EARLY OWOSSO FIRE EQUIPMENT was stored in the first station, located on E. Main and Park streets in downtown Owosso. The Lebowsky Center for Performing Arts is located on this corner today.
Teams of horses used to pull the boiler-driven steam equipment were housed here, too.
The Owosso Fire Department is officially celebrating 150 years of community service, and though technological aspects of that service have changed many times over throughout the decades, one element remains the same – duty. The Owosso Fire Department, along with twelve other county fire departments, has always been defined by a strong commitment to duty.
If you haven’t toured the current fire department on S. Water Street, it is worth the effort. The present location has been used since the late 1960s and the style of the structure, and many architectural features, remain the same – reflecting a late mid-century modern aesthetic. Arguably, the building itself needs modernization, but it is pristinely maintained and the quarters housing Owosso firefighters and paramedics, are tidy and rather cozy. The coziness might come across because it is apparent these community-minded individuals are highly supportive of each other, having formed a semblance of family.
The Owosso Fire Department history, along with the history of other county fire departments, is a relatively easy path to follow with special consideration offered to previous department employees for keeping great records and the Shiawassee Firefighter Memorial Committee with a plethora of information at www.shiawasseefirefightermemorial.com.
Recently, a document was found providing further historical information. The roughly 1961 document outlines a history under then Chief Lester Reid, Fire Marshal Arlo Parks and Captains Walter O’Dell and Elmer Hodge. It states, “In 1870, Owosso purchased a hook-and-ladder wagon and eight Babcock fire extinguishers. This was to improve the efficiency of the unorganized volunteers who were operating some fifty leather fire buckets and eight or ten ladders. More and more, the volunteers realized their need for system and organization …” Prior to 1870, fire buckets were commonly used by volunteer bucket brigades to douse fires. In 1876, a Silby Steam Pipe engine was purchased, capable of pumping 500 gallons per minute. Firefighting organizers in the mid-1870s included Thomas D. Dewey, A.E. McCullem, J. Fred Wildermuth and Nathaniel A. Finch, along with fifty or so volunteers. This boiler-driven, steam engine equipment was housed on the corner of E. Main and Park streets – the first fire department – where the Lebowsky Center is today. Horses were housed there, too, though these teams of highly trained horses were also used in public works efforts, as well, and there is mention that if the horses were being utilized elsewhere and the call came out of a fire, the horses were released to run back to the department where they would back into their stalls to be harnessed for duty.
Eventually, a second station opened in Westown and the first station was shifted to S. Water Street where a slaughterhouse had been located. The Westown station closed in 1928, and Owosso was back to a one-station situation.
The first motorized equipment is recorded as being purchased in 1917 and then in 1921, the city purchased the rather famous 1921 LaFrance pumper truck that has now become a parade and event fixture thanks to the Shiawassee Firefighter Memorial Committee, formed in 2018. Eventually, the truck will be a feature at the Corunna Historical Village, with plans to construct a building to house the historic item underway since 2019. A number of fundraising events to save the truck and this significant county history have been undertaken, but with the pandemic in 2020, fundraising has been made difficult.
Persons interested in helping the nonprofit group should visit the website or social media pages.
Other, random interesting department connected dates include:
• In 1943, a state law was passed restricting firefighter work hours down to 73.5 hours per week.
• In 1945, Owosso taxpayers voted to have a retirement system for all city employees, including firefighters.
• In 1952, the city purchased an American LaFrance pumper capable of pumping 1,000 gallons of water per minute and an 85-foot aerial ladder truck.
• In 1955, the “city commission” granted a 63-hour per work week to firemen.
• During 1960, the fire department had a public open house with over 2,200 people attending.
• In 1961, fire alarm equipment was donated by the Lansing Fire Department to replace outdated equipment and a dispatcher’s room was created to house the equipment.
• Also in 1961, Smokey, a Dalmation puppy, was gifted to the department and represented Owosso for about 10 years. Smokey never went to city fires and is the only known-about dog associated with the department.
Also of interest as outlined in the recently found document is what is referenced as a “slight glimpse of a fireman’s 24-hour day.” Typically, roll call was held at 7 a.m., followed by house duties until 10 a.m. Leisure time was allowed between 10 and 11:30 a.m. and then a lunch period. Classroom work was scheduled from 1 to 3 p.m., followed by inspection duties, with supper at 5 p.m.
In a recent phone conversation with Captain Steve Chapko, who has been with the department for 20 years in January, he shared “time flies when you’re having fun and I’m still enjoying this every day.” Chapko said the department now includes 18 members over three shifts – including the ambulance/paramedic crew.
Chapko explained how his passion for work stems from “going to work and realizing that no day is going to be like the previous one.” He also shared the pandemic has been difficult, particularly regarding disallowing visits and tours, something he enjoys.
Asked about fun aspects of his job, Chapko said they “like to have lots of fun, joke around,