| Introductory | Knoxville Fire Department | Knoxville's Big Fires | Knoxville Police Department | Photo Gallery |

Chief of Fire Department,
Fire Department
Headquarters, Commerce Ave. Station


Early Volunteer Fire Department

Early Fire Engines:

First Steam Fire Engine - "J.C. Luttrell"

First Paid firemen

Roster of the "Fountain Fire Company"

First Hook and Ladder Company

Negro Volunteer Company organized

Compensating volunteers

Transporting fire engines to the blaze

1885:  Fire Department Reorganized

North Knoxville station established

Electric fire alarm system installed

West Knoxville station established

Knoxville's Big Fires

Fire fighter fatality

Fire Chiefs - Roster

Knoxville Fire Department Roster (1900)


From a small but enthusiastic beginning in 1854 the Knoxville fire department has grown to its present magnitude and efficiency. Year by year the department has developed, as the needs of the city demanded and as the exchequer of the metropolis would permit. While this growth has not been as great as some would have it, yet it has been most creditable when it is considered that not until 1885 did the city of Knoxville have a full-fledged paid fire department.

The organization of a fire department in Knoxville came from necessity, as does almost every other good thing.  D. J. Stacks, who was the town marshal in 1854, perceived the need of an organized band of fire fighters, and he proposed to a number of citizens that a volunteer force be organized. In a quiet way Mr. Stacks influenced a number of citizens, many of whom were leaders in business and professional circles, to enter into the organization of the first volunteer department. This was perfected early in the year, and soon the city administration became interested to such an extent as to appropriate funds with which to build a "fire engine." This engine, which in its day considered a most important factor in fights against fires, was christened the "Deluge." It was a hand engine in the true sense. Upon a spacious wooden box, which was mounted on four wheels, was placed an ordinary pump propelled by a double handle. It was arranged so that four men could manipulate it at either end. A deep and long trough served the purpose of a suction hose, and in this men poured water, which was brought to it in buckets. The water was forced from the box into the hose, which in size resembled a present day garden hose, and which was perhaps 200 feet in length. This apparatus, with perhaps a compliment of two or three axes and a ladder, formed the full equipment of the volunteer fire department of 1854. Lewis Ruckert and David Newman, are of the 100 or more men who were in that original department, are still living and they tell many interesting incidents concerning their work as volunteer firemen.

In 1856 the "Deluge" was rebuilt by Pat Lyons, who was at that time a prominent man about this city. The engine had become in need of repair and it was thoroughly overhauled. This done, it was rechristened "Pat Lyons," and was known by that name until it was abandoned early in the sixties.

As the volunteer firemen gained experience, as the city grew and as the funds for fire apparatus became more plentiful, it was decided to add two more hand engines. In 1860 "Niagara, No. 2," and "Fountain No. 1," both hand engines, were purchased. These were models of their class, and were secured in the east at a considerable expense. Two companies were organized to man these engines. They were headed by Dr. E. J. Jackson and J. P. White, respectively. These gentlemen were the captains of their respective companies. They were fearless and were considered ideal men to lead a band of volunteer fire fighters.

The next decided step in the way of advancing the fire department was in 1867, when the steam fire engine was first introduced here. I. E. Barry, father of I. E. Barry, Jr., who is now one of Knoxville's best known citizens, had for several years been intensely interested in building up the fire department. He was a volunteer and was a leader in the organization. He conceived the idea of securing a steamer, and finding that the city's finances would not permit of an expenditure for the apparatus, he decided to make a personal appeal to the citizens. This he did, soliciting subscriptions to a fund with which to purchase a steam fire engine for Knoxville. After considerable work he was successful in raising $6,000 in private subscriptions. This was the requisite amount to buy the machine and it was ordered. It came and was christened "J. C. Luttrell." This is the present "old brassy," which is located in the Commerce avenue station as a reserve engine. The name of "J. C. Luttrell " was given in honor of the mayor of the city, father of S. B. and J. C.  Luttrell of the present day. The new engine was most royally received, and citizens flocked to the fire hall to see it, in the rear of Judge O. P. Temple's present residence. The volunteers exhibited it with pride. The city hall, in which the machine was next stationed, as above stated, was at the head of Market square, on the spot where the present city hall stands. The engine remained there until the early eighties. The city council, appreciating the efforts of Mr. Barry, and also the public spiritedness of citizens who subscribed, at length made an appropriation of $6,000, by which subscribers to the fire engine fund were reimbursed, and, after all, the city paid for it.

C. W. Park and T. W. Burrier were the first engineers to handle the engine, and they were after one year succeeded by Gideon Johnson, who was the first paid fireman in Knoxville. Mr. Johnson received $400 a year for looking after the engine and remaining at the station in the city hall. The hand and steam engines and the meagre [sic] supply of hose constituted the full equipment in the station. The mules, which drew the big steamer, were employed on the city's public works, and when a fire alarm sounded these mules were dispatched to the station to pull the engine to the scene of the fire. This sometimes caused fatal delay, though the mules did their best in handling the machine. Mr. Johnson was succeeded by Mr. Mace D. Swan, who is still living. However, there was an interval of several months between Mr. Johnson's retirement and Mr. Swan's occupation of the position. Mr. Swan held the place a little over one year, receiving $600 per year for his services. David  Newman was his stoker, and after he retired Mr. Newman was engineer until relieved by James Pickens in 1872. Mr. Newman took the "Alex Allison"  in 1877, and stayed with the " Allison" until 1893, when the "M. E. Thompson"  was purchased. During the period from his beginning as fire engineer until 1885, when the paid department was formally instituted, Mr. Newman received salaries ranging from $600 to $150 per year. He did not give his entire time to the service, simply responding when an alarm was sounded, but he knew the engine well in every particular, and no man in Knoxville today is better qualified to administer to the wants of a fire engine than is he. He has really made it a life work, having remained in it until two years ago.

After the first steamer was secured in 1867, came a revival of interest in the fire department, in the nature of a reorganization. A roster which was made up at that time, and which is now extant, it being the original signatures of the volunteers to the constitution and by-laws of "Fountain Fire Company," embraces names of some of the most prominent people of Knoxville, both then and now. It is given below: J. P. McNichols, W. H. Campbell, Thomas A. Burrier, C. W. Park, H. D. Lord, William Coffman, John Watkins, James Kitchen, Peter Staub, James E. Haley, Joseph P. Wright, W. P. Elliott, J. C. S. McDannel, F. W. Walker, George M. White, M. P. Chapin, J. D. Williams, R. H. Brown, James L. Householder, E. C. Locke, Isaac C. Camp, F. W. Kuhlman, J. P. White, P. Sturm, A. P. White, E. N. Parham, John Martin, B. W. Reeder, B. F. Camp, A. J. Albers, W. P. Chamberlain, John McCoy, S. C. Smith, C. Burger, F. Sparks, John M. Boyd, Isaac W. Worrell, James C. Conway, Baird McCarty, L B. Gamble, William Fisher, H. Goodman, H. Spiro, Will R McBath, John Cruze, S. B. Luttrell, L. W. Hudiburg, John Hudiburg, Pat Cain, John M. Smith, William Sparks, L. C. Shepard, Ed. Rogan, W. R. Cooper, S P Angel, H. M. Davis, D. Newman, J. M. Martin, M. D. Swan, E. F Mynatt, George Tobler, John McGrath, George Ford, E. Smith,  I. E. Barry, P. A Fahnestock, James King, James Henry, William Watkins, E. W. Flenniken, William Ray, James W. Johnson, M. V. May, R. Barrett, C. M. Black, C. B.  Nance, A. Barton, B. F. Harris, R. G. Johnson, C. F. Youngblood,  John Rice, Lewis Ruckert and Charles Askins.

The next important addition to the volunteer fire department's plans was its first hook and ladder truck.  This was a second-hand apparatus the city purchased from the Nashville fire department in 1868. It was placed on Prince street, near Union, and was drawn by hand to fires where needed. E. J. Sanford was elected captain of the hook and ladder company, and remained at its head several years. His men were well organized for the work in hand.

In 1868. a negro volunteer company was organized. This was due to the work of W. F. Yardley and William Luttrell, both colored. Yardley was made chief of the negro department, and he rallied around him a force of about 100 negroes, all of whom proved to be good fire fighters. They were supplied with the hand engines and later with a hook and ladder truck of a miniature pattern. The negroes did effective work with " Niagara " and " Fountain."

The need of more engines was again manifest in 1870, when the city council made an appropriation sufficient to buy " Piano, No. 4," the last hand engine ever purchased. It was christened " Piano " on account of its " playing " ability, as it certainly was capable of playing upon a blaze to good advantage. This engine was more modern than its predecessors, and was larger, though it was operated on practically the same principles as the others. It remained in the service, as did those in the hands of the negroes, until it was worn out.

Through the efforts of W. M. Coffman, who was an influential member of the department, the city council was in 1877 induced to buy a second steam fire engine. This engine was christened "Alex Allison," in honor of Capt. Alex Allison, who was then chairman of the fire committee of the city council. Capt. Allison worked for the purchase of the engine and was at all times the department's friend. The engine cost $3,200,  just $2,800 less than did the first machine. As stated above, David Newman was the first engineer of the Allison, and remained in charge of it until 1893. This engine is still in the service, being now located at the North Knoxville station. It was recently remodeled by the LaFrance Fire Engine Company, at a cost to the city of $1,5000, and is now pronounced "as good as new."

The city council, in 1883, decided to give compensation to about fifteen volunteer firemen, who would pledge themselves to attend all fires, or submit to a forfeit of $2.50 for every absence. These firemen were paid $30.00 per year, provided no $2.50 fines were assessed, and, in such instances, the fines were deducted from the $30.00 The men appointed on this $30.00 list were : J. L. Householder, Louis Ruckart, C. F. Youngblood, William, John and Henry Moxley, James Jones, Herman Schenk, William Watkins, W. W. Dunn, Herman Spiro, Abner Smith, Caleb Smith and Alex Flenniken. They drew the $30.00 salary from the city for two years, until the regular paid department was established. During these two years David Newman received a salary of $150.00 per year for acting as engineer for the fire engine. As an inducement for citizens to assist in getting the fire apparatus to fires, the city council passed a resolution offering a standing reward of $2.50 for the hose cart and $5.00 for the engine to the citizen who would get the respective machines to the fire with his horses or mules, and return it to the engine house after the fire. This was, of course, provided the teams were there before the corporation teams could arrive. This proved an incentive to many teamsters to help hustle the apparatus to fires.

Without doubt the most important latter year event in the history of the fire department in Knoxville was that which was marked in 1885. It was March 17, of that year, when the paid fire department begun its work. After thirty-one years of well organized volunteer service the city at last secured a paid department, numbering seven men. This department's establishment was largely due to the untiring efforts of David Newman, Herman Schenk, Herman Spiro, S. P. Condon, Philo B. Shephard, Mel Dickson and Abner Smith. Of course comparatively few of the men in the volunteer department were candidates for positions on the paid force, but when the force was selected by the city officials it was as follows: Herman Schenk, chief; Abner Smith, captain; David Newman, engineer; William Newman, stoker; Louis Ruckart and James Elzia, pipemen; Ed. Smith, colored, driver of engine. In addition to the engine the department had two sulky hose carriages and about 2,000 feet of hose. This equipment was located in the building where now stands the city stables on State street. Horses were purchased, and the paid department was ready for business. It remained stationed on State street until the present city hall was completed in 1888. when it was moved to the first floor, now occupied as the fish market. The hook and ladder company, which had been organized in 1887, was also moved to the city hall, and soon thereafter the first four-wheel hose reel was secured as a modern addition to the equipment.

The hook and ladder extension truck, which is now assigned to reserve duty, and is at the Commerce avenue station, was purchased in 1887, at a cost of $2,700. It was at once manned by the following company: Herman Schenk, captain; Did Showalter, tillerman ; Alex Flenniken and John Hawkins, laddermen; William Smith, colored, driver. The installation of the hook and ladder company was largely due to the efforts of Herman Schenk, who had been succeeded as chief by Philo B. Shepard, who had for many years been a volunteer. The truck was stationed on State street, in a stable at the rear of the present  McTeer Hood & Co. block, until it was moved to the city hall a year later.

After moving these two companies to the city hall, the city officials took steps to establish a second paid fire station. This was done in North Knoxville, the city purchasing the present North Knoxville station building from a company which built the Central Market house and the fire station building. The North Knoxville company was supplied with the steamer " J. C. Luttrell," which had until then been held on reserve duty, and with a two-wheeled hose reel. The company was composed of: George Wamble, captain ; Jacob Kessler, engineer: John Moxley, stoker; James McIntosh, driver ; Dennis Curtin and James Elza (sic) , pipemen ; and William Lane, engine driver.

Simultaneously with the moving of the State street companies to the city hall and the establishing of the North Knoxville station, came the installation of the electric fire alarm system. This was all in 1888. Previous to this time the alarm system had been far from perfect. The tower bell on the city hall would ring out the number of the ward in which the fire was located, and the department would have to ascertain in the best manner possible the exact location in the ward announced. The alarm was usually communicated to the department or to the city hall by telephone or by a runner, whichever was quickest. In those days the telephone system was not as complete in this city as at present. The electric alarm system was easily understood by the people, and it is a matter of record that it has saved tax payers many times its cost, which was $7,450.

Apparatus which has been secured in the twelve years since this new epoch in the department's history may be summed up briefly by stating, a four wheel hose reel, two hose wagons, the chief's "little red wagon," and of course much new hose and many chemical extinguishers, and, greatest of all, the new fire engine "M. L. Ross," which was purchased as the sequel to the fire of April, 1898.

When the market house was rebuilt and the city hall remodeled in 1897, the fire department was moved from the city hall to the present headquarters on Commerce avenue. The property does not belong to the city, but is rented at $50 per month. While the quarters are, in a sense, what is desired, yet they are not complete, and the department is seeking a new home, and hopes to get it sooner or later. The West Knoxville station was the last to be established. It is supplied with a hose and ladder wagon and a company of men. It was established in 1899 through the influence of J. Cal. Sterchi, who was then alderman from the Tenth ward, West Knoxville. An effort was simultaneously made to have a negro paid company stationed on the reservoir hill, in East Knoxville, but it failed. Alderman J. M. Trigg was behind that.



If there is a place in the wide world that has been more fortunate than Knoxville in the way of serious fires, it is time that it should let it be known. With the exception of the one and a half million dollar fire of April, 1897, in all its history the city has never had a fire in which the loss was over $60,000. The first serious blaze Knoxville ever had, after the fire department was established, was in 1859, when M. F. Williams' big steam mill was destroyed. It stood on the site of the present Knoxville Iron Company's rolling mills. It was always thought this fire was of incendiary origin. The loss sustained was about $40,000.  In the following year Gay street had its first hot fire. A building was burned on the spot where now stands the Southern Express Company's building. An adjoining structure was also burned. These were occupied by Powell's crockery store and White's dry goods store. The loss was estimated at $30,000. The next big fire was that adjacent to the Franklin house, a hostelry which was located where the Knox county court house now stands. This was in 1867, and it was the first conflagration after the arrival of the fire engine "J.C. Luttrell." Several store buildings were located near the Franklin house, and these were burned and the hotel was damaged. The loss was about $50,000. The new fire engine was hauled to the fire by hand, and nearly forty minutes elapsed before water could be turned on, as absence of fuel and other details caused delay, as well as the blowing out of a flue. In 1869 a fire raged on Gay street, between Cumberland and Church avenues. The Masonic Temple, which was located about four doors below where the Sentinel office is located, Moses' hardware store and the Coffman building were all gutted by flames. The loss to all parties from this fire was about $50,000.

Only one life has ever been lost by fighting fire in Knoxville. This tragic incident occurred in 1875, when George H. Smith met death beneath a falling wall. Mr. Smith was a prominent jeweler, whose place of business was in the Sentinel's present business office. The packing house of Allison & McClung located on the railroad frontage near the east end of the present delivering freight depot, was burned. A car was standing on the track, and was in danger of being burned. Mr. Smith, with others, attempted to push the car out of the way, and while thus engaged a shout of warning was given by others. With the exception of Mr. Smith the men heard the shot and retreated. However, he was less fortunate, and was struck and instantly killed by a falling wall. The loss of property by this fire was very slight.

In 1876 Shea & Donahue's big tin shop, corner Gay and Commerce streets, was burned, entailing a loss of $35,000. It was this fire which moved the city officials to a realization of the need of more fire apparatus, and as a result the steamer " Alex Allison " was purchased a year later. The first serious fire, after the paid department was instituted was in 1885, when the big frame structure grain elevator at the city mills was burned. The loss was about $20,000.   Several years later another elevator was burned at the same mills, at a loss of about $35,000.  In 1888 the D. R. Samuels wood working mill on Ramsey street was destroyed. The loss was about $40,000. The Knoxville Iron Company's machine shops, adjacent to the rolling mills, were burned in 1892, at a loss of $45,000. A big blaze, just outside the city limits, in 1893 was the burning of the main building of Knoxville College, which caused the college to sustain a loss of $40,000.

As stated above, the greatest of the disastrous fires in Knoxville's history was that of April 7, 1897. The details of this holacost [sic] are yet familiar in the minds of Knoxville people. It swept away the most magnificent buildings in the business section of the city, and caused the loss of at least three lives. These are all ever reported. It meant a loss of at least $1,500,000 to Knoxville. The fire originated in the Hotel Knox, where now stands the two-story McNulty buildng [sic]. It spread to Daniel Briscoe Bros. & Co., A. P. Lahr's  dry goods store and a vacant building of E. E. McMillan's on the north. On the south it took in the old Third National Bank building, Sterchi  Brothers' furniture store, S. B. Newman & Co.'s printing establishment, Cullen & Newman's crockery store, M. L. Ross & Co.'s grocery store, W. W. Woodruff  & Co.'s hardware store, and Arnold, Henegar & Doyle's shoe store. The fire was stopped by the fire wall of Sanford, Chamberlain & Albers Company's building. It is considered miraculous that the fire stopped within these limits. The lives lost were of men who are said to have perished in the hotel fire. This big fire moved the city to more or less agitation in favor of a chemical engine and other improved apparatus, but it required another disastrous fire, that of April, 1898, to secure any final positive action. This '98 fire was that in which McClung & Co., Houseley, Cate & Co., Knoxville Auction & Commission Co. and the Davies Furniture Company sustained losses. Following this fire a mass meeting of citizens was held at which the city council was called upon to take some steps to provide more efficient fire protection. The result of the meeting was the purchase of the fire engine " M. L. Ross," now at the Commerce avenue station, and the repairing of the "Alex Allison." The Ross cost $3,500, and it required $1,500 to pay for the Allison's repairs. Several hundred feet of new hose was also bought as a sequel to this fire. The effort in favor of a chemical engine was then revived, but without success, as the disposition of the officials was to favor a steamer. Since the fires of '97 and '98 the sections which were swept bare have been beautified with much more imposing structures, with perhaps one exception. In every instance the property holders have every one appreciated the value of handsome buildings, and have done their part toward decorating the street with fine structures. The east side of Gay street, from Commerce to Union avenues, now presents a much more citified appearance, as a result of these two fires.

Mention is made above of the only death ever occurring to a fire fighter in this city. Louis Ruckart, who is at present a member of the Commerce avenue company, and David Newman, who has retired from the profession, were fighting fire at Lily's mill, located on First creek, at the corner of Mabry street, now Vine avenue, east. Mr. Newman was engineer but he perceived that another man was needed at the hose and he accordingly turned his engine over to his stoker, who was his son. J. R. Newman. Mr. Newman with Mr. Ruckart, went upon a wail of the burning building. They had been there but a few minutes until the wall began to fall in. "We're gone," said Mr. Newman to Louis, " Hold on to your hose and bring it down with you." Both held on, and when the men struck the inside of the fiery furnace, they turned the water upon themselves and pulled their hats over their eyes. Having drenched their clothing, they aimed the hose in the direction of the street and madly plunged through crackling flame in the battle for life. The pressure was high and the battle was successful, as both men came out alive, though burned more or less and of course singed.

In this fire the steamer " J. C. Luttrell " came near being destroyed. The engine got away from the firemen, and by some means, rolled almost into the burning building. It was so near the blaze that the cushion was burned off the seat, the paint was drawn, and the brass, steel and iron work was damaged some by the heat. M. E. Thompson, who was attending the fire, observed the danger and offered a reward of $50.00 to any man who would tie a rope around the engine's front axle that it might be pulled out. Wesley Stewart, a negro, performed the feat amid cheers from the crowd, and Mr. Thompson promptly rewarded him.   The engine was pulled out and saved from ruin.

Here it may be of interest to give the list of chiefs of the fire department, from the first to the present, in the order in which they served. They were: Dr. J. M. Boyd, Henry Munson, W. M. Marioner, W. M. Coffman, C. A. King, T. A. Burrier, Herman Spiro, Herman Schenk, J. M. Brooker, Philo B. Shephard, W. W. Dunn, William Cross, James McIntosh, V. F. Gossett and Sam B. Boyd. Under the wise administration of Chief Sam Boyd the department is now being brought up to a high standard of excellence. The men of the department, and the stations to which they are assigned, are as follows:

CHIEF -  Sam B. Boyd.   Assistant Chief - Joe Chandler

COMMERCE AVENUE STATION - Joseph L. Fraser, Captain Engine Co. No. I ;  J. A. Huffaker, Lieutenant Engine Co. No. I ;  B. F. Suddarth, Driver;  T. W. Johnson, Engineer;  Chas. Youngblood, Stoker;  Pryor H. Davis, Pipeman;  Louis Ruckart, Pipeman;  Thos. J. Bearden, Driver of Reel;  T. W. Duncan, Lieutenant Wagon Co.;  S. G. Hickle, Driver Wagon Co.; John F. Fitzgerald, Ladderman ;  Henry F. Yates, Ladderman.

NORTH KNOXVILLE - James Jones, Captain;  J. J. Dunn, Lieutenant;  John Mournane, Engineer;  Wm. Hood, Stoker;  S.A. Torbett, Pipeman ;  J. C. Maxwell, Pipeman ;  Frank Lane, Driver of Reel;  W. N. Dykes, Engineer.

WEST KNOXVILLE - R. L. Monday, Captain;  Isaac Wilhoit, Lieutenant;  W. F. Maxey, Driver;  M. C. Hall, Pipeman ;  Thos. Jones, Pipeman.

The supernumerary firemen are A. L. Warwick,  J. C. Flenniken,  Joseph Conner and J. N. Armstrong.

Steamer M.L. Ross

| Introductory | Knoxville Fire Department | Knoxville's Big Fires | Knoxville Police Department | Photo Gallery |

External Links :

Knoxville, TN Fire Department  |  Knoxville, TN Police Department  ]

[ Go to the Knoxville Fire Department 1951-52 Yearbook ]

[ Return to Knox County - Directories ]

[ Return to Knox County, TNGenWeb ]


This HTML presentation
Copyright 2001-2002,  Rose-Anne Cunningham Bray
All Rights Reserved.