FROG AND SWITCH - 1907
On April 23-24, 1907, flames consumed the Indianapolis Frog and Switch factory in Springfield, which was owned by Charles Warren Fairbanks, vice president of the United States in the administration of Theodore Roosevelt (1905 -1909) .
The factory, which covered more than two acres, was one of the few structures to survive the East Street Shops conflagration - the worst fire in Springfield's history - a few years earlier. Fairbanks had made a fortune as a railroad attorney.
Fairbanks' factory manufactured railroad switching equiment. A frog is ``a device on intersecting railroad tracks that permits wheels to cross the junction,'' according to the American Heritage Dictionary.
The story on the fire appeared on the front page of The New York Times:
``SPRINGFIELD, Ohio, Wednesday, April 24. - The Indianapolis Frog and Switch Works, owned by Vice President Fairbanks, was destroyed by fire last night. The loss was $250,000. The Kelley Road Roller Company and piano plate works are threatened.''
One of the city's newspapers, the Springfield Gazette, said ``a motorman of a passing car'' reported the fire to the Central Engine House by telephone at 10:45 p.m. on Nov. 23. The night watchman, named Wellington, also sounded the alarm from Box 163.
Within 15 minutes ``the entire roof was ablaze and a few minutes after it fell with a mighty crash,'' the Gazette reported.
Realizing the building was lost, Springfield Fire Chief Samuel Hunter ordered firefighters to prevent the flames from spreading, the Gazette reported. Hunter also sounded a general alarm, calling all of the city's fire companies to the inferno.
``The fire made a huge red glow that could be seen from all parts of the city, and it looked as if the eastern part of the city was on fire,'' the Gazette reported.
Natural gas explosions may have caused the fires as residents near the Indianapolis Switch and Frog plant, which was built in the 1880s, ``heard three muffled reports shortly before they noticed the fire,'' the Gazette reported. Furnaces in the shops were fueled by natural gas.
Hunter, quoted by the Gazette, said: ``It is one of those kind of bad fires that is hard to solve. Of course there is no doubt but the flames were fed by gas all the time the department was fighting them. But when the company had turned off the pressure, the deed had been done and the plant was in ashes.''
The Gazette said: ''The most fortunate part of the whole affair (was) that no one was killed'' although ``Fireman Harry Huffman of Engine House No. 5 had several fingers cut while pushing a hose through a window.''
Additionally, Fairbanks ``was loud in his praise of the work of Chief Hunter and the fire department, and stated that they did all that a human person could do,'' according to the Gazette.
CONFLAGRATION - 1840
In 1840, Springfield suffered an economic disaster.
According to Beers' 1881 ``History of Clark County: ''
Hitherts the town had been fortunately preserved from fire. The loss of an occasional building of but little value was the most serious damage. But, on the evening of February 21, 1840, an extensive conflagration occurred, which at one time threatened to sweep the entire place. It consumed the entire business block from Maddox Fisher's block on Main street to the alley west of Limestone street, and also the building now known as the St. James Hotel. The buildings destroyed had been but recently erected, and were nearly all store-rooms. The enterprising proprietors were not prostrated by their sudden loss, but immediately began to replace the sites with durable structures of modern pattern, which were a credit to the town. Nearly all the printing materials of the Pioneer office were destroyed by this fire, which delayed the publication of the page four weeks.
Another account in the 1852 booklet ``Sketches of Springfield'' said:
Springfield was visited with a heavy conflagration, which destroyed two large brick buildings, then known as `Linn' and `Murray's' Rows. These buildings had been recently built, and were principally occupied as store rooms. These enterprising gentlemen, (Messrs. Linn and Murray) soon replaced these sites by fine Rows which now are an ornament to this city. This fire originated in a livery stable back of Linn's building.
RENDERING MUTUAL AID
According to the 1900 book ``Illustrated History of Dayton Fire Department,'' Dayton requested mutual aid from Springfield and other cities on Feb. 1, 1900 - a date ``memorable to Dayton firemen'' - when flames destroyed a large warehouse.
In the era before motorized vehicles and paved highways, fire equipment was often sent by ``special train'' on distant mutual aid runs.
The book reported:
It was a bitter cold morning with a high wind blowing, when they were called to J. P. Wolf & Sons tobacco warehouse, on the corner of First and Foundry Streets. The flames spread rapidly, and for a time it looked as if the department was unequal to the task of extinguishing them. Aid from Cincinnati, Columbus and Springfield was asked for ... The men fought the flames heroically for hours, always at a great disadvantage, due to inadequate water pressure, the intense cold and high wind. ... This was the largest fire Dayton has suffered since the Turner Opera House fire in 1869.
Between 1889 and 1904, the fire divison made at least 22 mutual aid runs to as far away as Columbus, Dayton and Washington Court House, according to Roberds' 1978 book. Engine 2 and Reel 1 made almost all of the out-of-town runs.
On April 26, 1903, Springfield sent reinforcements to Columbus for a general alarm fire that engulfed Union Clothing Co., Botts Bros., Kirbys and the Brunson Building. Sadly, veteran Columbus Fire Captain Dan Lewis, of Hook & Ladder 2, was buried under falling walls and died of his injuries, according to the Columbus Fire Division.
Springfield firefighters also responded to Columbus on Nov. 24, 1893 for a fire at the Henrietta Opera House.
INTERNATIONAL STEEL WOOL
``Signal 3!'' - Working fire! Throughout the 1970s - and in the years before that - the fire division made regular runs to the International Steel Wool plant.
The process of manufacturing steelwool was prone to fire, and the fire division's foam unit - Foam 11 - was placed in service for alarms at the steelwool plant, as well as other industrial sites. Foam 11 was converted from Engine 3's old 1947 American LaFrance pumper in 1976. (Foam 11 was parked at Station No. 1)
The plant was the site of general alarm fire on Sept. 18, 1948 at which ``Old Marie'' - a 1922 American LaFrance engine - saw action, according to Roberds' book. International Steel Wool left town in 2001.