Marquette Fire Department history, part 2

Members of the Marquette Fire Department pose with a MFD truck in a photo taken July 4, 1931. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

As Marquette transformed from a village to a city, the Marquette Fire Department grew to be an important part of the community. Though still volunteers, the fire-fighters of the time were a close-knit group who cared deeply about their job. To stay in the competitive spirit, the firefighters of the late 1870’s would race their hose carts to the Phoenix Hose House whenever an alarm went off for a fire call. Whoever arrived first was allowed to hitch their horse to the cart so they didn’t have to haul it themselves. At the time, a firefighter named Nathaniel Quarters almost always won the race. In 1877, the first paid firemen were employed, no longer volunteers. Official firemen were paid $3.00 for each fire attended. In 1878, all three hose companies raised enough money to buy the firemen uniforms. They were blue flannel, trimmed with velvet, and had large white numbers on the front to signify which hose house they were from. The three hose companies were the Phoenix Fire Co. No.1, the German Hose Company, later renamed the Willing Hose Co. No.2, and the Morse Hose Co. No.3. Together, these different hose companies became collectively known as the Marquette Fire Department. In July, 1881, all hose carts were pulled by designated horses bred for the MFD, known for their grey color and swift running speed. No longer using borrowed horses, the MFD now had stables built to house the official MFD horses. These horses later became known as the fire horses of yesterday. They were trained to run from their stables and line up at their specific hose carts whenever the alarm triggered their stalls to open. In 1882, the three hose companies merged into the Morse Hose Co. No.3. New fire alarm boxes and fire bells were installed shortly after, with each fire ward having its own alarm box. By 1883, Marquette had one of the best equipped and disciplined fire companies in Michigan. Trouble emerged in 1886, when there was a dispute over who should have control of the MFD. The result ended with the disbanding of the Morse Hose Co. No.3. A new organization was formed, simply called the Morse Hose Company, with no number. Five men were always stationed to sleep at the hose house in case of a nighttime emergency. In 1926, the first motor fire truck, affectionately called “Old Jerry,” was purchased, and the name Morse Hose Company was replaced with the common title of the Marquette Fire Department.

The station on Spring Street donated a hose cart and ladder wagon to the new prospect station being built on Front Street, known today as station No.2, which began construction in 1913. Before long, the MFD became the pride of the town. As vehicles began to replace horses, a new age began for the fire department, and by 1935, all horses were replaced by motorized vehicles, their stables transformed into a training and exercise room at the Front Street station. The first MFD motorized fire engine, “Old Jerry” was replaced in 1963. In 1970, a new station was being built on Third Street, now called Station No.1. The old Spring Street station built in 1881 was razed and turned into a public parking lot, with the exception of its old fire bell. From 1982-1984, the MFD ordered new fire trucks, followed by the search for a fire inspector in 1985. Old Jerry,” the old fire pumper engine, was brought back to the MFD in 1988 and used in parades. The first fire safety house was built in 1990 to teach the public about fire safety. From 1993-1994, many in the community protested the closure of the Front Street station until the city decided to repair and reopen the station. The bell from the old Spring Street station was moved to different locations several times. In 1991, the old fire bell needed a new home. From the demolished Spring Street station, the bell was moved from Memorial Field to NMU for football games, and eventually left to sit in a snow bank behind the Third Street station, where employees would have to dig it out of the snow every time a heavy snowfall occurred. It was time to give it a permanent residence, so the debate began. By 2003, the Memorial Bell Tower in Lower Harbor Park was finished and honored in a dedication ceremony, with the old fire bell hanging proudly at its peak. From this point on, the Marquette Fire Department has continued to be an inspiration for the community.