A Fire Department Develops
The city's first fire engine was bought second-hand in 1853, and a second engine was purchased soon after. Firemen's Hall, the general headquarters for the various fire companies, was completed in 1853 after several delays. Located at 136 South Burdick Street, the Hall served as Kalamazoo's center of social activity for many years; the building was demolished in January 1942. The Kalamazoo Gazette reported that "Kalamazoo can now boast of as fine a building...for lectures, concerts, exhibitions, parties, etc. as can be found in the state." Kalamazoo's first fire alarm system was later installed in the clock tower of the First Baptist Church in 1855. Despite little financial support from the village government, the fire department by 1862 had nonetheless grown to three engines, three horse carts, a hook and ladder truck, over 1800 feet of hose, and 148 men in several companies. Corporation Hall, built in 1867, soon became the new home of the village fire companies and other civic and governmental groups. Two of the original tenants included the Ladies Library Association and the Kalamazoo Public Library; the building also served as City Hall from 1884 until 1931. In 1870 the fire department was reorganized with four hose companies of twenty men each, and soon after firemen finally began to be paid for their work. A new Central Fire Station was constructed in 1907 on the corner of Burdick Street and Lovell Street. Responsible for protecting downtown, the building stood until it made way for Jacobson's (now the Epic Center) in 1959. The fire department first became motorized in 1916, with the last of the horse-drawn trucks being retired in 1924.
Kalamazoo’s Most Memorable Fires
Perhaps the worst fire in Kalamazoo's history occurred on 26 February1898 at the Hall Brothers Chemical Company, 453 North Church. Ten people were killed, including four firemen, and twenty-seven seriously injured. As large amounts of chemicals stored in the building mixed with the fire, explosions shook the building. One fireman was blown thirty feet into a snowbank, and debris from the blaze could be found three miles away. The fire made front-page news for ten consecutive days. On 8 December 1909, a great fire consumed the Burdick Hotel. The hotel's 160 guests were rushed outside to safety, and no one was killed. The flames raged out of control for over fifteen hours, even with the support of the Battle Creek and Grand Rapids fire departments. Little remained of the hotel except the entrance. Rebuilt in 1911, the hotel was demolished in 1971 to make way for the Kalamazoo Center. An unsolved string of arson fires in the winter of 1925-26 destroyed three major downtown churches--First Congregational, First Presbyterian, and First Methodist, in the latter of which two firemen were killed and several others injured when part of the roof collapsed. Another blaze on 5 February 1945 destroyed the J.R. Jones' Sons and Company building on West Michigan Avenue and South Rose Street. Damage to the downtown landmark was over $300,000.