By Deb Patterson
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to technical difficulties, this post did not appear at it’s scheduled time Saturday.)
LEESBURG — The means to provide water to fight fires back in the early days of Plain Township Fire Department are still being used today.
Approximately 15 cisterns were used in Leesburg in the late 1800s. The few remaining ones are still used today by the fire department, as Leesburg has no town water supply.
“With a pump it was hit or miss,” Craig Charlton, firefighter and township advisory board member said. “You’d take the hose from the hose cart, drop it in the cistern to get water.”
“That’s the thing about our department, nothing has changed,” said Jared Haughee, fire chief. “Like Craig said, to date we still have three in town we maintain as our main water supply for the town of Leesburg.” Dry hydrants are also used as a water source.
Reference to the cisterns locations and conditions were found by Mitch Rader, former fire chief, in old records that had been in the town hall and given to the fire department. One account from 1883 lists the various locations of the cisterns such as the one at the corner hardware store, which is in good condition, at widow Clark’s corner that was empty with a ladder, or at Noel’s corner that was full and in good condition.
Those records included the charter of the first fire department for the town. According to the original constitution and bylaws of 1880 for Leesburg Indiana Fire Department, the department was organized in the fall of 1879 with 15 members, a hand engine, hose cart and 350 feet of hose. The equipment cost $850. The department was officially named Leesburg Fire Company.
Documents state the engine attached to the company would be called Leesburg, which was also put on the trucks. Officers included a foreman, first assistant foreman, second assistant foreman, secretary-treasurer and a host.
Those same by-laws stated firemen were required to attend meetings and if not, they were fined. The same was true for responding to fires, unless they were out of the county at the time.
Those by-laws also described the responsibility of the foreman. It was his duty to man the drag lines. Firemen were to come to the station and grab the ladders and carry them to the scene.
While records did not provide a location of the first fire station, minutes of April 6, 1889, said the department met in its new headquarters. There was also a special tower built for the fire bell in May 1889. There was a reference Aug. 6, 1926, remains of the burned fire house were still disabled.
A garage, next to the town hall in 1936, was turned into a fire station where two trucks were housed in the basement level before an addition was made to the town hall. The department’s 1924 and 1927 trucks were housed at the station and were the first two motorized vehicles for the department.
Rader found information Lawrence Randall, who was a fireman, mounted the tanks and turned the1924 Ford into a fire truck. The department still owns both trucks.
Discussion about a new fire station began Dec. 1, 1961, led by Harold Hartman, trustee. A brick building was decided and to this day still houses equipment, only now for the town. But there was one thing that was a hindrance. Trucks could be no longer than 26 1/2 feet. “That’s all the space we had. We didn’t dare go further back, we’d hit the wall,” Charlton said.
It was April 3, 1964, Leesburg Fire Department incorporated and became Plain Township Fire Department.
“Most of your firemen lived in town,” said Charlton, adding, “That was a requirement.” He also remembers to contact the fire department you called 453-3222 and it rang into every fireman’s home. Charlton said all firemen would pick up the phone, but only one person was to get the information. “You would hear click, click, click and people take off running.”
The town funded the fire department for many years, but when the name changed so did the funding. Once the township built the fire station uptown, services were contracted by the town based on a percentage of the assessed valuation for new equipment. Rader stated when he was clerk-treasurer at the end of the early 1990s, funding was solely through the township. “We had two fires a year in town,” Rader said of that time, adding the funding was out of proportion.
The department is now 100 percent funded by the township. “We get a lot of support from the township,” said Charlton, who has been on the township board for more than 30 years. “When I first got on, one of the big pushes was a new building for our fire station … .” The planning began in 1996 and took several years for the planning.
A new fire station was built, at the corner of Armstrong Road and Old SR 15, and opened in 1998. The original fire bell was moved to the new station and given a new platform.
“We thought we built it big enough that it would never fill up,” said Rader.
“We replaced all our trucks. But equipment is bigger and more expensive. The last engine we bought was almost $600,000. That’s old now. It’s a 2008,” said Haughee.
Haughee noted the department has four trucks that respond to calls on a regular basis. A tanker, purchased in 2011, a pumper engine, a 2008 engine that hauls all the necessary tools needed, and a grass truck/mini pumper.
“We pretty much have had four trucks,” Charlton said, noting there has always been a tanker.
“We have always operated fairly lean,” Haughee said, adding “Kudos to the township. If there has been a tool that we needed, I don’t believe they ever told us no … .” Charlton continued by saying “if something comes up, we (the township board) justify it and approve it.”
While the department started with 15 firefighters, it grew to 18 where it stayed for a long time. Rader noted it was in the late ’90s when the numbers increased.
Currently there are 26 firefighters with four reserves. “We’re an all volunteer department,” said Haughee. “The fun thing is looking at the old names in these books, those names carry through today.”
“There’s a lot of family,” said Rader. Charlton and Rader have a lot of memories of the department. Both of their fathers were firemen and they grew up at the fire station.
The department averages 160 runs as a fire/rescue department. Haughee noted the department is not a first responder department. “It’s not to say we don’t have those calls. A majority of our calls are still fire runs along with accidents.” There is the occasional EMS assist calls.
There has been no need for the department to host fundraisers. “We are very fortunate in ways. We have great community support,” said Charlton. Haughee added, “we give back to a lot of community programs. We have sponsored Little League teams, 4-H, contributed most recently to Riley’s, help with St. Jude’s and the Leesburg PTO.”
“The monies that are donated to the fire department, we turn around and give right back to the community,” said Charlton.
The fundraisers that have been hosted are for needs in the community. Haughee noted a pancake breakfast was held to help someone in a neighboring fire department. “The support we seen out of that was unreal,” Haughee said. “We gave them thousands of dollars after that breakfast.” Charlton added “Whenever we’re asked to help, we’ll help in whatever way we can.”
Among the past fire chiefs are: Rolland Robinson, 1920s through the 1940s; Chris Kammerer who served until 1971; Dean Ferverda; Lawrence Randall; Richard Klopenstein; Jerry Kammerer; Rader; Charles (Bob) Dye; Terry Eppley; Brian Haines and Michael Wilson.
The older members of the department have a lot of stories to share, such as in the 1930s going to the lake for fish fries, having a Derby Day, hosting a dance at Tippy Dance Hall, having a ladies night for their wives at the Barbee Hotel, teaching fire safety to kids, hosting outings with Milford Fire Department, even playing pranks on Milford Fire Department.