Museum seeks fire protection history

By: Linda Shepard | Rochester Post | Published August 22, 2017

ROCHESTER HILLS — The history of Avon Township’s fire department began in 1946, when residents of the Brooklands neighborhood realized that Rochester’s fire resources were too far away.

“We forget how rural these areas were,” Rochester Hills Museum Director Pat McKay said. “Twenty-five men got together. The guys had come home from the war.”

The Brooklands men — who lived off of Auburn Road, near John R — held chicken dinners to raise funds and volunteered their time.

“It was Americana at its finest,” McKay said. Soon, residents from the Avondale neighborhood joined the effort. Eventually, Avon Township, later named Rochester Hills, formed its own fire department.

Today, the Rochester Hills Fire Department has 60 paid on-call and 26 full-time firefighters providing basic and advanced life support and fire protection.

Rochester’s Fire Department was first formed in 1895, when a meeting was held in the Hotel St. James. In 1927, a fire truck was purchased to service the surrounding community of Avon Township.

Museum officials want to tell the story of these brave men and women from the past 100-plus years, and they are looking for artifacts — including photos, newspaper articles, firefighting equipment/gear and other memorabilia.

“We are asking senior firefighters if they have stuff,” McKay said. “We need community input.”

Resident Pete Zell said he is in the midst of researching the subject. A 33-year firefighter, Zell said he was inspired by his uncle, a former Detroit fire battalion chief, and an Eagle Scout badge project that required firehouse tours.

“I asked about a cadet program when I was 16, and I spent two years there,” Zell said. “When I turned 18, I became full time.”

Zell and McKay — who is also a part-time member of the Rochester Hills Fire Department —  would like to create a fire protection historical display at the museum, along with a book on the history of the topic.

“Our overall goal is to establish a timeline,” Zell said.

McKay said the display may contain a mobile component that could be moved to offer lectures for schools and community groups. The display will chronicle changes in fire equipment and technology, and the current move to providing emergency medical services.

The museum will host a special evening on fire protection history at 7 p.m. Oct. 12 at the museum.

“We invite all former fire chiefs and firefighters to share their stories,” McKay said. “It is also open to the public, free, and refreshments will be provided.”

In addition to providing a historical component, McKay said, the upcoming display will “recognize fire volunteers, thanking them for what they did in their love for their community.

“We don’t want to forget who these people were — the people who helped residents in their darkest hours,” McKay said.

For more information or to donate fire protection artifacts, email rhmuseum@rochesterhills.org or call (248) 656-4663. The Rochester Hills Museum is located at 1005 Van Hoosen Road.