Support Your Local Fire Department By Karen E. Livsey, Fenton History Center Archivist

Just as the Jamestown Fire Department saw a challenge in March 1910, with the Gokey fire, the Department found a new challenge in March 1911. It was on March 1, 1911 that the Volunteer Fire Departments in Jamestown were disbanded and a new Fire Department was created with professional, paid firemen. Many of the firemen hired by the new Department had been volunteers before but were then to be full-time paid employees.

The volunteers had fought the Gokey fire as well as they could with the equipment they had. And they relied on volunteers from outside the city to assist. When the fire commission of Jamestown investigated, the conclusion was that everyone thought the first fire was out and all were surprised by the rekindling and its rapid spread, especially from an area that was considered free of fire. Of the chief, there was no criticism of what he did during the fires. When the paid department was formed Chief Wilson was named chief of the Department and continued in that capacity until his death in 1915 as a result of an automobile accident.

When the paid fire department started, it was the end of the volunteer companies which included: Deluge Engine Company No.1 formed 1829; Ellicott Hook and Ladder Company No. 1, started in1842; Rescue Engine Company No. 2, formed in 1859 from two earlier attempts at forming a new company; Prendergast Hose Company No. 1, which started operation under the name City Hose Company in 1873; the second company to form in December 1873 was the Eagle Hose Company No. 2; the Jeffords Hose Company was accepted into the department in 1883; the company known as the Fire Police was organized in 1886; the Martyn Hose Company No. 6 was formed as an independent company in 1891 and accepted into the Department in 1893.

The number of volunteer companies had grown as the population grew and spread out further from the central area companies. The number of volunteers, fire houses, and equipment grew along with the social elements of the companies, but the training and abilities did not necessarily grow with the expansion, nor did some of the infrastructure of the village and city.

The National Board of Fire Underwriters had a committee on Fire Prevention that inspected each city every 10 years and reported back. It was Jamestown’s turn to be inspected in 1910 and the report is dated August of that year. The local newspaper reported in July 1910 that the water supply system was being inspected by the committee. The full report is dated August 1910 and the city council was discussing the report through the fall.  A copy of the report is in the collection of the Fenton History Center.

Nowhere in the report is there a reference to the Gokey fire, although they do comment on some of the items that influenced the fighting of the Gokey fire such as overhead wires and poles in the way, especially in the alleys, and streets to narrow to function as a fire break. The report points out the inadequate water supply system, the insufficient apparatus, and a poorly maintained and unreliable alarm system that were determined to exist in Jamestown. Also pointed out was the lack of fireproof construction of many of the older buildings in the downtown area. In the manufacturing district, the independent private fire companies for each manufacturing concern were cited along with the automatic sprinklers and other fire appliances, but also mentioned was the abundance of lumber and numerous frame buildings in the manufacturing districts as a potential hazard.

After some discussion of the report, the common council did vote to provide more money to upgrade and improve some of the needed equipment and to move to a paid department but all was to be decided by the residents of the city in a special election. The special election to spend $30,000.00 for the equipment, upgrades, and new fire houses was held and approved in November of 1910. The paid fire department was also approved in that election.

And so it was with that the common council adopted a resolution in January 1911 providing for the dissolution of the volunteer fire department and the establishment of a paid department to take place as of March 1, 1911. The locations of the fire houses were altered and all the fire houses were populated with the paid firemen and some upgraded equipment.

Pictured: The 1910 report from the National Board of Fire Underwriters that influenced the decision to improve the firefighting capabilities of Jamestown with upgrades to equipment and the beginning of a professional paid fire department in the city. Included are three ribbons from three of the volunteer fire companies and a patch from the Jamestown Fire Department that succeeded the volunteer companies. All are from the collection of the Fenton History Center.


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