The Story Of Leland Fire Fighting

(Most of the following information is taken from Then the Mill Burnt by Karl Detzer,
 The Leland Volunteer Fire Department by G.W. Breiel and The Leelanau Enterprise)

In the early days at the turn of the century most volunteer firemen were mill workers who manned bucket brigades.  As the lumber mills died out after 1900 any available men and boys turned out to man buckets or beat out the fires.

Leland at that time was what could be called fire prone.  The hotels were particularly susceptible.  Of five hotels, only one did not burn.

The Ruff House on Main Street burned sometime between 1900-1907.  The Hotel Leelanau also on Main burned in 1921.  During this fire the blaze crossed southward across the street to a small frame building located where the Early Bird now is.

A spectacular hotel fire destroyed the Nicholas Hotel located where the Lodge is now.  It was at this fire that Ernie Van Zee stacked mattresses five or six deep on the lawn as volunteers hurled furniture toward the piles from the second floor.  Evidently some missed and did not prove to be shatterproof.  A young Joe Schwarz distinguished himself by rescuing a bathtub and large toilet from a bathroom on the second floor.  Karl Detzer telephoned the Traverse City Fire Department which responded in forty minutes, a record at that time.

Equipment in the early days consisted of 12 pails marked with the word FIRE and a red headed ax.  These were purchased in 1921 and were scattered around the town.  About 1924 a 40 gallon soda acid tank on wheels was purchased.  Two more were obtained two years later.  One was located at the State Highway Garage (now Van’s), one in the School House, and the other probably at the Court House.  These were purchased with contributions from the Township Board and several residents.

On March 22, 1934, the four room frame School House burned.  The temperature was eight below zero.  John Duhm, the janitor, had started the fire in the basement furnace and only minutes later Miss Russell, the teacher, smelled smoke.  Upon investigation a fire was discovered near the furnace.  Mr. Selby, Superintendent, rushed to evacuate the students and then realized that Mr. Duhm was still in the basement.  He ran to the outside of the building and kicked in the side door with which Mr. Duhm had been struggling.  Duhm came outside with his clothes smoking.

The volunteers were on hand within five minutes, emptied the three forty gallon soda acid tanks and then carried buckets of water refilling the tanks several times.  Meanwhile the Northport volunteers were called and they arrived with their fine new fire engine in a record fourteen minutes.  As they took up their position it was discovered their pump was frozen.  By the time this was remedied, there was no school left.

Even though the school burned, the quick response to the school fire was due to several factors.  The LVFD had been formed the previous November, 1933.  Soon after, Assistant Chief Ernest Van Zee had inspected the school and helped plan fire drills for the evacuation of the school should it ever be necessary.  It had also been arranged with Paul Plamondon of Lake Leelanau who owned and operated the telephone exchange to notify all volunteer firemen of every fire alarm.

Up to this time donations were received from relatively few individuals, businesses and the Township.  Except for $50 received from both Frank A. Ball and Elmer Dalton, there was not any sum received for more than $10.  Later, when she was acting secretary of the LVFD, several gifts of more considerable amounts were donated by Mrs. A.L. Bournique but she asked that she not receive any credit for them.

Following the school fire, it was decided that fire protection needed to be improved.  Volunteers had tried without success to raise funds so they had to continue to operate with only the soda acid tanks and buckets. 

Depending upon the source of information, a fire truck was purchased in either 1935 or 1939.  It was probably 1939.  It was a 1918 model Reo Speedwagon with four 33½ gallon soda acid tanks and a length of hard rubber hose.  It was purchased from the city of Paw Paw, Michigan.  There is some confusion as to the cost but probably it was $150.  A total of $500 was raised through donations,  dances, and other benefits.  This provided funds for repairs, new paint, some lengths of hose and other equipment.  During 1941-1942, volunteers also yanked off the tanks, put on a 230 gallon water tank and front end fuel pump.  The engine was housed in a lean-to next to the Courthouse.

Ernie Van Zee was appointed Chief with authority to select his crew and the responsibility of maintaining the equipment.  His salary was not to exceed $60 per year.

In early 1940 it was decided that the old two wheeled chemical extinguishers could be spared to provide protection for the outlying resort areas.  The truck alone would be adequate for the village proper.  One of the hand units was placed in East Leland and the other on the South Shore of upper Lake Leelanau.

At this time officers for the LVFD were elected and a provision for membership dues was established at $2 per year.

Thanks to a benefit Magic Show presented by J. Elder Blackledge, $200 was raised to provide funds to build a general alarm system.  During 1941, 3½ miles of wire were stretched by volunteers to connect three pull boxes – one at the Fire house, one at the Court house and one at Albert Scheck’s home, then President of the volunteers.

During 1942 an additional Magic Show and a Talent Show were held to help lower the $265 debt that had been incurred.  During 1943 copper coils attached to the radiator were placed inside the fire engine tank to eliminate freezing.

A year later LVFD officers authorized expenditures to cover equipment insurance and workmen’s compensation.  A salary increase to $10 per month was approved for Ernie Van Zee.  This action took place after it was realized that Ernie had been spending every night at the fire station to be on hand for quick response to fire alarms.

The aging Reo engine made it necessary to begin thinking about a replacement vehicle.  Fund raising got under way during 1947.  Over $500 was raised from still another Blackledge Magic Show and $1,200 from a Grand Ball held at the Leland School Auditorium.  These funds permitted the purchase of a two ton Reo heavy duty chassis with dual rear wheels.  Volunteers worked up plans for a modern fire truck body to fit, and with a bank loan of $700 as well as dues payments and contributions, work was planned to build the new truck.

Before work could begin in 1948 it was realized that sheet metal was in short supply following World War II.  A steel executive who summered in Leland provided a solution with the necessary material.  My guess is that this was Mr. Horace Benedict of Armco Steel.

Van’s Garage provided space and thirteen volunteers worked in shifts three nights a week.  By August the work on the rebuilt fire truck was complete enough for a shakedown test.  The engine was finally completed in July 1949.  Volunteers had worked a total of 1747 hours.

At the end of 1949 it was reported that 148 individuals had paid $2 per year dues.  The old Reo wagon was sold to Lake Leelanau for $600.  In addition the County provided $500 for material to construct a building to house additional equipment.  The Township approved $1,800 to equip and house the Lake Leelanau location.

The new truck got its first real test August 1, 1950 when a fire started in the school auditorium/gymnasium.  The fire was prevented from spreading but the section where it started was destroyed for an estimated loss of $7,500.

By late 1952 E.J. “Dino” Ziebel had a squad organized to provide first aid and rescue.  A station wagon, owned by him, was equipped with a stretcher, red light, blankets and a first aid kit.

In 1953 Leland’s first fire truck was transferred to North Manitou Island.  The Township had become the owner in 1950 when it was provided for Lake Leelanau.

For the next several years expenditures were made to better equip the firemen.  This included lanterns, boots, raincoats, helmets and a resuscitator.

In November 1955 Clifford Hart donated a 1949 Ford panel truck which was outfitted to become our first official  .  Also, a 1,000 gallon tank truck was constructed.  This was built on the chassis of an old school bus.

Beginning with another Magic Show during 1956 presented by J. Elder Blackledge, $1,700 was raised by sponsors to begin a fund to construct a true fire house.  At a meeting of the board in 1960, it was reported that $2,160 had been received from118 contributors towards the cost of a fire house but they had not yet found a location.  The County Commissioners refused to provide land in the Court House area.

A lot was finally purchased from Emil Pedersen for $500 and ground breaking ceremonies took place October 22, 1961.  $15,000 was ultimately raised by voluntary contributions and the new Fire Hall was completed by May 1962.  Leland Township had contributed $800.

In 1963 a new Ford chassis was purchased and the tank, pump and other equipment was transferred from the old worn out bus chassis.  At the LVFD Annual Meeting in 1963 it was announced that $4,574 had been received from 256 donors to pay costs of running the fire department.

A new 1964 Ford Falcon wagon was purchased to replace the 1947 panel truck used as an ambulance.  Funds for the replacement came largely from Edward “Chick” Evans and Ray Applegate who raised money from their hand crafted jewelry and cherry burl cigarette boxes mounted with a Petoskey stone.  Later Chick Evans provided the fund raising concept that continues to this day.  Mrs. Henry Holt showed him an antique fire mark which he borrowed and carved the mold for the LVFD fire mark.  A foundry was located to cast the marks and volunteers painted them.  This fund raiser continues to this day.

Again in 1964 two related civic organizations were formed making use of the Fire House.  One, the Leland Civic Theater, showed movies throughout the winter months.  The International Coffee Club of America was also formed and it still flourishes.  It was visited and featured by Charles Kuralt on his television show.  By 2007 attendance over the years has reached nearly 500,000.

The additional lot east of the Fire House was purchased in 1967 by the LVFD.  At this time LVFD dues were changed so that they were based on a sliding scale of property evaluation.  The payments were $3 to $35 depending upon property value.  These dues helped finance department expenses.  Since only a minor portion of the population paid these dues, donations and other fund raising was always requisite.

The Leland Hardwood Lumber Company burned during 1968 and required over nine hours of continuous pumping.  High winds created a serious threat to the fire’s spread but Leland volunteers, with the assistance of Cedar and Lake Leelanau, were able to maintain containment.

Leland Township used $16,812 of its Federal Revenue sharing allocation in 1973 to purchase a new emergency rescue vehicle from Superior Coach.  It was pointed out that this could not be categorized as an ambulance as we did not have proper licensing for ambulance service.  By 1974 necessary training for the volunteers, including advanced first aid training, was accomplished as well as other matters enabling a full ambulance license from the State.

At this point in time dues income reached $7,500 annually.

The LVFD board approved, during 1976, to provide a payment of $5 per hour to ambulance attendants for time spent on its runs.  The International Coffee Club paid for needed repairs and refurbishment of the Fire House.

Throughout the decade a number of safety and fire fighting apparatus was purchased and put into operation.  Volunteers continued to use their talents to provide maintenance, repairs and improvements.

In 1977 dues were increased to a range of $5 to $37.  The Board of Directors agreed to pay for the Annual Dinner for the volunteers.  The annual cost of the department’s insurance increased to $3,625.  Michigan State University was contacted to ascertain if they would sell their lot on  Main Street in front of the Art School Building for consideration as a site for a new fire building.

In order to meet regulations and improve safety as well as improve fire and safety techniques over $4,000 was spent for a variety of protective clothing, helmets, radio equipment and other paraphernalia in 1979.  During 1980 an additional $4,200 was spent.  The 1964 Ford rescue van was sold for $600.

It was becoming increasingly difficult to recruit personnel particularly for the rescue squad. 
Advertisements were placed in the Leelanau Enterprise to assist a recruitment campaign.

By 1985 it became clear that the LVFD would have difficulty meeting the expenses of proper fire and rescue services to the township, the increasing cost of equipment being the main concern.  The Township also communicated its desire to control all fire fighting and rescue activities in the Township.  The Township owned the fire equipment and Fire Hall in Lake Leelanau but not in Leland.

Ad hoc committees were formed to propose a proper means to form a unified Township Fire Department and concepts were submitted to the Township Board in 1986.  LVFD Fire Chief Charles Stander was authorized to purchase a new or used tanker at cost not to exceed $70,500, again paid for by the LVFD.

At a special election held September 9, 1986 voters approved a special levy of ½ mill for fire protection and ambulance service.  The Township Board and the LVFD Board also agreed to terms for turning over all equipment to the Township for $10 and a yearly lease of the Leland Fire Hall for $1 per year.

Meetings continued throughout 1987 to iron out details of the transfer.  In addition, discussions were held to define LVFD’s continuing role.  The old tanker was sold for $4,000.  By 1988, the transfer of equipment to the Leland Township Fire and Rescue Department was completed.  The LVFD provided $3,100 plus labor to refurbish the meeting room at the Fire House.  Requests for dues were abolished but donations and purchase of fire marks was encouraged.

The LVFD continued to function as it does to this day.  Its mission now is to encourage and support the volunteers who so generously provide their talents, time and energy to provide fire and rescue service to the Township.

Throughout the nineties into the early twenty-first century the LVFD continued to buy equipment such as defibrillators and other paraphernalia which the Township budget could not afford. 

The LVFD also paid volunteers $10 per hour for time spent during training.  The previous year 21 training sessions for a total of 1,120 hours were conducted.  There had been 127 ambulance calls and 27 fire truck calls.

By 2003 due to continuing deficit spending the LVFD could no longer pay for training and very little for equipment purchases.  It does continue to pay for awards, refreshments, uniforms and other miscellaneous items.