History of the Fairmont Fire Department
In 1843 the newly formed town of Fairmont had no fire protection other than those who chose to pick up a bucket in the event of a fire. On April 2, 1876 a fire started that completely demolished two blocks of the downtown district and was stopped by citizens, who pulled down buildings to keep the fire from spreading. This fire destroyed 35 businesses in the downtown area. It was only after this fire that Fairmont realized that more fire protection was needed and they started with passing a law that made any new business be built of brick. The small bucket brigade existed until 1893 when a volunteer fire department was organized named the Mountain City Hose Company. This fire company built hose houses with hand pulled reels of fire hose put in them and placed them at strategic places in the city so they could be pulled to fires more quickly.
In 1897 Fairmont decided to place a man on duty 24 hours a day to answer fire calls. This first paid fireman’s name was Allison “Kip” Fleming. Besides being the town’s only fireman, Kip was also in charge of the town jail. Our first hose wagon was not only used to carry fire hose, but to pick up prisoners as well. The wagon was pulled by Fairmont’s first fire horse, named Jim.
Year by year as Fairmont grew, more firemen were added. In1898 Fairmont had two full time firemen plus a system of 15 minutemen who were paid a dollar an hour to answer the fire whistle when it was blown. This system worked fine, and around 1903 a horse-drawn hook-and-ladder wagon along with two more firemen were added to the growing department. As more firemen were added the minuteman system was done away with and the Fairmont Fire Department became a fully paid, professional department.
The old fire station at 211 Monroe Street was built from 1909 and opened in 1915. It had served as the Central Fire Station since that time until June 2006. It was originally built to house horse drawn apparatus. Up until 1913 this station housed the hose wagon and the ladder wagon and the fire chief’s buggy pulled by a former race horse named Electric Storm. In 1913 Electric Storm was retired when Fairmont bought their first piece of motorized apparatus: a new car for the Chief.
In December 1914 Fairmont’s first fire truck was bought. The apparatus not only had a fire pump but also carried ladders. This was the beginning of the end of the horses in the Fairmont Fire Department. The horses were sent to the City farm, (now Morris Park) to live out their remaining days. The East Side of Fairmont also had a fire station built in 1904 that had a fire wagon pulled by horses named Dan and Ben. It wasn’t until 1916 that those horses were retired as well, and a motorized fire truck was bought for that station.
Eventually another fire station was built on 7th Street in 1947 and one in Bellview in 1948. The one on 7th Street was moved to 10th Street in 1962 and again to Mary Lou Retton Drive in 1980.
During the early years of the department there had been several mascots. The first one being a little Italian boy named John. In 1913 Fire Chief Okey Watkins had an English Sheep dog named Colonel. In 1915 the firefighters had a black and white African monkey named Dick, whose cage was built into the hose stall. The East Side station had a Bulldog in 1938 and a Dalmatian named Tuffy in 1949.
As Fairmont has grown over the years, so has its number of firemen. Today there are 41 firefighters and a secretary, compared to just one fireman over 100 years ago.