A HISTORY OF THE SEYMOUR FIRE DEPARTMENT (Part 5)
A History of the Seymour Fire Department (Part 5)
On June 12, 2010, the Seymour Fire Department will celebrate 100 years of service to the community. To help commemorate the centennial, the Seymour Community Historical Society is working with the fire department to present its story. This is the fifth in the series summarizing the history of the department. Utilizing the resources of the Seymour Museum and the official minutes of monthly meetings of Seymour Strife Company #1, Marge Coonen and Bill Collar are compiling the history of fire fighting in the city of Seymour. The purpose of this article is to present the highlights from 1980 to 2000. Two fire chiefs served the department during this time: Robert Mory (1973-1990) and Tom Seidl (1990-2001).
In 1980 Americans were shocked by the eruption of Mount St. Helens, overjoyed with the Miracle on Ice, and saddened by the Iranian Hostage Crisis. To protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, President Carter called for a boycott of the Moscow Olympics. This decision had ramifications in Seymour where fireman Jim Braun’s son Jeff, one of the nation’s top shot putters, was preparing to represent the United States in the Olympics. While the early 1980s was a time of change and turmoil worldwide, advances in technology led to numerous changes in the Seymour Fire Department.
Innovation and Inspection
The department continued to grow as modern technology made fire prevention and fighting fires more complex. Trucks were outfitted with two-way radios, procedures were established for dealing with chemical fires, and plans were in place for a major catastrophe such as a train derailment. Department minutes indicate concern was expressed about how to handle hazardous materials and how to conduct an evacuation in the event of a major accident. Arrangements were made with Huettls to make busses available in case people would have to be evacuated and transported. Special plans were formulated to deal with large residential areas such as the Hillside Apartments.
Training and Fire Prevention
In February of 1982 Chief Mory reminded the men that firemen are “Boss” during a fire and can keep anybody out including the owners. He emphasized once a building is “roped off” the firemen must take charge and maintain control. Records indicate that in September of 1983 the training of firemen improved to include a controlled burn of an old house, and touring area businesses. At the November meeting in 1985 a map of the Seymour Lumber property was passed out showing the location of fire hydrants and where dangerous materials were stored. The department was split into two man teams to map the commercial buildings in town.
By the 1990s it was common practice to tour a business prior to every monthly meeting. This familiarized the men with the floor plan and improved fire fighting efficiency. Firemen were encouraged to take classes offered on topics ranging from dealing with hazardous materials to silo fire training and handling severe weather incidents. All members were trained how to use the Jaws of Life and air bags.
Early in the decade a movement took place to adopt the 911 emergency call system. By 1993 the quick response program was in operation. Eventually firemen were equipped with pagers to guarantee immediate attention to the fire call.
During the 1990s greater emphasis was placed on fire prevention education. Firemen in dress uniforms took the trucks to the schools during Fire Safety Week. They had pencils and handouts for the kids, discussed fire safety, and stimulated interest in respecting the destructive potential of the careless use of flammable materials. It was customary to communicate with up to 700 students at Rock Ledge and over 100 at St. John’s.
Saving the Old Truck
At the August 9, 1988 meeting, discussion took place regarding the possibility of restoring the “Old Walhrus” (Waterous Standard) or junk it. Records indicate Art Wolk traveled to Winona, MN in August of 1925 and drove the truck back to Seymour. At that time the truck was considered the best available, but it no longer functioned and was taking up space in the city garage. The simple solution and least costly was to junk it.
According to a May 9, 1996 Times-Press interview with assistant fire chief Steve Krabbe, Seymour firemen attempted to rebuild the Waterous, but parts were unavailable and many things were wrong with the truck. Krabbe mentioned a conversation with a customer at his supper club who was an employee of Pierce Manufacturing in Appleton that led to saving the truck. Eventually an agreement was reached with a body shop owner in Manawa who agreed to restore the historical truck. Department minutes indicate $6,000.00 was allocated toward the restoration. Additional funds were raised and the entire truck was rebuilt for about $10,000.00. Several references indicate progress was slow but steady, and it was completely rebuilt and ready for the Memorial Day parade in 1996.
The truck, which becomes more valuable with every passing year, is a common sight and fascinating attraction in area parades. It is prominently displayed in the window of the impressive fire station on Mainline Drive. Fortunately, people with a sense of history and respect for the past, had the foresight to make the commitment to restore and preserve the old workhorse.
In 1998 Chief Tom Seidl described the department in the following manner. “The Seymour fire department is made up of the city and three townships: Cicero, Osborn, and Seymour. These groups work together whether it is a barn, house, or brush fire. A great working relationship exists with members of each fire department and is a great asset for the community at large. Mutual aid agreements are made with surrounding communities so that when more aid is necessary it is just a phone call away. All 26 members of the City of Seymour Fire Department are trained to the degree of Firefighter I. This training consists of two sessions, 36 hours each, learning everything from the techniques of knot tying to using a self-contained breathing apparatus. Having this knowledge enables the firefighters to react to all different types of situations. They are able to reach a level of confidence that enables them to be active participants on every call.
Nineteen of the firefighters are trained in CPR at this time (1998). The Seymour Fire department has one chief, two assistant chiefs, and three fire inspectors. The equipment consists of two pumpers, two water trucks, one brush truck and one equipment truck. They are also proud owners of a completely refurbished 1926 Waterous Fire Truck...”
Several serious fires took place in the city during the 1980s. According to firemen at the scene, the U. S. Plant Foods fire in 1981 was particularly challenging because of the chemicals and fertilizer stored on site. The department managed to keep the fire from spreading to the canning factory located across the railroad tracks.
In November of 1983 the firemen worked in a snowstorm through the night to battle a fire that gutted the VFW Club located on Morrow Street. They remained on the scene until 8:00 AM.
An early morning fire on February 3, 1985 at the Coachlite on Main Street forced the firemen to work through the night in freezing conditions. Fire Chief Robert Mory said the old wooden building was a total loss.
These fires are representative of challenges and conditions faced by the firefighters over the years.
Through the 1980s and 1990s the firemen gathered socially to celebrate the Christmas Season, Valentine’s Day, and to interact with retired members of the department. References are made in the record books to water fight competition, bowling tournaments, and working together on various projects. The beer stand at the fair continued to be a major source of income. During the late 1990s the stand was completely rebuilt.
During the 1990s the firemen continued to support community activities. Records indicate an annual gift of $1,000.00 to the library for the summer reading program, several $1,000.00 scholarships for senior students, $500.00 for the gazebo, $200.00 to the Red Cross, $125.00 to each of four churches for Christmas, and numerous other gifts to 4-H groups and scouts. The Seymour firefighters not only serve the community, but also donate their time for Burger Fest, the Outagamie county Fair, Memorial Day, and a variety of other community projects ranging from gun safety to youth sports.
Protecting the Community for 100 Years
The construction of the spacious, well-equipped fire station on Mainline Drive represents 100 years of progress from the old city hall on Main Street to the new state of the art facility. The bell that once called the firemen to service is now displayed as a memorial to the many men who made the commitment to serve their community. Through a cooperative arrangement with neighboring townships, the city of Seymour houses a large arsenal if firefighting equipment. Fire Chief Steve Krabbe (2001- ) has made it a point to remember those who helped build the department into an excellent firefighting force. Proudly displayed, the fully restored Waterous stands ready to lead the next parade to the joy of kids of all ages. Pictures of all the firemen who have served, adorn the walls of the new building reminding the viewer of how important volunteers are to the quality of life in the city. When you see a firefighter, thank him for his service.