COVERT — Covert Township Fire Department operates out of a new $2.8 million, 20,000-square-foot complex that it shares with the police department.
But 100 years ago, things were much different.
As Fire Chief Doug Myers puts it, “it was basically a bunch of guys with buckets.”
But those brave men with their buckets helped put out fires the best they could and saved lives. That’s why Myers and his crew want to take time Saturday to honor their predecessors during the fire department’s 100th anniversary celebration.
“You can’t just let an occasion like this go by without acknowledging the people who were here before you,” Myers said. “There’s a lot of pride, ownership and tradition among firefighters. We’d like to hold onto that.”
The celebration will begin at 10 a.m. at the fire and police complex along M-140. It will include remarks by U.S. Rep. Fred Upton and state Rep. Beth Griffin, along with several other speakers and recognition of former firefighters. Refreshments and tours of the complex will follow.
For Myers, the event highlight will be recounting the history of the men and women who served as first responders in Covert for the last century. To learn about the department’s long history, Myers has spent quite a bit of his spare time poring through the fire department’s archives and local history books, talking with former firefighters and Covert residents, and gathering memorabilia.
What Myers learned impressed him.
Prior to 1918, Covert had no organized fire department.
“Basically it was just a bucket brigade,” Myers said.
But after a fire destroyed a downtown bank, town leaders took action.
“After that fire they decided they needed to organize,” Myers said.
The “organized” fire department, formed in 1918, was primitive at best. Its equipment consisted of a hand cart and hoses that were kept in a lean-to sandwiched between two downtown buildings.
“When they fought fires it was in their civilian clothes,” Myers said of the men who served as the first official firefighters for Covert.
By 1924, the township raised enough money to buy a fire truck – a Ford Model T.
“Carl Shattuck was the chief then. When they got the Model T they put it in the back of his garage,” Myers said.
Firefighters not only battled blazes then, they also battled vehicle maintenance problems.
“They broke down a lot,” Myers said. It wasn’t uncommon, he went on to say, for firefighters and other volunteers to follow the fire truck in their own vehicles. On one occasion when the fire truck got a flat tire, a tire was pulled off a car that was following it and mounted on the fire truck.
Firefighters dealt with other inconveniences with the first fire truck.
“There were only two men who could stand in back,” Myers said. “If you put a third one on that would cause the truck to pop a wheelie.”
Despite the difficulties, Covert’s firefighters persevered to put out fires and save people’s lives.
Something they still do today – with much more sophisticated equipment, including ambulances that Myers described as “virtually a hospital.”
But the heart and soul of the fire department for the past century has been the firefighters, Myers said.
“Our most important equipment is our people.”