It was only a murmuring at first – this talk of starting a fire protection service for the Town of Chili. There were conversations of some Gates-Chili firemen, who lived in Chili. There were some old-timers who had memories of the early bucket brigades. There was a question of how such a large geographic area could be served by the existing fire service.
By 1931 the talk was getting formal. The meetings and discussions took a business like turn. The men were meeting at the Chili Baptist Church on Paul Road, near Coldwater, a church that years later would be burned in a training exercise for the Fourth Battalion. Then Attorney Seth Widener stepped up and offered to turn the talk into the legal forms needed. And then the dream became a reality – right there in Bill Voke’s garage, where the charter was signed. Later there was a formal filling of the Certificate of Incorporation, which outlined the purposes and the territory for the Chili Fire Department.
The Building Begins
The nine men who signed the incorporation documents were officially the Board of Directors of the department until the first annual meeting was held. But as word got out that the newly-chartered organization was seeking members, a nucleus of townspeople came forth. The new fire department came to life under J.K Steeves and the charter members who included, as near as can be determined by examining the sketchy early records, these men: H. Bell, Arthur Bailey, Emery Burdett, Charles Burrows, John Carpenter, Jr, Carl Dintruff, Edward DeBerger, Charles Emens, Lloyd Goossen, Frank Hawley, Hollis Ketchum, Fred Johnson, Tom McCullen, Arthur C. Nichols, G. Chester Nichols, Harry Pikuet, Ivan Pikuet, William Porter, Frank Schulz, Louis Spence, John K. Steeves, Richard Satter, Joe Taylor, William Voke Jr., Jacob Vink, George Weiland, Seth Widener and Vincent White.
As is often the case, “history” is not history as it is being made, and so, many of the earliest records of the department are incomplete. Dues and attendance rosters that contain columns of names and monies collected seldom spell out precisely what was involved; attendance records seem to indicate that many of the men supposedly signed the charter rarely attended meetings. In addition there was a category of social membership and one of active membership.
Even the original charter has apparently been misplaced for in recent years no one has been able to locate it. Yet many remember it hanging in a frame at the old No. 1 firehouse. Some say it went into the big safe when remodeling was started; yet others say it is inventoried as part of the contents of the safety deposit box in early lists. Official minutes are not available earlier than 1934. Yet early ballots have been located and a very early receipt for the association of Chili with the Northern Central organization exists. Two very early letterheads were available.
Leading the Department
John K. Steeves Sr. 1931-1939
John K. Steeves Sr. was one of the original “dreamers”. He had the dogged persistence and leadership ability to turn the dream into reality. His service as the first chief of the department spanned the years 1931-1939 as firemen re-elected him with confidence that he was molding the unit into a smoothly functioning one. Later his son, J.K Jr. (Sonny) and his grandson Kevin would find their own places in the department, and J.K Sr. himself would fill other roles in the department.