In all communities, rural or metropolitan fire protection is considered one of the most needed services that a municipality can provide for its citizens. Escanaba Township is no exception to this rule and has strived to provide this service throughout the past several decades. The Township land mass was considerably larger around the turn of the century with a small population, and fire protection was unheard of except for neighbors with pails or milk cans if they happened to live close enough to help.
Fire destroyed many homes, farm buildings, wooded areas and took some lives before and since fire protection was put in place. One of the largest fires in the area destroyed several thousands of acres of wooded land and all buildings in its path in the area known as Chandler, which is in the north central area of the Township and the south central part of Cornell Township. This fire, in 1906 also destroyed most of the village of Cornell. Lives of the many citizens of the two logging communities were sparred by standing in the Escanaba River to escape the heat and flying embers.
In 1950, the Escanaba Township Board decided to pursue the idea of building a volunteer fire department. During this time Township residents were allowed to vote on most items that happened in the community at what was called an annual meeting. The discussion of a fire department for the Township led to a vote of the electors, which voted against the idea. The Township Board at the time determined that fire protection was a much needed service and at the May 19th Township Board meeting determined by a majority vote to order a new fire truck. The truck was on an International truck chassis and had a FMC pump. It was ordered thru Escanaba machine (owned and operated for many years by the Marenger Family) as a cost of $10,800. It was to be paid for with a down payment of $1,800 (which was paid and the truck was ordered) and tree equal payments for the next three years of $3,000. During the time between ordering the truck and the delivery of the vehicle the fire truck issue was a large part of discussion at most Township Board meetings and after much pressure from some residents it was decided to not have a volunteer fire department. An attempt to cancel the ordered vehicle with hopes of getting the down payment returned was not agreeable with the company making the truck and a legal battle ensued. During the time between ordering and delivery of the truck a new Township Board was elected, at which point the vehicle was housed in a local garage owned by Fred Marenger (local behind the White Birch Tavern)n for eight years. The truck was finally resold and found a home in Foster City.
The photo to the right is of the fire truck that was purchased as the first attempt to build a volunteer fire department in 1954.
After the fire department plan did not work out the Township then contracted for fire protection with the cites of Escanaba (which covered fires on the west side of the Escanaba River) and Gladstone (which covered fires on the east side of the river) for many years on a per call basis. In the late 1960’s fire protection was contracted between the Townships of Wells, Ford River and Escanaba through the City of Escanaba. This contact included the three Townships purchasing one pumper truck and one tanker truck. The pumper truck was a Howe brand of which Escanaba Township’s share of the cost was $6806.43. in 1982 Ford River and Escanaba Township’s sold their share of the two trucks to Wells Township.
With the contact price, population and state revenue sharing income all on the rise in 1980 the Township Board decided to pursue the idea of 30 years previous by starting a volunteer fire department. In the winter of 1980 the Board purchased a 1200 gallon fuel tank from Federal Surplus for $50 and a 1968 International chassis was donated by Mead Paper to put it on. The author and others worked outside throughout that winter to put together a road worthy vehicle. By the fall of 1981 twenty-six volunteers were taking firefighting training courses.