EFD firefighters working to document department’s history

Published 11:10 am Monday, February 9, 2015

NW0208 Fire Department History B

What started as a list of names of past firefighters has turned into hunt for much more for two Elizabethton Fire Department members.
Since 1908, the EFD has been working to keep the city safe from fires and other dangers. Through the years, many men have passed through the ranks of the department, but not all of their names can be found in department records.
Two EFD members are working to change that. Lance Treadway and Jerry Smith are trying to collect all the names former EFD employees and volunteers.
“I had the idea to try to write the names of everyone who had ever worked or volunteered with the department,” Treadway said. “I realized we had a good concise record of history and that the longer we waited the harder it would be.”
Treadway started by writing down all the names of people he had worked with, then he shared his idea with Smith, who wanted to help.
They started searching through old department records, photographs, scrapbooks and newspaper clippings. While looking at all the information already available for the EFD’s history, the scope of the project grew.
“The goal is to have all of this information, along with the pictures and first-hand stories, on display at Fire Station One for the public to enjoy,” Treadway said.
To complete this project, Treadway and Smith are working to collect the name of every firefighter and volunteer with the department since it opened in 1908. Treadway and Smith have interviewed former EFD Sgt. Steve Dunlap and former Chief Mike Shouse, both of whom pointed the duo toward a better source of information.
“The both agreed that my best source of information was going to be retired Capt. Mac Merritt,” Treadway said. “Not only did Merritt serve the city himself from 1963 to 1991, but his father volunteered and worked before him.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Treadway and Smith met with Merritt as he looked through all the pictures and clippings pointing out names they did not have on their list.
It was because of the service of Merritt and all the other former firefighters that they wanted to preserve the department’s history, Treadway said. With Merritt’s help, the two were able to fill in many of the blank spaces in their EFD chief, and volunteer and employee listings.
To fill in those remaining gaps, Treadway and Smith will be looking over the Elizabethton City Council minutes starting in 1907 to see if there is any mention of fire department events or employees.
They are also appealing to the public to share any information they might have on department employees, volunteers or events.
“From the 1970s to current, we might have missed some but we are in pretty good shape,” he said. “The main thing we need now is information from the 1960s back and information on volunteers. Some may have only been there for a short time. We want to make sure we get everyone.”
The EFD stopped using volunteer firefighters in 1991. Records searches showed the last two volunteers were William “Bill” Bowling and Floyd “Chick” Hodge.
Both firefighters have found the research project to be a learning experience. For Smith, one of the most impressive finds was uncovering a fire chief, Roy Hathaway, that had not been included in a listing in the station.
Hathaway was hired in 1923, and served as chief from 1928-1938. A newspaper article from the 1930s provided much of the information on Hathaway, who was sent to Chicago to train to be a chief and ended up fighting a major fire in the city.
“He was the only chief that did not have his picture on the wall,” Smith said. “The reason he wasn’t there is they didn’t have a picture for him. There is a lot of history there. He also worked in a furniture store that had a casket factory upstairs. Then the Great Depression hit and the business went bust.”
Treadway called this a good example of why the project was important.
“We need to document our history so we won’t lose it,” Treadway said. “I was thinking about all the guys that have come and gone. We are losing people who know the history.”
After collecting all the names they can, the pair will then start work on a timeline of notable events for the department; such as station openings, equipment purchases, staffing changes and major fires in the city’s history.
The information will be gathered into a display and stationed near the 1921 Model T fire engine at Station One. There is also a possibility the stories collected from past firefighters and other information will be collected into a book, Treadway said.
If you can share any information about the EFD’s history, contact Treadway at pjam74dog@yahoo.com or 647-4684 or Smith at jstyler@centurylink.net or 213-3337.

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