The Hamtramck Fire Department dates back to February 11, 1857. When the Hamtramck Spouters organized themselves into a company known as Spouters No. Eleven. In 1883, a firehouse was built on the Northeast corner of Gratiot and Grandy Avenue by the Detroit Fire Department.
It was not until January 1903, that the Hamtramck Village President and the Clerk were authorized to enter into a contract with the Detroit Fire Department for fire protection.
The Hamtramck Fire Department was formally organized on November 16, 1914. With it’s rules and regulations established as of that period. The HFD was first located on Berres Avenue, in a two car garage on the premises of the Detroit Lumber Company. Three months later we moved to the Briggs Mfg. Company plant, on Leuschner Avenue where we occupied part of the first and second floors.
Hamtramck’s first fire alarm system was installed in March 1957. The Gamewell Fire Alarm System was put into service October 23, 1915 and was in the direct charge of the Fire Chief. Within a year, this telegraph Fire Alarm System consisted of 36 street boxes and 6 school boxes; these were in the charge of the Master Mechanic and firemen. A number of fire boxes were placed inside of the schools, but in 1917 they were removed and placed on the streets so they would be more accessible. By 1920, the fire alarm system consisted of 75 signal boxes; 15 of which were in private industrial plants and 60 were located on the streets and in schools. There was one circuit switch board and one six circuit repeater. There was also 256 fire hydrants connected to the water mains. Two years later the number of fire hydrants increased to a total of 375.
In 1926, the City Engineer was authorized to prepare maps for the Fire Department, showing the location of all fire hydrants and boxes within the City of Hamtramck.
Only two large fires were recorded in Hamtramck’s early history: the first occurred December 16, 1919; the second occurred in 1933. With monetary losses of $80,000.00 (1919) and $135,000.00 (1933).
Martin Bishop was Hamtramck’s first fire chief. During his time the department headquarters were moved to the present Municipal Building.
With Hamtramck’s rapid growth, further expansion was necessary. In 1917, the village council adopted a resolution to build a second fire hall located at Caniff and McKay Avenue, at an estimated cost of $5,500.00; appropriation being through a bond issue. The village could not find an immediate market for the bonds; which resulted in a lack of funds, delaying the construction of Fire Hall No. 2. The village council extended the time table until May 1919 and the structure was completed that year. Fire Hall No. 3, located at Joseph Campau and Smith Street, was completed and opened in February 1922. In the fall of 1928, the Fire Department discontinued using Fire Hall No. 3 due to a newly built railroad viaduct. As the space within Fire Hall No. 2, became overcrowded due to increases in personnel, equipment and reported fires, an addition was recommended and granted. Plans and specifications were awarded, with expenditure of approximately $10,930.00.
In May 1915, Hamtramck village President made two appointments: he named Albert Reppenbager as Captain and Earl Thompson as Lieutenant. They were both stationed at Engine House No. 1. Chief Bishop’s administration covered a 5 year period; afterwards Frank C. Long was appointed to Fire Chief in 1919 and remained chief until 1922. With the establishment of Fire Hall No. 2 in 1919, Anthony Eden was appointed Captain. Upon the resignation of Captain Reppenbager in 1920, the office was succeeded by Elmer Bushway. When the position of Master Mechanic no longer existed, the position of Superintendent was created with a salary of $2,600.00 per year.
In 1921, there were further changes and promotions. The village appointed Walter Krzyzostan as Chief of the Hamtramck Fire Department with a salary of $3,500.00 per year. Charles Smith was appointed Captain of Fire Hall No. 1 and Adam Grusczynski was appointed Captain of Fire Hall No. 2. In 1923, the office of Assistant Chief of the fire department was created. Charles Smith was selected for this post, with a considerable increase in salary.
Back in 1926, the editor of the Polish Daily Record wrote: “With the appointment of L.A. Koscinski, as Public Director of Safety; the spirit of cooperation and efficiency has greatly increased. The new director has taken a personal interest in the men and at the same time demanded strict adherence to the organization of Hamtramck’s Fire Department with “Rules and Regulations” which he has compiled and printed for the conduct and guidance of the men.” Since then, it may be stated that this spirit of co-operation and efficiency has been fostered and no one is more alert to the co-operation and efficiency of his department than the present chief. Chief Edward J. Sawtell who at the time of this writing is installing a reading library in each fire hall. With the reading material consisting primarily of books and literature pertaining to fire fighting and its prevention. So that each fireman who desires, may become as well informed in fire fighting efficiency as his chief. Prior to this such books and literature were kept solely in the chief’s office.
The personnel of 1926, consisted of 47 pipemen and laddermen, 9 motor engineers, 4 watchmen, 3 captains, 5 lieutenants, 1 chief and his assistant. Fourteen years later in 1940 the department made a few changes and added several employees. On the force was 1 chief, 2 senior & 6 junior captains, 7 lieutenants, 1 senior & 13 junior motor engineers, 48 pipemen & laddermen and 6 professional firemen. The department also had 3 telegraph operators. There was a total of 78 men.
As fire fighting increased so did the equipment needed. In 1859 there was 1 Peerless hose wagon drawn by 2 horses by 1915 there was 1 Aherns-Fox steamer, 1 Peerless hose wagon and 1- 55 foot ladder truck. By January 1922 there were 2 engine companies and 1 ladder company in service; in addition to 1- 700 gallon steam fire engine, 1 Packard hose and chemical truck were in reserve.
Modern and up-to-date equipment has been secured, whereas, the present (1940) equipment of Fire House No. 1 consist of 1 Seagraves 750 gallon pumper, 1 American La France 1,200 gallon pumper and the chiefs car. In 1919, Fire House No. 2 originally started with 1 Aherns-Fox steamer and 1 hose and chemical truck; they have since gradually increased their equipment
The department had a combined total of following equipment in service at that time: 1 Seagraves Triple Combination 750 gallon pumping engine – carrying 1,200′ of 2 1/2″ hose and 2-30 gallon & 1-40 gallon chemical tanks and 7 men. 1 Aherns-Fox 700 gallon pumping engine motor propelled on a Peerless truck, 1 motor propelled hose and chemical truck carrying 1,000′ of 2 1/2″ hose and 9 men, 1 well equipped service truck carrying 7 men and 1 ambulance. On October 1,1919, the platoon system of24-hour periods was adopted. The equipment of the Hamtramck Fire Department, as now stands, compares favorably with the best in the country.
The salaries of the fire department in 1915, may seem small when compared with present day salaries. The annual salaries of 1915 were: chief $1,500, captain $1,200, lieutenant $1,100, engineers & general repairmen $1,200, drivers $1,100, pipemen & laddermen $1,000. In 1917 the men were given an increase in salary, which practically doubled their salaries of 1915, In May 1920 they received an additional raised The superintendent of Fire Apparatus received $2,600. A year later the chief’s salary was fixed at $3,500 annually and all captains received $2,500 annually. In 1923 the office of assistant chief was created, with an annual salary of $2,800. Subsequent years, including 1940, were not available.
Persons contemplating membership in the fire department, must be a citizen of the United States, a resident of Hamtramck for 1 year of more preceding appointment, able to read and write the English language, never have been convicted of a crime, not over 30 years old or under 21 years old, be at least 5’7″ in height, weigh not less than 140 pounds, steady habits, good character and pass a general examination. Promotions available to those with good personal conduct on and off of duty.
Leave of absence may be granted by the department chief. All equipment must be kept in good order for any emergency.
Provide their own uniforms within 60 days and perform all duties for his rank and title.
By Stephen A. Majewski, Mayor of Hamtramck (1926); “Doubtless our city enjoys freedom from destructive fires, equal to that of any city in Michigan population considered. Yet in Michigan last year, more than $17,000,000. worth of property was destroyed by fire.” In some degree our city has contributed to that lost. Removal from local tax rolls of the value lost in these fires shift assessments of exactly that amount of city taxes of other local properties which remain. Thus, the evil strikes everywhere. Statisticians say, that 76% of all fires are preventable.”
The Hamtramck Charter provides that an efficient fire department must be maintained for the protection of people and property therein and provide the necessary equipment and apparatus, with an ample supply of water to enable the department to extinguish fires. The chief is appointed by the Director of Public Safety. Salaries are based on title and position.
Any member of the Hamtramck Fire Department who has served 25 years on the force, either for the village and/or the city is entitled to a retirement pension. A disability provision is provided. With ample provision for his widow and children.
Under Fire Chief Edward J. Sawtell’s administration, the first retirement was that of Captain Adam Gruszczynski with 25 years of service. The record system prior to 1934 was very meager. Since then, much has been done to bring up the record and statistical division to a point where it is second to none in the State of Michigan.
At this time they are taking a survey and making a floor plan of all basements in the various business establishments of Harntrarnck. When completed (the number one fire truck responding to all fires) will have a complete indexed card system file, showing (by blue print) the layout of all basements.
The W.P.A. Fire Prevention Education’s Survey, has also done much towards creating vital statistics, by giving full data regarding all homes in the city. Simultaneously distributing 12,500 posters and leaflets to residents of Hamtramck as a safety measure. Films were made and shown to adults and children in various schools, churches and theaters.
In 1938 the Michigan Fire Inspection Bureau, awarded Fire Chief J.M. Griffin the “Paxton Mendelssohn Trophy”; with the distinction of operating the best Fire Department in Southern Michigan.
A communication was received from the Michigan Workers Alliance of Lansing, that as a result of the W.P.A. Fire Prevention project in the City of Hamtramck, the Underwriters have reduced premiums 35%.
The following list is of past and present Hamtramck Fire Chiefs, since the incorporation of the City of Hamtramck.
Martin Bishop 1914-19
Frank C. Long 1919-1922
Walter J. Krzyzoston 1922-1933
Henry P. Gelinski 1932-1934
Edward J. Sawtell 1934-1937
John M. Griffin 1937-1939
Edward J. Sawtell 1939-1940
Samuel J. Dropchuk 1980-2000
Gerald Penkszik 2000-2001
James Szafarczyk 2001-2008
Steven Paruk 2008-2011
Paul Wilk 2012-2016