Union City Volunteer Fire Department
(The information in this article was taken from old copies of the Union City Times found in the Union City Historical Museum. Old newspapers are not always accurate, but they can be stepping stones to other documentation and they are sometimes the best source to find obscure and forgotten historical events on which to build historical research. Kathy Warnes)
When William Miles and the other early settlers came to what is now Union City, they probably were surprised to see the Indians burning off brush in the fields and trees in the woods to create meadows. This wouldn’t be their last experience with fire in Miles Mills, Union Mills, and Union City.
Since all of the buildings in town were made of wood in Union City’s early days, citizens were very concerned about fires. Acting on this concern, they founded several hose companies to fight fires. The Old Keystone Hose Company met on Miles Street where the lumber sheds for the Cherry Hill Furniture Company were later located. The Keystone moved to Main Street on the north side of the track next to the Erie Railroad a little later.
Next, a Citizen’s Hose Company was formed. It disbanded and the Union City Hose Company was organized. This company broke up before the Fire Police Company was organized. The Fire Police Company met above the old Union City Times office on South Main Street.
One of the most famous hose companies from Union City was the Coleman Hose company, which was founded in 1883 and incorporated in 1908. It was named after Patrick Coleman, proprietor of the Union City Hotel, who local lore says gave a band and the hose company $50 to use his name.
The first officers of the newly organized Coleman Hose company were: Fred M. Carle, president; K.N. Pier, recording secretary; C.Z. Smiley, financial secretary; and G.E. LeFevre, treasurer.
The Coleman Hose Company always followed a set order of business at its meetings. After roll call the minutes were read, dues accepted and new members registered. Then the men heard committee reports, and then conducted unfinished business and miscellaneous business.
Hunter Hook and Ladder Company was probably more famous than Coleman Hose Company because it set a world’s hose racing record. On August 17, 1900, at Kane, Pa., the thirteen Union City men from Hunter Hook and Ladder Company ran the 200 Yard Hub and Hub Hose Race in 21 ¼ seconds. This was a world’s record. Then the company ran again on September 14, 1900, at Jamestown, New York and broke its own record with a time of 21 seconds. The company’s total winnings were $1,000 and an unbeaten record.
Members of the record setting team were Ray Driscoll, William Burns, Claude Smith, William Smith, Jim Saunders, Steve Downs, Tom Burns, Abe Emerson and bob Brady. Lyle Showers was the trainer and Clyde Smith and George Burger were the managers.
Besides running the hose and hook and ladder companies, the men kept busy fighting the fires that broke out in Union City. After the business district began to build up in the 1870s, Union City experienced some bad fires. One of the worst happened on April 24, 1879, when fire roared down both sides of Main Street from French Creek south to the corner of South Street. It did $75,000 worth of damage, but most businessmen resolved to rebuild and did so.
A major fire started in Union City on January 19, 1885 in a row of frame buildings opposite the post office owned by the Ezra Cooper estate. It did $27,000 worth of damage.
The chair companies in Union City provided some lasting fuel for fires. On July 25, 1881, a fire started in the boiler room of the Heineman and Cheney Chair Factory on the west side of town. It burned eight other buildings beside the chair factory and did an estimated $50,000 in damages.
The Union City Chair Company caught fire on September 17, 1904. The damages amounted to $200,000 and 23 men from the fire department fought the blaze.
Another chair company, the Standard Chair Company, burned on November 14, 1906, with $120,000 in losses. The fire supposedly started in the boiler room of the factory. Seventy-five firemen fought it. On April 29, 1907, at 9:45 p.m., the Union City Chair Company again caught fire, this time suffering $300,000 in damages. A total of 83 men fought that fire.
The Shreve Chair Factory burned on March 8, 1913, with a $250,000 loss. The fire started in the paint room and required 85 men to put it out.
Since all of this fire activity continued to blaze in Union City, it was fortunate that Coleman Hose Company, Hunter Hook and Ladder, and the Union City fire Police merged and incorporated in 1939. The new fire fighting body became the Union City Volunteer Fire Department.
The fires continued to burn in Union City. The Hatch and Sons Broom Factory caught fire on May 23, 1922 and suffered a $3,000 loss. The Hanson Furniture Factory fire was costly at $15,000, and on April 3, 1904, the Industrial Foundry burned with a $3,000 loss. Other notable fires in Union City included one at the Yorkline Steel Furniture Company which manufactured steel furniture and was located on Willow Street. Guy Cook’s Print Shop, located on Atlantic Street and three homes nearby burned and so did the Lyon’s Handle Factor.
The Union City Fire Department fought the Union City Hotel fire which started in the early morning hours of Friday, May 23, 1969. The Union City Fire Department and fifteen other fire companies fought the blaze for five hours before they put it out. The fire could have consumed the entire downtown area of Union City if the fireman hadn’t been so efficient. The fire at the Union City Presbyterian Church in 1972 was another major blaze that the Union City Fire Department fought.
In its long history of fire fighting, the Union City Fire Department has had only two critical injuries within the memories of the oldest firemen. One fireman was seriously hurt when a charred telephone pole fell on him and a building collapsed on another fireman.