The Early 1900s 

In the time after 1900, Chillicothe continued to thrive with increased population, business opportunities, infrastructure improvements, etc. What failed to advance was the fire protection. Chillicothe was still under the old fire brigade system, whereby the fire brigade and Fire Marshal reported to the Chairman of the Fire, Water, and Light Committee, who reported to the Mayor and City Council at regular meetings. By 1907, the fire brigade numbered 28 members, two hose carts, 1500 ft of 2 1⁄2” hose, and no ladders. “Those heavy reels of hose were drawn by hand or pulled by anyone who happened to have his team of horses around handy. The late W.H. Ratcliff was often very kind in this regard, and many times sent one or two of his dray wagons to pull the hose carts to fires.”

“I well remember one night when the temperature had hit about 20 below zero and nearly a foot of snow had fallen. A fire was reported at about 3:00 am and we found it impossible to pull the hose darts through the snow by hand, so we employed the services of one of our local citizen’s milk cows to haul the hose cart to the fire. Needless to say, the building was a total loss.

“On another occasion, the late Phil Matthews, who was the local Regal auto dealer at the time, pulled one of the carts to a fire. He forgot the cart wasn’t equipped with brakes, and the tongue of the heavy cart rammed through the rear seat of the shiny new Regal demonstrator.”

In 1913, several ordinances were passed by the council to enhance fire protection. Ordinance #77 established a Foreign Fire Tax to be paid to the city in the amount of $2.00 per $100.00 insured. The Foreign Fire Tax is still in effect today but with different rates. Also, in 1913, City Ordinances #123 and #124 were passed in regard to the city water system. These ordinances required the Fire Committee and the Fire Marshal to pressure test the city water system regularly. The records show that in 1914, 7 organized members were paid for fires attended, the department still had 1500 ft of 2 1⁄2” hose, but had been upgraded to a fire alarm-whistle at the water works, and an alarm and bell at city hall. “At that period, not too many telephones were in operation in the community, and when a fire started someone would notify the city waterworks, and they would blow the steam whistle, or ring the huge bell at the top of the old city hall.”

On April 9th, 1915, the Fire, Water, and Light Committee signed a contract for a new fire truck. A 30hp EMF Automobile to be used as a fire truck. “Our first ‘motorized’ equipment came under the leadership of D.I. Davis, in the form of a 1916 half-ton Ford delivery truck which was bought from the Ford Agency of Guy McFarland and William Todd. It was complete with a rear step, one axle, a 24 ft extension ladder, ten 1 1⁄2 gallon soda-acid extinguishers, and a hose bed to carry 500 feet of hose. The department consisted of Chief D.I. Davis, Bill Todd, Larry Welcome, E.T. Carter, R.E. Graham, G.P. Scott, G.A. Mattice, Bill Crull, myself, and any others who were willing to help. We could also generally depend upon the service of Charlie Brewer and Henry Cleveland. We were mighty proud of our new fire truck, but when we transferred the hose from the reels, along with the other equipment, and some of our heavy-weight members climbed aboard, we found our ‘lezzie’ was considerably overloaded. Sometimes the front wheels would rise up off the ground under all that weight.”

This “Fire Alarm Notice” appeared in the 1916 Chillicothe phone book: “We wish to announce to the public and to our subscribers that the City of Chillicothe has installed a new electric siren fire alarm system to be controlled by the telephone operators. This alarm is to be blown only when there is a fire. In case of fire use any telephone. Tell the operator the location of the fire whether Chillicothe or North Chillicothe and the name of the person giving the alarm. The protection of your own and others’ lives and property may depend on the telephone at this time. The calls increase so rapidly that it is impossible for our operators to answer all calls promptly. Most of these calls are merely to ask where the fire is and are unnecessary. Please observe the above rules when sending in an alarm so that no confusion may arise. Emergency ring for rural subscribers: two long three short and one long ring.”

Mayoral elections were held annually at this time and with the election of a new Mayor, came the annual appointments:

May 3rd, 1917, George Gleason was elected Mayor: appointed Fire Marshal D.I. Davis and Assistant Fire Marshal John Kronblad

On May 2nd, 1918, Mayor George Gleason appointed:

– Fire Marshal D.I. Davis

– Fireman: Robert Graham

– Fireman: I.S. Ramsey

– Fireman: Harry Wood

– Fireman: Tom Anderson

On May 1st, 1919, Mayor Fisher appointed Fire Marshal D.I. Davis and directed that the Fire Marshal will act with no pay. The only compensation will be the use of the city’s free telephone. Also, he would organize a volunteer fire company.

On May 7th, 1920, Mayor Fisher appointed Fire Marshal D.I. Davis

On July 6th, 1922, the City Council appropriated $900.00 for the maintenance of the fire department.

Once again, in 1922, a fire struck the downtown business district. “The old Kelly building downtown, which once housed the World Department store caught fire a few nights before Christmas in 1922, but in spite of all our company’s efforts and two companies of the Peoria Fire Department, it left a mighty big hole in the center of the business district, where the Sunset Theatre and Prather Electric store now stand.” I believe this is approximately where the Town Theatre now sits.

At the City Council meeting on May 3rd, 1923, the inventory of the fire department was read and on a motion of Alderman Kinsella, seconded by Rediger, the Fire, Water and Light Committee was instructed to verify the same and report at the next meeting. The Mayor, L.A. Rider, appointed Harry M. Lee as Fire Chief, replacing D.I. Davis. The Mayor had each alderman choose a fireman. The following were appointed:

– Walter Sickenger

– Robert Graham

– John Burkhardt

– Ervin Ludwig

– Edward Carter

– George Matice

The Mayor suggested that the firemen have fire drills and be instructed on how to fight fires. June 8th, 1923, Fire Chief Lee reported that there were still several coats out. That former fire chief Davis wouldn’t return his as he said he was still the Fire Chief. He also reported that there were five extinguishers on the truck. The bond of $500.00 for Chief Lee was approved. (This report is important because this is the first record of the “Fire Chief” giving a direct report to the Mayor and Council. Prior to this, all reports and communication concerning the fire department were presented by the Chairman of the Fire, Water, and Light Committee on behalf of the Fire Marshal. Also, this shows a break in the pattern of the Mayor appointing D.I. Davis as Fire Marshal and may exhibit the feelings that Mayor Rider had for Davis, and his refusal or negligence in not forming a volunteer department and holding regular training sessions as he was instructed to do by Mayor Fisher in 1919.)

Chief Lee’s tenure as Chief of the CFD was short-lived. On June 8th, 1924, the Mayor appointed Ervin Ludwig as Fire Chief. Also, on September 4th, 1924, the city purchased two smoke masks with a 30-day approval on the same. The firemen were to have their regular training meeting the next Tuesday and would try them out. There was no mention of whether or not they kept the smoke masks.

In this time period, the city appointed numerous men to the position of Fire Chief:

On May 3rd, 1923 Mayor L.A. Rider appointed Harry M. Lee as Fire Chief

On May 1st, 1924 Mayor L.A. Rider appointed Ervin Ludwig as Fire Chief

On May 7th, 1925 Mayor W.E. Van Dusen appointed Ervin Ludwig as Fire Chief

On May 6th, 1926 Mayor W.E. Van Dusen appointed Ervin Ludwig as Fire Chief

December 17th, 1926 Chief Ervin Ludwig resigned as Chief and Mayor Van Dusen appointed Robert Graham as Chief to fill the vacancy.

On May 5th, 1927 Mayor Oscar Staley appointed Tom Anderson as Fire Chief. Chief Anderson served in this capacity until 1950.

In 1933, the city purchased a Diamond T truck chassis and equipped it with a pump and tank. The purchase was made from public subscriptions. The new piece of equipment worked well and was well received by property owners.

In 1939, a milestone event took place that would eventually change the CFD forever. A young man named Gail “Mike” Myers would join the fire department as a rookie firefighter. WWII came along and Gail Myers, along with many other CFD firefighters was called to duty. By the end of WWII, Gail would have returned from active duty and resumed his career as a CFD Fire Fighter and Chillicothe store owner.

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