WWII & Beyond

Chillicothe suffered through WW2 as did the rest of America, and had their share of young men who went off to war, some to return and some not so lucky. Gail “Mike” Myers was one of the lucky ones who returned. Returned to run a business in town and returned to resume his duties in the fire department. This chapter in history is not all about Gail Myers, but a good portion of it is. We will get to him later on.

Chief Anderson led the fire department through the war years and into the years of progress after it was over. Even through the war years, Chief Anderson kept the number of firefighters up and succeeded in purchasing new equipment. Through the efforts of the department and needed donations from citizens, the city was able to purchase a new truck in 1942. It was an international truck with a 500 gpm pump and auxiliary equipment. Quite a rarity during the war years and greatly needed. This truck was kept in service for many years. Early in the 1920s, the Village of North Chillicothe and the City of Chillicothe worked under an agreement whereby the Village would pay the city annually for the city to provide fire protection as the Village had no fire department at this time. In some contracts, the agreement was based on payment per fire and per firefighter that responded. Some contracts stipulated payment per call at one price if no hose was laid and at a higher price if a hose was laid and water was used. In some years, the cost was a flat rate regardless of the use of the hose and water or not. Eventually, in 1945 the Village of North Chillicothe formed their own fire department and the formal agreement was no longer negotiated. The North Chillicothe Fire Department continued to exist until 1967 when the two towns voted to join and the Chillicothe Fire Department absorbed the assets of the North Chillicothe Fire Department except for the ambulance and ambulance equipment. This was the beginning of Rescue 33. This merger in 1967 is how the Chillicothe Fire Department came to have the Northtown fire station that eventually became Station #2 on Bradley Ave.

Many times, the history of fire departments is written, documented, and remembered by the milestone fires and catastrophic events. Chillicothe is no different. Between the acquisition of new equipment and large fires, many times history is lost. The Webb’s Inn fire is no exception to the rule.

On February 22, 1947, Webb’s Inn Restaurant caught on fire. Webb’s Inn was a very large house situated on the corner of Walnut and Second St., where the Chillicothe Police Department is now. Originally, the building was a single-family home of Phillip T. Matthews, built in 1882, later sold to Mr. and Mrs. G.E. Webb in 1921. Sometime in 1946 or 1947, the home was purchased from the Webbs by James Sweeney and Dean A. Claycomb. Dean Claycomb resided in the building and ran the Webb’s Inn Restaurant. The fire was discovered by Bob and Donald Munk when they saw smoke coming from the building. In later years, Bob Munk would become one of the most colorful police officers Chillicothe has ever known. While the fire was only half a block from the fire station, the firemen were able to put their big fire engine, “the pride of the Chillicothe Fire Department” on the job pumping a good amount of water, until it threw a rod in the engine and shut down. Fire departments from North Chillicothe and Lacon were called to the scene as well as a Peoria Fire Department engine. The delay was too much and the home was a total loss.

In July 1948, a new Seagraves “quad” was purchased. This truck had a 12-cylinder engine, a 750 gpm pump, and other up-to-date equipment. Truly this truck made Chillicothe one of the best-equipped departments in the area. This truck was kept as a front-line response vehicle until sometime in the late 70s after it was replaced by the department’s first areal ladder which was purchased in 1971. City Council records have a note in the January 8th, 1953 meeting that in the previous month, December 1952, the final payment installment was received by Seagraves. The quad was finally paid off and belonged to Chillicothe.

During the May 5th, 1949 City Council meeting, a resolution was read thanking Fire Chief Tom C. Anderson for his many years of service to the City of Chillicothe and the Chillicothe Fire Department. In other business, Mayor Zinzer appointed Charles Hoyt as the Chief of the Chillicothe Fire Department.

The fire department records show that Hoyt assumed command from Anderson on April 22, 1949, but it took until the next council meeting in May for the official appointment to be made.

March 23, 1950, saw another major business district fire, The First National Bank building. That Friday night at about 9:30, smoke was discovered coming into the office of Thomas E. Rawlings on the second floor. The smoke was coming through the floor where the steam pipes came up from the boiler in the basement. Mr. Rawlings called in the fire and within minutes the Chillicothe Fire Department arrived. Despite the best efforts of the firefighters, the fire was winning. North Chillicothe Fire Department was called and at 10:10 pm two engines from Peoria were called. Engines from companies 5 and 7 were dispatched from Peoria to assist. By 3:30 am Saturday morning, the fire was under control, but not before the roof collapsed, and several businesses in the building were lost. The building suffered over $100,000.00 in damages.

“Because of the nature of the blaze, which could not be in its early stages, it was generally conceded that the firemen turned an excellent performance in holding the blaze to the First National building and preventing its spread next door. Had the fire reached the Stumbaugh building, the entire block would have been in peril. The blaze attracted a large crowd of spectators, who hampered the operations of the firemen, while motorists managed to destroy or damage several hundred feet of hose by driving across it at the various intersections leading to the scene.”

At about 1:50 am Saturday, the decision was made to lay line to the river and draft from the river at the foot of Walnut St and pump up the hill to the fire. By 2:00 am, the roof collapsed and the fire spread to the Stumbaugh building roof. There it was stopped by around 3:30 am.

Other notable fires in the late ’50s and early ’60s included the Gold Star Home Fire in Rome. Gold Star Home was a business situated where CMCO is now on Rome West Road. Gold Star Home built pre-fabricated houses and shipped them all over for completion. The story is that the fire was so large that the heat plume floated full sheets of plywood into the air over the burning factory. Some sheets on fire and some are not. The lack of readily available water hampered the efforts of the firemen and the building was a total loss. At this time, the concept of tenders was not an operational possibility. That is why most of our community trucks in later years were ordered with 1,000-gallon water tanks. It was not till much later that the idea of tank trucks with 2,000 or 3, 000 gallons of water came into existence.

The second and probably the most well-known fire in recent years was the Santa Fe depot fire in 1963. This pre-dawn fire destroyed the Santa Fe depot and while it was initially a North Chillicothe fire, the CFD did eventually respond but the building could not be saved. After the fire, Santa Fe started using the Clubhouse at the end of Santa Fe Ave as the depot.

On January 23rd, 1953, Fire Chief Charles Hoyt passed away leaving the position of Fire Chief vacant. The fire department records show that Gail Myers assumed the command of the Chillicothe Fire Department on February 6th, 1953. The City Council records of the meeting on February 17th, 1953 Mayor Zinzer appointed Gail Myers as the Chief and Art Newman as the Assistant Chief. Thus begins the “Myers era”.

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