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Feature Article on fire department. Topic: ORGANIZATION & DOWNTOWN/BUILDINGS
By Stan Crosley, Chief Sidney Fire Dept., in December, 1998


Sidney’s Fire Department, informally organized as a fire brigade in 1857, has an exciting past full of tradition and hometown pride. Rapidly growing with a number of manufacturing firms starting up then, Sidney began to anticipate fire.

When an alarm of fire sounded, brigade members would run quickly to the firedepartmentmeninverticallineup.gif (91666 bytes)scene, grabbing the nearest bucket. Once there, they located a water source and then formed two lines, one passing full buckets and the other returning the empties. This method continued until 1869 when city council authorized purchase of an Anderson Fire Engine, pulled by hand to the fire and pumped by handles on each side. The pumper was stored on the east side of Main near Court, although exact location is unknown.

RED NOT BLACK, FIRE BUCKETS. Sidney’s approach to fire protection changed dramatically in 1872 when council authorized purchase of a hook and ladder wagon and buckets for $588. The wagon was pulled by hand and featured several ground ladders. In an era of black fire buckets, Sidney distinguished itself with red ones. Council also authorized a small hose house for $185, built on the southeast corner of Main and Court, later site of the county jail. City council the next year bought a hose reel for $411 and moved the hose house to the courtsquare across the street.

With new equipment and house came the expansion of local "fire companies," common in larger eastern cities. By 1876, activities of these fire companies were frequently reported in the Shelby County Democrat: Tawawa Hose Co. # 1, the Valley City Hose Co. # 2, the Niagara Hose Co. # 3, and the Pioneer Hook & Ladder Co. After the Monumental Building was completed and outfitted for the fire department, a fire alarm system was developed. A succession of rapid taps of the fire bell atop the building signaled a fire. These taps would be followed by location taps: First Ward, one tap; Second Ward, two taps; and Third Ward, three taps, a system greatly expediting response.

Sidney voters in 1872 approved a water system complete with a waterworks, underground pipe, fire plugs, and reservoirs, a significant factor in improving fire protection. Sidney was one of the first small cities to have a waterworks. Use of underground cast iron pipe, instead of hollowed out wooden logs, greatly improved reliability of the water system. More than 4 miles of main pipe in the ground, 42 fire plugs, and 147 hydrants for private use were in place by 1883.

Arriving at the scene, hose companies hooked their hose to the fire plug or sometimes dropped their suction hoses into small, open reservoirs. Water pressure from the water main, usually quite strong, traveled through the hose to the nozzle to be directed on the fire. Firemen could also use the Anderson Fire Engine to pump water by hand from a reservoir.

Local fire companies were also social clubs, with prominent citizens as members. Monthly meetings were announced in the local newspapers and the election of officers was always well publicized. Fund-raisers were common. The Tawawa Hose Company sponsored a masquerade ball at Singe Hall on Easter Monday of 1877, with the local newspapers asking the public to "give them a goodly number...proceeds for benefit of the fire company and make our fire department more efficient." Sidney’s firemen celebrated Independence Day, including a parade around the courtsquare.

Sidney’s Monumental Building was completed by 1876. The Tawawa Hose Company and the Pioneer Hook and Ladder Company moved in, while city offices were established on the second floor.

FIRES SHOWED NEED FOR CHANGE. A winter-time fire in 1879 set the stage for a big change in the operation of Sidney’s fire protection. A midnight fire in the Yinger dwelling at the southwest corner of Main and Court sent the fire companies scrambling to the scene. "...hose reels soon arrived and in the intense cold the firemen worked like beavers," the Shelby County Democrat reported. "...let us say it was demonstrated beyond a doubt that the services of a chief is wanted as every person at the fire was boss and for this reason considerable damage...was through the lack of proper management."

City council responded by establishing a Fire Department with an overseeing chief engineer. Each hose company could continue to choose their membership and elect officers, but they would be under the chief engineer’s control during emergencies. Although his title was chief engineer, Michael Smith was really Sidney’s first fire chief.

An early spring evening in 1883 was interrupted just before 7 o’clock when Sidney received a call from Union City, Indiana, requesting help in fighting a fire threatening the town. As Sidney’s alarm sounded, all three hose companies and the hook and ladder company turned out. Henry Young, now chief engineer, ordered Hose Co. #2 and #3 to depart while Hose Co. #1 and the hook and ladder company were to remain. Two hose reels were loaded onto a flat car at the Bee Line Station to arrive in Union City at 8:27 p.m., not a bad response time for that distance. But, the Sidney firemen quickly found out they were unable to hook up to Union City’s hydrants. The two cities used different threads on their hose couplings. Greenville’s Fire Department, arriving shortly, thereafter put out the fire.

Union City’s fire demonstrated that Sidney was not immune from fire. City council discussed the matter at its May 11 meeting. Since mud could accumulate in the underground water lines, two things were necessary to give adequate fire protection to the community: reservoir basins needed to be cleaned out and enlarged and the city needed to acquire a new steam fire engine. "Sidney should profit by our sister’s (Union City) mistake," the Shelby County Democrat editorialized.

THE ‘HENRY YOUNG’ (NOW IN DAYTON). Chief Engineer Young soon reported all fire plugs in good working order. The Fire Department had 1,000 feet of fire hose in good condition and 100 feet of burst fire hose. Council later voted to purchase a No. 2 Ahrens steam fire engine weighing 5,800 pounds at a cost of $4,000, a considerable amount for that time. Council also appointed Jacob Wagner, recommended as a competent person by Young, to take charge of the new engine and waterworks at a $60 a month salary. The floor at Hose House # 2 on North Main was raised to accommodate the new steam engine.

Chief Young, employed at Hertzam’s Clothing Store, learned on Oct. 5, 1883, that the new engine was loaded on a flatcar and headed for Sidney. It arrived the next day and was put to test on the 8th. Parked on the Canal Bridge on Poplar Street, the engine’s suction hose was dropped into the canal for water. In 5 minutes from the firing of the boiler, 60 pounds of steam were generated. One hundred feet of 2 1/2-inch hose was laid out with a 1 1/2-inch nozzle. At 80 pounds pressure, a stream solid two-thirds of the way out was thrown 195 feet. In the second test, two streams were discharged through 500 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose with 1-inch nozzles. At 100 pounds, the two streams were thrown 120 feet into the air!

Horses became the wave of the future as far as the Fire Department was concerned when the 5,000-pound steam engine arrived. The hook and ladder wagon was also pulled by horses, but the hose companies still pulled their hose reels by hand.

firedepartmentinfrontofmonumentalbuilding.gif (75721 bytes)
The Sidney Fire Department took up residence in the Monumental Building when that memorial to Shelby County’s Civil War dead
was finished in 1876. A hose reel and ladder wagon were the major pieces of fire apparatus in Sidney then.
Note the outward swinging doors in contrast to the overheads now in place.

Competing hose companies were organized in the Third Ward in 1883: the Summit Hose Co. #4 and the White Cloud Hose Co. Chief Young resolved the matter in White Cloud’s favor after a heated dispute over who would rule. Industrialist Philip Smith was chosen captain of the new Independence Hose Co. #1 in 1883 after Tawawa Hose Co. #1 disbanded.

FIRE RISK GROWS. Sidney’s population continued to grow as did its manufacturing base, increasing the risk of fire. Part of this growth was due to the canal feeder and the ability it gave the city to ship manufactured products all over the country.

The Fire Department in 1884, attempting to communicate with the public and to get city council off the dime, published a list of "wants," noting that the hose house in the Third Ward would soon be completed, giving them coverage in all four wards. The department wanted 1,000 feet of hose in each ward. Firemen also felt that when an alarm sounded in the ward that only that company should respond and attempt to control the fire; if danger seemed greater, a second alarm could be sounded. "Too many hose reels and too much help are found to be almost no help," the department declared.

The department called the hose supply in each ward insufficient, also asking for a horse for each hose house. "A fireman who runs 6, 8, or 12 squares with a reel is unfit for quick work when fire is reached." Within a week, a serious fire broke out in H. Hume’s spoke and bentwood factory near the Main Street crossing of the Bee Line Railroad. That fire signaled problems with city fire protection and changed the course of some of the city’s services. Although the department responded quickly, no water came out of the hoses pointed at the fire.

firedepartmentpostcard.gif (77451 bytes)
Above is a postcard of the Sidney Fire Department which was mailed from Sidney to Quincy in 1907. Fire departments and courthouses
were popular subjects for postcards, but are getting difficult to find now, according to Sidney collectors Tom Dunnavant and Herb Van Tilburgh. "Some postcard scenes of fire departments...bring close to $44 a piece," Van Tilburgh recently estimated.

The telegraph alarm signal to the waterworks was sounded immediately after the fire alarm was received. Henry Heineman occupied the waterworks building and operated the machinery. He was "to be alert at all times for the alarm of fire." Neither his bedside alarm nor the telephone in the next room awakened Heineman. By the time the waterworks trustees arrived to wake him up so that he could produce more water pressure and direct water to the area needed, fire had consumed Hume’s factory. Investigation revealed that the alarm gong did not work, with blame devolving on the waterworks management, not the slumbering Henry Heineman.

The Fire Department’s "wish list" prompted council to consider a "paid" fire department, with a special committee studying Troy’s system. Troy had two engines, a reel for each, three horses, and five regular firemen. Total salaries were $235 per month, with three "call" men paid $3 per year and 40 cents an hour for work at fires. Equipment was kept in one place and still managed to get to fires in adequate time, the committee reported.

But, the committee felt that Sidney could change to a paid department at less expense than the Troy operation. One engineer, one fireman, two drivers, and three horses, kept in one central point, would make up the regular force.  Not everyone agreed. Many liked having the hose reels in their neighborhood. They were proud of the volunteer firefighters. But, the volunteer force also had costs. The four lots and hose houses constructed on them would have cost $9,000

Hard working, courageous volunteers were not always efficient. "While the vollies usually reach the fire in good time, in the excitement of the scene, nervous fingers and generally rattled condition loses the building," noted the Shelby County Democrat. "If anyone ever felt that more might have been done, consider the fact that doing a great deal for nothing and not even winning a card of thanks for it, is poor pay. Prompt pay makes prompt work. If the latter is really needed in the Sidney Fire Department it can be had a fair price."

John Edgar was appointed to the chief’s position for $200 a year, giving bond of $1,000 for faithful performance. Also appointed were an assistant chief, an engineer, and a driver. The driver was Henry Yost who met a tragic death years later while serving as chief. First year payroll was $2,500.

Department headquarters were in the Monumental Building’s west end, with the stable for the horses in the room formerly occupied by the Tawawa Hose Co. Stalls faced the hose reel and engine. The stable doors opened by touching a wire to throw open the door bolt. The spring-loaded doors opened and, after three days of training, the horses would quickly take their places in front of the equipment.

HORSES READY IN 18 SECONDS. Hitches stored overhead by rope and pulley were quickly lowered onto the horses by a quick untie on the wall allowing the hitches to lower by their own weight.

"The Fire Department horses now run for their places and are hitched up in 18 seconds from the tap of the gong," reported the Shelby County Democrat in 1885. "The fine gray horse Snyder is the slowest of the department getting to its place. The horse for the hook and ladder wagon, on the other hand, had to run through two rooms to get to the hook and ladder wagon, but could do so in three to four seconds."

Big, strong horses of proper temperament were needed. A French Norman horse, a fine gray weighing 1,341 pounds, was purchased from J.E. Huffman of Green Township for $200. Frank Marrs of Perry Township furnished another gray for the same price. A bay for $190 came from Turtle Creek Township farmer John Scott. Well-known to the public and quite popular, the grays, Frank and Snyder, teamed to pull the steam engine while Charles the bay occupied the hose reel harness.

The steam engine was used only on desperate cases. The waterworks had been improved and could now be relied upon; only the hose reels were dispatched at the initial alarm. Sleeping rooms were on the second floor. The two drivers and a minuteman from each ward remained on duty all night, sliding a pole to the first floor at the sound of the alarm.

The Preston hook and ladder wagon, carrying five ladders, measured 165 feet. Its load of Halloway fire extinguishers, buckets, pike poles, and other equipment weighed 2,500 pounds. Each extinguisher held 7 gallons of water with 4 pounds of soda added. Each cap held an 8-ounce vial of sulfuric acid. The extinguisher was operated by inverting it, releasing the acid into the water/soda solution.

The reaction produced carbonic acid gas with a force sufficient to throw a three-quarter inch stream 50 feet. The hose reel carried 1,500 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose and weighed 3,800 pounds loaded. "Sidney had the finest equipment as any place in the State," declared the Shelby County Democrat.

ANOTHER ADVANCE. Alarmed by criticism of the alarm system, city council in 1886 authorized a Gamewell fire and police alarm system, also used in New York and Cincinnati. A box placed in the Fire Department registered the alarm from the street box and would sound the number of the street box three times. Each box had a key. After the key was inserted and the alarm sounded, it became fastened, impossible to remove until the chief released it with another key. The system cost $1,300, including poles and 4 miles of copper wire.

The department’s most disastrous fire until then started on Jan. 26, 1888, in the Anderson, Frazier & Co. wheel works. The company, with orders for 20,000 sets of wheels and a workforce of 86 people, sustained $25,000 damage despite the department’s gallant effort with the steam engine operating from the canal and pumping three hose lines on the fire.

Sidney’s famous school desk factory, the Smith and Kaser houses, and Kaser and Blake stables were damaged by an even bigger fire 2 years later, with factory damage amounting to $80,000. Two firemen suffered burns.

Chiefs, nominated and approved by city council, changed frequently in that partisan position. Chief H.C. Jones, holding the title in 1898, procured a phaeton or four-wheel carriage dubbed "Chief’s Buggy," allowing quick, prestigious fire responses.

By 1903, Sidney realized the need for a full-time paid department. Effectively eliminating the minutemen organized from each ward, the city established six positions: chief, hook and ladder driver, hose wagon driver, hose man, ladder man, and minuteman. George Rickert became the hose man and Henry Yost was elevated to the chief’s position. The two were on their way to tragedy.

YOST MEETS DEATH. Tragedy struck on May 12, 1906, after a call was received from Box 45. The department responded to a roof fire at the Johns residence on Wilkinson. Chimney sparks had ignited the shingles. Chief Yost was first to climb the ladder, followed by fireman George Rickert with a hose. Yost called to fireman George Hume to bring a hook ladder so that they climb up further. The ladder was handed up and just as Chief Yost stepped onto the roof, the extension ladder that Rickert was standing on broke about 5 feet from the bottom. Yost and Rickert fell about 30 feet.

Rickert eventually recovered from serious injuries, but Yost had suffered grave internal damage. Loaded on a cot, placed on the back of Bingham’s Furniture wagon, and taken to his house, Yost died that afternoon, a hero to the gallant men who have proudly served the Sidney Fire Department. References: Shelby County Democrat, various editions, 1876-1898; Sidney Daily News, various editions, 1903-1906; Sidney Fire Department, historical archives; Sutton, History of Shelby County, Ohio, 1883; Wallace, Rich, 1996.

firedepartmentsteamengine.gif (58195 bytes)

The firemen and townsfolk were bursting with pride at their new fire engine. "A more handsome and powerful piece of machinery never was in Sidney," Chief Young declared. Firemen later named the steamer "The Henry Young" in honor of the chief engineer who helped bring about needed change in the department. This steam fire engine, now restored, is on display at Dayton’s Carillon Park.

firedepartmentwithhorsesgoingtofire.gif (53955 bytes)

Frank and Henry team up to pull the Sidney Fire Department’s hook and ladder wagon in 1912.
L. A. McKinnon is driving with George Baure sitting beside him.


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