Thanks to Captain Joseph DesNoyers for his history of the early days (1930’s to 1970) from which I excerpted much of this document. When I hired on in October 1969, the Cap worked a 40-hour week as the Fire Marshal and the Training Officer. He retired in 1970, so I only had a year of his classes. His retirement was held at the Knights of Columbus hall on Southfield Road south of 13 Mile (now gone) where the Cap was a member. The Firefighters all chipped in to buy him an electric kiln so he could pursue his hobby of making ceramic fire marks.
The Cap had an electric device where a wire ran through a hot dog and while he was talking the hot dog sizzled, presumably to show us what electricity could do to us. Nobody listened to what he was talking about; we all just stared at the hot dog. One of Cap's favorite demonstrations was to show us the volatility of gasoline by putting one drop of it in a can, shake it and then ignite it in a room full of very apprehensive Firefighters. The resultant explosion could be heard all through the station and those of us in the classroom who weren't paying attention soon learned to do so when our heartbeats returned to normal. I remember arguing unsuccessfully with him over a question that asked "How do you get through a locked door if the house is on fire?" Everybody got it wrong! If you answered "Break the door down!" he said "Why wouldn't you just break the window on the door and reach in to unlock it?" We argued that he didn't say there was a window on the door and he argued that he didn't say there wasn't. If you answered "Break the window!" he claimed there was no mention of a window. The question apparently was designed to keep us humble.
Captain DesNoyers and his wife Germaine lived on Berg Road directly across from the fire station and City Hall. Over the years the Firefighters stopped by frequently and he was one of our biggest boosters. When the Cap died in the early 90’s, we gave him a Firefighter's funeral.
The Southfield Fire Department was formed in 1942 with two full time employees and 14 volunteers. This year, 2002, we have 105 full time Firefighters and 15 Reservists. We do not have hundreds of years of tradition like many departments, especially on the east coast, since fifty-seven years ago Southfield was primarily a farming community. In those fifty-seven years, however, Southfield has established itself as one of the premier fire departments not only in the State of Michigan but anywhere. I defend that statement by pointing out our commitment to public service and our willingness to bring in untested technological advances that will improve what we offer -- service!
Southfield Township was a sparsely populated, primarily agricultural, 36 square miles with a northern boundary at 14 Mile Road, a southern boundary at 8 Mile Road, an eastern boundary at Greenfield Road, and a western boundary at Inkster Road. Fire protection was provided by Bloomfield Township, Birmingham, Berkley, Oak Park and Detroit. The Detroit agreement was at a cost and the local merchants generally paid it. Grass fires on the east side of Lahser Road were fought by the Sadler family, who lived on Southfield near 10-1/2 Mile Road (Jimmy and Harold Sadler later became paid Southfield Firefighters). Grassfires west of Lahser were fought by the Hooper family who lived at 10-1/2 and Franklin and owned the property now occupied by McDonnell Towers. Grass fires were fought with Indian tanks and brooms carried in a trailer, and extra water for refilling the Indian tanks was carried in an old hot water tank. These families were paid $2.50 per call by the Township .
Southfield grew and water mains were installed in parts of the township. In October 1941, the township board began to plan the possibility of having a fire department. There were 3,034 homes in Southfield and the population was around 9,000. On Election Day, April 6, 1942, the voters passed a proposal authorizing the township board to purchase fire equipment and build a fire hall at a cost of less than $20,000. In May of that same year, an order was placed with the American La France Company to purchase one 500 GPM pumper on a 1942 Ford chassis, with a 200 gallon water tank, 600 feet of 2-1/2 inch hose, 600 feet of 1-1/2 hose, and other necessary small equipment. The township also managed to find a 1938 Ford truck with a 1,000 gallon tank for use in the areas not protected by hydrants. The total cost of this equipment was $6,600!
In August of 1942, when the new pumper was received, Charles Hooper and Paul Ignash were hired as full time Engineers at $2800 per year. Their work schedule was 84 hours per week with no holidays or vacations. In other words, they worked 24 hours per day, every other day, for the entire year! They did not get a paid vacation until 1946.
Captain DesNoyers wrote: "In September of 1942, I moved to 26085 Berg Road, just across the road from the fire hall (his house is now gone). I was putting up my mailbox when Mr. Everett the Township Supervisor asked me to be a volunteer fireman. I said I was sorry but that I worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week and that I would not have the time. "Oh" he said, "Don't you worry about that, you only answer calls when you are home." You know, I must have been half asleep or out of my mind, because I said OK. After a 12 hour day, who wants to fight fires? But he was a good salesman because I hired as a regular in November of 1944." While the fire station (now our museum at the Berg site )was under construction, a red barn in back of the city hall was made the temporary engine house and the Water Department workshop served as office and sleeping quarters. The barn was heated with two 55 gallon drums with coke for fuel. This method required close supervision to protect the barn from burning.
On November 29, 1942, the 14 volunteer firemen held a meeting and elected their officers as follows: Chief, Chet Tolman; Assistant Chief, Scott Shepherd; Captain, George Fisher; Lieutenant, Torval Thompson; Secretary, Charles Hooper; Treasurer, Paul Ignash.
In December of 1942, the firemen moved into their new $6,500 building and responded from there until 1949. When an alarm was received, the engineer on duty would peg the location on the map and write the address on a pad of paper. He would then activate the siren to notify the volunteers of the fire and then respond to the fire with the pumper. The first fireman to arrive at the fire station would drive the water tanker to the fire and the second one would take over the desk. All other firemen responding would go to the fire. The engineer, once on the scene, never knew if more help was coming as they did not have radios and it was difficult to get to a telephone. The volunteers received $2.00 for every call!
In 1943, the volunteers held their first annual ball and the profits established the Southfield Benevolent Fireman's Fund to help the needy in the community. This fund, aided by other organizations in Southfield, eventually blended in with the Goodfellows, an organization which does community service to this day.
In December of 1944, the Southfield firemen were presented with certificates for having completed a course in modem firefighting. This course was given by Captain Pepperill of the Birmingham Fire Department.
From 1942 until 1948 the Chiefs of the Southfield Volunteer Fire Department were: Chet Tolman, Scott Shepherd, Tony Thompson, George Fisher, Norm Tobel and Mr. Borowski.
From 1944 until 1948 the department added a 1946 Dodge truck with a LaFrance pump and a 1948 International/Ford with a 60 GPM John Beam high pressure pump. This vehicle carried 430 gallons of water.
In August of 1948 the township board hired Alfred Kruck, a retired Captain from the Detroit Fire Department, as the first full time fire chief.
Because of the road conditions and the lack of a central location the fire department moved into a new building at Ten mile and Evergreen on property donated to the city by the Lara family. The fire station at 10-1/2 Mile and Berg was then used by the water department and continued in that use until the 1970's .
In 1952, two additional fire stations were built, one on the north side of 13 Mile Road at 3 Chelton in Beverly Hills and the other at 9 Mile and Prosper giving the township a total of three fire stations.
In 1958, Southfield became a city and a settlement was made with the city of Beverly Hills and Southfield Township for the fire station on 13 Mile Road and one pumper. That fire station is part of the Beverly Hills city complex today. Total manpower: 19
In 1960, having lost the station on 13 Mile Road in Beverly Hills, the Firefighters ran out of a house trailer and garage at the northeast comer of 12 Mile Road and Evergreen
In 1960 the city entered into a contract to provide fire protection to the city of Lathrup Village. Forty-two years later the fire department still protects Lathrup.
In 1963, Chief Kruck retired and Lieutenant Haney was appointed as the new Chief.
In 1964, the new station at 12 Mile Road and Evergreen (present Station #3) opened replacing the house trailer. This station covered the north end of the city and the station at 9 Mile Road and Prosper covered the south end.
In 1965 Chief Haney retired and Lieutenant Donald Foote was appointed chief.
In 1967 the station at 9 Mile Road and Laura opened (present Station # 1) and six new men were hired. The station at 10 Mile Road and Evergreen was closed and now is a smoking supplies shop.
In 1968 six more new men were hired. Total manpower: 44
In August 1969, Millie Turner was hired as secretary.
In October 1969 thirteen new men were hired, most from other departments. Total manpower: 57
In 1971 the station at 12 Mile Road and Dufty opened (present Station #4)
In 1972 the award winning Life Support Unit began. After much research, an agreement was reached between the City and Providence Hospital and initial applicant screening began. A test was assembled by the in-service nursing staff at Providence and given to all the Firefighters who volunteered. The top 20 were selected and arrived at Providence on June 1, 1972. They were subjected to four months of intense classroom and clinical medical education. On October 6 th , 19 of the 20 passed their final exams and were given their completion certificates – the first in the state.
These were those 19 men: Sergeant Donald Davis, Sergeant Marcel Charette, Sergeant Kenneth Sturos, Firefighters Donald Bracy, David Kowalczyk, Dennis McGuire, Thomas Rosenbergh, Thomas Dudley, Harold Tunison, Robert Rzendzian, John West, Thomas Dostie, Gerald Elsner, Robert Ozias, James Bunker, Michael Langenburg, Peter Koolmar, James David, Edwin DeLoney.
The new Paramedics had to wait exactly one month to try their skills while they retrofitted two panel trucks. On November 17 at 5:43 pm, Life #2, running out of Station #3 took the first run for the Life Support Unit. Sergeant Reggie Jackson and two Paramedics, Jim Bunker and Bob Ozias responded to Ark Lane’s bowling alley to attend a man who felt weak and dizzy having just been released from the hospital where he had been treated for meningitis. While the Medics were treating their patient and attempting to talk to Providence over the noise of the bowling, an anxious mother brought her daughter to them to be treated for an asthma attack. Their first run turned out to be a double header!
In September 1973, Sister Gertrude, Administrator of Providence Hospital, accepted the Grand Award in Michigan's "Fifteenth Annual Search for New Hospital Achievements". The award was given for Providence's part in formulating the Life Support Unit. Providence came in first out of 383 entries. Total manpower of the department: 60
In 1974 Helen Tysell was hired as secretary to the Fire Prevention Bureau.
In July of 1975, a third Life Unit was placed in service and ran out of Station #2. The units were then re-designated according to their station number. Nine Firefighters graduated from Oakland Community College as Paramedics to staff this unit.
In August of 1975, Chief Foote was named "Chief of the Year" by the Michigan Fire Chiefs Association for initiating the Life Support Unit.
In September of 1975, Peter Cristiano, City Administrator, accepted an award from the International City Manager's Association for the Life Support Unit. Total department manpower: 98.
In April of 1977, Headquarters fire station (Station #5) on Lahser next to the high school opened. The Fire Marshal, Al Barnes, and the Fire Prevention Bureau moved in. The first office was the Chiefs, the second was a conference room, the third was Assistant Chief McGrath's and the fourth was for the Fire Marshal. A Senior Lieutenant ran the duty unit at Station #5 and a Junior Lieutenant ran Station #1. Helen Tysell became the secretary for both the Fire Prevention Bureau and the Assistant Chief. In September of 1977, Chief Foote retired and Assistant Chief McGrath became Chief. Helen Tysell became the Chief's secretary. Millie Turner became the department clerk. Total department manpower: 103
In 1979 the Fire Prevention Bureau Arson Investigation team was formed. Jan Link was hired as secretary to the Bureau.
In 1979 the Fire Department Administration was moved to the Public Safety building under Public Safety Director Jerry Tobin .
In 1981 the Fire Prevention Bureau moved to the Public Safety building (still there!)
In 1981, eight Firefighters volunteered to become the first high-angle rescue team. Their first response occurred in Madison Heights where they went down into a 60 foot hole to rescue a worker.
In 1986 the 1972 Sutphen aerial tower was sent to American La France for a new body.
In 1987 Chief McGrath retired and Walter Chapman, retired Chief of the Detroit Fire Department was hired as the new Chief.
In 1990 the department hired its first female Firefighters, its first African-American Firefighters and its first Hispanic Firefighter.
In January 1990, Stanley Prus became the Civilian Mechanic replacing Richard Scheich who became a Firefighter.
In November 1990 Judy Johnson became the department secretary replacing Helen Tysell who retired.
In August of 1993 a ground breaking ceremony was held at the southeast corner of Nine Mile Road and Beech for the new Station #2 designed by Redstone Architects and to be constructed by Premacon Inc.
In September of 1993 Chief Chapman retired and Battalion Chief Robert Ozias became the acting chief. Director Tobin passed away in November as a result of surgery; and in January of 1994, Battalion Chief Ozias became chief. Chief Ozias and the administrative staff moved back to Station #5.
On July 23, 1994, a ceremony was held dedicating new Station #2 to the service of the citizens of Southfield. Old Station #2 became the office of the newly hired Youth Coordinator.
On Sunday afternoon in September 1994, the Firefighters reinstituted a tradition that had been absent for nine years by hosting an open house at Headquarters Fire Station with fire safety exhibits and performances. Fifty Firefighters along with their families and the department administrative staff donated their time that day to entertain the community. The Open-house has since become an annual event and this year will see the addition of the newly-formed Clown team.
In the spring of 1995 the rafters in the apparatus room trusses at Station #3 failed and the decision was made to do some renovations while repairing the roof. New floors were poured in the apparatus room, an addition on the west side was built housing a work shop, an exercise room, and a new parking lot was added.
From 1995 until 2000 the Department involved itself in upgrading the fleet and added compressed air foam to all front-line pumpers and the squad.
Recognizing the use for mutual aid, Chief Ozias involved the Department more in OAKWAY serving two terms as Chairman. He developed the OAKWAY Training Officers group, OAKWAY Paramedic Coordinators group, and the OAKWAY Technical Rescue group.
2000 to Present
In July 2001, Millie Turner retired and Michele Tiska was hired to replace her.
The terrorist attacks on our country on September 11,2001 caused us to strengthen our mutual aid ties and place more emphasis on Haz-mat and tech rescue. For the first time we sent people to classes on weapons of mass destruction and Homeland security.
In 2002, ISO came to town and stayed for 4 months. When they left, the Department had been assigned a 3 rating.
In 2004 construction began on enlarging Station #4, a project that been approved since 2002.
In 2003, the Department purchased a new Sutphen 100' aerial tower to replace the 1972 Sutphen/LaFrance.
In 2003, the City leased a grassy area behind Station #5 from the School Board, fenced it in, and began construction of the training field.
In October, the LSD began transmitting 12-lead EKG's to Providence using cell phones as the transmitter. We received national recognition for this program while providing a wonderful service to the citizens.
An example of the value of 12 lead EKG's was demonstrated when a 35 year old man suffered a “widow maker” heart attack. With the 12 lead EKG, the Paramedics were able to recognize and transmit a very accurate read-out to a Providence Hospital emergency room doctor. Recognizing the severity of the heart attack, the ER doctor alerted the Providence heart catherization lab to be on stand-by. Although the patient went into ventricular fibrillation and was defibrillated three times by Paramedics, he bypassed Providence Emergency Room and went straight to the heart Cathy Lab. He was successfully catheterized and left the hospital two days later without any physical deficits and returned to the arms of his wife and two young daughters.
Paramedic Coordinator, Captain Mark Harvey, was largely responsible for implementing this program and was honored in September 2006.
On December 14, 2004, Chief Robert Ozias retired after serving on the Southfield Fire Department for 35 years.
Captain Peter Healy was appointed Chief of the Southfield Fire Department on December 14, 2004.
A new Mission Statement was issued in January of 2005. In keeping with past practice, heavy emphasis is placed on high quality, professional customer service.
In February of 2005, the patient transport program was instituted. Previously, emergency medical patients were treated by the Southfield Fire Department Paramedics, but were transported to the hospital by private ambulance. Under the direction of Captain Tom Colombo, Paramedic Coordinator, all Firefighters were trained in patient handling, and all Life Support Units were retrofitted to ambulance capability. Southfield Paramedics began transporting patients on February 28, 2005, after 88 days of preparation. In the first full year of operation, the Southfield Fire Department garnered 1.6 million dollars of revenue for the general budget.
In April of 2006, Captain Keith Rowley designed and constructed a memorial wall at Fire Headquarters dedicated to the work of all the Fire Department retirees. A red tile with name, ranks, and dates of service for each retiree was placed on the wall. The red tiles are framed by a large IAFF insignia, a Southfield Fire Department shoulder patch, and the Southfield Fire Department Mission Statement. The purpose of the wall is to honor the work of the previous Firefighters to build a first class fire department. It shows that this first class fire department was achieved through the cooperation of the City, the Union, and the Firefighters.
In August 2005, the City Council approved the purchase of four new Life Support Units built by Wheeled Coach Company on medium duty GMC cab and chassis. In May of2006, City Council approved the purchase of two 1250 GPM pumper trucks from The Crimson Company of North Dakota. Like all other pumper trucks in Southfield, these trucks were equipped with Class “A” and Class “B” foam. Newly renovated Fire Station #4 was dedicated in August. It was rebuilt at a cost of $2,100,000.
An annual awards ceremony was held on September 11, 2006, to commemorate the 2001 terrorist attack on New York, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania. At that ceremony, held at Fire Headquarters, awards were presented to Firefighters for heroism, life saving, meritorious achievement, and outstanding customer service. Captain Thomas Colombo was awarded "Firefighter of the Year", and represented the whole Fire Department for their outstanding performance in the first year of the Patient Transport Program. Providence Hospital was honored for its collaboration with the Southfield Fire Department in making Southfield a safe place to live and work.