Over fifty years would pass after the village was founded before a hook and ladder truck was purchased along with buckets and axes. Time after time pleas were made for firefighting equipment and the formation of a fire company, all to no avail. The village council simply would not act on the issue.
Finally in March 1877 a severe fire took its toll in a block of stores along Main Street. Ann Arbor loaded their engine on a railroad car and came to Dexter to put out the fire. That same year the council acted.
This was not the first time an entire block of stores was destroyed by fire, as well as hotels, homes and other buildings. Early residents depended heavily on insurance companies to cover almost certain losses should a fire occur. The only bell of any size in town was located in the steeple of the Methodist Church and it would be rung to notify residents when a fire was occurring. Volunteers would try to extinguish the blaze using buckets of water and axes, if available, usually with little success.
In the earlier days the village water supply consisted of two open wells with a box-like affair built around them and a small roof over each. A windlass was used to lower and raise the bucket in and out of the well. One was located on the Luther James property on Ann Arbor Street at Dover, Now the site of a nursery school. The other was on Huron Street. One day it was discovered the boys of the village were lowering and raising each other into the wells and they were filled in.
Dennis Warner, who early became the owner of various downtown buildings and homes, kept a diary in which he noted the first fire in Dexter occurring in 1838, the residence of George Beamon near the corner of Fifth and Dover, on the site of the present two-story brick home.
Alexander Crane, who came to Dexter in 1830, first plying his trade as a blacksmith and later becoming a lawyer and judge, gave an account of early fires in an 1869 issue of The Dexter Leader. Included was the destruction of a mill built by Judge Dexter in 1824-25, a severe fire that occurred in 1846. A plea was made in The Dexter Leader in 1869 for a fire department saying, “$161,000 in losses have occurred in twenty-six years. The only protection we have is the insurance company.”
Pleas for the fire department continued in 1873 and again in 1876. In April 1877 a proposal was submitted to the village council by agents of Allen & Osborne Windmill Manufactures from Albion, Michigan to purchase for use by the village a windmill that was erected on Broad Street near Main at a cost of $115. The agents agreed to keep the windmill in good repair and order for one year.
A proposal was also made at this time to build a cistern 18 feet deep and 12 feet wide for water to be used in fighting fires. Council gave permission for laying pipes from the river to the cistern on Main Street near “wooden row” and the park. Fred Lathrop was paid “for mortising the hole in the ground for the cistern, George S. Sill, the hardware in town, laid the pipe for $ 44.80 and Phinias Lewis removed the dirt from around the cistern.
Previous to this the village had purchased a hydraulic ram and put it in the “Dexter Spring,” forcing water into a public trough in front of the old Western Hotel. It was later removed and in March 1890 discovered again and the village decided to put it in Mill Creek below the mill and lay a water pipe to the public cistern and watering trough.
About ninety residents proposed to council in May 1877 “to purchase a fire engine hose cart and enough hose to protect the village in case of fire.” Two men were appointed to visit other places to look at fire engines and their prices. Finally in August that year council agreed to purchase a hook and ladder truck at the cost of $165.25, axes at $10.10 and pails for $10.00. The following month W.W. Tozer was elected foreman of the “Hook and Ladder Co.” No. 1 of Dexter” and was given authority to select or appoint the necessary number of men to operate the truck. In December that year a new fire engine house was erected on Alpine Street.
In 1879 a large wooden pump was installed in the cistern on Main Street producing a “ heavy stream of water” considered a vast improvement of drawing water by the old bucket and ladder method. Carl Bates once recalled that a large ball decorated the top of the town pump at the cistern for some time until some local pranksters removed it and discovered it fit in the hole in the cannon in the park. Later council had the ball removed.
Again in 1884 The Dexter Leader appealed for a fire engine and in February 1885 ran an editorial noting, “The public reservoir at the windmill is frozen solid, snow very deep and what would happen if a fire occurred.”
An exhibition demonstrating the effectiveness of “Hardens Improved Hand Grenade and Fire Extinguisher” was held in Dexter in July 1885. Several 16-foot pine boards were joined together and placed upright, covered with tar, naphtha and benzene. Pine sticks were placed at the bottom and fire applied. Flames leapt forty feet in the air and four grenades put it out immediately. The council then ordered a quantity of them to be placed where they would be readily attainable in case of fire. Private parties also furnished their dwellings with them.
A fire company was organized on Monday, July 11, 1890 composed of the following seven members: Jake Reider, Captain; Lewis Boyden, Chief; Fred Kauska and Ed McLain, Engineers: Bert Round and Charles Walker, hose men.
The fire engine house was moved from Alpine Street in January 1907 to a new location near the electric light plant on Broad Street near the cemetery. The building was placed on skids; Porter Pulling’s tractor engine was hitched to it and it was pulled to the new site.
The first volunteer fire department was organized in 1915 with Frank Harris as Chief. Other members were James Roberts, Alfred Drew, James Bell, Gus Eck, Merle Bowen, Matthew Huber, John Reason, Ray Litchfield and Will Schairer. This new department decided to hold official drills once a month and meetings and inspections as necessary. An old time dance was held and the proceeds were used to buy equipment. Charles B. Chamberlain brought his orchestra from Jackson and called for the old time quadrilles.
The Methodist Church was struck by a bolt of lightning at the top of the tower on Saturday May 16, 1925. Carl Bates remembered he was working at the Dexter Co-op at the time, now the site of The Mill, and someone telephoned that the church was on fire and he drove up there. “When I arrived the church was afire only at the peak. The village people had hauled the fire equipment to the church consisting of three pieces; a hand-operated pump on four wheels, a two-wheeled cart with the hose wound around the drum on the axle and a cart for the ladders. The pump had a suction hose to drop in a cistern or other source of water. While the men got the pump ready, others put ladders against the roof and connected the pressure hose to the pump. When I arrived they already had three or four men on the roof near the steeple holding the hose waiting for water. The pump operated as fast as possible, but no water came out of the nozzle.”
“The fire gradually worked its way down and the men on the roof had to climb down and get the equipment away from the burning building. Pulling the hose out of the cistern, it was discovered the metal coils inside to keep it from collapsing when suction was applied were missing for a foot or two near the end, causing the hose to collapse and shut off the water. The building burned to the ground.”
During 1926-27 the village installed an all-new water supply system with fire hydrants throughout the village. In November 1926 a test well was sunk in Monument Park, good water was struck at 125 feet and ten inch pipe was driven. Chris Hanselmann was given the contract in April 1927 to build a pumping station at a cost of $1791.00. In March 1928 the fire department used the new water system for the first time to extinguish a fire at Minnie Daley’s residence on Forest and Baker.
That same month of May a new American LaFrance Chemical Truck, mounted on a Model T chassis arrived. It had two forty-gallon soda acid tanks and a pump. It was placed in Gus Eck’s building on Main Street, the old blacksmith shop, located where the Dairy Queen stands today. This was used as an engine house by the fire department until 1955.
The village bought a Boyer Triple Combination Fire Truck in March 1928, new hose and a Sterling D.H. Siren fire alarm. In April the siren, with a five horsepower motor arrived and was placed on the pump house in the park. It sounded every Saturday at noon for some time, but was used primarily for fires. Chief Lovell tried the siren in various places throughout the village to determine where it could be best heard.
In 1946 the Townships of Dexter, Scio, Webster and Lima paid $500 per year for a maintenance fee. It would be $25.00 per trip to each township, up to five miles from the village and then a $1.00 for each additional mile. The maximum distance of 12 miles was established.
In 1948 the Dexter Fire Department purchased a new truck. The truck was retro fitted to be a 1000 gallon water tanker. For its time it was a large piece of equipment. The current fire station was built on Main St. in the Village of Dexter in 1954 and all the equipment were moved to that location.
A Carry All (Suburban) was purchased in 1955.This is when Dexter Fire Department started running medical emergencies. There had been several drowning incidents in Silver Lake. Therefore there was a need for someone to respond and try to save lives. The fire department also started responding to car accidents for extrications. Before then, the tow truck companies handled the responsibility of freeing people bypulling the car apart with the winch of the tow truck. Detroit Edison was the first to teach CPR and basic first aid to the Firefighters.
In 1965, a 2000 gallon tanker was purchased to replace the worn out 17 year old tanker that was built in 1948. The first truck to fight grass fires was also purchased at this time.
The Carry All was then replaced with a “bread truck” style rescue in 1968.This was because it could transport more equipment for medical calls and car accidents.
In 1974, the first set of Jaws of Life was purchased, making the Dexter Fire Department the second department in the area to obtain them. Two days after the Jaws of Life were acquired they were used on a multiple fatality car accident on Dexter Pinckney Rd, just outside of the Village.
A study was published in 1975 that lime-green was the most visible color that could be seen the best in all weather conditions. The Firefighters felt that this was an important safety feature to have. The trucks that the Department owned were painted; this is the color that remains on the trucks today.
A Ford C cab fire engine was purchased in 1976 to replace a 14 year old fire engine. The truck was required due to numerous fires along the Jackson Rd. corridor in Scio.
In 1983, the Department purchased a 3000 gallon tanker/pumper, at that time the biggest in the county. When there was a fire in an area where there were no hydrants available, there is a need to bring the water with. A mini pumper was also purchased secondhand, from Summit Twp. FD. This was get to medical calls and fire incidents farther from the village. It was a quick attack four wheel drive truck that was more efficient for those types of distances.
Scio Township built a fire substation on Zeeb Rd in 1986. Dexter Fire Department equipped the station with trucks, hose equipment and assigned members to work out of this station.
In July 1988 Scio Township decided to split from the Dexter Area Fire department, taking the equipment and most of the members that worked out of that station with them. The member’s that stayed with Scio lived in or near the Township. Dexter Area Fire hired its first fulltime firefighter. Before then the only staffing were dispatchers. This firefighter worked Monday – Friday 7am – 3pm, the time period that most of the part time firefighters were at their jobs. This was done to provide a better service to the public. Dispatching services were contracted to HVA, who were dispatching of other local departments.
In 1989 a C cab Ford Engine was purchased to replace equipment that Scio Township took with them when they opened there new fire department.
In 1993 the first custom truck was purchased. Custom trucks are designed and built to your departments specifications, so they can carry specific equipment in the location it is needed. This truck is still being used to this day as Engine 5-3.
In October of 1996 Webster Township opened their new Township Hall. The building was built with 2 bays large enough for fire trucks. They requested that Dexter Area Fire use it as a sub-station. Dexter Area Fire Board approved the request and an Engine and Utility were moved to the station. The station, Station #3 has been operating as a station staffed by part time members that respond when they are available.
In November of 1996 Dexter Area Fire and Chelsea Area Fire opened a substation on N. Territorial Rd. at the Multi Lakes Sewer Authority. The station, Station #2 was operated by part time members from both departments. Chelsea provided a Tanker and Dexter provided a Utility. Members from either department could respond to calls with either truck. In 2005 Chelsea removed their equipment and the station was primarily stagnant, because almost all of the firefighters that had lived in the area moved out of the area.
January of 2001 the 1983 Tanker was involved in an accident while responding to a house fire and needed to be replaced. Chief Yates went to the Fire Board and explained that there were two other trucks that were about 20 years old and were reaching the end of their life expectancy. These older trucks did not have any of the safety equipment on them that a newer truck would have. The Fire Board approved the replacement of the Tanker, Utility and Brush truck. The Rescue truck was also replaced with a new Rescue Engine that was designed to respond to fires, car accidents, cold water rescues and EMS calls. In December 2001 The Dexter Area Fire Board approved to hire 2 more full time firefighters so that there would be a firefighter available to respond 24/7 from station #1 in the Village of Dexter.
Because of the increasing number of emergency responses and the frequency of multiple calls at the same time the fire board approved in 2006 the hiring of 3 more full time fire fighters. Now there would be 2 firefighters on shift at a time to respond together. This would make it safer for the firefighters and more efficient for the citizens.
In 2010 Dexter Township put together a committee of citizen to review public safety needs. The committee reviewed the Townships fire/rescue service needs and recommended that the Township consolidate services from 3 Departments down to a single department to cover almost all of Dexter Township. The committee also recommended staffing Station #2 at N. Territorial Rd. Based on this recommendation Dexter Township requested the Dexter Area Fire Board to expand their coverage of Dexter Township to nearly 95% of the township. Three weeks later on December 28, 2010 the Dexter Area Fire Department started staffing Station #2 with 24/7 coverage.
In November 2011 Putnam Township Fire Department opened their new fire station west of the Village of Pinckney. Putnam Fire had been covering the area around Portage Lake within Dexter Township. This moved caused Dexter Township to again look at response coverage. Dexter Township requested that Dexter Area Fire Department start covering the area around Portage Lake. On January 1, 2012 Dexter Area Fire Department started to cover the Portage Lake area within Dexter Township.
As of January 2012 the Dexter Area Fire Department covers approximately 80 square miles including The Village of Dexter, Dexter Township, Webster Township and part of Lima Township. The department has 3 stations, 9 trucks, 1 fulltime Chief, 7 fulltime firefighters and 20 part-time Firefighters.