NORTH MUSKEGON VOLUNTEERS HAVE RICH HISTORY OF PROGRESS>
New Fire Station Climaxes Sixty-Five Years of Service; New Apparatus and Equipment Added
Chief, North Muskegon, Mich., Volunteer Fire Department
THE North Muskegon Volunteer Fire Department was organized in July, 1885, with the purchase of the old fire station property from Ellen Burns. Its first equipment was two hand-drawn hose carts, each manned by a company of fifteen men stationed at either end of the town. Captain William Thornton commanded No. 1 Hose Company while No. 2 Hose Company was under the leadership of Captain Robert Hay. The volunteer firemen were paid $1.00 for the first hour at a fire and fifty cents an hour for each succeeding hour.
The first companies were remarkably efficient as is indicated by a trial run made by Hose Company No. 2. In 1 minute and 28 seconds Company No. 2 got out its cart, ran with it one block and laid 300 feet of hose. In answer to an alarm the same company ran four blocks and was playing a stream of water on the fire in 4 1/2 minutes.
Late in 1885, under authorization by the Council, a contract was let for the installation of a city fire alarm system, which was equipped with batteries, required two miles of wire, and had six call boxes.
The North Muskegon Volunteer Fire Department was enlarged to three companies in July of 1889. Five hundred feet of hose and another hose cart were purchased. The forty-six men in the Department were battle-tested on November 5, 1889, when the Hovey and McCracken Mill and Lumber Company and the P. P. Leonard Hitchcock and Merman Grays docks and stocks of lumber and shingles were badly damaged in a conflagration that required the help of Muskegon’s steam fire engine “Pioneer” to bring it under, control.
The cost of maintaining the volunteer fire department became a controversial topic at a council meeting December 6, 1889, when there was some warm discussion about disbanding the fire department. Some of the citizens had a strong suspicion that many fires, other than a few large ones at the mills, were set by members of the fire department when the men were in need of ready cash. In later years there was considerable talk of how some of the fires occurred just before there was to be a dance or party. Money was scarce and there was some suspicion that fires were set to enable the men to collect fees for fighting them.
Fires that destroyed saw mills, and the depletion of the huge stands of pine as the lumbering era moved towards its end found the city in financial difficulty. There was no money to maintain the department. The fire station became a dilapidated abandoned building. Stray cows used it for a stable. Finally it became a carpenter shop.
In 1908 a group of young men formed the North Muskegon baseball team. The City Council gave the team permission to use the old building for dances and other entertainment. The baseball team became the volunteer fire department and with the ambition and vigor of youth renovated the building. In addition to a new floor and a new front door, a shed was built on the west side to store the department’s sole piece of equipment, a hose cart. This shed continued to house the North Muskegon Fire Department until the new station was completed in 1949. In fact, the building served as both a fire department and city hall until 1948 when the new city hall was ready for occupancy.
In 1922 the department sported a sparkling new hand drawn hose cart with a chemical water tank. Fred Belk’s Model T pick-up truck provided the motive power to pull the cart to fires. This equipment served until 1925 when the Council authorized the purchase of a new fire truck. The new unit was delivered to the city on September 14, 1925, and the ancient hand-drawn hose cart was discarded.
The old bell alarm was replaced in 1928 with a three and one-half horse power siren. The change was made at the suggestion of Michigan Fire Insurance Bureau to avoid higher insurance rates because North Muskegon Fire Department was a volunteer department.
The department’s first motorized equipment was sold to the Village of Hillman in 1936, after eleven years of service when it was replaced with a new 500-gallon pumper which is presently in use. With water being supplied by the City of Muskegon, good fire protection in the city of North Muskegon at last became a reality.
Today the North Muskegon Fire Department’s equipment consists of one 500-gallon per minute rotary midshipmounted pump, with a 250-gallon booster tank; 300 feet of three-quarter inch booster line; 300 feet of one and onehalf inch hose; 1400 feet of two and and one-half inch hose; one, forty-foot three-section aluminum ladder; one O. C. D. trailer complete; one 300-gallon per minute auxiliary pump to supply water to the truck from the lake or river; one Circul Air hose drier; two Chemox gas masks and two “all-purpose” gas masks.
The North Muskegon Fire Department now has eighteen members as compared with six in 1941. Members are paid $2.25 for the first hour at a fire and $1.00 for each succeeding hour. Drills are held twice a month and members receive $1.00 for attending the drills. The only full-time member of the department is the Chief of the Department. Three-quarters of his salary is paid for police duty and the balance for fire duty.
Firemen are thoroughly trained in efficient fire fighting technique. In 1943 the first fire school was held under the leadership of Wallace Gannon, then Battalion Chief of the Muskegon Fire Department. Since 1940 the Department has regularly sent two men each year to the Michigan Fire College, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. In 1947 the Department staged its second fire school under the direction of Captain Wigger Klevering of the Muskegon Fire Department.
The dedication of North Muskegon’s new fire station during Fire Prevention Week, 1949, marked the culmination of efforts begun by the fire force in 1946. The Department initiated petitions requesting the City Council to levy a special assessment of two mills for three years to finance the building of a new fire station. The assessment proposal was placed on the November, 1946, ballot and carried, thanks to the untiring efforts of the members of the department.
Today the North Muskegon Fire Department takes justifiable pride in its organization and the respect it is accorded as guardian of the community’s life and property.