loading background

Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

cover photo

New Engine House and African Americans

Third Ward Engine House Proposed to be Manned by Negro Crew

“The colored population of this city is intensely interested in a petition now going the rounds of the large business houses, addressed to the Board of Police and Fire Commissioners and asking that the board, when the new Diamond Street Engine House is completed, man the apparatus with a crew and officers of the Negro race. The petition, which has been circulated by several persons, is now in the hands of Jack” Adams, one of the best know colored politicians of the city, and bears the names of an unusual number of influential citizens, city officials, professional men, hotel managers, capitalists, and others. The intention of those behind the petition contemplates its presentation to the Board of Police and Fire Commissioners soon after the construction of the new engine house is begun, which will be about May 1, 1901. Until that time, the petition will be circulated, and an effort made to add as many names as possible. If the innovation asked for by the petition is accomplished the city will have its first opportunity of recognizing the colored race by way of official appointment. With the exception of a few colored men casually on the streets the race has been almost entirely without patronage by municipal government. The same is the case with Kent Count y, the exception of a colored man on the staff of the janitor of the county building being the only one. Those in charge of the circulation of the petition urge that the colored company would not only be a novelty but a practical advantage to the fire fighting force of the city. The spirit of competition would be fostered with the other companies and a spirit de corps developed in the colored company, which would give it pride in its equipment and its condition, to say nothing of its efficiency.

Mr. Adams is extremely proud of the progress made by the petition and regards the favorable sentiment of the residents of the Third Ward, in which the engine house will be placed, as one of the most encouraging features. The agitation was, according to this statement, commenced by William D. Pugh, one of the resident s of the ward, who drew the petition nearly a year ago.”

Grand Rapids Evening Press, March 14, 1901, page 3


Mayor Says New Station will be Manned by Colored Men

“The announcement has been made by Mayor Perry that the new fire engine house in the Third Ward will, on completion, be manned by colored firemen. There are two engine houses of this sort in Chicago, Illinois and it is stated that they are among the bravest of the entire force. Other cities also have colored firemen and it is said that they work better in the heat of a fire and do not mind the scorching which firemen must take in scaling burning buildings.

The occasion for the mayor’s statement regarding the crew for the new house was the request of Alderman Mol for information as to the procedure to secure a berth ad Captain at the house for a fireman in his ward. The mayor told the alderman that he need not bother himself because if is settled than=t colored men will be employed. It is not at all certain that a reliable crew can be secured at first but it is thought that if some of the older men at present in the fire service are staffed in the new house they will be able to school a crew so that in a short time the requisite number of colored men can be drilled. It is not likely that the new engine house will be put into commission until next spring, for several reasons. As the firs story of the building is now complete but the approach of the cold weather will not permit of more than the exterior being finished before snow falls.

It is possible that there will be some difficulty experienced in equipping the new house since there was no money put in the Police and Fire Budget for the purchase of horses and wagons. It is not likely, either, that the fire department will be able to save enough this fall to buy $15,000 worth on material. An engine or hose cart and extinguisher will probably be put in at the start. No ladder truck will be needed since there are no tall buildings in the east end of town. The engine alone can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000, however, the house will have an important territory. Its nearest neighbor on the north will be Engine House #2 on Barclay Avenue; the nearest on the west the LaGrave Avenue house; and the only other house in the east and south end, the Madison Avenue station.”

Grand Rapids Evening Press, September 18, 1901, page 4

Read the outcome of African American fire fighters.

Contributed by retired Capt. Robert Imhoff of the Grand Rapids Fire Department



Like Us on Facebook
site by GRCMC