A HISTORY OF THE SEYMOUR FIRE DEPARTMENT (Part 3)
In June of 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 facts from the past. This is the third in the series that will summarize 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 will present the history of fire fighting in the city of Seymour. The purpose of this article is to cover the years of 1935 to 1965.
Prohibition ended on December 5, 1933, and the fire department discussed having a beer stand, in partnership with the American Legion, at the county fair. The rent for the stand would be $350.00. In 1936 we find them negotiating with the Fair Association to be able to use the land for $150.00 or pay them 20% of the net profit. The fair beer stand has become one of their major fundraisers for the past 75 years.
A Fun Festival - 1937
Always looking for ways to serve the community, “The Department planned a Fun Festival at the fair grounds on June 19 and 20, 1937. The main attraction was the Badger State Barn Dance, which provided 50 minutes of comedy in front of the grandstand, while on the midway there were games, shows, rides and concessions. A parade was held at 11:00, which included 200 musicians from Shawano, Pulaski, Chilton and Seymour. There also was a baseball game at 10:00 between Bonduel and Seymour, both top teams in the Land O’ Lakes league.” (Appleton Post Crescent May 21, 1937) It was a success and a lot of work. However, at a special meeting held in June 1938, the department voted 13 to 3 against holding the event again.
Rural Fire Service
During the last years of the 1930s there was much talk at the meetings with Herb Tubbs from the Town of Seymour Rural Fire Department looking for fire protection from the city. In June 1938 Engine #2 was purchased by the towns of Seymour and Osborn. This newer truck had a capacity of 700 gallons with a booster tank attached and about 700 feet of hose. The water supply lasted 20 minutes, giving the firemen time to establish another source of water. The truck was housed at City Hall, along with the dependable “Waterous Standard”, which was purchased in 1925. The first run for the new truck was on June 27, 1938. It was to the John Kaulf house fire in the town of Center. Clyde Van Vuren and Walter Melchert answered the call and saved a good portion of the house even though half was completely in flames when the truck arrived.
The telephone operators at Seymour handled the fire calls and operated the siren from the switchboard. Both rural and city trucks responded to city fires. The first three firemen from the city of Seymour, who arrived at a rural fire with the truck, were paid $4.00 per fire. The rural fire truck responded to fires that were within a 10 to 15 miles radius in any direction of Seymour, this included the towns of Black Creek, Freedom, Center, Maple Grove, Cicero, Oneida, and Hobart. Ten rural fires were fought during the first five months the truck was in operation. Seventy-three more fires took place in the next six years, averaging about one a month. In the winter months, the causes of most fires were over heated furnaces and chimney problems. During the summer, spontaneous combustion and lightning strikes were the villains. Several references are also made to children playing with matches.
Christmas Eve Fire
On December 24, 1938, the Ralph Gehring Ford garage in Black Creek burned to the ground. The department minutes reflect the hardships faced by the intrepid firemen on that Christmas eve. “The firemen worked under great difficulty as the building was completely ablaze when they arrived, and also the fire truck did not work properly due to the fact that a piece of glass was lodged under a check valve in the pump. The building and its contents were completely destroyed.”
During the winter there were many chimney fires. These were caused by a buildup of creosote in the chimneys since at that time everyone burned either wood or coal. The creosote caused sparks to fly out and start a roof fire. In 1937, John Kissinger, then assistant fire chief, came up with a tool to clean the chimneys when they were on the roofs during a fire. It consisted of a weight on a long chain that was dropped down the chimney. The department records stated that, “He had made it at his own expense and time”. The chain proved to be so successful with chimney fires, that at a meeting in February of 1950 he was asked to make two more chains about 50 feet in length. Similar chains are still used today, but using their own ingenuity, today’s firemen fill plastic bags with sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and keep them on the fire trucks in containers. These are dropped down chimney at a fire, the plastic melts and the sodium bicarbonate smothers the fire.
During the War Years of 1941 to 1945, the fire department voted that any fireman, who had been drafted or doing defense work, would remain on the roll call. They decided to donate $5.00 to the Seymour Press to have the paper sent to the men in service. At Christmas time, firemen in service were sent cigarettes. In February of 1942 they started purchasing Defense Bonds from their savings account, the largest being a $1,000.00 bond (the equivalent of about $13,000.00 in today’s purchasing power). They also donated $15.00 toward establishing a Community Honor Roll to recognize those serving their country. On May 12, 1942, Civil Defense classes were started. Everyone contributed to the war effort in some manner. The firemen were still involved with the American Legion in the Poultry Fair held prior to Thanksgiving. It consisted of a raffle and fun activities that provided participants with the opportunity to win a turkey, duck or chicken. The annual Christmas party for children attracted up to 500 kids and the yearly Fireman’s Ball was a hit with the adults. Verbeten’s Pinecastle Ballroom was the favorite location for the dances and Ray Reiss became the Band in demand.
The 1940s must have seen a few fender benders, because at the December meeting in 1942, the Chief, Walter Melchert, asked them to “drive more carefully”. In 1949 he, “Told of talking with John Mc Hale, Jr. of the Industrial Commission and that Mr. McHale had pointed out about safe driving to and from fires; he stated that speed was okay but not excessive speed”. He also admonished, “Don’t drive trucks too fast when roads are slippery” On December 12, 1949, Chief Melchert reminded the firemen to be sure to put on enough clothes before leaving for a fire. The official department minutes of 1950 indicate there was a, “Motion made and seconded that a letter be sent to the council asking that the law protecting public vehicles going to and from fires be enforced and that firemen be given right away while going to fires. Motion carried”
In March of 1943, a school for volunteer firemen was being organized in the county and by 1944 it was, ”Moved and seconded that the department apply for an instructor for Fire School through the Appleton Vocational School, to come to Seymour to hold a class.” It was after World War II, that taking classes in fire fighting and attending Safety League meetings became mandatory. In the summer of 1953 the engine trials and hose testing were conducted on a regular basis. They are still done today and subject to close scrutiny.
In the early days, an experienced fireman took a young fireman under his wing and gave him “on the job” training. When a new truck was purchased, the chief suggested that the firemen get together with the men on the new truck to better acquaint themselves with its operation. Certain nights were set up for practice and factory representatives pointed out the intricacies of the new machines. Until everyone was trained, it was decided to send both old and new trucks on fire runs.
In 1957 a motion passed that all firemen must attend at least one meeting per year of the Fireman’s Safety League. There was concern expressed that more time should be spent at the meetings on the aspects of “firemanship”. After a visit to a Green Bay fire station, a discussion followed on the value of an inhaler and resuscitator. The department donated their rescue truck to the city and Elmer (Babe) Seidl was put in charge of truck. At one meeting he demonstrated how to use the oxygen equipment. By 1965 the firemen were being trained in artificial respiration, mouth to mouth and cardiac massage.
On May 31, 1949, the City of Seymour Volunteer Fire Department entered into an agreement with the Seymour Rural Fire Department, which was organized in 1948. The organization included both the City and Town of Seymour, Town of Osborn, Town of Oneida, east half of Town of Cicero, north half of the Town of Freedom, and the some parts of the Town of Lessor. A November 6, 1964, article in the Appleton Post Crescent states, “The townships pay the full expenses of their equipment including maintenance. Bills are pooled and assessments are made to the municipalities. Income is derived from a $100 fee, paid by the township for fire runs within its boundaries.” The three firemen who made rural fire runs were paid $2.00 per hour. Both the townships and the city shared insurance costs. This arrangement lasted until February 15, 1965 when the original agreement was terminated. The building of the new Municipal Building, led to a number of modifications in the contract with the rural fire departments.
Fire Prevention Week
Today, everyone is familiar with Fire Prevention Week, but it wasn’t until September 11, 1952 that the program was mentioned in the minutes. “Motion made and seconded that Chief Erwin Schroeder and Bill Miller contact Mr. Patchett to see what could be done to tell children about Fire Prevention Week. Probably give kids a ride on fire truck and talk about fire safety. Motion carried”. Today our fire department has one of the best fire prevention programs for students in the state.
The Scout House
The City of Seymour has always been proud of the Scout house, because it was built by a special effort of the entire community. The building was dedicated on June 7, 1953. The Firemen donated $500.00 to the major fund drive, and then they paid Earl Eick $90.00 for furnishing and installing the eave troughs on the building. Another $500.00 was donated for the water heater, the stove and furnishing the kitchen. In the 1950s many of their monthly meetings ended with lunch served at the scout house. On March 8, 1956, a request was submitted by Jerry Eick and Ray Beyer to have the Seymour Fire Department sponsor an Explorer Scout group. They voted in favor of sponsorship.
The most devastating fire in Seymour during this time was at Seymour Lumber on June 17, 1964. The following article appeared in the Appleton Post Crescent.
Burns at Seymour
Spectacular Blaze Seen 25 Miles
Away; Sparks Believed Cause
Flames believed to have been touched off by a welding spark destroyed a large lumber storage shed at Seymour Lumber Co. this morning. The spectacular blaze, which sent flames and black smoke towering hundreds of feet into the air, was started about 10 a.m. In the brief span of 10 minutes the entire roof of the structure, estimated at 120 by 40 feet, was ablaze, witnesses said.
Seymour and Black Creek fire departments battled the blaze for about 1½ hours before bringing it under control At noon they were still pouring water on the charred remains. The building was partially filled with lumber. There have been no estimates on the loss in supplies of their value.
Some welding was being performed in the building, and it was believed at first sparks from the operation were the origin of the fire. Firemen managed to save the company’s office, a nearby cabinet shop, and other storage sheds in the building complex.
Propane gas tanks stored at the rear of the burning structure endangered fire fighters. They also managed to keep the flames from spreading to a nearby oil storage tank. The flames and smoke were visible in Shawano, some 25 miles away. The company is owned by Elmer and Harold Krahn.
Pride and Progress
Much progress was made in the 30 years from 1935 to 1965. In the tough years of the Great Depression, during the leadership of Chief Clyde Van Vuren, (1931-1939 the department was active in assisting those in need, and provided a Christmas party and presents. Walter Melchert, who served as chief from 1939 to 1952, saw the department enter into an agreement with the rural townships where they purchased a truck and contributed toward the cost of fighting rural fires. The equipment was housed at city hall, but farmers often assisted in fighting fires. The World War II years saw more cooperation, not only in fighting fires, but in supporting the war effort.
In the late 1940’s and into the 1950’s greater emphasis was placed on training and fire safety. Fire Prevention Week was started while Ervin Schroeder, (1952-1956 was the chief. This trend continued when mandatory attendance at fire safety meetings became a reality under Chief Earl Eick (1956-1973). Since 1933 the firemen have had an active presence at the Outagamie County Fair, raising funds for public projects and providing emergency services. The Scout Building, still used extensively today, is a testimony to the spirit of community support personified by members of the fire department.
While maintaining high standards and providing the best fire protection possible is their main goal, members of the department have always found the time to have fun and interact socially. Official department records indicate the concept of teamwork and togetherness was promoted through socializing after the monthly meetings; which were usually followed by lunch and beverages at local business or in later years, the Scout house. Camaraderie and “tomfoolery” have always been apparent with the Seymour Fire Department. So it was no surprise when reading the minutes from January 13, 1938 that stated: “After taking in Walter Baehler as a member of this fire department it was moved and seconded that if he purchased a case of beer for the department members he would be released from riding the goat (down Main Street). Motion carried. Moved and seconded that we have lunch and beer after the next meeting and it be for firemen only. Motion carried.”
The next installment celebrating the 100th anniversary of Seymour Volunteer Fire Department will focus on the years from 1966 to 1985.