Township fire department hits 50

Published 5:24 pm Friday, October 3, 2003

By By BEN RAYMOND LODE / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- The Niles Township Fire Department is celebrating its 50th anniversary this October.
Since the fire department was officially established on Oct. 18, 1953, the townships firefighters say it has been among the leading township fire departments in Berrien County.
The department is planning to have an open house that day at the South Fire Station located on Bell Road.
Together the firefighters strive not only to ensure the safety of the residents in one of the largest townships in Michigan, but also to raise funds that are used to improve upon the quality of the township's own fire protection services, veterans of the department said..
Although the township fire department has new equipment, Ralph Vosburgh of Niles, one of the original charter members, remembers the early days when modern equipment, such as airpacks, was a thing of the future.
Airpacks are used by fire fighters as a source of oxygen when entering a burning structure to avoid smoke inhalation.
Before the township got its own fire department, the township's fire protection came from the City of Niles, Vosburgh said.
The veteran firefighter said the city, receiving a fixed amount of money per year, a class A fire truck and one man's salary from the township, sent one truck and two men to township fires.
For years, however, it appears to have been an annual dog fight as to how much the city wanted the township to pay for its fire protection.
That is also the reason why the township in 1953 decided to break away from the city to establish its own fire department staffed by career and volunteer firefighters.
Vosburgh said following approval of a 2.5 mill tax levy by township residents for the operation of a fire department, Frank Hover, a city fire fighter since 1940, was appointed the first chief.
The township's fire truck, located at the city fire department as part of the initial fire protection agreement between the township and the city, was moved from the city to its new home at the North Station at 2616 N. Fifth St, he said.
Vosburgh remembers that on the same day, the township fire department opened a temporary South Fire Station in a small building next to the gas station at the Michiana Mushroom Co.,a building which has been torn down.
The opening of the temporary station, however, was delayed because the rear wall had to be altered because the township's Studebaker fire truck was too long for the building.
Vosburgh remembers facilities, or lack thereof, available at the initial south station, which included a folding cot, a two burner hot plate and no bathroom.
In the spring of 1955, after Hover was lost to cancer in 1954, the new South Fire Station opened at 316 Bell Road.
John LaMore, township fire chief from 1977 to 2003 said as years went by, new chiefs were appointed and new equipment arrived, especially larger and improved fire trucks.
He said in the early '60s, a new skid-mount pump was installed on one of the fire department's trucks, which enabled water to be pumped while on the move.
The township also purchased plectron monitors, a fast tone activated telephone system of notifying volunteer firefighters, which greatly increased their response time to fires, he said.
LaMore said in 1969, the volunteer firefighters purchased a 1959 Mack semi-trailer for $50 and a 5,000 gallon tanker trailer, which volunteers modified to meet their needs.
He said the large tanker was badly needed because of the township's lack of water hydrants, which slowed down firefighters effort to put out fires.
In the late '60s, the township also bought a 4-wheel truck for grass fire fighting, said LaMore.
And, he said, in 1972 Niles Township Fire Department was the second township fire department in Michigan to receive Jaws-Of-Life, a tool used for emergency extraction.
Douglas Wise, whose father in-law was former township fire Chief, Tony Frucci, is a retired career fire fighter who has remained on the township's list of volunteer fire fighters.
He sees new and upgraded fire fighting equipment as important to provide the best possible fire protection service for the township's residents.
But he also thinks the increased training all fire fighters have to undergo to be able to work as either career or volunteer firefighters, is crucial.
He remembers how things were run when he first signed on to become a township firefighter.
Since 1987, a minimum 250 hours of training is required to be able to work as a firefighter.
Many firefighters say that has made being a volunteer firefighter a much bigger commitment than it used to be.
The township fire department is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, but is also looking ahead to the future.
Craig Lear, current Chief, said construction of a new township fire station is likely to start early next year.
The new station will be located behind the Fireman's Park across from National Store Fixtures on South Third Street in Niles.
In January 2004, Craig said several township fire fighters will also be sent to school to learn how to do fire inspections on businesses in the township.
Some of the township fire trucks are also getting old and need replacement, he said.
The township fire department is considering having an open house event on Oct. 18. at the South Fire Station. For further information about the event, call the township fire department at 683-3311..