Monday, January 17, 2011

Happy Birthday To The Fellows Down At The Fire Station

March 1967
  We don’t know how it almost slipped by us— but this is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Rochester Fire Department. I don’t suppose anyone bothered to send a birthday greeting card to the boys either. That’s what happens when you get old— there are few folks around to remember when you were born.
  It was 20 years ago that the community honored our firemen on their Golden Jubilee. In another five years we can plan another birthday blast for the Diamond Jubilee. In all of these 70 years, not much has changed on the department in the way of organization. It’s still a volunteer department. The chief is the only paid member. Volunteers, of course, receive some pay when they report to the scene of a fire.
  THE ROCHESTER FIRE Department is said to have come into being when the men of the village decided there should be one. On a fine spring Sunday morning they met at the St. James Hotel (now Frank Shepard Realty building at Main & University) and elected hotelman Jim Smith as chief. (History doesn’t reveal why the fellows weren’t in church that morning.)
  Their first fire fighting equipment consisted of two hose carts and a ladder wagon. The boys of the department pulled these by hand. By 1900, when Jay Lomason was appointed chief, the firemen were boasting a 16-man running team to pull the carts. It was a memorable moment for the citizens of the village when the day arrived that the water in the new water mains was first turned on with 75 pounds of pressure. The story goes that a few of the firemen, not used to working with such pressure, came up “wetter than drowned rats” when the hose used in the demonstration got out of hand.
  Various means were used over the years to send out fire alarms. Once there was a bell in the tower of the old knitting mill (now Higbie Manufacturing) and they had a steam siren in the old Detroit Urban Railway building. Later, fire alarm boxes were installed.
  FIREMEN IN THOSE DAYS were seemed to be more socially minded. The field days among fire departments were the most important events of the year for the village. The firefighters’ camping trips to Lakeville, Loon Lake and Tommy’s Lake were also memorable. In 1914 the men bought land at Tommy’s Lake where they camped each summer and built their own cottage. Their fishing successes resulted in serving up to 200 fish dinners to raise money for the department. As years went by, the cost of renting boats became so high and fish became so scarce they ended up buying their fish. But they made a tradition out of their fish dinners, combined with a gay masquerade party and keno games.
  Until 1923 they pulled their hose cart with their running team. Then came a new LaFrance pumper truck, a Dodge chemical truck in 1927, a Mack truck in 1943 and another Mack in 1945.
  Some of the biggest fires were the Parke-Davis conflagration in 1917, followed by a Masonic Temple fire. The Phillips and Jerome Ford service was hit in 1926. A year later, the Detroit Hotel burned to the ground as well as another landmark, the Barkham Mill building. The DUR car barns were listed as another colossal fire in their history.
  So today, say “Happy Birthday” to our firemen and “May All of Your Blazes Be Little Ones.“