Nichols, Iowa Centennial Book
Nichols - Our Town - 1984

Nichols, Iowa Centennial Book 1884-1984, pages 72-73
By Melodi Smith Mills

         A meeting was called by the Town Council on 17 December 1926 for the purpose of organizing a Volunteer Fire Department.
         Proposed members present at that organization meeting were Amos Borgstadt, Floyd A. Kirchner, B. A. Kirchner, Louis J. Kile, Ira Renshaw, Willard A. Rice, Lawrence Foley, Claude E. Heizer, Charles Poole, Frank E. Mills and J. Raymond Borgstadt.
         Hank Sutton was elected Fire Chief for 1927. Lawrence Foley was named Assistant Fire Chief, with B. A. Kirchner chosen second Assistant Fire Chief.
         A committee appointed to draft rules and regulations was composed of L. J. Kile, C. E. Heizer and F. A. Kirchner.
         Social committee for 1927 was F. A. Kirchner, L. J. Kile and C. Poole.
         Note: Most of the following information was taken from interviews with people who are or were long time members of the Department.
         The first fire truck was purchased in 1936 when members of the Department went out and solicited donations from local farmers. Charlie Clark was Chief at that time, Ralph Schmitt was Assistant Chief and Walter Morris was Mayor. That truck was housed in the old Town Hall, now a part of Mills Motor Company. Prior to that time, the firemen had a 100 gallon tank, filled by buckets, on a two wheel cart that had to be hand pulled to the fire.
         The current [1984] fire station was built in 1954 by the city. The City of Nichols and the Pike Township trustees entered into an agreement where the trustees furnish the equipment and the city furnishes the housing and manpower. A Ford truck was purchased by the trustees in 1965, another in 1964 and in 1971, the city purchased a Chevy cab and chassis and the trustees bought the equipment for it. The Nichols First Responders purchased the 1972 Chevy van, which is also used by the Fire Department for transporting men. The Fire Department also donated $700 toward that purchase. The City Hall addition was built in 1968, and the van is now housed in that portion.
         The most memorable fire (at least the one most mentioned) was when the building once housing the Post Office and Doctor Muench’s office, located at the corner of Ijem Avenue and Main Street where the Catfish Place now stands, was leveled on 14 January 1950. At the time it burned, the building was owned by the Raymond Porters. The family lived upstairs and operated a feed store downstairs. According to one source, “You looked out your window and swore all of downtown was on fire!” Another reported, “It was so cold that night that one of the guys ran across the street to get more gas for the truck and by the time he got back, the hoses were all froze up.”
         Other fires coming to mind as major ones included when the old railroad depot burned one New Year’s Eve, Chris Meacham’s old barn just east of town which burned on Halloween 1981 (it was remembered for the history lost), and when Elder’s burned their old building in 1969. That building sat where the new shed is now, next to Barnhart’s building. The fire itself wasn’t so bad, but it created an explosion that broke almost every window in the downtown area.
         Chiefs of the Fire Department through the years have included Herbert Schmitt, Ralph Schmitt, Max Hanft, Bob Hillyer (1958-1971) and Vic Mills (1971-1983). This list is not complete.
         Ron Oostendorp is the current [1984] Fire Chief, elected to succeed Vic Mills, who retired in August of 1983. Rich Hillyer is the Assistant Chief. Other members of the Department include Warren Roth, Kenton Mills, George Sutton, John Hudson, Everett Grim, Max Chown, David Gregg, Donald Mills, Leo Truesdale, Arlond Brown, Paul Wedel, John Hester, Phil Milols, Charlie Poeltler, David Kaalberg, Russ Grim, Dennis Albrecht and Chuck Skiffington.

~ Nichols Fire Station, 1984. – page 72.
~ Group photo of volunteer Firemen. – page 72.
Front row; left to right, Leo Truesdale, Don Mills, John Hudson, John Hester; back row, left to right, Fire Chief Ron Oostendorp, Ass’t. Fire Chief Rich Hillyer, Russ Grim and George Sutton.
~ Group photo of volunteer Firemen. – page 72.
Front row, left to right, David Gregg, Warren Roth, Kent Mills, Phil Mills; back row, left to right, David Kaalberg, Dennis Albrecht, Arlond Brown and Chuck Skiffington. Missing from pictures, Max Chown, Paul Wedel, Charlie Poeltier, Everett Grimm.
~ Vic Mills, Fire Chief. – page 74.
~ Street side view of some Nichols store fronts. – page 75.

Mills Retires from Fire Department
18 August 1983

Nichols, Iowa Centennial Book 1884-1984, page 74

         After 28 years of service to the Nichols Volunteer Fire Department, Vic Mills is hanging up his helmet and boots. When Vic joined the department in 1954, there were two trucks. Now they have three trucks and a new rescue unit. Vic says he has no idea how many calls he has been on in the past 28 years, but estimates the department gets about 30 calls a year. The fire he remembers best was the Christmas Lone Tree fire of 1956 in which the school burned down. He added there has always been a lot of cooperation between the Nichols department and those of Lone Tree, West Liberty and Conesville. Vic has been the fire chief since 1971 and was the assistant chief for 10 years. He says he is retiring because he finds it harder to get out of bed in the middle of the night to answer a call. After serving 28 years, it would be hard to find someone who would say Mills has not contributed enough already to his community.

New Pike Township Fire Truck
Nichols, Iowa Centennial Book 1884-1984, page 73

         Fire fighting equipment has just been supplemented by the delivery of a new $8,000 fire truck for use of the volunteer fire department.
         The new truck, delivered, includes a tank which holds 600 gallons of water and has a front end pump capable of throwing 500 gallons a minute.
         Other equipment on the truck includes two reels for booster line hose, each containing 150 feet of hose; a complete variety of portable hand extinguishers; 30 feet of hard suction hose which is mounted on the left side of the vehicle; an auxiliary pump, capable of handling 300 gallons of water a minute, which is carried in a rear compartment, and ladders.

~ New Pike Township Fire Truck. – page 73.
Max Hanft, assistant chief of the Nichols volunteer fire department, left, and Ralph Schmitt, chief, are shown here examing some of the equipment of the new Pike Township fire truck, just delivered at Nichols. [13 Aug. 1954]
~ New Pike Township Fire Truck. – page 73.
A new 1,000 gallon tanker fire truck was delivered to the Nichols Volunteer Fire Station this week for the use in Pike Township. The tanker is equipped with a capacity pump of 250 gallons of water per minute. It is also equipped for fighting grass fires with two men riding on the front of the truck and the driver manning the controls. Pictured by the truck are Bob Hillyer (behind door), front [font left] Ken Copeland, Representative of Alexis Fire Equipment, Ellsworth McGowan, Ron Oostendorp, John Hudson, Don Kasper, Warren Roth, and Jim Hillyer; standing on the truck [front left] Lee Rudman, Everett Grim and Vic Mills.

Disastrous Nichols Fire Guts
Produce Company’s Building
13 January 1950

Nichols, Iowa Centennial Book 1884-1984, page 74

         A roaring blaze which started about 3 a.m. today completely destroyed the Porter Produce company building at the northeast corner of the main street in Nichols.
         Fire department from Nichols, Lone Tree and West Liberty battled the flames in six above zero temperature for hours before getting the blaze under control.
         The fire was first discovered by Clifford Hesser, manager of the Nichols Telephone company, which is housed next door. He heard a window shatter in the burning building and summoned the Nichols fire department. When the Nichols department was unable to cope with the conflagration, departments from West Liberty and Lone Tree were summoned.
         The building destroyed also housed the Odd Fellows lodge. The intense heat of the blaze shattered windows in the Mills Motor company building across the street.
         Trouble had been experienced with the furnace in the Porter Produce building during the past several days but it was believed the furnace trouble had no connection with the fire. The building was also threatened by fire a year ago.
         The structure adjoined the telephone office and only the fact that a double brick wall separated the buildings saved that building. However, during the height of the fire, the telephone switchboard was moved into the street as a safety measure.
         J. W. C. Hesser, in charge of the telephone office, said today that long distance service had been resumed but that local service in the town of Nichols would not be back to normal for several days.
         The Porter Produce building, owned by that company and formerly owned by Dr. V. O. Muench, was completely destroyed with a loss of approximately $30,000to $40,000.
         The Porter building was razed to the ground by the flames in a period of about one hour but the fire departments stayed on the scene much longer to protect adjoining buildings.

The Big Boom at Nichols
Nichols, Iowa Centennial Book 1884-1984, page 75

         The quiet Monday evening was disturbed by a loud explosion in the business district. The Monday was 4 August 1969. Following is the Muscatine Journal’s report of the blast. Nichols – This community of 350 persons in Muscatine county has a bombed-out and boarded-up appearance today.
         Many of the windows in the town’s business district were blown out at about 7 o’clock Monday evening when there was an explosion at the site of an old building which was being burned on purpose.
         The old building, west of the post office on Ijam Avenue, was owned by Elder Implement. It was a blacksmith shop years ago, but had been unoccupied now except for occasional storage.
         The building had been partially torn down by employees of the owner. Monday evening, with the volunteer fire department standing by to douse adjacent buildings with water, the remains of the old building were doused with gasoline and ignited. The ensuing blast rocked the town and sent shattered glass flying.
         Persons on the scene said the blaze was ignited by employees of the owner of the building, not by the Nichols fire department.
         A large window was knocked out of the front of the Farmers and Merchants Bank. Tuloma Gas Company lost four big panes, and the two huge windows in the front of the former Rice Café were broken. Chown Appliance lost four or five windows, and Elder Implement lost a large window.
         Windows were also blown out at Woody Brenneman’s antique shop, Burt’s Tavern, and an empty building on the west side of the one where the blast occurred.
         The Nichols post office lost one large window in front, and several small ones in the back. A small pane was broken in the Petite Beauty shop, and several windows were broken in the second floor of the Nichols Café. An upstairs window was knocked out above Kaalberg’s Plumbing.
         Several places where the front doors were open at the time of the blast escaped without having windows broken.
         No injuries were reported.

Plywood Replaces Glass
Nichols, Iowa Centennial Book 1884-1984, page 75

         From the Davenport Democrat of Tuesday, 5 August 1969, comes the following report of the explosion, in part.
         Victor Mills, assistant fire chief, said he does not believe the fire department was entirely to blame for the explosion resulting when employees of a local implement company attempted to burn a pile of rubble left from an old building owned by the company.
         The whole thing began when Elder Implement Company here tore down an old warehouse on Main Street and decided to burn the remaining pile of rubble.
         Firemen were called to the scene just to make sure the fire didn’t get out of hand.
         Mills said two implement company employees poured about “eight or nine gallons of gasoline” on the rubble. Then, standing back several feet from the pile, one of the men set fire to an old board and tossed it into the pile.
         The resulting boom was heard at least seven miles away. The ten or twelve firemen and spectators found themselves being pushed backwards as the shock wave bounced off of Main Street businesses, shattering windows as it went along. Miraculously, no one was hurt.
         “Actually, the firemen had nothing to do with it,” Mills said. “We were just there to protect other nearby buildings.”
         When asked why firemen allowed gasoline to be poured on the rubble, Mills said, “That’s a good question. We didn’t exactly know what they were pouring on it.”
         “The explosion moved me back about a dozen steps and then all I could hear was the sound of breaking glass all up and down the street. It sounded a little like chimes. It wasn’t long and the street was jammed with people,” he said.
         Mills said one factor probably causing the explosion was the lack of a breeze Monday evening. He said the old building was surrounded by two large brick buildings which apparently trapped the gasoline vapors.
         “The vapors just sort of hung there and when they lit the pile, it set it off.”
         He said the persons attempting to start the blaze should have used kerosene, diesel fuel or even old, used motor oil. “I guess they wanted to get a good fire started. Well, it started her, all right.”

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