Department History
Fire Department
By Dick Wheeler

     Like all small communities, there was no formal fire protection for Mt. Zion in the late 1880's. One of the earliest records of fire fighting was recalled sometime between 1900 and 1910 when all of the buildings on the north side of the main street were destroyed by fire, except one. Included were the old Sullivan Hotel, (where the old Mt. Zion State Bank building was built) the old Kemp-Conn grocery store, the Champion Harness Shop and others. Only the heroic efforts of a bucket brigade saved the only store on the block, the George B. Spitler store (purchased by him in 1887.)This store was later known as the C.A. Cox grocery and was located on the corner where the Mt. Zion Post Office now stands.


     Water for this major fire was carried by buckets from cisterns, shallow wells, and the town pump which was located on the south side of the street, half way between the present day Odd Fellows building and the Precision Tool & Die building (formerly the Britton Garage.) The Britton Garage was the focal point of the earliest form of organized fire protection that this community had. It was owned and operated by Mr. Frank Britton, who was the first fire chief of the community. In 1924, several of the local businessmen of the town, realizing the need for some type of mobile fire fighting equipment, talked Mr. Britton into purchasing the first fire truck for the area. It was a 1923 Model T Ford (open cab no windshield). This truck was equipped with two 55 gal. Soda-acid chemical tanks, 100' hose, ladders and other fire fighting tools. While Mr. Britton purchased the truck, local businessmen, including Mr. R.V. Fletcher, helped purchase the equipment.


     The story goes that the first winter this truck was in service, they received a barn fire call two miles east of Elwin. The temperature was below zero, and just one mile from the fire, the radiator froze and blew water all of Mr. Britton, eventually freezing his face. Needless to say, the next day they installed a windshield on the truck, which proved to be a very wise investment as they received many calls in Long Creek, Elwin, and Dalton City until later years when they had their own fire districts.


     After the purchase and equipping of the first fire truck, the responsibility of fighting the fires and maintaining the equipment became almost a family affair. Mr. Britton, as fire chief, was ably assisted by his sons Howard, Paul and later Wayne. Mr. Harley Greenfield worked on the equipment as a mechanic. Some of the early volunteers included Clem Evans, Roy Portwood, Earl Sullivan, Ted Harris, Reeves Karch, Cecil Karch, Ray Harris, Norman Harris, and Fred Craycroft. The reporting of fires depended largely on the telephone in these early days. The first phone system was started by Mr. George B. Spitler in his store on Main street sometime in the late 1800's. When a fire was reported, the telephone operator would call the Britton Garage and the other businessmen for man power. Sometime in the 1930's a large siren was installed and activated when a fire call came in by phone. This procedure carried on well into the 1960's. Some of the early telephone operators responsible for the fire calls were Fred and Cora Britton, Ruby Wyatt, Erma Thoman, Elise Reining, Margaret Harris, Clem and Nona Evans, Charles Gordon, Guy and Faye Draper, Racie Britton, Edith Britton, Mrs. Homer Moore and Bonnie Grounds.


     In the later years (1960 & 70's) after the formation of the Mt. Zion Fire Protection District and the telephone became automated, it was necessary for the district to provide 24 hour fire answering service. This was accomplished through the Mt. Zion Hardware, Nancy Wright, Paul and Alta Epling, Raymond Harris and Ivan Conder. They received incoming calls and in turn alerted 15 fire phones in various volunteer homes to respond to the fire. Today we still use the telephone to report a fire, but rely on the Macon County Sheriff's office to activate personal electronic pagers carried by each volunteer at all times. As previously stated the first fire truck was a 1923 Model T Ford. The second was a 1935 Chevrolet and the third, a 1940 Chevrolet. All of these trucks and equipment were purchased and maintained through personal donations until the Fire Protection District was formed in 1946.


     The Mt. Zion Fire Protection District was organized on August, 6 1946 having the same boundaries as the Mt. Zion Township, thus becoming a separate taxing body. The district programs were financed from property taxes and managed by three trustees who appointed chiefs and firemen and were responsible for building, equipment and financing. The first trustees appointed in 1946 were Frank Britton, Robert Henery and Lester Kruse. Frank Britton was appointed Chief. Lester Kruse retired in 1951 and was replaced by Walter Hogan. January 24, 1953 a new Chevrolet truck was purchased and equipped by the Progress Manufacturing Co. as a fire truck. In 1954, the trustees purchased ground from the Odd Fellows Lodge immediately south of the Lodge Building and on this ground built the first fire station. It was completed in 1955.


     In 1958, Dick Wheeler, who had been a volunteer fireman since 1946, was appointed trustee to replace Walter Hogan. Also in 1958 Chief Frank Britton retired after serving the community for over 35 years. He was replaced by Wheeler. In August of 1960 Wayne Britton was appointed trustee to replace his father, Frank Britton. On May 12, 1961, Chester Wells was appointed trustee to replace Robert Henry. In 1962 a new GMC truck was purchased and equipped by Howe Fire Equipment Company. In 1969 a new GMC truck was purchased and equipped by American La France. 1975 marked the addition of two new bays to the old fire house plus a new roof over both new and old parts. Also in 1975 a new 4x4 Chevrolet 3/4 ton was purchased and equipped for auto and brush fires and rescue work.


     At the dedication of the new building (in 1975) the trustees and volunteer firemen and their families honored Chief Wheeler who retired as fire chief after serving the district as such for 17 years. Don Wright was appointed the new Fire Chief and remains as Chief to this date. 1979 was a big year for fire protection of the Mt. Zion District as land was purchased from the Hazel Wilson Estate and a new fire station was built on this property. This is the current location of the firehouse to date.


     The firehouse has undergone many changes in equipment and to the station itself since 1979. The station recently underwent an addition in 2007 adding 4 new bays and more meeting space and storage space. The department now operates 9 pieces of apparatus and has 2 full time, 3 part time employees as well as many dedicated volunteers.



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