Milan Area Fire Dept.

► Our History

    Facebook Link
Our History

The first actual Fire Company was formed in 1900 and a a new Hose Cart was purchased and it is still at the Fire Barn today. E. A. Farrington was chief, Fred Wilson and L. Schmitt, nozzlemen, W. Bell, E. W. Blackmer, William Luxton and Webb Blackmer, hose men and J.F. Dexter engineer. These men were paid $1.00 while fighting a fire and the person who cleaned and rolled the hose afterwards was paid 25 cents an hour.

Beginning in December of 1903, pipes were laid and two fire hydrants were installed. The following year the Village installed a Call Bell in J. F. Dexter’s shop to be used as a fire alarm. Also plans were made to begin building a tower on the back of the Fire Barn for drying hose and it was completed in 1907.

Electricity was also available this year from W. P. Lampkin who had a shop on the river in the vicinity of the current American Legion. He supplied the electric energy to pump water into the two fire hydrants when necessary and was paid $10.00 by the Village each time the hydrants were used. This gave the downtown area of Milan better fire protection.

In 1908, E. C. Gregory was appointed Fire Chief with a salary of $25.00 a year. He was instructed by the Council to sell the hand-operated Button Fire Engine which was no longer needed since hydrants had been installed. There were some bad fires during these early years and they are listed with the wage earned by the firemen as a whole:

  • 1907 Ice House Fire, Firemen wages - $23.50
  • 1909 Sissom Fire, Firemen wages - $22.00
  • 1909 Case Fire, Firemen wages - $18.00
  • 1910 Palmer Fire, Firemen wages - $21.00

By 1917, the Fire Department had grown to 16 men. New men were added as vacancies arose. Some of these men were George Steidle, Chief, and Squires, Blanck, Luxton and Barnes as firemen. A fire ladder was purchased and the position of caretaker was abolished. The firemen took care of the equipment and hall.

In 1921, the Village Council voted to adopt the National Standard Thread for all fire hydrants and hose connections. In October of 1922, the Council authorized permission for the disposal of the ladder wagon which was no longer being used by the Fire Department.

In January of 1924, Council began giving thought to the idea of purchasing an American LaFrance Model "T" Fire Truck, but after much discussion and investigation the matter was tabled until 1926 when the Fire Truck was finally purchased for $3,050.00 and delivered to Milan by railroad.

When the truck arrived, the firemen were anxiously waiting for it and attempted to start it to drive it to the Fire Barn. They cranked and cranked but the truck would not start. The look of bewilderment and disappointment on the faces of those firemen was something to see until someone suggested that maybe there wasn’t any gasoline in the truck.

Indeed, the tank was empty. So, a supply of gasoline was added and the truck started on the first crank. The happy firemen proudly drove the new truck to town. This fire truck is presently housed at the Henry Ford Museum for viewing and the names of the firemen who were on the department at this time are engraved on the side.

A very unfortunate event occurred in 1924 when the Fire Bell cracked. It was being rung for a fire at Weller’s Studio and Greenhouse when the incident happed, and it could not be used thereafter. The Milan telephone operator then had the task of calling all the firemen when a fire was reported.

This continued until the summer of 1924 when the Michigan Bell Company took over the Michigan State Telephone Company. The Village Council was granted permission to install an electric start and stop button in the telephone office to set off a whistle which was installed on the water tower and the telephone operators would operate the button.

After two years these installations were completed but in the winter months the water tower dropped moisture onto the whistle and it could not be set off. A young boy living next door to the water tower, Lawrence Ward, took this matter to heart and would periodically climb the water tower and thaw out the whistle with his blow torch. The firemen were very grateful to him for is courage and thoughtfulness.

In January, 1927, the Village Council decided that when the firefighting equipment owned by the Village was used outside the Village limits, the Village should be paid $25.00 for the equipment and $1.50 for each man sent. Between the years of 1930 and 1935, the number of firemen on the department decreased from sixteen to eight. In 1932, the Village Council said that the Fire Truck could not leave the Village until such a time as the Village could maintain an extra truck or cooperate in the maintenance of one with the surrounding communities.

In 1933, the firemen could only serve fires within the length of fire hose from the nearest fire hydrant. The manpower shortage was a serious matter for everyone in the Village.

In 1936, Henry Ford was visiting Milan and noticed the Model "T" Fire Truck. He took a liking to it and offered the Village a new truck in exchange for the Model "T". The Village Council eagerly accepted his offer and a new 1938 Ford Fire Truck was delivered to Milan in the fall of that year.

The Monroe Evening News dated October 22, 1938 shows a picture of the Milan Firemen with their new truck and proclaiming that Milan has the “most modern village equipment in the area.”

Also, in 1938, after much discussion between the Council and the Fire Department, the Council purchased a new Ford V8 Truck cab and chassis with the agreement of the firemen, some of whom were mechanics (John Bruckner, Mel Pickett, T. Sanford) to outfit the truck for fighting fires. This was a big undertaking and challenge for the firemen and many, many hours were spent working on the truck at Pickett’s Garage. The base of the chassis was the dump box off an old discarded truck found at the Milan landfill and the ladder and hose racks were formed from scrap metal and old windmill parts.

One evening the Councilmen visited the firemen while they were working on the truck and became very upset and angry to see all the old rusty metal and the old beat-up dump box on the new truck. They were so upset they wouldn’t go back to view the truck when it was finished and the firemen had to drive the truck to the Council President’s house and put on a demonstration in his front yard using all the equipment on the truck before he could be convinced that the firemen knew what they had been doing.

The firemen were very proud of their work and often remarked that they should have patented some of the parts they had invented to use on the truck. This truck became known as Fire Truck No. 2 and was used by the department until 1970 when it was sold to a collector.

June 1938 was the time of the 10th Annual Fire College to be held at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.  This was sponsored by the Michigan Sate Firemen’s Association and lasted four days. This was quite an event as the whole town of Salt Ste. Marie went “all out” to welcome and acknowledge the firemen with special services that week.  One of the Milan Firemen who attended was Jay Clark.

January 27, 1939, the Township Boards of Milan, York and London asked to meet with the Milan Village Council to discuss the possibility of fire protection in their townships. An agreement was made among the townships to pay the Village a set amount each year and the Village agreed to maintain and house the fire equipment and pay the firemen. Thus, the townships now had good fire protection.

In 1939, Jay Clark was appointed Fire Chief. He felt the firemen needed more fire training so he took advantage of all the classes sponsored by the Michigan State Firemen’s Association and the University of Michigan. Jay expected the firemen to attend as many classes as possible. After completing training in lifesaving and rescue work the Milan Firemen began to respond to rescue calls. The first call was made to the Federal Prison for a suicide.

The Stevens and Bush Funeral Home in Milan operated an ambulance service and would transport for the Fire Department when necessary.   Throughout the years the Milan Firemen have been praised many times for their professional manner and life-saving techniques. Their quick responses to rescue calls have helped many people.

Chief, Jay Clark, also appointed officers to the department for the first time, and special tasks were assigned to each office. The men all knew the Chief was very confident in their skills and carried out their duties promptly and efficiently. Chief Clark was also very active in the newly formed Southwestern Michigan Firemen’s Association. This organization sponsored many events for the firemen and their wives, such as competitive sports between the area fire departments and all day seminars and dinners. These events promoted friendship and communication among the area fire departments. In 1944, when Chief Clark retired from the department, he was given an Honorary Membership in the Southeastern Association.

In 1943, a telephone was placed in the police station (the home of Tom Goodridge) at 269 First Street by the telephone company. This was a special phone to be used only for police and fire calls. Another improvement this year was removing the jail room from the Fire Barn and plans were made to remodel this space into a radio room for the firemen.

In April of 1944, Thurlow Sanford was appointed Fire Chief and one month later the Milan Firemen’s Association was formed with Fireman Canine as President. Thus, a more organized way of working for the betterment of the fire department began. John Bruckner was serving on the Village Council at this time and was able to work as a liaison between the two groups.

During this year there was a huge straw fire at the Jorgensen Farm on Carpenter Road and the firemen worked 13 hours in order to save the surrounding buildings from burning and their pay was only a $1.50. Johnny and other firemen successfully convinced the Council to increase the pay form $1.50 per fire to $1.50 per hour. Since then the firemen have received several raises in pay.

In order to make sure that only the firemen who reported to a fire got paid the Village needed some way of keeping records. Pete King came up with the idea, and designed and constructed, a number board. Each fireman is assigned a number when joining the department. These numbers are painted on a small hinged block of wood with their name on the reverse side and mounted on a large blackboard which is hung on the wall of the Fire Barn beside the Fire Trucks. When the firemen respond to a fire call they pull down on their number revealing their name and there is no delay in getting the trucks going and the names of the responding firemen are recorded when they return to the Barn.

In 1945, telephone dial service was introduced to the Milan area and the answering service for the fire and police calls was to be at the Stevens and Bush Funeral Home on East Main Street. The Fire Whistle could be set off at the Funeral Home and stopped at the Fire Barn when the firemen arrived. This system worked very well for a number of years until Milan had a full time police department and dispatcher.

Also, in 1945, the firemen felt the necessity of a larger tanker to help fight and control the country and grass fires. This was recommended to the Council and 18 months later the townships and Village agreed to purchase an 800 gallon tanker truck and a 400 gallon pump mounted in the front and a portable pump unit with a 300 gallon per minute volume for $5,585.00.

By this time the Washtenaw and Monroe County Firemen’s Associations were being formed. Some of the Milan Firemen, T. Sanford, and C. Blackmer, worked on committees to help build these organizations into the large groups they are today. The Associations meet several times a year and representatives from all the fire departments within the County gather to update each other, share experiences and receive information on new laws, equipment, training and techniques.

Fortunately, most Fire Department injuries have been minor, except for one time. The firemen were entering a burning house on County Street in Milan when an aerosol can blew-up in the face of Chuck Blackmer. It badly scared one side of his face. This was a sad way for the firemen to learn the importance of face masks and other protective clothing.

Between the years of 1935 and 1949, the upstairs of the Fire Barn was divided into two rooms, one belonging to the Free Library and the other a meeting room for the Village Council and later the Firemen’s Association.

In 1949, the Library moved to Wabash Street and the upstairs was left for the firemen to use. The firemen worked on their own time removing a partition, putting up paneling and ceiling tile, and eventually installing a kitchen. This became their meeting room and extra storage space.

The annual potluck Christmas Dinner for the wives started at this time. The daughters of the firemen were asked to serve and help clean up afterwards. The dinner was to treat the wives who supported their fire service the past year. The party that followed was always great fun and sometimes lead to a little harmless “horse play” - like the time Joe Boldt told Johnny Bruckner to throw him a piece of pie. Johnny said “What did you say Joe?” Joe said again, “Throw me a piece of pie.” Johnny threw him a piece of pie but Joe didn’t catch too well and a few ladies got “splashed” with pie. The ladies were angry and the firemen had a cleaning bill but the fun is still remembered, however, no more pie has been thrown around. The firemen still have the Christmas Dinner and party for their wives, however, because of the size of the group, the firemen rented a local banquet hall and had the dinner catered until 1981 when the new Fire Barn was built and there was again enough room for the men to cook the dinner and have the party.

When the Milan Free Fair began in 1948, the firemen decided to participate, and also earn a little money for their Association, by parking cars in the park around the fair. The money made was used for various events sponsored by the firemen during the year such as, the Firemen’s Annual Chicken Barbecue and the Halloween Party. The Chicken Barbecue was for the firemen’s family and is still held on the first Saturday after Labor Day in Wilson Park. All new firemen’s wives are initiated on the drinking fountain and the children are given a ride around town on the Fire Truck.

The Halloween Party was held at Wilson Park for all the children in Milan. The High School Band marched and hot dogs, doughnuts and cider were given out. Prizes were awarded for the best and funniest costumes. This event had to be abandoned in the 1960’s when the townspeople began to complain that the party attracted too many country children to town who went trick or treating around town afterwards and were doing damage to stores and yards.

Up until this time it is unknown whether or not there had been a father-son team on the Fire Department, however, when Harvey Gotts worked with the other firemen, taking care of the trucks and equipment, his son Tom, was usually with him and joined in. Unfortunately, in 1952, Harvey was stricken with a fatal heart attack. In as much as Tom was well known and liked by the firemen, they voted to have Tom take his father’s place on the Department. Tom has been a very active member of the Fire Department and served as Chief from 1969 until 1973. Since then there have been several father-son teams on the Department, namely, Pete and Glen King, Dale and Tim Heath, and Mike Weber Sr. and Mike Jr.

By the year 1956, the Firemen’s Association was well organized. The Association met two evenings a month, the first and third Mondays, and the number of firemen was now twenty. The firemen were also well represented on the Village Council with three members serving, Duane Schultz, Richard Sigworth and Pete King.

In 1961, the three townships (Milan, London and York) and the Village of Milan, agreed to purchase a new fire truck to replace Truck No. 1 and it would be to the firemen’s specifications.

In 1962, Chief Sanford retired from the Fire Department after 50 years of service. The firemen hosted an Open House for him at the American Legion Hall as a tribute to his many years of dedicated service to the department. Mel Pickett succeeded Thurlow as Chief. The number of firemen increased to twenty-four and the pay increased to $4.00 for the first hour or call and $3.00 per hour thereafter. The men were also paid $2.50 for attending their monthly meetings. The meetings were set up so the meeting on the first Monday of the month would be to conduct the business at hand and the meeting on the third Monday of the month would be for training.

Back in 1951, Chief Sanford had purchased a red Ford Sedan with a siren and designated it as the Fire Chief’s car. He drove it to all the fires while he was Chief, carrying emergency equipment such as first aid supplies, blankets, etc. In 1961, the Village purchased a used Dodge Station Wagon for the Chief’s car and a couple years later they purchased an International Metro Van for emergency use. The siren off Thurlow’s car was saved, however, and is displayed at the Fire Barn.

Also in 1962, the firemen joined with the Civil Defense Preparedness group. When the “big wind” hit Milan in May of 1962 the firemen worked many hours helping the town clean the streets of downed limbs and debris.

Then again in 1965 when parts of Milan were hit by a tornado the firemen worked helping the town recover from the damage. The firemen are still on the alert when storm warnings are out. They report to the Fire Barn and some take the trucks to the outskirts of town to watch the sky for any sign of a tornado approaching so as to warn the citizens of Milan to take shelter.

There were times periodically through the years, when the wives of the firemen would help clean up the meeting room and kitchen. A couple of times the wives attempted to form an Auxiliary, however, it wasn’t until December 2, 1968, that the organization was formed and accepted by the firemen.

By-laws were drawn up and printed with the main purpose being to assist the firemen when asked by replacing wet clothing, serving coffee and sandwiches at a fire and operating the radio during long, extensive fires. Helping “burned-out” families in the community is another big function of the Auxiliary.

At the monthly meetings, the ladies would bring can goods and clothing to be used for the “burned-out” families. New shoes and underwear would be purchased when needed. These items were bought from the money the members paid in dues. Much thought was given to having a money making project at the Milan Free Fair. One of the members, Eileen Tooman, came up with the idea of a “Big Six Wheel” which would be similar to a Roulette Wheel. Glen King, one of the firemen, constructed the game. To make sure the game was honest the firemen and their wives spent a fun evening trying it out. The game became a highlight of the fair for many years as everyone enjoyed playing their quarters to try and win more. The profits made from the Wheel every year were used for clothing, groceries and bedding for “burned-out” families and other community projects, such as, playground equipment for Wilson Park, new carpet, pillows and chairs for special rooms at the Milan Schools, having a Santa House and a Santa Claus uptown at Christmas, buying a rescue boat and equipment for the Fire Department, and giving a $300.00 memorial scholarship to a graduating senior.

In 1974, when Southern Michigan was stranded by a record snowstorm, the Auxiliary ladies opened the Community House and Fire Barn to the stranded motorists brought to them by the busload after they had been rescued by the firemen. Some of the motorists were rescued by snowmobile and brought into town by the firemen. Coffee and lunch were served by the ladies and the next day breakfast and lunch were served with the help of other volunteers. The firemen and their wives worked all night and the next day helping the stranded motorists get to shelter and be warm and fed while snowplows and wreckers were trying to “unplug” the highways.

In 1968, the Stevens and Bush Funeral Home stopped taking fire calls and the fire phone was installed in the new police station where a full-time dispatcher was hired to take the calls. There were now three sirens in the different areas of the city (Milan is a city now) and the dispatcher sets these off in case of a fire.

In 1969, Mel Pickett retired from the Fire Department after 40 years of service and Tom Gotts was appointed Fire Chief. This year, also, the City Council decided to go ahead and let the firemen build a new fire station garage they had needed for several years. The Council bought the material at cost of $4,500.00 for a 26 x 38 foot addition to an existing building which is located across East Main Street from the original Fire Barn. The new structure was quite an undertaking for the firemen; however, under the direction of Chief Gotts and his experienced helpers from the construction field, the project was started. Volunteer work crews were organized for Saturdays and Sundays with the Auxiliary serving dinners for the workers each day. At the place where the building was to be built there was a historical marker telling the elevation of the ground at that point, consequently, the building was carefully planned and constructed around the marker and it is still visible. Within a few weekends the firemen had the cement block building up and the roof on. The building was completed with automatic doors bought by the Rotary Club.

In 1972, the City bought Plectrons for all the firemen’s homes. This was to do away with blowing the sirens between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. and also alert the firemen as to what kind of a call they had (house fire, car fire, rescue, etc.).

The firemen expressed their patriotism this year by purchasing a huge American Flag (approximately 16 x 24 feet) to be displayed on the front of the Fire Barn for holidays and to be carried in the Memorial Day Parade by Auxiliary members, and sometimes Firemen and Auxiliary members, though town.

In 1972, the Firemen also had their “closest call.” The house across the street from the Fire Barn (corner of Marvin and County Streets) blew up. This fire and explosion became a scandal for the City when two bodies were found in the debris and the woman who had been living there disappeared. However, after four years she was found living out of state, arrested and returned to Washtenaw County for trial.

In 1973, Neil Taylor was appointed Fire Chief and two new firemen were added. June 4, 1976, Chief Taylor went to Marshalltown, Iowa, to drive home a new Fire Truck which had been ordered by the City and the townships the previous year. This truck was a 1975 International, 1500 gallon tanker-pumper and cost $28,000. The Milan Fire Department now had 28 firemen who are paid $7.00 per fire call or the first hour and $5.00 for each hour after, and $5.00 for attendance at the monthly meetings.

The fire equipment includes 5 fire trucks, 2 rescue vans, 1 rescue boat with a specially built stretcher and life jackets, 2 electric generators, 1 portable generator, a K-12 saw, a hydraulic porta-power saw, a chain saw, 8 air packs, 2 smoke ejectors 2 resuscitators, 1500 Fire Barn was getting full of necessary equipment and the firemen kept their turn-out gear at home.

The years from 1976 to 1979 were filled with many fun projects. The men not only continued their training in rescue work, first aid, and fire fighting, but joined with the Auxiliary members in community events. The fair parades were special times with many of the men dressing up as clowns and parading down Main Street with their buckets full of candy to pass out to one and all. They worked with the gals on building a fancy float to be pulled with lots of children riding on top. The “Big Six Wheel” was still used at the fair and the money made was used for community projects. The Memorial Day Parade was organized by the Fire Department and after the ceremony at the park, everyone joined with the American Legion members for hot dogs, chips and drinks. The Auxiliary members purchased large flower baskets to hang from the light posts of the downtown area and bought or made furnishings for the Crisis Rooms at the elementary and middle schools. The games played at Wilson Park for the Summer Fun Day were organized and supervised by the Auxiliary Members.

In 1979, the Fire Committee, represented by members from the township boards and the City Council, and the Fire Department decided it was time to make plans to build a new Fire Barn. The old Fire Barn could not be increased in size and it was not large enough to hold all the modern equipment necessary to have a successful Fire Department. The first step in any project is to raise enough money and his was no exception. A bond issue would have to be passed by the citizens. The firemen and their wives campaigned door to door to inform the residents of Milan of the need for a new building and answer their questions. The citizens were in favor of the idea and the bond issue passed. The next step was to decide on a location for the new Fire Barn. There were many meetings to discuss this problem before it was decided that the best place would be the old Schultz Motor Sales building and property on Wabash Street. The vacant building was remodeled and added onto so there was enough room to house all the fire trucks and apparatus in one building. In 1980, ground was broken and the building project began. Everyone was excited, most of all the firemen. The new station would be modern and have a dispatch area, showers, lockers, kitchen, meeting room, office, hose dryer, storage area and plenty of parking space. The architect was Keith Weiland from the Ann Arbor firm of McNamee, Porter and Seeley. The R. E. Davis Construction Company of Ann Arbor did the basic construction; however, the firemen oversaw the project and did a lot of the work themselves. All the cement work and finish work was done by the firemen. They also did the decorating and carpet laying. After many months of hard work, the building was finally completed for a cost of $350,000.00.

On June 28, 1981, the dedication was held. Many citizens from the City of Milan, the surrounding townships and other Fire Departments came to see this lovely new building. Dale Heath was the proud Chief.

In 1982, the rescue van was finally replaced with a new, up-to-date rescue truck. This vehicle had built in storage for the rescue equipment and transporting of the injured. This truck was a 1982 Chevrolet.

In 1984, Gary Brown was elected Fire Chief. Also this year a Hurst Rescue Tool, commonly known as the “Jaws of Life” was purchased. This modern tool cost $9,000.00 but will allow the firemen free injured people from automobiles or machinery within minutes, thus giving the injured a better chance of surviving. This tool included a set of spreaders capable of lifting 20 tons of steel.

The number of calls the Fire Department was making the last few years had increased. Thus, the Fire Committee felt it was necessary to add two more positions to the number of volunteers and so two new firemen were added which made the total number of volunteers 30. All the firemen were trained and certified by the State. They served a one year probation period and could decide at the end of that time if they wished to remain on the department. The area served by the Fire Department now is 39 1/2 square miles and includes the city of Milan, Milan Township, London Township and part of York Township.

The trucks in service in 1986 were a 1961 Dodge Pumper, 1975 International Pumper, 1980 International Pumper, 1984 GMC Pumper, 1987 Ford Pumper, 1975 Dodge Van Command Vehicle, 1982 Chevrolet Rescue Truck and 1967 International Pumper. The trucks are kept serviced and in good shape by the firemen. The Fire Barn is also maintained and cleaned by the firemen. They have formed rotating committees who meet on Sunday mornings for breakfast and then do the necessary tasks afterwards.

In 1987, the Milan area Fire Department celebrated its 100th year. Many of the older firemen have retired and younger men have joined the group. The “retirees” still come around to visit, give advice and keep up on the latest techniques and happenings. They are always ready to join in on the fun times too.

There has been a lot of dedication, working together and learning together during the growth of the department. The firemen are proud of the job they have done and will continue to do.

Milan is also proud of its FIRE DEPARTMENT.

Milan Area Fire Department • 45 Wabash St. • Milan, MI 48160 • PH: 734-439-2843
Copyright© 2023 Milan Area Fire Department, All Rights Reserved