03/21/2013 – The city’s fire department began in 1887 when a fire warden was appointed to examine the stovepipes, fireplaces, flues and chimneys in each and every house within the limits of the city. Parkersburg’s first Fire Chief, John Barrows, was appointed on May 13, 1889 by an ordinance of City Council.
In the early years of the city’s history, volunteer departments and bucket brigades protected the city’s businesses and residences from fire. Hand-operated fire fighting equipment was owned by the city, and in the same year the Chief was appointed, council also authorized the purchase of a 45 foot Hayes extension ladder truck. Also, in that year, a committee was appointed to ascertain the cost of introducing and maintaining a box fire alarm system in the city.
The hose house, where the volunteer firemen assembled before the construction of the City Building, was located in the old Market house on the same site as the future City Building (5th & Market). Construction of the City Building was started in 1895, but the building was not ready for occupancy until 1898.
A paid fire department was not created until the passage of an ordinance on March 23, 1897. It was later amended under the new charter May 14, 1903. The first ordinance provided for a chief, a chief marshal, an engineer, hostler, hose reel driver and three paid firemen, but the 1903 ordinance created a department with six paid firemen.
Also in 1903, three new fire stations were created. Prior to that, only the station in the City Building was in existence. One station was built at Lynn and Wood Streets and a building was rented at 17th Street near St. Marys Avenue.
Through the subsequent years, the paid fire department battled fires with a steam pumper and horse drawn hose wagons, although in 1913 the department got its first piece of motorized equipment. This was the famous “Red Devil”, a four-cylinder Cadillac which was converted into a hose wagon and the Chief’s car. The “Red Devil” was a familiar sight on the streets for many years.
The next year the department received an old Hudson touring car, upon which a fire truck bed was installed. A high wheel Oldsmobile was converted into a truck in 1918 and these three pieces of motorized equipment were added to the old steam pumper until 1919. Then the City bought its first regular motorized pumper. It was also the year that the horses in the downtown station went into extinction, although the outlying stations still kept the horse drawn trucks for several more years.
Around 1950, the city annexed the southside and the city’s department assumed fire protection from the previous volunteer fire department. In 1952, a new fire station was constructed on Blizzard Drive and 10 years later an additional station was built on Camden Ave.
Today, the Parkersburg Fire Department maintains six fire stations staffed with 57 career firefighters. Over the years, the day to day operations have changed significantly. More than 90% of the firefighters are emergency medical technicians. In addition to a multitude of fire responses, the department is a licensed emergency medical rapid responder, providing a 2-4 minute average response when the area’s ambulances are overburdened or require additional assistance.
“While we still provide essential fire protection, the fire service has changed a lot over the years,” said Fire Chief Eric Taylor. “We are now an all hazards responder; if they’re not sure who to call, most people request the fire department and we are glad to help.”
Fire departments now respond to all types of events, including: medical emergencies, carbon monoxide incidents, gas leaks and automobile accidents. Weather related events also frequently require fire department response for things such as flooding, downed trees and downed power lines.
“Of all the services we provide, fire prevention and safety education is one of the most important,” adds Taylor. “The fire that never occurred is the easiest to fight and does the least damage.”
On Saturday, March 23rd, the department will celebrate it’s 116 years of history and service to the city. They will be participating in the Easter Parade at 2 p.m. and invite everyone to bring their kids out to see the fire trucks.
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