Looking Back: Danville Fire Department provided many services

January 12, 2004|TONY GAIER

Editor's note: This is another part of a series of articles by Tony Gaier, who has done extensive research on the Danville Fire Department. It will appear in two parts, and concludes the era of Chief Alex Upton, who died in 1958 after serving 18 years. The era involving Chief Hubert Preston will commence with the next installment of this series on the history of the Danville Fire Department. If anyone has photos or information about the local fire department they wish to share with Gaier, contact him at

The Danville Fire Department not only fights fires, it works to prevent fires.

The local fire department annually celebrates National Fire Prevention Week beginning Oct. 9, the anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. The Chicago fire reportedly was caused by Mrs. O'Leary's cow tipping over a lit kerosene lantern, which ignited the straw and then the barn, not stopping until 18,000 buildings were destroyed and 75,000 left homeless.


Fire departments celebrate this week in various ways. Danville firefighters have conducted awareness campaigns that involved school visits and conducted fire drills, station open house tours, fire safety films, fire truck rides, poster design contests, public speeches and demonstrations in the area.

Each Christmas season, Danville firefighters donate time and skills to repair and paint broken toys that were collected and brought to the fire station by Boy Scouts and the Salvation Army. This noble activity of the firefighters, believed to have started in 1948, annually reclaims 1,000 or more toys that are distributed to local needy children.

The season of giving, starting in 1950 in Danville, found firefighters donating their time for the tuberculosis Christmas Seal campaign for Danville and Boyle County by folding thousands of sheets of seals that were then stuffed into envelopes and mailed to local residents.

Fire Chief Alex Upton and Pat, the Dalmatian mascot, personally escorted Santa to the Federal Building from the Southern Railroad station, where Santa had arrived by train to visit the children.

The local fire department participated in numerous homecoming parades of Centre College and Danville High School as well as special event parades for groups such as the Boy Scouts and Business and Professional Women. Faithful servant Pat always sat in the captain's seat next to Upton.

On Independence Day of 1953, the department set off fireworks as a climax to the large community picnic held at Sunnyside Park on Old Stanford Road.

The local fire department also helps the community during natural disasters and accidents. It pumped flooded basements from 1945, 1950, and 1956 floods.

One of the worst tasks was using grappling hooks to recover bodies of drowning victims on Herrington Lake. In spring of 1953, Upton assisted by Bill Wilson and his firefighters helped locate the body of George Albert Whitaker. A few months later, they helped find the body of Joe Glenn Smith.

Fire department aided

The department was aided in its firefighting efforts in several ways. Minor noticeable improvements included the first siren being installed on top the old fire station and city hall building in September 1944 to replace the original 1901 gong. A sliding pole was put in place June 1946, and February 1956 saw the installation of a flashing light on Main Street in front of the fire station to stop Main Street traffic so the fire engines could swiftly leave the station.

The compensation improved, too. Firefighters were now making $140 a month and the chief $175 a month in 1948.

The local fire department added a new 750 gallons-per-minute Seagrave pumper Oct. 28, 1947. It had been on order for 15 months, and was purchased for $10,600 and driven from its Columbus, Ohio, factory to Danville.

City engineer Hamilton Harris was instrumental in the 1955 remodeling of the fire hall and city building on Main Street. The old detached garage out back was turned over to be used by the fire department. The city equipment that had been housed there was moved over to the old National Guard Armory building on Sixth Street at Lexington Avenue, where some of the staff also moved. The firefighters had living quarters above the fire truck bays.

Ahrens Fox retired

It was the mayor's responsibility to give permission to the fire department to respond outside city limits. He gave the fire chief that authority in January 1954. The frustration of having little or no protection in Boyle County led to the newly formed Jaycees (Junior Chamber of Commerce) starting a new countywide fire protection district during the course of 1954.

It was early that year when the Kentucky Inspection Bureau told the Danville Fire Department that the old Ahrens Fox wasn't receiving any more credit and could no longer be used for firefighting. When coupled with the Ahrens Fox Co. going bankrupt and leaving no parts available, it was obvious that the A-F had to go.

The Jaycees planned to acquire a new fire engine and house it at the Main Street station in exchange for letting the local fire department use it. Many of the same firefighters back then were associated with departments and shared equipment and uniforms.

Though Danville firefighters needed equipment, they did not lack training. Professionals such as Stanley Boyd, who was a former Danville fireman before becoming Harrodsburg's chief, held annual week-long September fire schools.

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