Progress is an ever present, never ending effort of Carthage Firefighters. It is vitally important to uphold the traditions of those who served before us. By studying such things of our past, it might perhaps give us a better understanding of why we perform our chosen profession in this manner.
After the Civil War ended in April of 1865, the site we now know as Carthage, was a desolate, empty and uninhabited piece of land that had been vacated by the citizens for safety. However, due to the natural beauty of the area, it only seemed natural people would return to the area and by the 1870’s Carthage was once again a bustling community. It was during this time of progress the need for a fire department was observed.
The first known Carthage Fire Department, a volunteer fire company, was established on December 10, 1872. The fire company was composed of “the best citizens of Carthage”. This statement remains true today. The organization was divided into two groups, Fire King Engine Company No. 1 and Rescue Hook and Ladder Company. Charles Harrington was elected the first Fire Chief of the Carthage Fire Department. Chief Harrington, a Civil War veteran, was actively involved in the rebuilding of the City and the fire department prospered under his command.
Carthage City Council members established some of the first building codes in 1887. These codes were designed to regulate the construction of new buildings in the city with regards to fire protection. Some of the requirements included brick and mortar exterior walls, with interior walls constructed of like materials. The roof was required to tin, iron, or other non-combustible material. These regulations were outlined in Carthage City Ordinance 26.
In 1887, the Carthage City Council established the Board of Fire Wardens. This board was created to investigate suspicious fires within the City of Carthage. The board would meet to discuss the origin and cause of such fires and then forward their findings to the Mayor. The fire board would also seek charges against the individuals responsible for committing the crime of arson. The creation and duties of the Board of Fire Wardens was outlined in Carthage City Ordinance 28.
The present-day Carthage Fire Department was founded on February 11, 1895. City Ordinance provided for the creation of the fire department and established regulations for the government thereof and fixing compensation of the firefighters. The ordinance established the jobs of Chief Engineer and Assistant Engineer. Both positions were elected by members of the fire department annually. The Chief Engineer served as commander of the fire department but at the discretion of the Mayor. In times of emergency, the Chief Engineer was allowed to draft citizens, requiring them to assist with the extinguishment of the fire. This ordinance required a minimum staffing of two fire department members who were to remain at the fire department to maintain a team of horses and the fire apparatus.
Charles Shipps was elected the first Fire Chief of the paid Carthage Fire Department. In the years that followed the transition from a volunteer fire company to a paid fire department prospered. Many changes took place during this time in terms of firefighting techniques and equipment. The much faster and more efficient motor driven fire engines eventually replaced the sound of horses pounding a dirt road and the cry “make way for the firemen!!”. The first fire engine was a Babcock, which carried two chemical tanks.
During the years of the Great Depression it became too great a burden for the City to fund the Fire Department. Finally in 1942 the City transferred control of the Fire Department to the Board of Public Works. The Fire Department remained under the authority of Carthage Water and Electric (CWEP) until 1993.
For many years, the Fire Department was housed at the corner of Second Street and Grant Street. The building was built in 1883 and also housed several other various city offices during the same period.
Nearly 100 years later, the Fire Department built a new, state of the art facility, at 401 West Chestnut. The Fire Department currently operates out of this location and has done so since 1980.