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Columbus Fire Department (Part Four of Four)

This history excerpt is taken from several more recent newspaper articles and the book: Columbus Fire Department Commemorative Chronicle - A Hidden History by Virgil Frank Petty, Captain, No. 6 Fire Station

What is a fireman? "He's the guy next door - a man's man with the memory of a little boy. He never got over the excitement of engines and sires and smoke and danger. He's a guy like you and me with warts and worries and unfilled dreams. Yet he stands taller than most of us. He's a fireman. He puts it all on the line when the bell rings. A fireman is at once the most fortunate and the least fortunate of men. He's a man who saves lives because he has seen too much death. He's a gentle man because he has seen too much of the awesome power of violent forces out of control. He' responsive to a child's laughter because his arms have held too many small bodies that will never laugh again. He's a man who appreciates the simpler pleasures of coffee held in numbed, unbending fingers...the flush of fresh air pumping through smoke and fire convulsed lungs...a warm bed for bone and muscle compelled beyond feeling...the camaraderie of brave men...the divine peace of selfless service and a job well done in the name of all men. When he marches, it is to honor a fallen comrade. He doesn't preach the brotherhood of man. He lives it." Signed, a citizen who respects and cares. Earl Kinsman

Station No. 9 was originally located on Jay Street in the Edgewood Subdivision. It was built in 1958. The station was located there for many years until a new one was constructed. The station house is now located next to Parkhill Cemetery. In 1992, when Captain Petty’s book was published, Station No. 9 was credited with being the company that responded to the most calls per year in the entire department.

Station No. 10 was built in 1959 and located behind the Traffic Circle Shopping Center off of Victory Drive. It was the city’s most southern fire facility. Stations 9 and 10 were built about the same time to protect the areas now included in the new city limits of the 1959 annexation. Station No. 10 was nicknamed “the Rockpile.” The company is now located on Benning Drive in a new building.

Station No. 11 was built in 1970 on Warm Springs Road and is still located there. The city limits had grown once again in 1970 and the station house was built to accommodate the growing subdivisions and industries in the area. It is located on the edge of the neighborhood of Morningside.

Station No. 12 was originally located at the Columbus Municipal Airport as the “Crash Station.” It was a special trained company for the protection of the aircraft at the Airport. The picture to the left is from 1992 with three firemen of the station. Today, the station is located off Macon Road, close to Schatulga Road. In more recent years to accommodate our community's further growth, there have also been two additional stations added – Station No. 14 on Old River Road and Station No. 15 in Upatoi. There are a total of 14 stations today. I couldn't find a reference to No. 13 - perhaps due to the number itself.

In our more recent history, Columbus has lost three of its historic mills and the last remaining antebellum home facing the Chattahoochee River. The Jordan Mill (2005), the Bibb Mill (2008) – a National Historic Landmark, a substantial part of the Swift Mill (20011), and The Mott House (2014) were all destroyed by fire. Below are details of each of these horrible fires, along with information about the incredible response by the CFD.

On October 23, 2005, units from the Columbus Fire Department were summoned to the Perkins Hosiery/Jordan Mill. The mill (pictured above) was engulfed in flames and despite heroic efforts of the Columbus Fire Department, the entire structure was destroyed. An examination of the remains of the structure revealed that cause of the fire was incendiary. Investigators attributed the cause of the fire to be the result of “human action.” In the fall of 2007, ATF agents were contacted by an investigator with the Columbus Fire Department. A new witness had come forth and provided new information concerning who was responsible for the fire. ATF Agents and CFD Fire Investigators identified Frederick W. Bryant, also known as Michael Coultes, as a suspect. According to information presented to the Court, Bryant admitted to breaking into the mill and setting the fire. Bryant had previously broken into the mill to steal copper wire but had almost been caught by a tenant at the mill. The fire had been set to “burn out” the tenant and facilitate the continued theft of the copper wire.

On Thursday, October 30, 2008, a three-alarm fire destroyed the historic 107-year-old Bibb Mill. The original mill was constructed in 1900 with additions built in 1916 and 1920. The four-story brick and heavy-timber mill was 1,060 feet long and 122 feet wide, encompassing over 750,000 square feet. Each floor was 16 feet high. The wood-truss roof was covered with two-inch-thick tongue-and-groove lumber covered with many layers of tar and insulation. The mill contained a wet pipe automatic sprinkler system on the fourth floor and horn and strobe pull stations throughout the building. Firefighters encountered a large fire in the unoccupied building that was rapidly spreading throughout the structure. High winds were spreading embers for nearly five miles from the fire scene. Due to the size of the structure and the surrounding terrain, positioning apparatus in the best locations for fighting the fire was challenging. First-arriving units found heavy smoke and fire coming from the northwest side of the building. Defensive operations were initiated immediately. Exposure protection and evacuation of two residential structures on the southeast side of the mill were necessary due to exposure problems and flying embers. The fire was declared under control at 8:30 AM. Fifty firefighters operated three pumpers and four ladder trucks at the scene. Over five million gallons of water was supplied by the municipal water system to extinguish the fire. It was because of the incredible efforts of the Columbus Fire Department that the homes surrounding the mill are standing today.

At least 50 firefighters battled the blazing fire at the Swift Mill (photos below) at the corner of Sixth Avenue most of the night. Columbus Fire & EMS responded to the fire just after 6 PM on a Saturday afternoon in November of 2011. Twelve units responded to the fire, as well as a platform unit from Phenix City who was called in to help battle the fire. Columbus Fire Marshall Ricky Shores said the most difficult part was fighting the fire against the wind which carried the smoke. A thick cloud of black smoke covered downtown Columbus and could be seen from miles away. Piece by piece, structures from the old Swift Mill collapsed to the ground, eventually the entire front of the building crashed down onto Sixth Avenue. Fortunately, not all of the mill was destroyed that night. Today, the surviving parts of the structure have been successfully adaptively re-used as studio space, office space, and residential apartments.

Built c. 1840, the Calhoun-Griffin-Mott House was the last remaining house on the "Golden Row,” a series of large antebellum mansions facing the Chattahoochee River. Randolph Mott acquired the house in 1856, and he and his house became Columbus legend. In 1865, Mott invited Union General James H. Wilson to make his headquarters in the house following the Battle of Columbus. After being incorporated into Muscogee Manufacturing Company for many years (pictured below), the Mott House was saved, and the exterior completely restored by TSYS in 1998. Its final interior restoration and new addition were almost complete when the house was destroyed by fire early Sunday morning on September 10, 2014.

The project was expected to be completed by spring 2015. The Mott House was originally 10,000 square feet wide, and the addition of the room would have expanded the building to 13,000 square feet.

32 firefighters were dispatched to the Mott House to put out the massive fire. The building was "completely destroyed" and multiple floors collapsed from the fire as well. Firefighters were still putting out fires and smoke from the building by 11 AM Sunday.

Columbus is so fortunate to have so many men and women dedicate their lives to the protection of others. The Columbus Fire Department has given so much to this community and Historic Columbus is grateful to them. This series has just scratched the surface of the history of these defenders and first responders. Thank you, Columbus Fire Department!!

We wish you all a very Happy New Year! History Spotlights will be back next week to kick off 2021! Thank you all so much for your support of Historic Columbus!

You can access ALL of Historic Columbus' History and Preservation Spotlights here:

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