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April 30, 2013

Royal Oak Historical Society to celebrate centennial of Fire Department

By Robert Guttersohn
C & G Staff Writer

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Royal Oak Historical Society to celebrate centennial of Fire Department
An archaic firefighter helmet sits next to ticker-tape machines that firefighters used to tell where a fire was located. Retired firefighters will be telling stories about the old equipment during the May 11 open house at the Royal Oak museum.
Organizers of the Royal Oak Fire Department centennial celebration, from left, Jim Halsey, Carol Dodge and Muriel Versagi, stand behind one of the exhibits at the Royal Oak museum showcasing the city’s firefighting history. The museum will be hosting an open-house celebration May 11 with games, food and firefighting equipment.
 

ROYAL OAK — The Royal Oak Fire Department turns 100 this year.

“The history of the Royal Oak Fire Department is a great history,” said Jim Halsey, a retired fire chief from Troy and grandson to one of the original Royal Oak volunteer firefighters. “Not many businesses get to celebrate 100 years in today’s market.”

To honor the milestone, the Royal Oak Historical Society Museum will host an open-house celebration from 12-6 p.m. May 11 with games, historical displays and modern and archaic firefighter apparel.

Carol Dodge, the current municipal clerk for the Fire Department and an organizer for the centennial celebration, said a modern ambulance and fire truck will be at the historical society museum that day.

“They are going to hook up to one of the hydrants and the kids are going to have a hose,” Dodge said. “We’ll build a little façade of a house, and they get to shoot water at it.”

Muriel Versagi, the museum curator, said they are hoping to have an old 1924 fire truck on hand for people to explore and games for kids and adults, including three-legged races and a horseshoe competition between retired and current firefighters.

In coordination with the centennial celebration, the museum, located at 1411 Webster Ave. inside the decommissioned Northwood Fire Station, will have a special exhibit throughout May showcasing through pictures and artifacts the history of the department and the evolution of firefighting equipment.

Retired firefighters also will share their stories of what it was like to be part of the Fire Department and to guide visitors through items in the museum.

The department was formed in 1913 out of necessity, after a major fired burned down nearly every downtown business south of third street, according to the city’s website.

In reaction, Royal Oak — then still incorporated as a village — decided to form a volunteer fire department.

Badge No. 1 went to William Sullivan, whose name still appears on the side of the funeral home he started in 1906.

“When the old, wooden buildings started burning down downtown, he said, ‘We’ve got to do something,’” Versagi said.

So he corralled the men of the town in his home to organize the Fire Department.

Since then, Royal Oak has become a city, the Fire Department has become full-time and there have been 311 badge numbers issued.

Additional information about the event is available online at www.royaloakhistoricalsociety.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Robert Guttersohn at rguttersohn@candgnews.com or at (586)218-5006.