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(From: “The Wabash Valley Remembers 1787-1938”)

Charles T. Nehf, Fire Department Historian

Protection is Economy, when protecting Life, Property, Health and Society, and for that reason all Hamlets, Villages, Towns and Cities have had some semblance of a fire preventing and fire extinguishing association.

When the village of Terre Haute was platted in 1816, the question of fire protection was considered and a number of residents organized a bucket brigade to put out fires. This feat was accomplished by the formation of lines of both men and women who passed buckets of water drawn from wells, cisterns, canals or rivers to the burning building. The fire ordinance paid men one dollar for every hogshead of water delivered to the fire. Competition was very keen when on the announcement of a fire, men ran helter skelter with drays and wagons to get water for the first water delivered secured the one dollar.

The bucket brigade manner of fighting fires was followed by a regular organized Volunteer System. Fire Wardens were selected, one from each ward, and the Wardens were very prominent citizens, who met regularly each month for discussions.

In the year 1838 the Town of Terre Haute through the regular town officials purchased the first piece of fire fighting apparatus—a double decker hand pump fire engine costing $520 and named The Deluge. On the rear water box was inscribed FEAR NOT; WE COME! It was kept for years at the Grover Foundry on South First Street and Walnut. It was always ready to render service, and with a two-wheeled hand cart, and a home-made ladder wagon, it provided protection against fire.

Albert W. Rowe
Fire Chief

At an expense of $740, an additional Hand Pump Engine was purchased and named The Vigo No. 2. This Engine is now an interesting relic, place in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., by Charles T. Nehf, Secretary and Treasurer and only surviving officer of the Volunteer Fireman’s Association. For this gift he was made a Life Honorary Member of the Washington, D.C. Fire Fighters Association. This makes it possible for millions of people sightseeing yearly to see the kind of fire apparatus used 85 to 100 years ago.

In the year 1856 another Hand Pumper Engine called the Mohawk was added to the department. This was a large double decker engine, too heavy to be pulled through our sand streets, and in 1857 three more up to date piano box style hand Pumper Engines capable of throwing two good streams of water 150 feet were brought to the city. The Northern Liberty was located at the old No. One station (now abandoned) at Third and Lafayette Streets. The Vigo No. 2 was located at the old city hall on Fourth and Walnut Streets, and the Niagara No. 3 was placed on a lot at the present site of Fire Headquarters, the Mohawk was also placed in this building. The German Ladder Wagon, the six hand pump engines, with a beautiful four wheel hose wagon named Kate Tousey, “the bell of the North,” a daughter of Mr. Tousey, a local banker. The cart was purchased by public subscription, and the hose drum side of the cart had two beautiful fire scenes painted on the reel, and was used for a number of years in the regular department.

The above apparatus was used until the year 1866 when the Incorporated City of Terre Haute bought its first Steam Fire Engine, called Albert Lange No. 1 and was named after the then Mayor Albert Lange.

This engine was a great addition to the fire department, being drawn by a pair of fine horses and got up steam in six minutes, ready to pump water through two lines of hose 165 feet.

Frank H. Miller, Clem A. Smith, Fred S. McConnell
Assistant Fire Chief, State Fire Marshall, Assistant Fire Chief

Water was supplied by a system of cisterns, 35 in number, and each cistern held from 500 to 1,000 barrels of water. It was the duty of the Chief of the fire department to see that these cisterns were always in condition and full of water. These cisterns were also used by the Hand Pump Engines.

In the year of 1867 another Steam engine was purchased, and in 1887 a Chemical Engine was added to the department, and in 1890 and Aerial Truck was purchased at a cost of $3,400 which caused a lot of comment for and against. It was nick-named Is-rial Truck by men of the Rail Road shops, and the criticism was so universal that the councilmen in office were defeated at the next election.

The Volunteer system was succeeded in the latter part of the Seventies, when 20 dollars-per-month men were put on the hose wagons. The Engineers of steamers received $1,000 per year, the firemen and drivers received $750.00 per year. In the year 1873 the city built the water pressure system which did away with the old cisterns to a certain extent.

The greater blessing and practical efficiency that befit the firemen was in the year 1885 when the non-partition metropolitan system was adopted, making a fireman’s tenure for service, taking the department out of politics, and a fireman on good behavior and doing his duty once appointed on the job, remaining indefinitely.

Before this system was adopted, the firemen were discharged every time the city had an election, especially if the fireman belonged to the wrong party.

The Metropolitan System brought uniforms for the firemen, regular hours of work, and the injunction to keep out o politics or pay the penalty of losing their jobs. These regulations increased the efficiency of the fire department and became the means of lower insurance rates for the people.

By 1859 the Terre Haute Fire Department considered their service worthy of certain privileges and below is a facsimile of the certificate of membership issued at that time to William H. Ball, brother of the late Isaac Ball.


Know all Men by These Presents, that William H. Ball having been,
returned by the Secretary fo Mohawk Fire Company to me as a good and worthy
member of one year’s standing in said company, the said William H. Ball is
hereby entitled to all the rights and privileges secured to firemen by the
Ordinance passed April first, eighteen hundred and fifty eight, “exempting
Firemen in good repute of one year’s standing, from serving on Juries, or in the
Militia except in case of war, insurrection or invasion and from paying poll tax
or tax on five hundred dollars worth of real and personal property.

I.H. BLAKE, City Clerk

The fire service in Terre Haute gradually improved and by 1895 the State Legislature passed the Fireman’s Pension Law, entitling every fireman in Indiana the privilege and benefits of that fund. Today every member of the city fire department does his utmost to perpetuate this fund. It has helped immeasurably to maintain a high standard of efficiency in the department.

In the year 1917-18 we leave the faithful old horse behind, when the city of Terre Haute sold $40,000 worth of bond to finish motorizing the fire department; all first class fire fighting equipment was installed. In the year 1923 the city purchased a new 20 circuit Gamewell Fire Alarm System and housed it in a new building located in the rear of the present Fire Headquarters.

All that remains of the old volunteer fireman’s association in the city is the old No. 1 Northern Liberty Fire House built in the year 1857 at Lafayette Ave. and Third Street; the bell from this old house is on the Sacred Heart Church on North 13th Street. The No. 2 bell hangs on the Westminister Church, 22nd and Wabash Ave., the No. 3 bell at the M.E. Church, 4th Ave. and Center Street. Vigo No. 2 Engine is at Washington, D.C., and No. 3 Niagara at Effingham, IL.

In the year 1861 when President Lincoln issued a call for volunteer soldiers, over 90 percent volunteer firemen enlisted and made good soldiers. This patriotic act of the volunteers for a while disrupted the fire system, but the spirit of the organization was kept up by the 150 members having water throwing contests and giving prizes to the winners, one of which was a fine Solid Silver Fire Chief’s Trumpet, was presented to the winners of the No. 2 company. When this company was mustered out of service, the Trumpet was given to the paid firemen and has ben for over fifty years in the chief’s office at Fire Headquarters.

On this Trumpet the names of every Chief from the volunteer days to the present time are engraved along with the length of time they served as chief, which ranges from ten days to eight years.

Mr. Charles T. Nehf is the only honorary member of the Terre Haute Fire Department; he is still secretary-treasurer of the volunteers with but one remaining member, Henry Stakeman, now 88 years old.

The department is now composed of 17 pieces of fire fighting apparatus, consisting of 750 and 1,000 gallon pumpers, Aerial Truck and City Service Trucks. The personnel of the department consists of 116 men including the chief officers.

(Published through the Courtesy of Friends of the Fire Department)


Terre Haute Fire and Police Museum
Was Station Number 9 in its older days
1728 South 8th Street

Check out the Fire and Police Museum.

Station Number 2
875 College Avenue

Station Number 3
701 North 13th

Station Number 5
28 South 9th

Station Number 6
2600 Hulman

Station Number 7
1300 Fort Harrison

Station Number 8
240 South Fruitridge Avenue

The old Station Number 8
19th and Wabash Ave
Now storage for "Habitat for Humanity"

Station Number 9
On Margaret at State Road 63

Station Number 11
2601 Maple Aveune

Fire Department Dispatch, Offices and Maintenance
1st and Spruce Streets

According to Pete Chalos: "Mayor Burke has been proposing some new changes this year. He wants to close the stations on Ninth and Ohio, Ninth and College, 13th and Chase, and the station on Fruitridge. These would be replaced by one station on Eighth and Tippecanoe and one station on the intersection of Indiana 46 and Poplar.
There are some serious problems with these proposals. Take the proposed Eighth and Tippecanoe location. One problem with this location is that about 60 trains a day chug across Eighth Street, sometimes stopping in the middle of town. Half of this station's coverage zone will be on the other side of the train tracks at all times. Also, this station alone (due to the proposed closings) would be asked to cover an area spanning from Third Street to 25th Street, and Fort Harrison to Hulman Street. Half of the coverage zone for the station on Indiana 46 and Poplar would be farmland, forest and the airport. The airport has its own fire service."

According to Mike Morrison, President Terre Haute Fire Fighters Local 758, the plan is to close No. 2 (9th and College) and #3 at 13th and Chase; moving #5 (9th and Ohio) to 9th and Tippecanoe and #8 (South Fruitridge) to 46 and Poplar.

Click here to visit the Terre Haute Fire Fighters Local 758.

Check out the Fire and Police Museum and the festivities on Sunday, June 6th, 2005.

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