PERKINSVILLE — It has been the pillar of the community for over a century.
On Aug. 19 the Perkinsville Fire Department celebrated 125 years of battling fires, and saving lives in and around the community.
If you grew up in Perkinsville chances are you dreamed of becoming a big part of this proud tradition.
After 43 young men came back from World War Two they understood this tradition better than most, and they all jumped at the opportunity to continue to fight for those they held dear.
Theodore “Ted” Conrad, a 70-year-member of the Perkinsville Fire Department, holds this truth to be near and dear to his heart. He is one of the oldest members of the historic fire department.
“I joined before I left, but it didn’t count until I got back,” he said. “It was the thing we all did back then. Forty three men went to fight, and all of them came back home.”
Perkinsville Fire Chief Walt Drum Jr. said they wanted to do something special for the 125th Anniversary. It has gone strong from 1892 to present. In 1892 it was established as the Fearless Hook and Ladder Co.One. It would branch off into the Perkinsville Fire Department and Hook and Ladder in 1949.
“This has been a long and proud tradition for the small community,” he said. “It has been 125 years and we are still going.”
Drum is hoping to get some more junior firefighters interested in the fire department’s proud history.
Sandy Booth helped out immensely with some historic photos, and a book of all the members who have passed away.
“Sandy Booth made a book of all the deceased member's,” Drum said. “She did a great job. She has been a godsend. She has really helped out alot with the history.”
The truck house was added on in 1975, but the part between the truck house and post office is the original building from the late 1800s. Brick’s Store was bought out and turned into the truck house when they needed more room. A old house was also purchased and demolished to add on more room for the flag post and parking area. The post office is in what was the old truck house.
Drum said they are trying to preserve the address of the fire department for as long as they can. Part of the pride comes from the fact that the fire department has existed in the same spot all this time.
“This is my passion,” Drum said. “This is my life’s work. I was washing trucks for the parade when I was five years old. My dad has been a member since 1972. I have been a member since 1985. I started being the fire chief in 1999. I love doing this.”
The old bell is dedicated to all the members who passed, and when they die the bell sounds off in their honor.
“We are all about honoring the fallen,” Drum said. “We do what we got to do to keep the whistle going. I promised a lot of them I would keep Perkinsville going.”
Drum recalls a lot of the old guys he looked up to are now in the book, but he will never forget the promise he made to them.
Perkinsville Second Assistant Fire Chief Jody Tonkery joined the Wayland Fire Department in the 1980s, and took a break before joining the Perkinsville Fire Department about 10 years ago.
“I think 125 years is great,” he said. “It is hard to believe anything can last that long anymore. Perkinsville was a big deal back in the day. They had a fire department, post office, factories, hotels, and a shoe store. There is so much history in this small town.”
Tonkery said the upstairs used to be the place for dances and plays. They found a bunch of early 1900s play bills and newspapers in the walls.
Not all of the members were happy with the turnout for this special day.
Former Perkinsville Fire Department Firefighter William Smith moved to Florida a few years back, but he never forgot the importance of the Perkinsville Fire Department. Smith came up just for the celebration, and was very disappointed not more people from the area cared to come.
“I am very disappointed in the turnout,” he said. “I came up all the way from Florida, and they can’t come across the street. This is a close-knit community, and none of them care to come to this. It is pretty bad. I was a firefighter when I lived here, and that is why I am here today. It is such a small community, and I can’t believe they aren’t here. If they keep this up they won’t have a fire department anymore.”
Assemblyman Joe Errigo and Sen. Thomas O’Mara came out to bring good news for the fire department. They are working hard on a bill that will help the members who are battling cancer due to the hazards and chemicals they have dealt with for many years.