LUDINGTON FIRE DEPARTMENT
Ludington Fire Department was truly born in the era of iron men and wooden ships.
Its rudiments can be found when the first sawmills appeared on the banks of Pere Marquette Lake. Shortly after Merewether Cobb built the first mill, it was destroyed by fire. The need of an organized department was obvious and the day after that fire, Cobb organized the first local fire department. Equipped with only a few shovels, axes and wooden buckets of water placed on the roofs of buildings, a rag tag group of sawmill employees stood watch for flying sparks and embers which came from the mill's boilers.
The City of Ludington was organized in 1873 and as it grew, the need for a more substantial fire department became obvious. More members were added but the early city fathers paid little attention to requests for better equipment and a small stipend to reimbursement firefighters for burned clothing. The stage was set for disaster.
It was Saturday June 11, 1881, a warm and windy morning. It was 11:30 A.M., as a circus parade was making its way through town. Most of the town's citizens as well as many of its' fire fighters had turned to watch the parade. A small wisp of flames appeared on West Loomis Street. The fire spread quickly to a saloon, a meat market, then a shoe store. Due to a crack in the cities' fire warning bell, the sound did not carry very far and firefighters were slow to answer the call. Mills, factories, and shops closed with their workers rushing to help fight the fire that was now growing into a major conflagration. Even the circus performers joined in to help try to save the city, but it was all to no avail. By the end of the day, 67 building including the fire station had burned to the ground. This accounted for an almost total destruction of Ludington's downtown area.
Like the mythical phoenix, a new Ludington's Fire Department was born. It arose out of the ashes of the "Big Fire" of 1881, and was the foundation of the department, as we know it today. Many new developments occurred because of the big fire. The city began construction of a water plant and a system of wooden mains to carry water throughout the town. The second development was the reorganization of the fire department with Marshall G. Smith being appointed as the cities' first Fire Chief. The department was reduced to 27 active members from its previous 75 and these men were periodically given small amounts money as reparation for burned clothing and good attendance.
Today, Ludington Fire Department is a modern and progressive institution that is ever mindful of the traditions and accomplishments of its past. The continued success of the department is revealed in that past; dedication, pride and enthusiasm must remain as the foundation upon which to build the future.