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March 29, 2011

1800s fire trumpet on display at fire station

By KEN de la BASTIDE 
Tribune enterprise editor

Kokomo — Before the days of radios, fire departments used “fire trumpets” to communicate with firefighters working inside a burning structure.

Kokomo received its trumpet — an elaborately decorated nickel-plated piece — on Aug. 13, 1875. The trumpet was given to Chief David P. Davis, who served as the chief from 1874 to 1882.

Davis was instrumental in organizing the first fire company in Kokomo, which consisted mainly of a “bucket brigade,” meaning men would line up to pass buckets of water from the well to the scene of the fire.

At the time, Kokomo’s fire department was using horse-drawn fire equipment.

Now, the trumpet has returned to the fire department. Stew Lauterbach of the Howard County Historical Society presented the trumpet to KFD during a brief ceremony Tuesday at Fire Station 1 at the corner of Washington and Superior streets. It’s there that the trumpet will remain, permanently on display in a cabinet built by firefighters.

Jon Zeck of Kokomo received the trumpet from a neighbor whose husband was on the fire department in the 1970s.

“She lived down the street from me, and we would invite her to dinner at Thanksgiving and Christmas,” he said. “She gave it to me with several photographs.”

Having kept it for a couple decades, Zeck donated the trumpet to the historical society in 1998.

“I’m very happy about it,” he said of the fire trumpet being on display at fire headquarters. “It’s a good place for it, very fitting.”

Before gingerly placing the trumpet in its display case Tuesday, Chief Pat O’Neill showed those gathered how the trumpet was used to shout orders to firefighters. He said the item is on permanent loan from the historical society, and he’s happy to have it back.

“We wanted to bring it back to the fire department,” he said. “We wanted to bring it home. It belongs to the Kokomo Fire Department.

“We’re trying to keep our history here,” he said.

The department is proud of its history, as showcased by the many pictures of original fire stations that decorate the walls of the administrative offices.

That history will also be on display once the new fire station on Center Road is completed. Photographs and memorabilia of the original station will be on display there as well.

“I’m sure this will be enjoyed by firefighters and visitors,” he said of the fire trumpet.

Lauterbach, curator of collections for the historical society, said the fire department was the best place for Zeck’s donation.

“It’s best that it’s displayed here,” he said. “It’s an important piece to have on display for the public to see.”

Though many fire departments lost their trumpets over time, they continued to be part of the departments’ history. Lauterbach said every firefighter’s badge includes a fire trumpet. For each rank increase, another trumpet is added.

Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight said the fire trumpet will be seen by many, as numerous school children take tours of Fire Station 1 as field trips.

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