City Fire Department History, 1835-1941

Columbus Indiana


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Columbus Fire Department in 1941. The present members of the Department are pictured above, left to right: Seated--Capt. Carey Gates, Chief James D. Kailor, Capt. Alonzo Beckwith, of No. 2. Center Row--Albert Snyder, Harry Littrell, John Coovert, Joe St. John, A. G. Dahn. Back Row--Charles E. Miller, William Strong, Eret Kline, Cary Lawlis, Lawrence Sickmann and Henry Gibson


     And now that our country is facing the greatest emergency in its history--danger from within as well as from without--the firefighters of the nation have been called upon to do their part. Throughout the land--in state, in city, town, and in rural district--defense programs are under way and defense councils are being formed for the protection of lives and property in the event of sabotage or war. A great part of this work will be in connection with fire prevention and protection.

     Columbus firemen throughout the years have been noted for their patriotism, loyalty, courage, sacrifice and unselfish service to their community.

     They will uphold this tradition when additional when additional duties are imposed upon them under the present emergency. They will continue--and in large measure--to protect the lives and property of our citizens, and to defend and preserve the high ideals and institutions for which our forefathers fought and died. 

     Our firemen are our first line of defense.


History of Department

     Fire Department harks back to 1835, when the village became in incorporated town and a volunteer fire brigade was formed. It was not until 1852, however, that the city owned any actual firefighting equipment. Before that, the fighting was done with buckets, and the fighters not only volunteered their good offices, but furnished their own buckets.

     The first piece of equipment purchased in the decade before the Civil War was a two-wheel cart, which carried buckets and ladders, and was drawn by firemen by means of ropes.

     Equipment which used water under pressure did not come, of course, until the city water works was completed in 1871. The city council then provided for purchase of a hand-drawn hose reel. This was housed in a small building, hardly better than a shed, which stood on old Railroad Square, later Commercial Park, and now the site of the new Tabernacle Christian Church. The shed stood about where the church tower rises, except closer to 5th Street.

     Later the council bought two one-horse hose reels. These were kept in livery barns until the St. Denis fire in 1894 destroyed the Shea and Fahy barn to the rear of the Hotel. One of the hose reels and fire horses were in the barn at the time. The horse had been trained to take his place under the harness when the alarm sounded, and this he did. But the fire travelled so fast that the hose reel was destroyed before it could be removed, and the horse with it, standing steadfastly in place before it.

     It was this fire and the disastrous American Starch Company blaze in the next year which led the city to buy the ground next to the City Hall and erect No. 1 Fire House in 1895.

     The Fire Department was also reorganized in that year, with a chief, four paid firemen and twenty nine volunteers. Its equipment included a two-horse ladder wagon and two hose wagons, which were housed in the new fire station, together with the horses. It also had a two-wheel hose reel which a volunteer fireman kept in his barn in Orinoco. The volunteer used his own horse to this cart. In 1897, another horse was provided for one of the hose wagons at No. 1.


A picture of one of the first pieces of equipment purchased for the city's first fire department. This hand drawn hose reel was used in the city in the 1870's and 1880's. The City bought it in 1871 from the Silsby Manufacturing Company of Seneca Falls, New York, for $250, FOB. The reel was capable of holding 750 feet of three-ply, two and one-half inch rubber hose. A copy of the contract for the purchase, made June 7, 1871, is still in the City Archives. Delivery was to be made "on or before the 25th day of June, 1871, or as soon as possible."




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