By Deb Patterson
SYRACUSE — Turkey Creek Fire Territory, that will always be called Syracuse Fire Department by many, made history at least twice in its long existence.
Many remember March 22, 1960, when the fire station located next to the Pickwick block burned to the ground at 1 a.m. The department lost all its fire trucks and equipment.
But many may not realize Feb. 25, 2008, the department again made history. It was on that day documents were filed with the Kosciusko County Clerk for the formation of Turkey Creek Fire Territory. This was the first fire territory in the county.
After the new Station 2 was built in 2005, residents in that area of the township wanted 24-hour, seven-day a week full-time firefighting/ambulance coverage. Station 1 was already being manned 24/7.
“In order to accomplish that we had to double our staff. The only way to do that was to go as a fire territory,” said Fire Chief Mickey Scott. The department’s budget was already at its maximum. “Actually the idea was brought to me by a town council member at the time. He asked me if we ever looked into this and suggested we look into that.”
Scott talked to James VanGorder, fire chief at Zionsville, one of the first fire territories in the state and who grew up on Kale Island as a child. Many conversations were held between the two as Scott gathered details of how it was done.
Scott remembers giving the presentation to the county commissioners, who were unfamiliar with such an idea.
Today the department is overseen by a fire territory board with two representatives each from the town council and township advisory board and one at-large member.
Since its inception the department was a volunteer department. But the change to a full-time and volunteer department began in July 1986 when the first request was made to hire full-time firefighters. While it didn’t pass, a second request was made in 1990. It passed.
Fire Chief Jerry Byrd, Larry Hunter and Mike Davis were the first full-timers. They worked 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday starting in 1991. The number of full-time firefighters grew.
Today there are 16 full-time personnel, and 17 volunteers. Of those numbers 14 are firefighter/paramedics; one firefighter/EMT advanced; and nine firefighter/EMT basic.
The department has always been a joint fire department/EMS service. It started as a basic life support service and in 1992 it became an advanced life support EMS provider. By June 2001 it was a paramedic provider.
Scott remembers clearly town businessmen Bill Beemer and Ernie Rogers meeting with him when he was the EMS captain. Sitting in the fire station’s kitchen the two asked what it would take to get the EMS to a paramedic level. “They said ‘let us know what we can do.’ That is what started heading us that way. They made the initial footprint.”
The two fire stations are fully equipped with trucks, equipment and manpower. The department has two engines, two tankers, an equipment truck, aerial, grass rig, battalion chief’s and chief’s vehicles. They also have three ambulances. “Most of the equipment is up to date,” Scott stated. “The oldest truck we have now is a 2001 aerial.”
The department has several unique pieces of equipment. One is an airboat and the other is a vacuum tanker. The first airboat was purchased in 2001 after an animal rescue, which was unsuccessful and took several hours, raised a question “What if that was a human?” That boat was replaced in 2004 and still used today in various ways.
The vacuum tanker was purchased in 2010. “No one else has them. We have two of them, one in each station. That has a lot to do with the lake hydrants. It pulls water more efficiently.”
A fire in 1998 on Ogden Point Road on Lake Wawasee, where three houses burned causing an estimated loss of $1.8 million and drew five fire departments and 100 firefighters, initiated the installation of dry hydrants. At that time float pumps were used to draft water from the lake. “The water was so rough that the float pump would come up and pick up air. We couldn’t get any water,” said Scott.
Today there are roughly 23 dry hydrants around the state’s largest natural lake. Wawasee Property Owners Association utilizing its own funds and an Indiana Fund grant money funded the project.
The first record of a fire department, a bucket brigade, was in November 1875. J.A. Kindig was chairman and George Ray was secretary/treasurer. In 1878 Joseph Kindig was fire captain. The roster in 1880 was 30 men and its first firefighting equipment was put into use. That was a hook and ladder which had five ladders, four axes, four fire buckets and 100 feet of hose at a cost of $100.
While the last major fire was in 1998, the one that is always remembered was at 1 a.m. March 22, 1960, when the fire station burned.
The station was uptown, now the location of Snyder Morgan Federoff & Kuchmay law offices. Larry Weaver, the oldest member of the department, remembers the fire as he was a young man working at Syracuse Rubber, which is where the current town hall is located. He joined the department shortly after that fire.
“I watched the station burn from there,” Weaver said. What was the cause? According to Weaver, Tom Gilbert was the dispatcher and he had told the fire chief the oil burner for the space heater was leaking.
Weaver recalls after the fire, the department borrowed a rig from Camp Atterbury. “It was junk,” he said. A new truck was purchased from Battle Creek, Mich., within the year. “They gave us a loaner while they were building ours. We liked that tanker better … front mount pump on that.”
A temporary fire station was set up at a filling station on Huntington Street. In 1961 land was purchased across the street for the building of a new fire station. It was completed in 1962. A 24-hour dispatch center was also opened and remained open until Jan. 1, 2009.
The station, known as Station 1, remains at the same site and has undergone several remodeling projects.
Weaver recalls the original Station 1, stating the first one was half the size it is today. “Every time you turned around we were adding another piece of equipment. We just ran out of room.”
Weaver, who has been on the department for 61 years, has many stories about the department and some of the firemen. Today, he is a mentor to a lot of the younger firefighters. “You can learn stuff (from older firemen) they can tell you that’s not out of a book, they were out there. The senior guys know there are certain ways to do it. They experienced things in the past,” said Scott.
Fire chiefs in the history of the department, and the years served, have included Henry Snobarger, 1902-03; Warren Colwell, 1907-1909; Robert Pletcher, 1922; Joseph Rapp, 1946-1947; Lloyd Disher, 1948; Lee Poyser, 1949-1953; James Connolly, 1954-1957; William Bill Hess, 1958-1967; Tom Strickler, 1968-1970; Robert Penick Sr. 1971-72 and 1976; Joe Hughes, 1973, Weaver, 1974-75 and 1977; Kenny Johnson, 1978-1980; John Connolly, 1981-82; Joseph Anderson, 1983-1985; Larry Hunter, 1986-87 and 1998-2001; Jerry Byrd, 1988-1997; Scott, 2002 to present.
The department receives a lot of community support from individuals and the Syracuse and Wawasee property owners associations. This is evident at its annual chicken and pork barbecue every Fourth of July weekend. The event is a sell out.