Trenton Fire Department History

“to prevent loss of life, care for the sick and injured, prevent fires, and to protect the property of this community."

-Trenton Fire Department Motto

Hose Cart
The old pumper wagons in front of the first fire house.

In the summer of 1896, the then fledgling village of Trenton was able to enjoy the inauguration of its water service, and soon after, the creation of the Trenton Fire Department. The village council prescribed for "two large reels mounted on cart wheels, which would be drawn by two or more men." The small carts were housed on village property at locations to best provide protection to the businesses and hotels downtown - one on Walnut near Washington, and one at Elm Street by the center of town. A.B. Smith was appointed temporary chief until the fire department could be organized, at which time Frank Bailey was appointed chief.

The first run for the new volunteer department was fondly remembered in the pages of Trenton’s history, and was to Central Hotel in August of 1896.  Lucy Shirmer, in her book "Snug Harbor," relates the story: "Mr. Janke was patching the roof on the Central Hotel, using hot tar which suddenly took fire. Marshal Pat Mahady was right on the job, immediately giving orders for the pumps to be set at full speed which he hustled to get the hose out." The department had no formal roster at this point, and men would volunteer as needed once the fire was detected.

Sanborn Detail
Hose cart shed as shown in 1922 Sanborn™ Fire Insurance Maps

Another notable fire in August 1898 was the destruction of Aetna Cooperage Mill at Slocum's Island (Elizabeth Park). Under the direction of then Fire Chief Frank Bailey, "the two hose carts quickly appeared on the scene and, according to accounts, within three and a half minutes, streams of water were playing on the fire." While the building was destroyed the materials on site were saved. Due to insufficient insurance coverage, the company was lost along with "jobs for about twenty boys and men."

As a result of the Aetna fire (and subsequent loss of property), the township council moved to organize the volunteer fire department on September 28th, 1896. The first roster included officers of the fire commission, and assignments to each hose cart. (the original roster is listed below) Soon after, a fire whistle was added, with one, two, or three signals to specify the direction of the fire.

In 1922, the department was described in the Sanborn™ Fire Insurance Maps:

“Volunteer paid for services, no organized companies.  Two hose carts with 500-2 ½ C.R.L. hose and one hook and ladder truck with 80 feet of ladders.  Fire alarm by Telephone to the pump house, and a whistle on the pump house.”

1928
Trenton Fire Department c. 1929

The Trenton Fire Department was officially established as a full time city force in 1927 with seven original firemen, a level maintained until the early 1940’s.  The men were Cameron T. Waldorf, Morris T. Fogarty, P. Leo Mexicotte, George S. Deamud, William A. Teifer, Lawrence E. (Fuzzo) Hartrick, and Fire Chief Henry (Hank) F. LaBelle. Photos of the original seven men are shown below.

One notable individual, Lawrence Hartrick, had an interesting story of his involvement with Trenton’s fire department.  In 1927, Hartrick owned a garage on West Jefferson, in the present location of the Trenton Theatre.  That same year, the city of Trenton bought its first motorized pumper truck, and contracted with Hartrick to store it at his facility.  Hartrick was also the only man capable of driving the pumper truck other than Chief Henry Labelle, and during times the Fire Chief could not drive the truck to the scene of a fire, Hartrick would drive.

Hartirick
Lawrence Hartrick c. 1927

The Trenton Times reports on his joining the force, “then on Dec. 17 1927, by request of village officials, he (Hartrick) joined the force as driver and mechanic.”  At the time, the only full time firefighter was Chief LaBelle. 

Hartrick remarked about the old pumper carts, “When the fire signal would blow from the city water works, the volunteers would rush to the scene and the cart would be hooked on to a car, truck or sometimes even the trolley car that turned from West Jefferson onto Maple, where one cart was kept.”

A new pumper truck was received by the department on  May 27th, 1948, one of the first new trucks since the 1920’s.  The new triple combination type pumper was purchased at a cost of $16,350, and had a 750-gallon capacity, combination hose and ladder carrier, and “an enclosed seven-man cab.” 

Testing the new Auxiliary Unit, 1950's

In 1949, the department gained another firefighter with the addition of Louis C, Frebes, 21, of Elizabeth Dr.  The Trenton Times reports, “Decision to enlarge the departments was made at the council meet June 20.  Action was speeded by a petition of the Trenton Businessman’s Association asking additional patrolmen and motorized equipment for the police department.  The petition followed a series of robberies and breaking and enterings in the Trenton Business Area.”

During this same time, the department acquitted its first utility vehicle.  A ¾-ton Dodge pickup was placed in service, for a cost of $800.  In a testament to the ingenuity of the men, the members of the Fire Department installed all of the special equipment carried on the truck during their spare time.  Capable of spraying 150 gallons per minute at a pressure of 120 pounds, the unit was designed for use on the large areas of vacant land behind Trenton, where summer grass fires were common.

In February 2004, the Trenton Fire Department celebrated another milestone in hiring its first female firefighter - paramedic, Kelerin Lewis. Lewis, whose father was a firefighter for the city of Taylor, stated in a Detroit News™ article "I have always enjoyed taking that first step and I think that in the future more women need to look into the fire service."

In 2007, the Trenton Fire Department will celebrate its 80th year of protecting the city of Trenton, and 111 years since its inception as a volunteer force.

Current Times

BageCurrently the Trenton Fire Department has 36 personnel and 29 personnel in the Suppression/EMS Division. 

The department’s fire fighting apparatus includes one engine, 1-75 foot aerial ladder and one ambulance at Station 1 located on King Road.  Station 2 on West Jefferson is equipped with one engine, 1 ambulance and a utility vehicle.

Trenton was one of the first communities to operate a paramedic Advanced Life Support unit operated by the public sector within the 17 Downriver communities.

In 2007, the Trenton Fire Department will celebrate it's 80th year of protecting the city of Trenton.

Information courtesy of City of Trenton Web site

Additional Information

Click on the sections for more information.

First Firefighters Photographs
LaBelle
Fogarty
Wallendorf
Chief Henry (Hank) F. LaBelle.
Morris T. Fogarty
Cameron T. Waldorf
Mexicotte
Deamund
Tiefer
P. Leo Mexicotte
George S. Deamud
William A. Teifer
Hartrick
Lawrence E. (Fuzzo) Hartrick

Early Rosters

First Volunteer Firemen - 1898

William Trowbridge - President
John M. Reid - Secretary
N.A. Mans - Treasurer
Cart One
Cart Two
William Trowbridge - Foreman
Thomas Watkins - Foreman
Edward George
Joseph Lara
A. Henry
Len Bailey
A.W. Ford
Daniel Mexico
Mark Pine
Jas. Lafayette
Charles Lewis
E. Bates
John Labo
Edward Navarrah
F. Rogers
N. Mans
Frank Fleming
Frank Watson
Joseph Benore
E. Perkins
Fr. Wade
J.M. Reid
Ben Wade
Fred Jones
H. Long
Richard Wade

Captains Roster 1927 - Current Day

Hank LaBelle 1927-1945 Harrv Miller 1979-1983
Cameron Walldorf 1945-1967 Russell Stah 1983-1987
Richard Walters 1967-1974 Glenn Spry 1987-1995
Albert DiPaolo 1974-1976 Joseph A. Grutza 1995-2004
Osvaldo Angclocci 1976-1979 Bruce Vick 2004-

In 1951, the yearly salary for the Fire Chief was $5441, with lieutenants making $4552. Firemen received $4294 a year.

Sources

Auxiliary Unit. (1950). Trenton Times.

Trenton Bicentennial Committee, T. B. (1976). Trenton History by the River. Trenton: Highlight Printing.

Trenton Fire Department.
(2002). 75th Anniversary Celebration Program (pp. 3).

Firefighting runs in family - Woman follows father into profession, blazes new trail in Trenton. (2004). Detroit News, The (MI), p. 02R,

Hartrick to Retire – “Fire Lieutenant Joined Department Raised Total Force to Two. (Unrecorded). Trenton Times.

…Make Selections From Group of 30 Who File for Jobs – Add Three to Police, 1 Fireman. (1949). Trenton Times.

Men Improvise Fire Equipment. (Unrecorded). Trenton Times.

Shirmer, L. A. Snug harbor : [Early Trenton by the river] / by Lucy Amrstrong Shirmer.

Book Cover Why only partial citations?
The book which contained many of the articles listed is a combination visitors log and newspaper articles, maintained by the fire dept from 1922 until approximately the 1960's. There are countless articles, but many recorded without dates. As the Trenton Times has yet to be indexed, we are unable at this time to certify the dates.

Thanks, and a special request...

A special thanks to all our the brave men and women of the Trenton Fire Department, and a special congratulations on 80 years of service.

A special thank you to Mary Mazza for all her information for this article and for providing the wonderful photos of the early days of the department.. Also, thanks Carol Hendricks for her assistance finding information in the archives, and to Paul Gallagher for writing and researching the content for this article.

The Trenton Historical Society would love additions to this article. If you have information about the Trenton Fire Department, please contact us to see how you can help!