Owensboro Fire Department in search of service history | Community
The Owensboro Fire Department was established in 1866, and over the decades the agency has grown from horse-drawn carts to the most modern firefighting equipment.
He also grew in size and in mission.
Now fire officials are trying to put together the full story of OFD and they are hoping the public can help.
OFD Fire Chief James Howard said a group of firefighters were researching the history of the department by combing through files and gathering information and artifacts. Officials aren’t sure what shape the final product will take, but their plans also include documenting stories of retired firefighters and members of the public, and archiving documents.
Howard said the idea came from Station One on West Ninth Street, where the hallways are lined with photos of former city fire chiefs.
While the stories of some chefs are well known, “if you go back any further than that, all you have are stories being passed on,” Howard said last week. “We try to go from (the history of the department) so vague to a story that is easy to communicate.
Howard was friends with Daviess County Clerk Leslie McCarty, who also writes a weekly column on the history of Owensboro for the Messenger-Inquirer.
“She took it upon herself to start finding articles on chefs and sending them to me,” Howard said. When the idea of putting together a full story solidified, a group of interested firefighters were enlisted to do the research, “so that everyone would own it,” Howard said.
Lt. Andrew Behl, who leads search efforts for the department, said firefighters conduct searches when their schedules allow.
“We try to adapt it between testing and inspections,” Behl said. “At this point it’s a matter of seeing how much material is available.”
The history of the fire department is, in part, the story of leaders who worked to make the service a professional service (rather than a service dominated by people appointed by politicians). But the history of the department can also be traced through events, such as major fires that left traces.
The history of the department “is tied to how the city has changed,” Behl said.
As part of the project, researchers are trying to find people with stories about the department.
“We have made contact with many family members” of former firefighters, Behl said. Retired chefs will be interviewed along with firefighters and their families. Artifacts, from logs to old firefighting equipment, are researched so that researchers in the department can photograph the objects and return them to their owners.
McCarty said she consulted with firefighters on how to archive their research. The project will take time.
“They’re in no rush, which is good,” McCarty said.
Members of the public with photos of the department responding to the fires could also help, Howard said.
“We’re just open to what people can bring,” Howard said. “We think there are invaluable photos in people’s attics.”
Anyone with any stories or items they would like to share can contact OFD on Facebook or by calling 270-687-8405.
Behl said when the history of the department is complete, a public display could be a possibility. In addition, the department is considering a book documenting the history of the department.
“We invite people to help us capture and preserve our history,” Behl said.
James Mayse, 270-691-7303, [email protected], Twitter: @JamesMayse