In February 1872, just five years after Pentwater was incorporated as a village, a meeting was called to discuss ways of organizing a fire department. Until that time, volunteers and bucket brigades had filled the needs. Dissatisfaction followed the results of the first meeting because many claimed not enough notice was given to the public about the meeting. A second meeting was called on March 4, 1872. The Pentwater Fire Department was created and W.B.O. Sands was elected Chief Engineer.
Uniforms of the day consisted of red flannel jackets with large black plush collars and cuffs, wide white belts, and big hats with pointed crowns. One side of the hat brim was wider than the other, and in case of fire, it was worn with the wide side to the front to prevent water from running into the firefighter’s face. The Chief and his assistants each carried a bugle that was used to signal the men during a fire.
The fire department had its initial big fire on May 6, 1872 when the Eldred Shingle Mill burned to the ground. The mill was a total loss but the volunteer firefighters and the “Oceana" (the steam engine purchased by the village in the photo below) saved the surrounding buildings from destruction.
In front of 292 S. Hancock St. which still stands today.
Some other disastrous fires include the Nickerson and Collister big flouting mills in 1894; only the presence of the Hotel Valeria prevented a terrific gale from igniting all of main street. In 1898 a boiler explosion at the Pentwater Bedstead factor halted operations, and after rebuilding, another fire finished the factory in 1900.
In 1920 the Mercantile Store of Sands and Maxwell Company burned with the north building completely destroyed. The south building remains today as the Village Hall only after extensive remodeling occurred. Sands and Maxwell had donated a hose wagon on April 28, 1892. This unit is featured in the Homecoming Parade in August of each year.
In 1928 and 1929 the Hotel Valeria, commonly called the White Elephant, was destroyed by fire. Another major fire destroyed the historic Nickerson Inn on May 21, 2006.
Photo by Andrew Skinner, Oceana Herald Journal, Reprinted with Permission