Fire was the bane of downtown Milton for roughly 25 years, burning down the area three times between 1885 and 1909.
All that changed in 1914 when a small band of volunteers came together to form Milton’s first fire department. Entrusted with all of the city’s newly purchased firefighting equipment — 1,500 feet of hose, three hose reels, wrenches, nozzles and the area’s first automobile fire engine — the volunteers dedicated themselves to keeping their fellow citizens safe from fire.
In the past 100 years, the methods of Milton’s firefighters have changed, but their mission has remained the same. On Monday morning, the current generation of firefighters gathered at the City of Milton Fire Station at 5321 Stewart St. to celebrate the department’s first century of service.
“We are very proud of our history and proud to serve the citizens of Milton,” 18-year fire chief John E. Reble said. “We work hard to live up to our motto, ‘always ready, always there.’ ”
Along with dozens of firefighters and citizens from all over the area, Congressman Jeff Miller and Mayor Guy Thompson were on hand for the anniversary celebration.
Thompson said the fire department had long been a source of pride for the community.
“There is a tremendous amount of history and tradition here,” Thompson said. “I’ve been with the city 36 years, and I have seen our department really flourish. Our response time is three minutes anywhere in the city, and we’ve been very successful in saving lives and preventing facilities from being destroyed.”
The department employs 16 full-time firefighters who respond to emergencies 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The new fire department on Stewart Street was dedicated Sept. 11, 2009, and houses three pump engines, a midi-pumper rescue vehicle, two staff vehicles, a rescue boat and living quarters for on-duty personnel.
It’s a long way from the small wooden garage on the town hall lawn where the department began. Early firefighters didn’t have breathing apparatus, thermal goggles, heat resistant gear or any of the other equipment that keeps modern firefighters safe.
“They hooked a hose to a fire engine, and they were basically wearing the clothes they wore every day,” Reble said.
The difficult conditions never kept the volunteers from getting the job done, and Milton City Manager Brian Watkins said that same spirit is alive and well in the firefighters of today.
“Fire protection and emergency service response never gets a day off,” Watkins said. “When you look at what they do, and the fact that there are only 16 of them, we all sleep better knowing they are here.”
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