Brian Eiteman shared 140 years of history for the Perry Volunteer Fire Department during a talk on Saturday, April 21 at the Carnegie Library.
Eiteman shared stories and photos from his new book on the history of the Perry Volunteer Fire Department.
He said the fire department got started by co-founder Fred Knell. He became the second fire chief of the Perry Fire Department in 1879. He then showed a picture of Knell operating an 1888 steam pumper.
“This was for a small town or village fire fighting, so it was hand-pulled,” Eiteman said. “The guys would, in the winter time or in the summer time, it didn’t matter, they would hitch themselves up to this and out the door they went.”
Eiteman said up until 1888 and even after, horses weren’t usually found in the Perry Fire Department.
The City of Perry saw a big fire in 1898. The fire, Eiteman said, started where Ben Franklin’s is now. It started in a stable, jumped across the street and burned the entire block on both sides before firefighters even started attacking it.
Eiteman said a couple of good things happened because of the fire.
“Quite a few business owners actually became firefighters after that fire. Most of them stayed for 30 or 40 years on the fire department,” Eiteman said.
The second good thing was the wood buildings that were burned were replaced with three-story brick buildings.
One drawback, Eiteman said, was that the fire department didn’t have anything that could go to the top of the three-story buildings. Chief Knell asked the city council in 1900 to purchase a ladder truck.
Eiteman then showed pictures of the various fire trucks used by the Perry Fire Department over the years. The department saw one of its first motorized vehicles in 1915, a chemical truck. Only 40 to 50 gallons of water could be carried in the truck.
“But going from a hand pumper or a steam pumper to this was probably a huge improvement,” Eiteman said.
Fast-forward to the department’s newest pumper in 2015, and he said the trucks have changed quite a bit.
“Go back into the steam pumper days and the chemical wagon, and you’re looking at 25 or 30 gallons a minute pumping,” Eiteman said. “Whereas this one here (2015) is 1,650 gallons a minute.”
The participants at the fire history talk then walked over to the Iowa Fire Museum. Eiteman gave a tour of the museum and the various exhibits.
He said the museum is too small to house everything he has collected over the years. He has three fire trucks in storage because they won’t fit inside the museum.
Eiteman would like to build a new fire museum or possibly renovate a larger building in the future.
“That’s why I started the book. To fundraise enough to build a fire museum worthy enough (of the exhibits),” Eiteman said.