Huntertown is on the precipice of a milestone 100 years in the making. Less than a month from today, the Huntertown Fire Department will celebrate one century of service to the community.
In the early 1900s, the citizens of Huntertown saw a need for a fire department after several homes and businesses were destroyed by fire. By 1917 the first unofficial department was formed, and the Huntertown Fire Department was officially incorporated in 1918 — the same year the world saw the end to the first World War.
On Aug. 11, members of the department welcome the public to celebrate 100 years during an event that will coincide with this year’s Huntertown Heritage Days Festival.
“We want the community to know what we’re here for, and we also want to celebrate our heritage of 100 years,” Operations Chief Robert Boren said.
The festivities will begin with a swearing-in ceremony — the second of its kind in Huntertown, following the department’s first ever swearing-in ceremony last April.
“Traditionally in the fire service, you’re sworn onto the department, and that’s a tradition we wanted to get instilled back in, so we’re going to reinstate everyone through the department and make sure we have due diligence to continue that on from here on out,” Boren said. “So, the 100-year (anniversary) is actually helping us form more traditions to keep this department going for another 100 years.”
During the Aug. 11 event, the community will have an opportunity to remember its past, when members of the department unearth a time capsule that was buried outside the station in 1977, the same year the current station was built.
The capsule is enclosed in a tower structure just below a cupola, underneath an antique bell, which originally stood atop the Caswell School before it was converted into the original fire station in 1943. The tower structure in which the capsule was enclosed more than 40 years ago remains outside the southwest corner of the station. Five bricks designate the capsule’s location inside the structure, and town firefighters are currently planning their strategy to remove it.
“Probably about a week beforehand, you’ll see us out there practicing. … Being in the fire service, we’ll prepare before we go do that,” Boren said.
Until the capsule is unearthed, the contents will remain a mystery, which Boren said makes the whole experience that much more exciting.
Removal of the capsule is something Huntertown firefighters have been anticipating since its burial.
“We take our heritage very seriously, so the fact that we’ve been here since 1918, that’s the talk that always goes on, about the time capsule,” Boren said. “Everyone speculates about what’s inside of it. Some people think it’s going to be a lot, some people think it’s going to be a little.”
Huntertown Fire Chief Mike Feely is already thinking of items to place in a new capsule, which will be buried for removal in the year 2118. Some of the items he has considered burying include a challenge coin, a membership roster and a written history of the department’s staff.
“Then we can see in another 100 years if we’ve grown,” Feely said.
The long and winding road
While Huntertown operates as a combination department, with membership including both volunteer and career firefighters, it owes its history to donated time.
In order to get the department up and running 100 years ago, the town fathers got together and, through private donations called “popular subscriptions,” raised enough money to purchase two chemical carts that could extinguish fires using a combination of soda, acid and water. The carts were housed in a small building in the back of the McComb and Snyder General Store. When a fire broke out in town, volunteers would tow the carts to the scene using buggies, wagons or automobiles any way they could.
Upon the department’s inception, there was no formal organization aside from one officer: William Snyder, owner of the general store that housed the carts, who was appointed chief. Membership was simply made up of a group of men and boys willing to offer their time and services.
In 1922, more popular subscriptions allowed for the purchase of a used Ford Model T truck, a painter’s ladder, lanterns, axes and other small tools that were carried on the truck. The truck was also outfitted with a four-inch alarm bell, which would clang, due to the rough conditions of the roads, and announce the firefighters’ approach. Ironically — and tragically — the department suffered a setback on an extremely cold night in the winter of 1922 when an unattended kerosene heater set fire to the building, destroying everything, including the truck, pump and tools.
Perry Township was left without fire protection until 1928, when Township Trustee George Gump purchased a Model A Ford pumper from the Prospect Fire Engine Co. The new vehicle boasted chemical and water tanks, making Huntertown one of the first departments to have both on one apparatus. Local resident Sam Surfus constructed a small building behind the Huntertown School to house the truck, taking care to insulate the building to keep the pump from freezing in the winter. Unfortunately, the pump froze that first winter, cracking its casing. The pump was kept in service and, due to the many chemicals in the water in northern Indiana, sealed itself shut.
The Huntertown Fire Department officially organized in 1930. A board of directors was elected and the department’s constitution, which is still in use to this day, was adopted. The first board included three members — President Arthur McComb, Secretary Sylvester Warner and Fire Chief Claude Grim.
Throughout the 1930s, the department began identifying a need for better equipment and facilities. In 1942, the department was given the old Huntertown School building, which used to stand on the site of the current fire station. The old building was renovated and modified to store equipment. Around that time, the firefighting businesses transitioned to a focus on science.
Many of the techniques and types of equipment invented during that period remain the foundation of the modern fire service. Hand carts and unreliable equipment were replaced, and training was brought to the forefront. Unlike in the past, it was no longer good enough for people to show up, take a truck to a fire and do the best they could. Now, members were required to attend weekly training to learn vehicle extrication, rescue and eventually emergency medical training.
In 1955, the Huntertown department was reorganized under the Indiana Nonprofit Incorporation Act as the Huntertown Volunteer Fire Company, leading to the department becoming an operating organization for Perry Township, which provided the housing and maintenance of the equipment. By that time, Huntertown had acquired two pumpers, a tanker, a heavy rescue unit, a rescue boat and a 65-foot Seagraves ladder truck.
During the mid-1950s, the emergency medical service began to emerge, and Huntertown began providing EMS service in 1956, following a tragic accident involving a young girl who was struck by a car and killed in town. Her body remained in the street for over an hour before an ambulance from Fort Wayne arrived. In response, Huntertown’s first ambulance went into service within 30 days of the accident. Also in 1956, the department purchased several new pieces of apparatus, including a new International John Beene pumper, a new heavy rescue unit and a new tanker, which earned the nickname “Leakin’ Lena” due its later tendency to leak water after the area’s well water caused it to rust.
In the mid-1970s, the department began planning the construction of a new station to sustain the growing fire service. In 1976, the old station was torn down and construction began on the current facility. The new station featured drive-through apparatus bays, an office for the fire chief, a kitchen and a meeting and day room. The new building was completed in spring of 1977 and was, ironically, dedicated on Sept. 11, 1977.
From the late ‘70s through the ‘80s, Perry Township’s population began to change, with the southern landscape of farmland becoming new housing developments. The fire department changed with the times as well. Radio communication was improved so firefighters no longer had to rely on the fire horn outside the station to alert them of a run. The department also purchased self-contained breathing apparatus that kept firefighters from having to breathe in smoke. Larger pumpers and tankers entered service during that time as well.
In 1997, the department began planning a new addition to the station. A committee of members formed and designed the plans, adding a computer room, trustee’s office, larger chief’s office, conference room, day room, bunk room and weight room. The addition was completed in 1998.
In 2004, the department went part-time, taking its first steps toward career membership. Huntertown’s first full-time member was hired in 2006, and a second was added in 2007. That same year, the department upgraded to advanced EMT service. On Jan. 1 of this year, the department reached a milestone in its 100th year, completing a transition from advanced to paramedic-level care, allowing for higher levels of care in critical situations. Earlier this year, the department hired its first female career firefighter.
Presently, the Huntertown Fire Department services residents of Perry and Eel River townships.
“We cover a large area, but we still consider ourselves a community department,” Feely said.
The Aug. 11 centennial celebration will include several activities for all ages.
Following a presentation in front of the station, firefighters will offer CPR demonstrations, games and raffles.
Several vehicles will be on display, as well as the Parkview Samaritan helicopter. There will be an auto extrication display behind the station, and live music will be performed throughout the afternoon. Food trucks will serve along the side of the station as well.
“That’s all going to be packed into that three hours, so we’ll be a pretty busy place, but hopefully everyone will get a lot out of it and have some fun,” Boren said.
The Huntertown Historical Society will present a display on the department’s history, as part of Huntertown Heritage Days, inside Ryan Hall.
The department will also sell commemorative T-shirts and challenge coins during the event.