Fighting ‘fire-balls, sky-rockets’


WFD had simple beginning 175 years ago

Compiled by Kay Fisher - Clinton County History Center



This photo of the Wilmington Fire Department was taken Oct. 30, 1915 — the department’s 75th anniversary. In 2015, the Wilmington Fire Department celebrates 175 years.

This photo of the Wilmington Fire Department was taken Oct. 30, 1915 — the department’s 75th anniversary. In 2015, the Wilmington Fire Department celebrates 175 years.


Photo courtesy of Clinton County History Center

In this undated photo of the Wilmington Fire Department are: 1. Charles Hamell (spelling may be incorrect due to handwritten identifications), fireman; 2. Harry Ames, fireman; 3. Frank Pannebaker, fireman; 4. R.L. Greene, mayor; 5. J.S. Thomas, safety director; 6. Henry Adams, policeman; 7. Rollo Kirk, police chief; 8. William Gray, policeman; 9. Bert Cox, caretaker; 10. [no first name listed] Carpenter, fire/police; 11. Howard Babb, fireman; 12. Everett Browning (spelling of last name unclear), fireman; 13. Clinton Alvis (spelling of last name unclear), fireman; 14. Arthur Sutton fireman; 15. Louis Shurer, fireman; and 16. St. Clair Fife, fireman.


Photo courtesy of Clinton County History Center

This year marks the Wilmington Fire Department’s 175th anniversary, and to celebrate, they will hold an open house Saturday, Oct. 10 from 4 to 8 p.m. at the firehouse on Sugartree Street. Featured events include automobile extraction and forcible entry demonstrations and a state fire marshal’s demonstration, CareFlight will be there (weather permitting), several pieces of fire equipment will be on display including some horse-drawn equipment, and they will have a fire safety trailer. There will also be displays and booths by the Clinton County Historical Society, local law enforcement and the American Red Cross. Food and refreshments will be provided.

The Wilmington Fire Department was officially founded in 1840, and is going strong as the city celebrates 175 years since its inception.

But the town council acted 10 years earlier, in 1830, to prevent fires with “An Ordinance to Prevent Damage by Fire”:

Section I. Be it ordained by the Town Council of the Town of Wilmington, That James Fife and Warren Sabin be and they are hereby appointed to examine the fire-places attached to such tenements within the limits of the corporation as may be situated within such distance of each other as may render it possible in burning to communicate fire to each other (at least once a month, from the 1st of November to the 1st of April in each and every year). And the examiners, on discovering any fire-place or chimney which may be in such a condition as, in their opinion, might communicate fire to the building to which it is attached, or to any other building, shall immediately report the same to the Marshal, whose duty it shall be forthwith to notify the owner or occupier of such building, in writing, to repair such fire-place or chimney in such manner as he shall prescribe in his aforesaid notification.

Section 2. Be it further ordained, that if the person or persons so notified shall fair to repair his, her or their fire-place or fire-places, agreeably to the notice of the Marshal, within ten days after he, she or they shall have received such notice, such person or persons shall, for every such offense, on conviction before the Mayor, be find a sum not exceeding $20, not less than $2.

Section 3. Be it further ordained, that it shall be deemed an offense against said corporation for any person or person to burn powder in balls, or otherwise burn or set on fire any tar barrel, or throw any fire-balls, sky-rockets, or any other combustible material on fire whatever, within the limits of the corporation; and every person or persons so offending shall, on conviction before the Mayor, be fined in any sum not exceeding $5, no less than 25 cents.

Section 4. Be it further ordained, that the Marshall shall be herby authorized to procure four fire-hooks and six ladders for the use of the corporation;; to erect a suitable shelter on the court house lot to preserve them; and to place them under such shelter in god order, so as to be ready on any emergency, and present his account for settlement to the Town Council.

Section 5. Be it further ordained, that if any person or persons shall remove from their place of deposit any of the aforementioned hooks or ladders, for any purpose other than the prevention of extinction of fire within the corporation, such person or persons shall, on conviction before the Mayor, for every such offense be fined in any sum not exceeding $5 nor less than $1.

Section 6. Be it further ordained, that John B. Posey, Samuel McCune, George Bruce, Edward Kelly and Warren Sabin be and they are hereby appointed to have the care and management of the aforesaid hooks and ladders, and to have the exclusive direction and management of the whole operation of extinguishing fire where it shall break within the corporation; and in case of the absence of John B. Posey, then Samuel McCune shall take the command; and in his absence, George Bruce, and so on, agreeably to the order in which their names are set down in this ordinance.

This ordinance to take effect and be in force from the 15th day of January instant.

January 2, 1830

Isaiah Morris, Mayor

Source: 1882 History of Clinton County

Department founded

On March 14, 1840, provision was made by an ordinance of the Town Council for the organization of all able-bodied white male inhabitants residing within the corporation limits of the village into two fire companies, one of which was to be known and designated as the Hook and Ladder Company, and the other the Bucket Company, the former to consist of 40 able-bodied young men, and the latter of all other able-bodied white male inhabitants over the age of 17 years.

The Town Council was to elect a Superintendent, who, with the assistance of that body, was to select the 40 young men that were to compose the Hook and Ladder Company. The Superintendent thus elected to serve only until the regular spring election, when the Superintendent of the fire department should be elected in the same way and manner as other corporation officers.

It was made the duty of every owner of a dwelling-house, storehouse, shop and office within the corporation limits of the village to procure or cause to be procured a fire bucket for each and every shop or dwelling to be made of leather, to be approved by the Superintendent, to hold three gallons of water, and to cause his or her name to be legibly written, printed or painted on the same, and to be kept in a convenient place in each dwelling-house, storehouse or office belonging to him or her.

It was further made the duty of the owner or occupier of the buildings to convey or cause to be conveyed such buckets in case of fire to the place of the danger.

Pursuant to certain sections of the ordinance referred to, John Bush Posey was appointed Superintended of the fire companies, and James Fife was appointed the keeper of the hooks and ladders.

The village was without a fire engine of any description until the purchase of the steamer now in use by the fire department. During the winter of 1874-1875, and the spring of the latter year, Wilmington was the scene of a number of incendiary fires of an alarming nature, which led to the prompt actions of the citizens in securing a more efficient means for extinguishing fires than those then in use.

Adding efficiency

On the 12th of May, 1875 the citizens assembled at the courthouse and organized a volunteer fire company known as the “Clinton Fire Engine, Hook and Ladder and Hose Company of Wilmington, Ohio.”

The original members were: Charles Hughes, J.L. Hackney, S. Q. Fulton, H.C. Taylor, Jr., J.J. Barlow, I.W. Quinby, S.S. Linton, B.J. Whinery, G. L. Barlow, H.E. G. Girard, Wesley Brindle, William Schofield, W.A. Bogan, Charles Mathews, Robert McMillan, Robert Hazard, Lou Fisher, Levi Pike, N.H. Sidwell, J.A. Schofield, Henry Miller, J.B. Allen, Samuel Richards, J. McDermott, George R. Achor, M. R. Gaskill, W. H. Rannells, J.M. Kirk, E.W. Shepherd, E. S. Hadley, M.W. Moon, C.B. Dwiggins, D.A. Lamb, G. W. Green, Eli Hadley, E. K. Peters, David Babb, Charles Curl, P.S. Brindle, Charles Welch, Josiah Sparks, Charles McMillan, Frank Vantress, Jacob Burst, H.H. Barlow, George W. Brown, William M. Babb, Alf Clark, C.W. Bronson, Luther Watkins, J. N. Lloyd, M.F. Curstin, Madison Betts, D. T White, C. J. Hockett, S. W. Robinson, W. T. Crossley, L.H. Baldwin, John Reed, Preston Irvin, Will I. Denny, F. B. Mills, and Clint C. Harlan.

Among those were the most influential men of the town. The officers elected were J.L. Hackney, Captain; Joseph Peters, First Lieutenant of Engine Department; L.N. Pike, Second Lieutenant Engine Department; Madison Betts, First Lieutenant Hose Department; Jacob Burst, Second Lieutenant Hose Department; Robert Hazard, First Engineer; Lou Fisher, Second Engineer; Robert McMillan, First Lieutenant Hook and Ladder Department, E. W. Shepherd, Second Lieutenant Hook and Ladder Department; D. T. White, Secretary Fire Department and W. H. Rannells, Treasurer.

The Council acted promptly and purchased a complete set of hooks and ladders, with a well-arranged truck for their removal, which were taken in charge by the Hook and Ladder Company. A committee was at once appointed by the same body to purchase a steam fire engine, which resulted in securing an Ahrens-Fox engine from Cincinnati, which included two hose-reels and 1,000 feet of hose.

The engine arrived Wednesday morning, May 27, and was tested on the 30th of June. It was fired up for the first time in the morning and when in full play, threw water over the spire of the M.E. Church, which is 144 feet in height. In the afternoon, at 3 o’clock the brigade was called out and proceeded with the engine and two hose reel to Mr. Bentley’ pond, just east of town, where the engine was located.

The hose was then run north to the pike, where a one and one-eighth inch nozzle was attached to the end of the first section of 100 feet. In abut fifteen minutes after fire had been kindled, the engine began pumping, and soon threw water to a distance of 340 feet. The nozzle was then detached and the hose run up the pike to the college building, and beyond, making 1, 000 feet of hose in all. The nozzle was attached, the signal given and the engine again began pumping.

The experiment was a beautiful one and gave great satisfaction to all who saw it; the jet of water played with terrible force against the cornice of the college building, which is three stories high, and then clear over the edifice, cupola and all and a long way beyond. After this a double hose was attached to the engine and a nozzle at the end of each 5,000 feet of hose.

Through each of these two hose a stream of water was thrown of volume and force to answer any purpose that might ever be demanded of it in Wilmington. With these two stream the old flouring mill, located near the railroad, was deluged with water, shingles and weather boarding were knocked off, doors and blinded force open, all going to show the great force of the water.

The demonstration was attended by a large number of people for the town and county.

New name, faces

By an amendment to the constitution, Sept. 14, 1880 the name of the company was changed to that of the Wilmington Fire Company, and its different departments to the Clinton Engine Company, the Clinton Hook and Ladder and the Clinton Hose Company.

The officers of the company in 1882 were D.A. Lamb, Chief; D. Peebles, Captain, C.R. Fisher, Secretary; W. H. Rannells, Treasurer; J. N. Tucker, Engineer, H.H. Barlow, First Lieutenant Engine Department; G. W. Brown, First Lieutenant Hose Department, H.G. Vandervort, Second Lieutenant Hose Department; R.S. Fulton, First Lieutenant Hook and Ladder Department; Charles Curl, Fireman, George Barlow, Assistant Engineer. Membership was 75.

The fire department was now supplied with one steam engine, three hose-reels, with 1,500 feet of severable hose and one hook and ladder truck fully equipped, and 11 public cisterns, with an average capacity of over 250 barrels, located as follows: One at the courthouse corner, on South Street; one on South; one halfway between Main and Locust streets; one on the corner of Locust and South Streets; one on the Baptist Church corner, one at the junction of Walnut with Columbus; one a Main and Mulberry Streets crossing; one at the crossing of Wood and Maple streets, one in front of the Friends’ Church on Mulberry Street; one south of the railroad on South Street and one on Locust Street near Prairie Avenue. The first named eight were constructed in 1870 and the others in 1875.

Paid company

In 1890 the fire company was organized in the Wilmington fire department and made a paid company. At its organization it consisted of between 28 and 30 men with the following officers: Henry Barlow, chief; R. J. Lacy, assistant chief; Eugene Babb, first lieutenant; Frank Pannebaker, second lieutenant; and Charles Crane, lieutenant of hook and ladder wagon. Its equipment consisted of the steam engine and team, a fully equipped hook and ladder wagon, hose reels and about 1,500 feet of serviceable hose. The hose reel and hook and ladder truck were pulled by hand to the scene of the fire.

In 1903, the city council took about $1,500 from the funds obtained by the sale of the municipal light plant and purchased some new equipment and had the engine overhauled.

In December, 1909, the city council reorganized the company and reduced its membership to one chief, one assistant chief, one engineer, the necessary number of drivers, and seven other men. This made the present size (1915) of the company 10 men. They were: Frank Baker, chief; Frank Pannebaker, assistant chief; S. D. Meyer, captain; Arthur Sutton, secretary; Bert Cox, engineer; Charles Harmel, driver; James McCarthy, driver; Lewis Edwards, C.D. Wallace and Everett McElwee. Its equipment consisted of a hose wagon, with about 1,500 feet of serviceable hose, a hook and ladder wagon, an engine and two teams.

Sources: 1882 History of Clinton County; 1915 History of Clinton County

Also in October: The News Journal will share more photos of the department from the Clinton County History Center; and, what the department looks like in 2015.

This photo of the Wilmington Fire Department was taken Oct. 30, 1915 — the department’s 75th anniversary. In 2015, the Wilmington Fire Department celebrates 175 years.
http://aimmedianetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2015/10/web1_Oct-30-1915-Spahrcr9.jpgThis photo of the Wilmington Fire Department was taken Oct. 30, 1915 — the department’s 75th anniversary. In 2015, the Wilmington Fire Department celebrates 175 years. Photo courtesy of Clinton County History Center

In this undated photo of the Wilmington Fire Department are: 1. Charles Hamell (spelling may be incorrect due to handwritten identifications), fireman; 2. Harry Ames, fireman; 3. Frank Pannebaker, fireman; 4. R.L. Greene, mayor; 5. J.S. Thomas, safety director; 6. Henry Adams, policeman; 7. Rollo Kirk, police chief; 8. William Gray, policeman; 9. Bert Cox, caretaker; 10. [no first name listed] Carpenter, fire/police; 11. Howard Babb, fireman; 12. Everett Browning (spelling of last name unclear), fireman; 13. Clinton Alvis (spelling of last name unclear), fireman; 14. Arthur Sutton fireman; 15. Louis Shurer, fireman; and 16. St. Clair Fife, fireman.
http://aimmedianetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2015/10/web1_16-firemencr.jpgIn this undated photo of the Wilmington Fire Department are: 1. Charles Hamell (spelling may be incorrect due to handwritten identifications), fireman; 2. Harry Ames, fireman; 3. Frank Pannebaker, fireman; 4. R.L. Greene, mayor; 5. J.S. Thomas, safety director; 6. Henry Adams, policeman; 7. Rollo Kirk, police chief; 8. William Gray, policeman; 9. Bert Cox, caretaker; 10. [no first name listed] Carpenter, fire/police; 11. Howard Babb, fireman; 12. Everett Browning (spelling of last name unclear), fireman; 13. Clinton Alvis (spelling of last name unclear), fireman; 14. Arthur Sutton fireman; 15. Louis Shurer, fireman; and 16. St. Clair Fife, fireman. Photo courtesy of Clinton County History Center
WFD had simple beginning 175 years ago

Compiled by Kay Fisher

Clinton County History Center

This year marks the Wilmington Fire Department’s 175th anniversary, and to celebrate, they will hold an open house Saturday, Oct. 10 from 4 to 8 p.m. at the firehouse on Sugartree Street. Featured events include automobile extraction and forcible entry demonstrations and a state fire marshal’s demonstration, CareFlight will be there (weather permitting), several pieces of fire equipment will be on display including some horse-drawn equipment, and they will have a fire safety trailer. There will also be displays and booths by the Clinton County Historical Society, local law enforcement and the American Red Cross. Food and refreshments will be provided.