Axemen & Laddermen & Firehook Men, Oh My!

Reading through a book published in 1898, “Landmarks of Detroit- A History of the City”, I found a passage on the history of the Detroit Fire Department. This is from a passage describing the time period around 1805, when nearly the entire city was destroyed by fire. Hope you find it as interesting as I did.

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Detroit Fire Department History – February 25

Today in DFD history – February 25, 1802

Detroit, being newly incorporated as a village on Jan. 18th, 1802, adopts “Regulations for Securing the Town of Detroit From Injury by Fire”.

Photo courtesy of the Detroit Historical Society. 
Read more about the history of this particular bucket at their blog.

It required residents to keep filled water kegs or barrels, which had to be stored inside to keep them from freezing.  These barrels were fitted with ears on each side 

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Detroit Fire Department History – February 13

Today in DFD history – February 13, 1997

Detroit Firefighter Joyce Stoll is promoted to Seargant, becoming the first female boss in fire operations.

Photo by SNweb

Photo by Sean Doerr/ Photography
See more of his work at

Joyce has continued to move through the ranks and is currently a Battallion Chief.


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Detroit Fire Department 101 – We Go In!

This is a guest post by Retired Detroit Firefighter John Randall. 
John is the creator of

My First Assignment

My first assignment with Detroit Fire Department in 1973 was Engine 27 at Junction & Rogers.  My Captain was Charlie Fisher. I worked with Best, Ventre, Haig, Mlinarich, Gurski, Klann, Kelly, Lisuk, Birmingham, Brachulis, Bartlett, Moyer, Foresi, Michinchak, Roman, Bitten, Brown, Lipscomb, Strach, Baxter, Hickman, Bryce, Dodson, Shirley, Pancake, Haney, Hoffman & Rocky. Detroit Fire Station E27 L8 at Junction and Rogers

There was a racket ball court on the 3rd floor, which we used often. The 7th  Battalion was a lot slower back in those days. Rocky was the engine house mascot. 

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Did You Know #005 – Detroit Firefighter / Mr. Michigan

Did you know that Detroit Fire Department had a 2 time Mr. Michigan winner among it’s ranks?

Don Van Fleteren, Detroit Firefighter and bodybuilder won the title of Mr. Michigan in both 1952 and 1960.  For a number of years, he also competed in the Mr. America contest where in 1955 he placed 3rd overall.

1960 don van fleteren front

This 1960 press photo of Don is offered for sale by Historic Images. ( If you like historic photos, they’ve got a great selection.

The caption on the back of this press photo reads:

Detroit, Mich: A mountain of muscle, Detroit Fireman Don Van Fleteren shows off the biceps that helped him win the title of Mr. Michigan of 1960. Chosen as a highlight of Michigan Week festivities, Van Fleteren is a 6′ 1 1/2″ 225-pounder, married and the father of a 5-year-old girl, the 31-year-old Hercules placed 3rd in the Mr. America Contest five years ago.

don van fleteren detroit firefighter

Strength and Health Magazine 1954 featuring Detroit Firefighter Don Van Fleteren on the cover.

This Surprised Us!

The originally thought was to mow a vacant lot, pick up debris, and board up a few vacant houses on a single block of Campbell Street.  What ended up happening surprised us.

It began when Detroit firefighters stationed in the area learned of a house being renovated by Nicole Curtis for her show Rehab Addict (which airs on HGTV and DIY Network). When you look at the area surrounding Nicole’s house you see a neighborhood that is still connected, still trying to hold on. Neighbors there know each other.  They do their best to keep grass mowed and debris out of vacant lots. This is a neighborhood that has not given up, a neighborhood that just needed a boost.


This is just one of the reasons we choose this neighborhood. Residents here are working hard to maintain a sense of community pride.

Detroit Firemen’s Fund and started spreading the word of the need for volunteers to help this southwest Detroit neighborhood.  Help came in so many ways.  Detroit and surrounding area firefighters, business that donated time and items, local media who helped highlight what items we needed, and most importantly, residents of the area came to help.

One of the best parts of this project was seeing young people from the area get involved.  Several local kids jumped in without prompting from adults.  They grabbed a pair of work gloves and started hauling brush to dumpsters.  Although I know the brush can get out of control, and grass can grow long again, I am confident that the positive impression made on these young people will not soon fade. 

We set out with the small goal of mowing a vacant lot and securing vacant houses on a single block, and together, we accomplished so much more than we had originally planned.

Overview of project accomplishments:

  • 15 Vacant houses secured
  • Smoke detectors installed
  • Entire block’s sidewalks edged & weeds removed
  • 4 vacant lots – removed debris & mowed
  • 5- 30 yard dumpsters of debris removed
  • Trimmed tree branches that could cause injury or damage in a storm
  • Community garden area restored – removed logs, debris & mowed so the garden can be expanded next year
  • Cut overgrown brush and trees from a corner lot making sidewalks useable again and improved visibility for vehicle traffic at the intersection.


Volunteers Overview:

The true heros of this project are our volunteers. Without the hard work and sweat equity they gave, nothing could have been accomplished.

Our volunteers included:

  • Over 40 Firefighters from:

Shelby Twp.
Imlay City

  • Local residents – including many children and young adults
  • People from several other comunities
  • Crews provided with specialized equipment from our donors.
  • Over 70 people total (we did not get the name of everyone involved,  so a true total is not available.  We think we were closer to 100 volunteers)


Donors Overview:
Donations of much needed items were provided by the following: 

If the opportunity arises to support the companies that have supported us, we ask you to please do so. Their selfless dedication to community service makes them stand out amongst their competition.


On our first day, Thursday, we tackled the yard and surrounding sidewalk of a vacant home at the corner of Horatio and Campbell.


The view as we began clearing overgrown brush. There’s a sidewalk in there, somewhere.

Brush and trees were so overgrown that the sidewalks were unusable. By the end of the day, a neighbor who lived on the

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Detroit Fire Department History – July 25th – Firefighter Death Due to Injuries From The ’67 Riots

Today in DFD history – August 4, 1967

Fire Fighter John C. Ashby of E-21 died from electrocution injuries during rioting.



Firefighter Ashby’s injuries were sustained on 7/24/67 at 7am. He
was electrocuted by a high-tension wire that struck his helmet while fighting a
fire at a supermarket at Lafayette and Canton.

At the time of his death John was 26 years old.

John C. Ashby


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Detroit Fire Department History – July 25th – Firefighter’s Death During the ’67 Riots

Today in DFD history – July 25th 1967

Fire Fighter Carl E. Smith of L-11 died from a gun shot wound during rioting. 



Firefighter Smith was killed at the corner of Mack & St. Jean at 12:50 am.  riot8

At the time of his death Smith was 30 years old. 

carl e. smith

Carl had been a Detroit Firefighter for 5 years.

riot62       riot63


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Detroit Fire Department History – July 17th, Detroit’s First African American Female Battalion Chief

Today in DFD history – July 17th 2012

Detroit Fire promotes Cecilia Buchanan to the rank of Battalion Chief in the Firefighting Division.  She is the first African American Female to the achieve this rank.

07-17-2012 Cecelia Buchanan

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