Department got its start with volunteers in 1866

Shortly after its delivery by rail in 1930, the fire department’s new American La France engine took up residence at the fire station on East Second Street (now home to the London city council chambers and administrative offices.)
Shortly after its delivery by rail in 1930, the fire department’s new American La France engine took up residence at the fire station on East Second Street (now home to the London city council chambers and administrative offices.)

(Posted Oct. 28, 2016)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

From “Silver Grey” to “Big Red,” the London Fire Department has had a colorful history.

The department got its start as an all-volunteer association in November 1866. The London village government supplied the association with a hand pumper called the “Silver Grey,” purchased from the city of Springfield. To use the equipment, the firefighters would drop a hose into a cistern, then stand five on a side to pump out the water.

In 1871, when the pumper broke down, the village purchased a steam-powered engine. They named it “The Belle of London” and hired two full-time employees to keep the steamer’s fire going and care for the horses that pulled it.

“They worked 30 days on, 30 days off,” said firefighter Mike Chamberlain, a member of the department’s 150th anniversary celebration committee. “A lot of times, the guys and their families would share a house. When one was on duty, he and his family would move into the fire house. At the end of the 30 days, the two families would switch off.”

Built in 1869, the fire house stood at 6 E. Second St., where London’s city council chambers and administrative offices are now located. The department moved away from horse-drawn engines with the purchase of a motorized American LaFrance fire truck in 1917.

In 1938, the department signed an agreement to provide fire protection to several surrounding town-ships. This agreement remained in place until the formation of the Central Townships Fire District in 1966. Central Townships celebrated its 50th anniversary earlier this year.

London’s fire department operated with a combination of paid and volunteer personnel until 2000, when it switched to an all-paid department.

“It got to where it was hard to find volunteers and keep them trained,” said Lt. Mark Foster, a member of the anniversary celebration committee.

Today, the department employs one full-time chief, Todd Eades, 11 full-time firefighters, and 22 part-time firefighters. The full-timers work 24 hours on, 48 hours off.

The department has been housed at 103 E. High St. since 1981. As for the “Big Red” mentioned earlier, that was the ladder engine the department bought new in 1990. They are replacing it with a 2004 model this fall.

The London Fire Department’s currently provides fire protection to the city of London and Somerford Township.

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