The Adrian Fire Department was established on June 19, 1841 and was comprised of prominent men from the growing community. In the early days being a fireman was a very straightforward job. The bell would sound an alarm for fires, the men would assemble at the station, then proceed to the spot, and attempt to suppress the fire. Extinguishing fires was not easily accomplished. Early on, the men pulled the vehicle, in later years the steamers were pulled by a team of horses. Either way, the trip was usually through ruts, mud and snow or around any number of obstacles.
Once at the location, getting a supply of water to provide a steady flow of water was just as difficult as the trip itself. Many valiant efforts were made to stop the fire quickly. Unfortunately, many times the effort put forth was in vain as the fire would have a significant head start and the result was normally a large loss.
In 1867, the “Steam Fire Department,” began after a reorganization of fire suppression services. A few full-time firemen were employed to perform daily duties and respond to fires. As in the past, volunteers were still utilized to respond.
In 1914, the department received its first motorized fire apparatus. The year 1919 saw the volunteer firefighter service discontinued in favor of a two-platoon system. This platoon system utilized seven men on each shift of 12 hours each, seven days a week. The system was recommended to the city by an examiner from the Michigan Inspection Bureau and eventually grew to three, 13 men platoons working 24 hour shifts.
Today, firefighters work nine days in a 28 day work cycle. The work day begins at 07:00 am and ends at 07:00 the following day (a full 24 hours). A Firefighter’s work cycle consists of 24 hours on duty, 24 hours off duty, 24 hours on-duty, 24 hours off-duty, 24 hours on-duty, 96 hours off-duty, then repeat the schedule until the 28-day cycle is completed. This schedule is rotated between the three squads. Each squad currently consists of seven personnel including Captain, Lieutenant and five Firefighters for total department staffing of 21. AFD has not been staffed with 21 positions since the mid-late 1990’s.
In the history of Adrian Fire Department, we have suffered Six Firefighters who have made the ultimate sacrifice, dying in the Line of Duty (LODD- Line Of Duty Death).
1. William “Billy Blake- LODD, December 11, 1881: Motor Vehicle Accident involving the “Babcock Engine”. The crash occurred on Saturday, December 10, 1881.
2. Charles I. Holmes- LODD, September 8, 1909. An alarm was sounded shortly after 6 P.M. BOX # 34, for a dump pile fire near the D.T. & I railroad tracks near College Ave. Mr. Holmes was at home, he rode his bicycle to the station and jumped aboard the hook and ladder truck he normally drives. The drivers position was filled so he climbed onto the unit and hollered ” let em’ go! “which indicated to the driver to let the horses go as he was on board and ready. These were his last words, for as he said this he leaned back against the ladders, and when the unit jolted foreword, he nearly fell off and was caught by fellow firefighters. He was stricken with a heart attack and had died on the spot despite the best efforts of his comrades. It was believed the ride on “his wheel” was too much exertion. He is buried out of town at the Dover North cemetery.
3. Christian “Chris” Schoen- LODD, June 2, 1912: Operating at the Lion Car Factory fire when a wall collapsed on him.
4. John Vollmer- LODD, December 19, 1925: Died in a Motor Vehicle Crash (with AFD fire engine) trying to outrun a train at the RR crossing @ Division St.
5. Norman McKenzie- LODD, January 11, 1960: Died of a heart attack while pumping at the fire hydrant on Center St. for the fire at Stearns Manufacturing Company.
6. Birger Johnson- LODD, March 20, 1964: Died of a heart attack while standing next to the fire engine while on a grass fire between University & William Streets.
In June of 2016, AFD celebrated its 175th anniversary. This celebration included AFD’s Hand tub, a Buttons & Co., built in 1853, being brought back to Adrian from a group of men who are call the Redcoats in York, Maine. The hand tub ”Protection #2) is a hand drawn pumping apparatus which was pulled through the streets of Adrian along with motorized fire apparatus joining in the procession from Comstock Park to Monument Park by way of Maumee St and onto the parking lot of Wheelock’s Drugstore & Pharmacy. It is this location where “Protection #2” was located within the walls of Fire Station #2 until it was closed and the equipment was sold off.
During this celebration weekend, a dinner and presentation was held at Benicasa Dining Hall on the campus of Siena Heights University. Guest included Current and Past Firefighters as well as their spouses. Special guests were Representatives of the Redcoats as well as the families of the LODD’s. A presentation was given on the history of AFD by Lt. Jeff Betz- Retired. After the historical presentation, a hand-crafted plaque of wood and brass was dedicated in memory and honor to the six men who “Laid down his life in the discharge of his duty”. This memorial plaque is on display at AFD.
For more information about A.F.D.’s history, please contact Lt. Jeff Betz (Retired) through AFD personnel.