 was there even a small hand engine of the tub pattern in the village. In that year a little hand engine of home manufacture, made by William Peaslee, was tried, with eight or ten men at the brakes, on Monroe Street, and threw a stream of water over Irving Hall, a three-story brick building. The village bought one and contracted for an engine house to cost $60.

Three fire companies were partly organized as early as 1844, or at least an effort was made to organize them, under the names of Bucket Company and Hook and Ladder Companies, Nos. 1 and 2. They were but temporary makeshifts. Their stock of buckets and hooks and ladders did not amount to a very large equipment. When a blaze occurred the implements were generally used by the men nearest at hand and aroused by the cry of fire. This sort of volunteer service was about the only reliance at fires until 1849.

In the fall of 1849, Alert Fire Company, No. 1, was organized, with the following members: Charles H. Taylor, Solomon O. Kingsbury, Wright L. Coffinberry, John Clancy, William D. Roberts, Daniel McConnell, Frank N. Godfroy, William H. Almy, Thomas W. Parry, Wilder D. Foster, Ira S. Hatch, Benjamin Haxton, George H. White, William Clancy, Harvey K. Rose, James W. Sligh, T. S. Rock, Justin M. Stanly, William N. Cook, George C. Fitch, John C. Buchanan, Charles Trompe, William B. Renwick, M. Sparlen, Robert Wheeler, Samuel F. Perkins, Robert M. Collins, Jacob Barns, and C. W. McKenzie. Charles H. Taylor was Foreman of the company.

The same season was organized Protection Fire Company, No. 2, with Dudley Handley as Foreman; Darwin B. Lyon and Daniel Devendorf, Assistants; S. Y. Sterling, Secretary. Members: James N. Davis, Eugene E. Winsor, Alfred A. Tracy, Gray Martindale, T. H. Penney, Ed. Lyon, John H. Withey, John H. Slack, Charles McConnell, J. A. Smith, James F. Sargeant, Thomas Sargeant, James Lochlin, and Charles F. Moore.

Hook and Ladder, No. 1, Foreman, C. B. White, was organized January 15, 1850. The Assistant Foreman was David Burnett. Members: William I. Blakely, Robert Hilton, William H. Dickinson, Pliny Smith, Benjamin Luce, G. Byron Morton, Harry H. Ives, Aldridge W. Pelton, Godfrey Gill and Isaac H. Nicholas.

A hand engine, brought from Rochester at a cost of $675, with some voluntary subscriptions added, was tried and approved December 17, 1849, whereupon the Enquirer in its next issue remarked: "The new fire engine has arrived, been tried, approved and lodged in the school house on Prospect Hill, where may it long stay in undisturbed rest. The village now has two engines; one to throw water a considerable distance, another a less distance; like a wise man who had two holes in the door, one for the big cat and another for the kitten." The first work of this engine, in charge of Alert Company, No. 1, was at a fire, January 2, 1850, in the residence part of the store of Ransom C. Luce. The fire was stayed without much damage, and the newspaper that day said: "What it did this morning has more than paid twice the cost of the machine." It was said of this machine that it would throw five barrels of water a minute over the highest buildings on Monroe street, a very fair performance for an engine worked entirely by hand.

February 25, 1850, Wolverine Fire Company, No. 3, was organized. This was a West Side Company, a reorganization of the partly formed "Cataract No. 3." Among its original members were: Henry G. Stone, Joseph Penney, Jr., Leonard Covell, Silas Hall, Wilson Jones, William A. Hyde, Baker Borden, William K. Wheeler, and Loren M. Page. Foreman, Silas Hall; Assistants, Wilson Jones and Baker Borden. Secretary, Joseph Penney, Jr. In July, William A. Hyde was chosen Secretary, after him in succession, E. P. Camp and Elias Hall. Wilson Jones was chosen Foreman in August, 1850, and was succeeded in 1853 by Silas Hall, and he in turn by James D. Robinson, in 1854. In 1857, Elisha O. Stevens was Foreman.

In 1850, under the old organization, Ira S. hatch was Chief Engineer, with Wilson Jones as Assistant, of the Fire Department; also, in 1852, with William K. Wheeler, Assistant. Mr. Hatch held this position several terms prior to the reorganization in 1859. In 1854 Charles H. Taylor was Chief and Byron D. Ball was Assistant. The Wolverine Company was maintained with enthusiasm, and was very efficient in service under the old regime.

In the report of proceedings of the Common Council, September 15, 1853, appears this item, among accounts audited: "G. W. Thayer, for rent of one-half engine house in Kent, $13; C. H. Carroll, do. t'other half, $13."

On the first of January, 1854, the entire force of the Department consisted of seventy-three active members in the three companies. They had in all but 250 feet of hose. The Chief suggested the procuring of fifty or seventy-five leather buckets; but his advice was not followed.

A hose company called Young America No. 1, was organized in February, 1859. Foreman, Adrian Yates; Assistant, O. C. Bush; Secretary, A. H. Fowle; Treasurer, G. Collier. It was not kept up very long, but, "the boys" while together showed much gallantry and spirit.

Under the revised city charter of 1857, by an ordinance passed July 30, 1859, the Fire Department was reorganized, and this was the foundation upon which the present efficient and excellent service was built. The ordinance prescribed the duties of the officers and men, also the manner of electing officers by the Department and by the companies. It further made provision for annual reviews, also for the storage and care of the fire apparatus, and instituted regulations concerning the official insignia and caps and badges of the firemen. Minute details of the Fire Department reorganization in all its divisions and changes need not be here given. The earlier and initial movements are those which are of the greater interest.

Under the present charter provisions, the control and manipulation of the Fire Department are in the hands of the Board of Police and Fire Commissioners, which has the keeping and custody of all engine-houses, engines and other property pertaining to the service. It is invested with the care and control of the Fire Department, and with power to reorganize and maintain it, and prescribe all rules and regulations for its government. The Commissioners are required to appoint "one Chief Engineer, as many Assistant Engineers as may be deemed necessary, and Fire Wardens not to exceed one in each ward." They are also empowered to appoint fireman, hook and ladder men, and other members of the service, the appointees holding their places during the pleasure of the board. The title of Chief Engineer was changed in 1883 to that of Fire Marshal, through a form of language by which the Board appoint a Chief Engineer "to be known and designated as Fire Marshal," the statute remaining as before.

THE OLD HAND ENGINE.

Probably not one-half the city people present day know what kind of a machine the hand fire engine was. For the benefit of their children and children's children, thousands of whom will no doubt read this book, it may be well to give a description of it, though necessarily brief and imperfect. The first fire engine used in Grand Rapids, popularly called "the tub," was built by William Peaselee in 1846. It was a box about five and six feet long, two and a half feet wide and about fifteen inches deep, and set upon four wheels perhaps thirty inches in diameter. In the bottom of the box was a force pump, with no suction attachment leading outside. It was fed by water brought and poured into it by the "bucket brigade." On either side, attached to the pump handles was a brake of sufficient length for four men to work. From the pump was a short line of hose and a nozzle attached. In case of fire this little machine was hastily dragged to the spot by men with ropes. These were volunteers, there being then no organized force for the extinguishment of fires. "Man the brakes!" would be the order. Men would take their posts, and simultaneously the men with buckets would bring water from the nearest supply and pour it into the tub; then the work would begin, usually in the presence of many spectators gather about "to see the thing squirt." Small as it was it did good service at numerous fires. Next came a larger machine by the same builder, provided with double force pump and suction hose; also arranged to throw two streams at once. Sixteen men could work at this, but the suction was not strong enough to bring water from much distance below and at the same time do good execution. In 1849 a still better machine was procured from Rochester, as already state, and about 1855 two more, and heavier ones, were purchased. Until 1865 these hand engines of the box pattern were the only ones at command for fighting fire. Being well manned by the organized companies already spoken of, they performed good service for those days. They were always drawn by men instead of horses.

STEAM FIRE ENGINES.

The first use of steam in working fire engines was made in London in 1830. In 1841 a heavy and cumbrous steam fire engine was put to use in New York City. The first really practical steam machine was built in Cincinnati in 1853. This also was very heavy, weighing upward of twelve tons. It was not until six or seven years later that these steam engines were so improved as to begin to come into general use in cities. Detroit procured one in 1860. It is a fact which at the present day seems singular in that in February, 1865, twenty-two prominent citizens and business men sent to the Common Council a formal protest against taxing the city to procure a steam fire engine. The first one in Grand Rapids arrived March 19, 1865. Its cost, exclusive of freight charges, was $5,600. It was called the David Caswell, in honor of a former Chief Engineer. Thomas Gibbons and George R. Pierce were its engineers.

This engine had public test trials March 22, 1865, on Bridge and Monroe streets, with sixty pounds pressure, and gave great satisfaction in its performance. It was placed in Engine House No. 2, which was then that at the corner of Kent street and Crescent avenue. Its first arduous service appears to have been at the burning out of a chimney, April 7, when it went up to Lagrave street and back. The second steam fire engine was purchased at Seneca Falls, N.Y., in the spring of 1868, and was of the same class with the first one. (The maker of both was H. C. Silsby, of Seneca Falls.) This was named Louis Campau. It was tested May 29, in Monroe street, and with suction from a reservoir at the corner of Monroe and Ottawa streets, threw a stream nearly eighty feet high at Division street. These two were made to suffice for several years. Another and larger one was purchased in 1872. It was called Valley City. In 1873 two chemical fire extinguishers were purchased and added to the apparatus of the Department. In 1875 the electric bell fire system was established. For this use, in 1878, a large bell was procured and hung temporarily in a wooden tower erected for the purpose near the corner of Pearl and Ottawa streets. The bell was removed to the City Hall upon the completion of that building. Another bell for this use is at Engine House No. 3, corner of Front and Second streets. Each engine House is also provided with a gong which sounds the alarm simultaneously with these bells.

THE PRESENT STATUS.

The Fire Department property in 1888 included eight engine houses and lots, four steamers, two chemical engines, eight hose carts and wagons, two hook and ladder trucks, thirty-seven horses, 16,750 feet of hose, fifty-nine alarm boxes, fifty-one miles of telegraph wire, eleven gongs, eleven call bells, two large and four smaller bells, and one repeater and attachment, which, with the miscellaneous property of the Department, were estimated to be worth about $130,000.

The Grand Rapids Fire Department is undoubtedly second to none in the country, as now constituted, in the excellence of its system, the thoroughness of its discipline, and in its spirit and efficiency. It is one of the institutions of which the city may justly be proud; expensive perhaps, but worth vastly more than it costs, in its saving of life and property imperiled by fire.

THE ENGINE HOUSES.

Prior to 1855 no engine house was owned by the corporation. The village at first rented the Prospect Hill school house for storing the engine, and after that the city rented quarters for fire apparatus in the rear basement of a wood building where the Luce block is, also a place by the livery stable at the corner of Fountain and Ionia streets, and some other places. In the fall of 1854 a lot was purchased on the west corner at the junction of Monroe and Spring streets, and a brick engine house, the first of the sort, was built there the following season. Isaac Leonard was the contractor. That was Engine No. 1. The second engine house provided by the city, was on a lot now comprising the north end of the site of the present much enlarged building at the corner of Kent street and Crescent avenue. The next one was on a lot purchased in 1859 a little north of Bridge street on Scribner street. The early brick engine houses were considered good for their day, but have been superseded by much finer structures. The engine houses in 1888, the property of the city, are:

No. 1. Built in 1868 at 49 Lagrave street. A four wheeled hose carriage and a chemical engine are stationed there. Captains -- Richard Roberts, John Smith. Lieutenant -- Isaac Sonke.

No. 2. At 220 Barclay street, built in 1879. Has a rotary Silsby engine, and a hose carriage. Captain -- J. Anthon Brown. Lieutenant -- Fred N. Jennings.

No. 3. Corner Front and Second streets. A chemical engine, a hook and ladder truck, and a Button fire engine, a hook and ladder truck, and a Button fire engine are kept there. Capacity of engine -- 1,100 gallons per minute. Captains -- William Scott, Frank Lemon, Charles Berger. Lieutenant -- George Rowley, Charles Spencer.

No. 4. Corner Kent street and Crescent avenue; a fine house, rebuilt in 1876. Equipment -- four wheeled hose carriage and hook and ladder truck, with 300 feet of ladders. Captains -- David Walker, Archie McDougal. Lieutenant -- William Tuffts.

No. 5. Corner Canal and Leonard streets. Button engine, with capacity to throw 700 gallons per minute; four wheeled hose carriage. House built in 1879. Captain -- Truman Smith. Lieutenant -- Theodore E. Bellaire.

No. 6. Junction of Grandville and Ellsworth avenues. Erected in 1877. Hose cart, four wheeled, built by Charles E. Belknap. Captain -- Luke Kerwin. Lieutenant -- Thomas McNullen.

No. 7. Established at 348 Scribner street -- not fully equipped.

No. 8. Corner Jefferson and Veto streets. Built in 1883. First-class Silsby engine, with capacity of 6,000 gallons per minute. Four wheeled hose carriage, rebuilt by the Leitelt brothers. Captain -- W. B. Fitzpatrick. Lieutenant -- Edward Porter.

HEADS OF THE DEPARTMENT.

The following is a list of Heads of the Fire Department since its reorganization in 1859.

Term.

Chief Engineer.

First Assistant.

1860

Benj. B. Church

James Cavanaugh

1861

David Caswell

George H. White

1862

Abram A. Lawyer

William E. Grove

1863

Philip H. Edge

George R. Pierce

1864

George R. Pierce

Benj. A. Harlan

1865

Josiah M. Cook

Charles Hilton

1866

Josiah M. Cook

Elliot Judd

1867

William A. Hyde

James Paul

1868

William A. Hyde

Benj. F. Porter

1869-70

William A. Hyde

John Gezon

1871

William A. Hyde

Isaiah Peak

1872

William A. Hyde

Elisha O. Stevens

1873-75

Michael Shields

Anthony Hydorn

1876-79

Israel C. Smith

Charles E. Belknap

1880

*David L. Stiven (*January to September)

Charles R. Swain

1881-90

Henry Lemoin

Solon W. Baxter

Superintendents of Alarms --
Preston V. Merrifield, 1875-80; John W. Chase, 1881;
Henry C. Bettinghouse, 1882-89.

THE GALLANT FIREMEN.

The following is an alphabetically arranged list of the firemen, from the organization of the Board till August 30, 1888, with dates of appointment:

Addison, Wm.

1882

Adrien, Homer

1884

Baker, Eddie

1882

Beamer, Frederick

1883

Beebe, Charles W.

1886

Beekman, Henry

1884

Belknap, T. R.

1870

Bellair, T. E.

1881

Berger, Charles

1880

Bird, George

1882

Bissonette, Joseph

1884

Blake, John Jr.

1880

Bliss, Frank

1883

Bullis, Avery

1885

Butler, Thomas

1881

Byrne, James

1876

Callahan, A. E.

1881

Chase, John W.

1881

Chism, Chisholm

1882

Clark, Fred W.

1887

Collins, James

1882

Collins, Philip

1880

Collins, W.

1881

Conner, John H.

1881

Cooney, Charles

1883

Crissey, A. S.

1881

Cummings, Julius

1886

Cunningham, W. J.

1880

DeCells, Eugene

1883

Denny, Christopher

1887

DeWolf, A

1881

Dickerson, Charles

1887

Donahue, Thomas

1880

Downs, J.W.

1881

Eddy, James

1886

Emmer, A. J.

1880

Emmerson, Thos.

1884

Emmons, John

1881

Emmons, Oscar

1989

Engel, John V.

1880

Farwell, Peter

1886

Faulkner, James

1887

Fitzpatrick, Wm.

1880

Fortier, J. B.

1880

Foster, James

1882

From, Oliver

1871

Fryant, Wm.

1882

Fulkson, Wm.

1882

Garnet, James

1881

Gibbons, Thomas

1854

Goodrich, John

1887

Gorham, Edwin

1886

Groskopf, August

1885

Guild, Elliott

1882

Hall, E. F.

1873

Hamlin, M. J.

1881

Hammer, John

1885

Harriws, W. H.

1883

Hartson, Louis

1881

Hathaway, James

1882

Hawk, W. T.

1884

Hazeltine, Bert

1886

Hembling, S.

1881

Higgins, Patrick

1882

Hilton, Edward

1882

Horton, T. P.

1880

Howard, Charles

1884

Howell, Edward

1873

Howell, Ed. Jr.

1884

Howell, James

1873

Hubbard, Floyd

1886

Hum, Andrew B.

1882

Hydorn, George

1885

Inman, Wm.

1888

Jackman, W. J.

1884

Jenkins, John H., Jr.

1887

Jennings, Fred N.

1881

John, George F.

1887

Johnson, George

1888

Kean, Frank

1880

Keeler, Wm.

1888

Kelley, John

1888

Kennedy, John

1885

Kerwin, John

1884

Kerwin, Luke

1880

Kerwin, Mike

1880

Kirkwood, Thos. B.

1880

Kitts, Charles H.

1880

Kyle, Oliver

1883

Lamore, Charles

1884

Lamore, Dan

1883

Leach, Albert

1882

Lemon, Frank

1882

Lewis, George C.

1882

Lyons, W.

1882

McCall, Frank

1882

McCall, George

1883

McDermott, Wm.

1888

McDougal, Archie

1886

McGarry, Andrew

1882

McGuire, Michael

1887

McMullen, Thos.

1881

Maher, Michael

1887

Marks, John

1882

Marvin, H. B.

1877

Mason, John

1887

Matthews, Judson

1886

Medbury, Samuel

1886

Miller, Alex

1881

Miller, Joseph

1878

Mitchell, George F.

1876

Montgomery, Jas.

1884

Morgan, Hugh J.

1881

Murphy, Michael

1887

Neal, Albert

1887

Nerenhouse, John

1883

Newhouse, John

1883

Ormond, Wm. J.

1878

Osgood, Wm. L.

1874

Osgood, W. S.

1884

Parker, George

1875

Patterson, Thomas

1882

Petrie, Arthur

1888

Pierce, M. O.

1883

Porter, Edward

1887

Porter, Frank

1881

Prindle, Seth

1882

Putnam, R. K.

1872

Quinn, John

1880

Reed, Wm.

1883

Reetsburg, Isaac

1884

Renahan, John

1884

Richmond, A. J.

1875

Roberts, E. A.

1874

Roberts, George L.

1878

Roberts, Richard

1880

Rowley, George

1884

Sain, Clinton

1883

Schneider, E. L.

1885

Scott, Wm.

1887

Sergeant, Fred

1887

Seymour, Glen C.

1882

Shriver, Fred Jr.

1881

Smith, Alden

1882

Smith, Alf

1882

Smith, John Jr.

1880

Smith, Truman

1878

Smith, Walter

1882

Snyder, Henry

1882

Somers, William

1884

Sonke, Garret

1887

Sonke, Isaac

1885

Spencer, Charles

1881

Spoelstra, George

1888

Steiman, John

1885

Stevenson, Wm.

1887

Stewart, Wm.

1887

Stover, E.

1881

Swan, W. A.

1882

Swartz, John

1882

Sweet, Iremus W.

1882

Taylor, James B.

1885

Taylor, Thomas

1885

Thomas, C.

1882

Tracy, Frank

1882

Tryman, Robert

1880

Tucker, Harry

1876

Tuffts, Wm.

1882

Van Steinberg

1881

Wade, Mathew

1881

Walker, David

1881

Watterson, J. K.

1881

Williams, Wm. H.

1883

Winegar, Andrew

1887

Wise, Wm.

1880

Witters, Gilbert

1881

Worful, Charles

1885

Wykes, Newton

1880

Young, Wm. F.

1885

 

FIREMAN'S FUND ASSOCIATION.

The members of the Fire Department have an organization styled the Grand Rapids Firemen's Association, the object of which is the care and relief of such of their number as may be disabled through sickness or otherwise. It was incorporated under the law of the State relating to charitable societies, July 5, 1877. It has been a successful institution, and has in its treasury a fund of upward of $4,500. Its fund is kept up by the payment of initiation fees of $3 each, supplemented by quarterly dues of $1 from each member. The disbursements are made through a board of trustees, in such sums as and under such conditions as are provided for in the by-laws. They include, also, the burial expenses of deceased members within a given amount, and discretionary relief to families of deceased members. The first officers were: President, Warren C. Weatherly; Vice-President, W. W. Skinner; Secretary and Treasurer, F. W. Luce.

The present officers are: President, Thos. Taylor; Vice-President, William Tuffts; Secretary and Treasurer, Solon W. Baxter. Trustees: John Connors, James Faulkner, Fred N. Jennings, William Scott, George Rowley, Frank Lemon, Charles L. Howe, David Walker, Robert Smith, Michael Fitzpatrick, Charles N. Beebe.

HENRY LEMOIN, Fire Marshal of the city of Grand Rapids, was born January 28, 1844, in the township of Stow, Summit County, Ohio, and was the youngest of eleven children, who were left fatherless and penniless when he was but a year old. His educational advantages were those of the common district schools. Dependent from the first, mainly, upon his own exertions, to aid in the care and support of the family as well as himself, he worked on a farm from the age of twelve until he was twenty-two years old. Meanwhile, in 1861, the burning of the family residence, involving the total destruction of the building and goods, gave him his first experience in fighting fire. Afterward he learned the trade of carpenter and joiner. In 1868 he came to Grand Rapids, where for several years he continued work at his trade; after which he took a position in the employ of the well-known business house of Shriver, Weatherly & Co. of this city, as collector and shipping clerk. While at his trade, in 1873, he entered the fire service as part-pay Pipeman in No. 1 Hose Company. There he very soon had his abilities put to the test; taking an active part and serving with conspicuous gallantry at the great conflagration in July of that year, on East Bridge and Kent streets, under Chief Shields. Upon reorganization of the Department he was appointed Foreman of Steamer Company NO. 2, and served in this capacity until 1880, and on September 6 of that year was elected to the Common Council Chief Engineer of the Fire Department; which position he has since filled acceptably and with zeal and good judgment and discretion. Mr. Lemoin married, May 21, 1874, Harriet J. Findlay, of Ada, Michigan. They have four children, two sons and two daughters, named Roy, Bessie, Ray and Flossie. In his youth the major part of the expenses and care of his mother fell upon him, and to her ever kind and constant watchfulness and advice does he attribute what measure of success he has thus far attained in life. Mr. Lemoin became a member, in 1871, of Valley City Lodge, No. 86, of Free and Accepted Masons, and is still in that fellowship; also is a member of Valley City Council, No. 611, Royal Arcanum, of this city. The orderly and well disciplined condition of the Fire Department, its efficiency and its high standing among organizations of that kind, amply attest to the capabilities of Mr. Lemoin as a manager in the important and responsible position which he has held for nine years continuously and still holds at its head, and to his integrity and fidelity as a citizen and a public officer.

Document Source: Baxter, Albert, History of the City of Grand Rapids, New York and Grand Rapids: Munsell & Company, Publishers, 1891. (Name Index)
Location of Original: Various.
Transcribers: Jennifer Godwin

URL: http://kent.migenweb.net/baxter1891/19fire.html
Created: 3 October 2001[an error occurred while processing this directive]