Fire Buffs promote the general welfare of the fire and rescue service and protect its heritage and history. Famous Fire Buffs through the years include New York Fire Surgeon Harry Archer, Boston Pops Conductor Arthur Fiedler, New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and - legend has it - President George Washington.

Ready to roll from Springfield Fire Headquarters on North Fountain Avenue

Monday, May 23, 2005



It all started with a ``bucket brigade.''

An 1881 book entitled the ``The History of Clark County, Ohio'' - published by W.H. Beers & Co. of Chicago - discussed the development of the fire service in Springfield as well as other apsects of life in the community in the 19th century.

In the introduction to the book, the author - who signed the initials A.P.S. - waxed philosophical when he wrote:

Some one has said truly that " no history is complete until its successor has been written." This, then, may serve as a " datum-plane" from which to reach by comparison a more extended or more complete work in the future. That the great bulk of facts connected with the history of the county is here congregated for the first time, there can be no doubt; it must also be true that many important details are not here recorded, the reasons for their absence being obvious.

The actors in those early scenes have nearly all made their final exit, while of the few surviving, many are "sore with the infirmities of age" and the deeds of their youth are forgotten, or but dimly remembered; many of the private papers and family records have been either destroyed, lost, or are in the possession of descendants whose present whereabouts are not known.

Following are excerpts from that 1881 history:


Prior to 1834 or thereabouts, fires were fought and extinguished by just such means as the inhabitants of Springfield had at hand when required. About the time of the village incorporation, each citizen was required to get one, two or three leather buckets according to the amount of his property. Armed with these buckets the villagers would sally forth, when the church bell sounded the alarm, and, forming a line from the building to the nearest water, would pass full buckets to the fire and empty ones back until the building burned down or the fire was conquered. These buckets continue in use until 1840, after engines had been provided. About this time hand engine companies began to be formed. The members were exempted from certain duties by the law of the State, and were relieved from working the roads, so that no difficulty was found in filling each company's list. The first engine which made its appearance was one that had a big box or hopper attached into which the water was poured by the bucketful. A crank was then lustily turned by two men and the water was thrown out in a stream.

Utility Fire Company

The first fire company on record was the "Utility," organized in 1837. But few of the members of this company are now alive to give an account of its workings. It was the rival of the "Independent" company, and warmly engaged in the strifes that occurred between rival companies in those early days. It disbanded in 1853, having done good service in its time. The major part of its members joined the " Neptune" Company, which was shortly afterward organized. The engine was sold for old iron.

Independent Fire Company

The "Independent" Fire Company met for organization April 7, 1838, Charles Cavileer acting as Secretary pro tem. A constitution and by-laws were drafted and adopted and the company went at once into active operation. The old "Utility" Company was its rival. R. S. McKee was the first engineer Reuben Miller was the first Secretary. The company disbanded in 1853, most of the members going to the "Rover" Company, organized the year following. The company was composed of the best men in the town-men hardened to the work by daily labor.

Their apparatus went to the "Rover" Company with the exception of the engine, which was sent to Lagonda and a new one purchased for the Rovers.

Rover Fire Company

The Rover Company was organized early in 1854. It succeeded to all the fire apparatus of the Independent except the old engine, and a new one purchased for the Rovers. They occupied the building on West Main street known as "The Silver-Grey Engine House," later as the Western Engine House.

They were the rivals of the Neptunes, a company organized shortly after them, and their rivalry reached such a pitch that, on May 9, 1857, they refused to attend two fires because a Neptune man had been appointed their Captain by the City Council. They however attended one fire when the house of one of their members was endangered and succeeded in quelling the flames with a line of buckets and on this account were for a time called the Bucket Company.

At this time, 1857, they organized an independent company, purchased their own engine and other apparatus, built their own engine house on Center street, near Main, and flourished in spite of the opposition and persecutions of the Neptunes. They were befriended by some of the best men in the city and county, and made their influence felt in politics. They attended their last fire in 1873--Ferrell, Ludlow & Rodgers' manufactory. They still own their engine and apparatus, have a fund in bank and a membership of about sixty. The first officers were: President, A. R. Ludlow; Vice President, R. Coverdale; Treasurer, 7. L. Pettigrew: Secretary. E. P'. Stephenson; Assistant Secretary, W. R. Moore; Trustees, David Sparks, J. W. Deardorff, Joseph T. Anderson, Hezekiah Kershner and Thomas Kizer.

Neptune Fire Company

The Neptune Company was formed May 3, 1856.

Jerry Keinfelter was President, Daniel W. Wilson, foreman of the engine company, H. G. Snyder, foreman of the hose company, and Thomas P. Clarke, Secretary., From its inception, this company was the pet of the City Council. It comprised the finest young men of the city, principally clerks, etc. They had many bitter quarrels and fights with the Rover men, and finally carried their differences into politics, almost entirely controlling the muncipal elections for a number of years. They disbanded in 1860.

The quarrels between the Neptune and Rover Companies led to the organization of the Union. The Neptunes were the supposed protectors of property in the central part of the city, and, to avoid fights with the Rovers, would not likely go out of their bound-the Rovers were the supposed protectors of the property in the west end, and would not likely go out of their bound, thus leaving the east end uncared for. The Union Company was organized in 1856. in the room over No. 6-1 East Main street, for the protection of the east end. Daniel Huben, George Seibert, deceased. and W. H. Berger, deceased, were the prime movers. They entered their engine house on Spring street-now the station house in 1857, the year the Rover Company became independent. They first used the apparatus left by the Rovers, then, with the aid of the city in 1858, they purchased new apparatus, the old going to Lagonda. At one time the company contained 320 members. It was really two separate organizations-the engine company and the hose company.

The list of the first officers is as follows:

President, R. D. Harrison: Treasurer, D. V. Huben; Secretary, William Wilson. The company was largely composed of Irishmen and Germans. but contained some of the best men of the town, among them Judges Goode. White and Hunt, William and John Foos, John Baldwin, Saul Henkle and others. They attended all fires and are said to have been a most excellent company. Thev disbanded in 1867.

Silver Greys

When the Rovers became independent, their place was filled by forming a company composed mostly of elderly men, bearing the name Silver Greys. This company did not prove much of a success. No accurate information can be obtained concerning them. They were organized in 1857 or 1858, Dr. H. H. Seys being President and Captain. Owing to the number of old men in the company, it seemed to drag along without ever increasing much, either in members or interest. At one time when an alarm was given the men plodded to the scene of action and were kept working all night. Toward morning two men were detailed to keep up fires so the valves would not freeze. Just after daylight another alarm was sounded, and when the Captain got to the engine he found the fires out. valves frozen and men off tired or asleep. After that he resigned his office. The company disbanded in 1865 or 1866. The Sons of Malta took their fund of 8300 for distribution among the poor.

Early fire apparatus

These companies all used the old lever hand engines with long lines of rope. by which they were drawn. They were succeeded by the city's paid lire department, which was organized in 1866. A. R. Ludlow, the Chairman of the Council's Standing Committee on the Fire Department, was also the first chief engineer, and served a number of years in that capacity. In 1864, August 31. an ordinance was passed authorizing bonds to the amount of 812.000 to be issued to pay for steam fire engine, and for other purposes connected with the fire department. Chief Ludlow was succeeded by R. Q. Sing, and he by Chief J. C. Holloway, the present incumbent of the office.

They have all the modern appliances, including Gamewell's system of fire alarm telegraph, twenty-eight boxes througnout the city, two chemical engines, two steam heaters. by which the water in the boilers is kept continually hot. Three steam engines, Silsby's make, two Silsby's reels, 4,000 feet of hose, half leather and half rubber, ten trained horses and two hook and ladder traps. The engines are marvels of beauty, being entirely nickel plated, and kept continually bright and spotless. The harness hangs up over the positions of the horses, when at the engine an can be lowered to the horses backs, and by snapping two or three spring hooks fasten the engine to them in less time than it takes to tell it.

There are two large brick engine houses forty-one feet wide, by ninety feet long. The lower part serves as an engine house and stable, the upper part contains the sleeping appartments of the men, reading room, etc. One of them. the central, is on South Market street. It was built in 1876 at a cost of $18,000. The other. the western, is on Factory street, near the corner of Columbia; it was purchased by the city at a sacrifice, $8,000, and converted into an engine house.

There are twenty-three men employed in the department-three engineers at $70 per month, four double team drivers at $50, two single team drivers at $40, one tillerman for' hook and ladder truck at $40, and thirteen minute men at $100 per year.

(In his 1978 book ``From Buckets to Diesels,'' Fire Captain Calvin Roberds suggested some of the descriptions of the apparatus and equipment from the 1881 Beers history may have been exaggerated, based on his research of the early fire service.)

Box alarms

The following is a list of the signals used in the Gamewell Fire Alarm Telegraph System:

5 Warder street, at Buckeye shops.
6 The Western engine house.
7 Corner of High and Spring streets.
8 Central engine house.
9 Corner Lagonda avenue and Nelson street.
12 Corner Monroe and Spring streets.
13 Corner North and Limestone streets.
14 Corner Chestnut avenue and Limestone street.
15 Corner Main and Limestone streets.
16 Corner Ferncliff avenue and Market street.
17 Corner Main and Center streets.
18 Corner Center street and Obenchain alley.
21 At Spangenberger House. East Main street.
23 Corner Lagonda avenue and Main street
24 Corner York and High streets.
25 Corner Tavlor and Pleasant streets.
26 Corner Linden avenue and Clifton street.
27 Corner Pleasant and East streets.
28 Corner High street and East streets.
29 Corner High and Forrest avenue.
31 Corner Hizer and Limestone streets.
32 Corner Center and Pleasant streets.
34 Corner Factory and Washington streets.
35 Corner Mechanic and Pleasant streets.
41 Corner Yellow Springs and Pleasant streets.
42 Corner Yellow Springs and Main streets.
43 Corner Clifton avenue and Liberty street.
51 Corner North and Plum streets.
52 Carner Main and Light streets.
53 Corner Main and Isabella streets.
61 Champion Machine Company's shops, Monroe street..

Steam whistles will give for a fire signal, nine short and one long whistle.

Relief Association

The Firemen's Relief Association was formed on the 4th of January, 1875, for the benefit of sick and disabled firemen. Though weak in point of numbers, it is extremely strong financially. There were in the beginning seventeen men, they have been in existence as a society but five years, during which time they have paid out in benefits $250, and now numbering but sixteen men, they have a fund of $800. The following is a list of the first officers: W. H. Watters, President; T. B. Condron, Vice President; E. T. Ridenour, Secretary; R. Q. King, Treasurer. The present board of officers are: E. W. Simpson, President; T. J. Monahon, Vice President; W. H. Watters, Secretary; and R. Q. King, Treasurer. Their meetings are held in the office of the City Clerk.

Fire horses

In the beginning, firemen pulled their pumps, hose carts and ladders to a fire, hence the phrase ``Going on a run.''

Horses joined the ranks of the Springfield Fire Division in the mid-1800s and served until the early 20th century, when the fleet was fully motorized. Horses typically received better treatment than the men, and according to one estimate a well-trained fire horse cost more than the salaries of 10 firemen in most U.S. cities.

According to the Toledo Fire Museum:

With the introduction of heavier and more efficient steam pumpers and ladder trucks in the 1850's, horses became an integral part of urban fire departments. Then as now, speed was essential in fire fighting. Intricate systems were developed to hasten the harnessing of the fire horse teams. When an alarm sounded, stall doors were automatically opened and the horses were moved below their suspended harness. The harness, complete with hinged collars, was then dropped onto their backs and quickly secured by the driver. With a good crew, the entire operation could be completed in around two or three minutes. Fire horses were most always draft crosses selected for speed and strength.

In the book ``From Buckets to Diesels,'' Fire Captain Calvin Roberds wrote that most of the fire division's 27 horses were sold at auction in the autumn of 1916 with many of the younger and stronger animals purchased by city's that were still operating horse-drawn fire apparatus. Farmers purchased the others.

Two horses were kept on the roster, though, for Springfield's aerial ladder. They were sold in 1917.

Roberds wrote of the retired animals:

No one who owned a former fire horse would drive him into town where he would be close enough to an engine house to hear the sound of the alarm bell. The horses had been taken out for exercise twice daily while in the fire service and they pretty much knew the way to the engine house. Under those conditions someone was going to be taken for a ride.

Fire horses had their own prayer, according to the Toldeo Fire Museum.

Following is an excerpt:

I will pull the steamer or hose wagon without a murmur, and wait patiently for you long hours of the day or night as you save lives. Without the power to choose my shoes or path, I sometimes fall on hard pavement which I have often prayed might not be of wood or brick, but of such a nature as to give me safe and sure footing. Remember that I am ready at any moment to lose my life in your service, for I now am also firefighter.

Springfield, Ohio
Saturday, May 2, 1868

The Springfield Fire Department:

The fire department of this city comprises at present the following officers and members:

REA, Wm, engineer
WON, Cornelius, engine driver
THOMAS, Rob't, hose reel driver
Hosemen: SEIBERT, Wm.; RHODERICK, F.; WINEGARD, Captain; DALIE, James. Hook and Ladder driver: WATERS, Wm.
BUNDY, John, engineer
WALKER, Wm., engine driver
HAYES, Emory, hose reed driver
Hosemen: ARNETT, John; BOYD, J. Edwin; BETZOLD, Jacob; MYERS, Wm.
WATERS, Mr., [Wm] (as above), who assists the old company as the driver
KING, R.Q., foreman