Detroit Firemen’s Field Day – A Long Standing Tradition

Detroit Firemen’s Field Day holds a special place in the hearts of those who grew up the child of a Detroit Firefighter. Every year Dad would the pack family and as many neighborhood kids as he could fit in the car to go to Field Day. One, now grown, firemen’s kid wrote “To me, Field Day was the same portent of fall that the State Fair is. It made me feel so proud!”

The First Detroit Firemen’s Field Day

The first Detroit Firemen’s Field Day was held at Navin Field (at Michigan & Trumbull) in 1922. The tradition has continued every year since, with the exception of 1933. It has been held in a variety of locations including: Briggs Stadium, University of Detroit, Tiger’s Stadium, Hart Plaza, Ford Field, and is currently held at Historic Fort Wayne.

Apparatus Parade from the 1974 Field Day held at Tiger's Stadium

Apparatus Parade from the 1974 Field Day held at Tiger’s Stadium

Those who attended Field Day would be treated to games, clowns, the Fire Department Band, exciting acts relating to firefighter skills, fire apparatus displays, dignitaries would attend, for many years there would be a raffle of 25 new cars (now replaced with a 50/50 raffle) and in years gone by the day would end with a fireworks display.

Detroit Fire Clown Team’s ties to Field Day

The Detroit Fire Clown team has it’s roots in Field Day. The Clown Team was officially formed in 1947 by Firefighter Larry Scarpace with seven firefighters to perform for the annual Field Day. Prior to that, clowns had been a part of Field Day, but not as an official team. The Clown Team continue to be a highlights of today’s Field Day activities.

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Detroit Fire Department History – Last Running of the Fire Horses

Today in DFD history – April 10, 1922

The last run of the Detroit Fire Horses took place down Woodward Avenue. 

More than 50,000 people gathered to witness the historic last run or Peter, Jim, Tom, Babe and Rusty, the horses of Engine 37’s steamer and hose wagons.  They  dashed down Woodward on a symbolic final emergency as a fake alarm sounded at the National Bank Building.

last running

Nostalgic spectators lined Woodward from Grand Circus Park to Cadillac Square, cheering while the fire department’s band played Auld Lang Syne.  According to The Detroit News, many in the crowd cried as the horses passed.

1922 preparing for the last run

Preparing for the last running of the Detroit Fire Horses.

The department established a Horse Bureau in 1886.  It was written: “To be an ideal Fire Department horse the animal must possess exceptional intellegence, an even yet strong temperament, tractability, perfection of body, limb and wind, and the required weight.”  During that time, the description of what was needed to be a fireman was much the same, but with one omission

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Detroit Fire Department History – Detroit Firemen’s Fund Association

Today in Detroit Fire Department history – March 16, 1866

Detroit Firemen’s Fund was organized to assist the widows and orphans of firefighters and to assist firefighters that have become disabled.  It incorporated as a charitable organization on April 13th 1867.  The Firemen’s Fund is still actively supporting Detroit Firefighters and their families.


 The Fund maintains burial plots at Elmwood and Mt. Elliott cemeteries to honor our fallen comrades.   It has also established and maintains the Fallen Firefighters Memorial Rig, which is used to carry firefighters to their final resting places as well as for parades and fire musters.

 memorial rig 4

Each year the Detroit Firemen’s Fund holds events such as Firemen’s Field Day, Zoo Day at the Detroit Zoo and several fundraising raffles.

Detroit Fire Official Job Shirt

The Fund also serves as the Official Department store, selling and assortment of shirts including official duty shirts, patches, hats and more.  Proceeds from the sale of items help the Firemen’s Fund continue to help Detroit Firefighters, their families and our community.  Check out their website


Mickey Mouse – Watching over Detroit Fire Stations

In Detroit fire stations 24 hour clocks hang near the watch desk. They look similar to the ones in elementary school classrooms. Remember how the school clocks would taunt us, ticking slower and slower as it got closer to recess time? Such good memories. These clocks make me particularly nostalgic when it’s time to “fall back” an hour.

When I first joined the department almost every clock had a Mickey Mouse sticker placed in the center of the glass dome that protects it’s face and hands. Department folklore says that when a certain firefighter was

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Detroit Fire Department History – February 18

Today in DFD history – February 18, 1952

Detroit becomes the first fire department in the nation to be fully equipped with mobile radios.  The last units to receive radios were E-48 and E-60.

!vintage radio adAlthough I don’t know the brand of radio’s Detroit Fire Department used in 1952, they would have looked something like this.

Also in 1952

Telegraph Bureau was renamed as Communications Division

All other fire department Bureaus were changed to Divisions

The buddy relief system was approved by the Board of Commissioners. It went into effect February 15, 1952. 

Buddy relief is a system created to avoid firefighters being detained at a scene later than 08:00 am shift change.  Out of courtesy, incoming personnel relieve outgoing firefighters between 06:30 and 07:15.  The official start of shift is 08:00 am, but with buddy relief, if a run comes in just before 08:00 incoming personnel respond.  Those firefighters ending their shifts are already relieved and free to go.  


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Detroit Fire Department History – June 7th – First Ambulance & Coffee Wagon

Today in DFD History – June 7th, 1927

Detroit Fire Department’s first ambulance went into service at Second and Burroughs, Engine 17’s quarters. 

1927 dfd ambulance

This was only the second such unit in the United States. The ambulance was a gift to the department from Paxton Mendelssohn, a fire buff that later became a member of the Board of Fire Commissioners, in memory of his mother, Lydia. The ambulance also served as the department’s Coffee Wagon.


Mendelssohn also donated the departments second ambulance in 1937, once again in memory of Lydia.

1937 ambulance

This ambulance was custom built on a Cadillac chassis by the Meteor Motor Company of Piqua, OH.  In 1951 it was completely rebuilt and modernized, once again as a gift from Paxton.


1969 rolled around and once again Paxton donates a brand new modern Medical Unit to the department.  As always, it was donated in memory of his mother.

1969 detroit medical unit


Detroit Fire Department History – Detroit Fire Department Band

Today in DFD history – April 17, 1920

The Detroit Fire Department Band was organized by Captain Anthony Delesie, Glenn Middleditch, Otto Klatt (all of Rescue 1), and a fourth unidentified man from another fire company.  Their first public appearance was marching in the Armistice Day Parade.

1920's dfd band

Detroit Fire Department Band and other Fire Department members –  1920’s era

By 1926 the band had grown to 44 men.

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It’s More Than Just a Patch

“As soon as I saw the patch I knew I wanted to sent it to Melissa.  I love that I could support Julie while honoring Melissa’s father.” 

These are the words of Vicki Salagan.  Vicki and Dave made a donation to Julie’s Journey and in exchange DFDLegacy sent a Detroit Fire Department patch as a gift to her friend Melissa.

 melissas patch 

Melissa’s father, Robert Ritchie, was a Detroit Firefighter.  He passed away when she was just a baby.

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