An item early last week in the "A look through the area’s past" column of this newspaper, dated Jan. 7, 1954, rang a bell when I read it. I have to admit that in January 1954 I was in college in Denton and probably missed the story when it ran.

An item early last week in the "A look through the area’s past" column of this newspaper, dated Jan. 7, 1954, rang a bell when I read it. I have to admit that in January 1954 I was in college in Denton and probably missed the story when it ran.

It quoted Fire Chief Pat Lowe when he warned in a letter to the City Council against relying on a 40-year-old hook-and-ladder truck. Chief Lowe said that the truck was purchased in 1914 and was as "obsolete as anything can be." He said it was beyond repair and wouldn’t even run. Without a self-starter, the truck had to be cranked by hand, operating from a magneto that was out of order and could not be repaired because a new one wasn’t available any longer.

He asked the Council if it could live with a truck that wouldn’t run and with ladders that weren’t safe for firemen to climb, much less to bring someone down to safety. The chief pointed out that Denison had the reputation of having the best and most efficient fire department for a town its size in the state. Someone making that evaluation must not have seen the hook-and-ladder truck. If they had, Denison would have lost that honor, the chief said, adding that "we could not live with ourselves for knowing that a death was caused by our negligence in not providing proper fire equipment.

That sent me to my file to see what I could find. I found an article dated August 1947 that had no byline saying that from a volunteer bucket brigade with only a fire chief and one paid fireman to a modern fire fighting force complete with the latest equipment was the history of the fire department in the previous 75 years.

Denison had 11 chiefs during those 75 years with Chief Lowe as No. 11. A man named Bob Fisher was the chief in 1876. A man named Fitzgerald was the first chief in the city.

In those early days, the chief said, "there were wells on Main Street and when there was a fire a bell would ring for the volunteers to run to the station and the fire cart would be pulled by hand.

Let me insert an item here from the July 15, 1942, Dallas Morning News as follows, "Denison’s long-discarded fire bell which tolled out some of the city’s major fires in early days, is on its way to toll the funeral dirge for the Axis nations. The 1,190-pound bell, used by a rural school for 20 years, has been sold for junk. As salvage it sold for $4.75." It’s a shame the old bell was sent to salvage. It would be good to have it stored with the old bell from atop the high school that was demolished a few years ago. Maybe someday that one can be brought out for everyone to see.

Now, let’s get back to the fire wagons. From the hand-drawn cart the town progressed to a horse-drawn fire wagon. That brought about the establishment of the South Side Fire Station in the early 1900s because with two stations and no viaduct in those days, it was too long a run for the horses from the Central Fire Station.

There was no chief at the second station but a fire captain was assigned to head that company. That second station was closed in 1926.

Chief Lowe said most of his information came from Vic Morefield, who was chief for nine years and the fourth chief in Denison’s history, replacing Mr. Yokum. First fire station was on Main Street. Bill Linden replaced Morefield, and then Morefield served four more years. He was followed by John Cooper.

It was when Cooper was chief that the first automotive truck, an American La France 750-gallon pumper, was purchased in 1912 and the following year the city’s hook-and-ladder truck was built. This is the truck that Chief Lowe wanted to get rid of. In 1947 the truck was still in use and had been kept pretty much up to date except it still had its original set of ladders and its original hard rubber tires.

The city’s hook-and-ladder truck was ordered in 1912 to be supplied six months later. The truck was to have 75 horsepower and carry 1,000 feet of standard hose and have a pump with a capacity of not less than 750 gallons per minute, according to a Denison Daily News article. It was hoped that the new truck would increase the efficiency of the town’s fire fighting apparatus considerably. Alderman E.E. Davis estimated that the truck’s cost was about $7,000.

Davis said that Dallas, Fort Worth, Terrell, Stamford and Texarkana and numerous other Texas towns already were using similar machines and were very satisfied with their performances. He said motor-driven apparatuses were not considered practical in Denison until recently when some paving of the downtown district and streets in main parts of town made it possible to get to parts that until then had only been accessible by horse-drawn means of travel.

Lowe said that in the old days they had to keep matches on the fenders in order to light the carbon headlights at night if there was a fire.

Chief Cooper retired in 1932 and O.L. Garvin replaced him. Cooper died a year later and was "taken to his grave on the fire truck."

When the 1947 article was written there had been three great fires in history: the Denison Hotel in 1920, the Catholic Church in about 1900 and the peanut factory that burned for two days and one night before firemen were able to extinguish it. Total damage was estimated at $209,000 and most Denisonians remembered for days the aroma of roasted peanuts, Lowe said.

The $360,000 Hotel Denison fire was the greatest in history at that time. It raged for four days and four nights. The hotel was located at the present site of the Main Street Mall and was a four-story building.

There have been other large fires since those three, but today the Denison Fire Department is well equipped to handle most any situation.

DONNA HUNT is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at