Firefighters for the Clawson Fire Department pose for a photo on the station’s first fire truck.

Firefighters for the Clawson Fire Department pose for a photo on the station’s first fire truck.

Photo provided by the Clawson Historical Museum

Clawson Fire Department celebrates 100 years

By: Mike Koury | Royal Oak Review | Published September 21, 2022

 The Clawson Fire Department’s first building, seen here, was located on Jefferson Avenue.

The Clawson Fire Department’s first building, seen here, was located on Jefferson Avenue.

Photo provided by the Clawson Historical Museum

CLAWSON — The year 2022 marks a big milestone for the Clawson Fire Department as it celebrates its centennial.

The Fire Department began in 1922 on Jefferson Avenue when the city was known as the Village of Clawson, and it started with 12 volunteer firefighters.

Leah Davis, curator of the Clawson Historical Museum, said this time is marked as the birth of the department, as this is when it bought its first piece of equipment, a deluge chemical unit mounted on a Ford chassis.

That same year, work began on the installation of the village’s water supply system. Water mains were installed the next year, which also saw the appointment of the department’s first fire chief, Lester Straub, who served from 1923 to 1929 and 1931 to 1933.

In order to make it out to fires, Davis said there was a board the firefighters would use that had peg holes of every street in Clawson that could be used to signal where an emergency was located.

“If someone noticed that there was a fire, they would actually put a peg in kind of roughly where the house would be that was on fire, or a building that was on fire, and then an alarm would sound and the volunteer firefighters would use that board to find where to go,” she said. “The first person to the board that put the peg in was the one who was supposed to grab the truck and immediately head over and start fighting the fire.

“They still have that board,” continued Davis. “It was actually in a local house in the basement. The owners found it and let the Fire Department know, and so now the Fire Department has that. They actually have a lot of their old artifacts still with them.”

Now located on Gardner Avenue, the Clawson Fire Department is led by Chief Troy Engel, who has been with the department for 25 years and its head for approximately five years.

In his evaluation of where he believes the department, which always has been a volunteer fire department, is at in 2022, Engel said there’s always room for improvement in some way, shape or form.

“I can tell you in the 25 years that I’ve been on the department, we’ve had more training, there’s more training requirements so there’s more training to do, the training that we’re getting has been refined, so it’s better. … I would say that our Fire Department is doing very well,” he said. “Because we’re all volunteer, our membership is up. We’re currently at 27 members, so we’re doing pretty good.”

Engel has noticed some various improvements when it comes to firefighting technology over the years. He’s seen the introduction of better communication technology that allows people easier access to call the department. He’s also seen air pack technologies increased and improved, and changes in fire pump and firetruck technologies.

Making sure that enough personnel are available at all times is a balance that the department works to find.

Engel said this can be challenging, as they need to make sure they have enough personnel available every single day with its 27 volunteer firefighters, whereas other departments have multiple stations and bigger pools of personnel.

“Being that we only have one station, it can be challenging to make sure you’ve got a minimum number of people in town and available to respond to any kind of call,” he said. “You just have to keep an eye on that, and we have duty squads and duty sections. So we’ve always got five people in town and on duty and available to respond, and we have some firefighters that work for our (Department of Public Works), and a couple that work in town, and some that work nights, so they’re available during the day.”
The system works well for Clawson, Engel said.

“It’s a hard mix,” he said. “To where a full-time department, you know, generally they have people on staff, but they still have staffing problems in full-time departments because people get sick and people go on vacation. So our system works well for us, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it could work well everywhere.”