When the Gong Rings
A Fire History of Charleston, Illinois
 
FIRE LOG 1874

19.           Go to the Charleston Fire Department Chronological History by CLICKING HERE

Also read page 18 and page 20


1874 CHARLESTON FIRE DEPARTMENT:

BEGINNING


    By 1874, the new Charleston Fire Department was official (passed by a resolution of the City Council). The      "Hook and Ladder Company was soon organized with Joseph Gage as the first president. If the volunteer department was run as the later 1915 department, the men) had monthly meetings where various topic$ were voted on. They would elect a president, secretary and treasurer. The association would vote on various items of interest tc them, appoint committees to do "checking ir and plan events," and to provide the eats and smokes for the meeting. Sometime very early in the history of the department an annual oyster supper was planned. The men would form a committee to select a new fire-truck (would be pulled by horses or men). Frederick Frommel, George Hill and H.E. Adams were appointed to this committee. After checking into various fire-truck companies they chose the Babcock Hook and Ladder truck for recommendation to the City Council. This truck would have 6 Babcock extinguishers, as well as a pressure soda/acid tank (located under the driver's seat). Sometime during the early days of the department, perhaps when the city water system was installed and working, two hose carts were acquired. No history of these two pieces of equipment is available.

EQUIPMENT PURCHASED                       
    Along about 1874, the City Council authorized the purchase of rubber and leather buckets. Later the men would be provided caps and belts. They looked like real up-to-date firemen. The largest item for purchase, besides hand-pulled hose carts was a large alarm bell (now located in front of Station #1, located at Tenth and Madison. The fire department started out sharing a rented building with the Council to hold meetings. 

1876-WATER SYSTEM BUILT
The 1874-78 history of the department is a bit fuzzy. James R. Cunningham was appointed the Chief Engineer of the Hook and Ladder Company. With the new water system, the city fire fighters would have a little additional help, in a reliable steady water supply. I'm not sure how the carts, which were pulled by men were located. The location of the Babcock Hook and Ladder fire wagon is confusing because no mention of it occurs. The Department was organized into the Tom Dean Hose Company. Exactly when the fire wagon was purchased is hard to pin-point, but a news item in the Courier of Dec., 1898, mentions the "antiquated condition" of Charleston's equipment. According to the article, Charleston did not have a horse drawn fire vehicle to use with the High School fire of 1898. History is very fuzzy in the last twenty years of Charleston's 19th Century.

WHEN THE ALARM BELL RINGS

The Old Bell installed in 1874 at the 500 Jackson Fire House.
 The bell would serve the City of Charleston until the old Fire House would be torn down in 1959

I can remember modern uses in the 1960's were to call in firemen (professional and volunteers); to announce a police call to the Charleston Police Department; to announce that Charleston's curfew was in effect.
 
 The bell was salvaged and mounted in front of the 1960's 10th and Madison Fire House #1.  It no longer rings, of course.
 
 Using the new alarm bell, a fire would be announced at the station by a witness who would have run into the station or rode a horse, depending on what was available to get there. The bell would be wrung by that person or a fireman, if at the bell. The mayor, aldermen, street superintendent, and city marshal were required to report to the Chief Engineer or his assistant. If a city official did not report he was subject to a fine of five to twenty-five dollars. During fires firemen were subject to the orders of the Chief Engineer or First or Second Assistant Engineers. All firemen were initially volunteers. All bystanders were subject to fire duty when order by a city official. In addition to the bell alarm, the fire would be reported by telegraph message to the City Water. 

The bell would serve the City of Charleston until the old Fire House would be torn down in 1959.
I can remember modern uses in the 1960's were to call in firemen (professional and volunteers); to announce a police call to the Charleston Police Department; to announce that Charleston's curfew was in effect.  The bell was salvaged and mounted in front of the 1960's 10th and Madison Fire House #1.  It no longer rings, of course. Also inside the station, in the Chief's office, is the brass gong, to which this website and my book are named after.  In recent years, the bell still stands, and a memorial brick court has been added with names of many old officers and firemen.


The Cart Pullers of the 19th Century

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