Buchanan Fire Department marks 150 yearsPublished 9:18pm Monday, October 1, 2012
By KATHIE HEMPEL
Niles Daily Star
Retired Assistant Fire Chief Dave Hess reflected over his 25-plus years with the Buchanan Fire Department as the community gathered Saturday to celebrate the department’s 150th birthday. The ceremony began on the stage of the Buchanan Common and concluded at Fire House Park with the dedication of the new Fire Bell Memorial.
“For anyone wanting to be a community servant, the local volunteer fire department is a great place to start,” Hess said.
Fire Chief Mike Adams introduced Hess, who was called back into service when the fire department decided to build the memorial to honor volunteer firefighters.
Hess recalled that his best and worst days with the department involved his son, Chad.
The best was the day, shortly after his 18th birthday, that Chad told his father he, too, wanted to join the volunteer firefighters.
The worst happened at one fire with father manning the ladder as his son was at the top of the ladder just as the fire broke through the roof of a Niles home fire at which Buchanan was assisting. Quickly, the flames and smoked engulfed his son. Luckily, Chad escaped with only a torn boot top, but his father still remembers the helplessness he felt.
It reminded the crowd attending the ceremony of the danger these brave volunteers could face each time the alarm rings. Fires can be unpredictable, just as the great fire of 1862 that was the final impetus to form the Village of Buchanan’s fire service.
Assistant Chief Bob Blaylock told the story of its beginnings. The Village of Buchanan was established in 1858. Early minutes suggested the need for fire protection had been discussed; however, by Nov. 1, 1862, none had been created.
While researching his book, “Buchanan Fire Department: the First Hundred and Fifty Years,” Blaylock discovered letters written between members of the Carlisle family, held by the Bentley Foundation of the University of Michigan. The father of the family was serving under President Lincoln during the Civil War and the mother was working for the war effort in a hospital.
Their grown daughter wrote to her mother saying the family remaining in Buchanan had been left destitute by a fire that had begun in a cabinet shop, just south of the original Bainton Mill, when a stray spark lit a pile of shavings. It was quickly spread by strong winds and, when it was over, the area from Oak Street to Redbud Trail, Front Street to Second Street (now Dewey Street) had all succumbed to the flames. It was eight years before the GreatChicago Fire and without any fire service for the village the only recourse was to telegraph to Niles for help. The request during wartime returned a single rider on horseback.
It is believed nearly 20 buildings were destroyed.
“From the ashes of this destruction rose a new downtown Buchanan, and the birth of the Buchanan Volunteer Fire Department,” said Mayor Carla Cole in her address. “And I want to emphasize the word ‘volunteer.’ “We are a small town and yet we have more volunteers than many communities 10 times our size.”
The dedication of Fire House Park centered on the memorial, which houses the original fire bell. It was donated back to the Buchana Fire Department by the Nelson family in 1967 and was last seen publically during the bicentennial parade of the same year.
Following the speeches and the presentation of a special recognition certificate signed by all serving officials of the State of Michigan, given to Chief Adams by state Rep. Sharon Tyler and Sen. John Proos, a procession of firefighters and onlookers led by a bagpiper, walked the two blocks to Fire House Park at the corner of Oak and Chicago streets.
For the dedication ceremony at the park, a new fire bell was rung 15 times: one time for every 10 years of the Buchanan Fire Department’s existence. At the final ring of the bell, Tom Burks, who began his service with the department in 1955, cut the ribbon while his two grandsons, both current volunteer firefighters, stood at his side.
Memorial bricks for the walk leading to the Fire Bell are still being sold and are available through the fire department. The upkeep of the park will continue to be done by the fire department volunteers, except for the cutting of the grass, which will be maintained by the City of Buchanan.
Blaylock’s book, “Buchanan Fire Department: the First Hundred and Fifty Years,” is available for sale through the Buchanan Fire Department or by calling 695-7539. The book sells for $10 with all profits going toward the cost of maintaining the park and its memorial.
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