The City of Bellevue, Kentucky, had nearly 400 residents when it was incorporated March 15, 1870. The city’s first fire company was named Peerless and was located behind the school at Center and Lafayette. It acquired the city’s first fire equipment: a man-powered hose and reel. Soon, two additional fire companies were put into operation. One was called Summit, located at the Balke Opera House at Berry and Fairfield, and the other was called Centers, situated on the west side of O’Fallon, just south of Fairfield Avenue. Each of the three fire companies were manned by over 30 members, so the rivalry to fight fires was fierce. Contests and competitions were held regularly and increased the antagonism of the companies. Eventually all three companies responded to fires with man-powered hose and reels.
In 1900, with the procurement of its first horse-drawn equipment, the Bellevue City Council purchased a hose and ladder wagon for the volunteer firemen, but the city lacked money for a horse to pull the wagon. As firefighters have done throughout history, Bellevue’s bravest improvised. When an alarm sounded, the firefighters would commandeer the first horse in sight, unhitch the animal from the wagon he was pulling and harness him to the fire wagon. Some horse owners were said to give battle during this practice in fear of harm to the animal. More often, the horse would object by rearing, kicking and snorting.
In the early 1900s, the city purchased one garbage collection wagon and a horse to pull it named “Dobbin.” Ole’ Dobbin was assigned double duty. When a fire alarm came in, the horse would be intercepted on his garbage collection rounds, unhooked and galloped to the fire station to be hitched to the fire wagon.
In 1918, Bellevue’s City Offices and the fire departments moved into Fraternal Hall on Taylor Avenue. At this time, motor power became a reality for the department with the purchase of an Ahrens Fox 500 gpm pumper. The city arranged to pay a fire chief and two full-time firemen. With the paid fireman handling most alarms and duties, many volunteers began drifting away from the department. A policy was later developed that when the fire alarm bell sounded, the chief would ask bystanders to help fight the fire. Each person rendering assistance was paid $2.00 by the city for their efforts. In 1920, a second 500 gpm pumper was purchased.
This system of asking bystanders to assist in firefighting was used until 1934 when the need for more adequate fire protection was recognized. The Bellevue Volunteer Fire Department was reorganized and the first meeting was held in Bellevue City Hall on October 10, 1934. Elected as officers were: Louis Wielert – President, Bill Walker – Vice President, and Simon Uth, Jr. – Secretary/Treasurer. At the meeting, paid fireman, Ray Yelton, talked about how to call the Covington Fire Tower for help from other departments.
In 1936, the volunteer firefighters purchased a used fire truck from the Cheviot, Ohio fire department for $175. The apparatus proved valuable the next year as the 1937 flood cut the City of Bellevue into two parts. Most members voluntarily worked 24 hour duty shifts during the flood, which was followed with many days and nights of pumping water from flooded basements while the flood waters receded. By 1939, the benefit of a first class volunteer fire department was obvious and the department flourished with over 60 active volunteer members.
In 1940, through several years of fundraisers, the volunteers made a down payment on a new 750 gpm Ahrens Fox pumper that was purchased for $8,900. The fire truck purchased earlier in 1936 was sold to Crescent Springs Fire Department. The Ahrens Fox pumper was considered one of the finest in the state for a city of its size. Chief James Federed, Ray Yelton and William Dugan were paid firefighters at this time. Ray Yelton also served several terms as Fire Chief when Chief Federed retired. In March 1970, the membership presented Ray Yelton with a gold lifetime member badge for his service dating back to the early 1900’s. It was stated that Mr. Yelton was the driver of the horse drawn equipment in 1917.
In 1944, a hose tower to dry and protect the cotton hose was constructed at the fire station on Poplar Street and a fire siren was acquired to summon volunteers in the event of emergency. A Buffalo 750 gpm pumper was purchased for $15,000 in 1946. The department was also proud to announce that as of 1949, both of these pumper trucks were equipped with new Chemox Oxygen Masks to allow firefighters entry into smoke-filled conditions and other modern equipment, representing an investment of “well over $35,000.”
The major focus of the fire department throughout the 1950’s was the need for more space to house the ever-growing department. In August 1954, ground was broken for a new firehouse attached to the city building at 616 Poplar, and freeing up previously utilized space by the fire department for other city departments. The 2-story addition would be capable of housing five pieces of response apparatus with a second floor hall that could entertain more than 200 people. Most of the work and all of the building materials were supplied by the volunteer fire department. Finally, on May 19, 1956, the $45,000 project located on the corner of Poplar and Van Voast Avenues was completed. The building was christened with a parade and dedication ceremony. Many citizens throughout Northern Kentucky and the State attended the civic celebration. Also present and participating in the three division parade that marched through the city were representatives of over 14 area fire departments. A dance was held in the evening attended by over 250 guests.
The Bellevue Fire Department prospered throughout the 1950s and 1960s. With a new modern fire station and up-to date equipment, the department turned to other avenues to enhance their service. Firefighter training became a number one priority. Members regularly participated in regional and state fire schools. A number of Bellevue firefighters instructed at these schools and were recognized as “tops in the state.” Chief Bosch, Assistant Chief “Bud” Moore, and Fire Captains Ellis Lang, Tom Oates and Henry Schutte, were especially active in these roles.
Fire prevention and education was also an area where the department expanded their mission. In March 1959, the Kentucky Post reported, “Chief Bosch and the Bellevue Fire Department have adopted a plan of fire safety and rescue of children from school buildings in the event of fire or other emergencies.” The new plan was in response to a tragic fire in Chicago’s West Side on December 1, 1958, at Our Lady of the Angels parochial school where 92 children and three nuns lost their lives in a devastating school day blaze. Chief Bosch’s plan presented to school superintendents for compliance stated that since all schoolrooms have an American flag, “in event of fire or other distress, the American flag will be hung out the window from the room where the emergency exists. This can be accomplished by lowering a window on the flag shaft.” The department felt that this practice should prove most valuable to rescue efforts, particularly in event of children being trapped from normal exits. Firemen arriving at the scene could concentrate their plan of approach and action immediately on the area where the flag is sighted.
Tragedy came to the department in 1960 with the sudden death of Chief August “Gus” Bosch. Bosch collapsed and died in the firehouse. Chief Bosch was 1st Vice President of the Kentucky Firefighters Association at the time of his death. Assistant Chief Franklin “Bud” Moore took over as fire chief and served until his retirement 14 years later in 1974. Chief Moore saw the department through some of its largest and most progressive purchases in the mid-1960’s and early 1970’s. Four new Scott Air Packs were ordered in May of 1965. The state-of-the-art self-contained breathing units were the first of its kind to the Bellevue Fire Department at a cost of $250 each.
A new combination snorkel pumper truck was ordered in June 1964 and delivered to the department on September 15, 1965. This handsome unit attracted a great deal of attention because it was the first such snorkel unit to be delivered in Kentucky. The hydraulic operated aerial platform was its most unique feature. Sometimes called a “cherry picker,” it allowed firefighters the ability to fight fire or rescue victims up to 75′ in the air. The snorkel operated in continuous 360 degree rotation from first to seventh floors and could carry as many as five people or three rescue stretchers. Axes, ladder, hose, and pike poles were carried, and water and oxygen were pre-piped to the basket. The truck also carried 200 gallons of water and was equipped with a 1000 gallon per minute pump. The superlative piece of mechanized apparatus was utilized for more than 20 years by the Bellevue Fire Department and its sister cities.
Dances were a primary source of fundraising for the volunteer organization throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Dances were usually sold out, filling the 200 occupancy count of the fire department dance hall. Annual July carnivals, named “community nights,” continued to bring income in to the department. The semi-annual “coin bank” collections, where firefighters would canvass the community to pass out and receive small coin containers from each residence, allowed the organization to prosper financially and purchase more emergency equipment for the department.
In early 1974, Chief Bud Moore retired and the city’s appointed Richard A. Mohr as Fire Chief. Mohr had served as a paid Assistant Chief and was extremely active in training and local, regional and state fire associations. Chief Mohr brought a renewed commitment of enhanced fire ground performance to the department. With a five person paid department at the time, personnel worked an average 67 hour week being 1 day on, 1 off, 1 on, 2 off. In January 1977, an additional paid employee was added allowing employees the 56 hour average work week, working one day on and two days off.
In 1978, the volunteers totally financed the purchase of a GMC rescue truck and related equipment including the Hurst “Jaws of Life.” With the construction of Interstate 471 and increased city traffic, the department took on the mission of being the only department in northern Campbell County to have heavy rescue capabilities.
On April 13, 1980, Chief Dick Mohr died unexpectedly at his home. Chief Mohr was 45 years old and had joined as a volunteer member of Bellevue Fire Department in 1957. His short six year tenure as Fire Chief is viewed as one of the most productive in its storied history. Chief Mohr’s foresightedness enabled the department to enhance manpower. He led the department to an increased effort in fire prevention and inspection work, laying a foundation for the present day public education and inspection programs. He also set in motion a plan to increase the cities fire insurance rating through added purchases and instituting recordkeeping practices. Through Chief Mohr’s effort, greater mutual aid benefits were realized in working alliances with local departments. Former comrades recognized Chief Mohr posthumously in 1983 when they dedicated the new Sutphen pumper truck in his memory. A plaque was mounted on Engine 201 to signify this honor.
Succeeding Chief Mohr was Jack Krogman Sr. Krogman, a volunteer firefighter since 1956, was appointed as paid Fire Chief on July 9, 1980. Chief Krogman’s regime saw the department specify and purchase a new 1983 Sutphen pumper. This 1000 gpm unit enabled the department to retire the 1946 Buffalo. Chief Krogman served as one of six paid employees in 1980 along with Homer Campbell, John Daley, Fred Schmidt, Jim Specht, and Dave Camm. Dan McHale, Don Overman, John Henderson, and Mark Seeger were full time hires during Chief Krogman’s time in office.
In April 1980, a group of firefighter spouses and civic-minded ladies initiated a Women’s Auxiliary. The Women’s Auxiliary is still in existence and aids the department in many ways including equipment purchases. Some of the members and officers in the early years include: Rose Branch, Mary Jo Burkhardt, Tina Flotemersch, Sharon Bishop, Barbara Krogman, Jana Camm, Bobbie Camm, Thelma Campbell, Debbie Germann, Venessa Groneck, Sue Maxwell, Sue McHale, Audrey Mercer, Cathy Moore, Hazel Pierce, Diane Almoschlecher, Marie Schutte, Rita Schoulthies, Donna Sparks, Ginny Wormald, and Valerie Wagner.
On December 27, 1985, the city named Ralph Quitter as Fire Chief to replace Chief Krogman. Chief Quitter had recently retired as Chief of the Newport Fire Department. He served Bellevue through the year of 1994. During Chief Quitter’s watch, the department saw its insurance rating improve from a Grade 6 to a Grade 4, affording all citizens and businesses a decrease in insurance cost. Chief Quitter also oversaw the retirement and sale of the 1965 snorkel fire truck, once the prized jewel of the automotive fleet, and initiated planning for a new combination rescue/pumper apparatus. Quitter retired from active duty on December 31, 1994.
January 1986 brought the retirement of a true Bellevue Fire Department legend, Assistant Chief and Treasurer, Henry Schutte. Henry joined the Bellevue department as a volunteer on May 5, 1942. He served as secretary for one year before taking over the treasurer job. He was elected to that position for the next 42 consecutive years. In addition to Henry’s duty as treasurer, he acted as a full time, nighttime firefighter, six nights a week for 22 years. He reported for duty in the evening and manned the fire station until morning. He relinquished this job in 1970 when the City hired additional full time firefighters. At that time, Bellevue Mayor Tom Rechtin and the rest of City Council honored Assistant Chief Schutte by designating him as an “Honorary Chief” for life. Henry Schutte passed away in December of 1993.
Some other 30-plus year veterans of the department who passed away in the 1980’s and 90’s included Stan Swope, Joe Gross, Joe Bettigheimer, Jack O’Hara, Homer Campbell, Chief Bud Moore, and Tom Oates, Sr. Recent times also saw the retirement of many longtime members including: Steve Bishop, Bob Branch, Carl Burkhardt, Dave Camm, Bob Heise, Bill O’Hara, Dave Moore, Don Overman, and Charles Wimmers.
Throughout the 1980’s and 90’s the department progressed to a well trained and equipped fire department to meet the needs of a progressive society. With the retirement of Chief Quitter, Captain John Daley was promoted by the City to the position of Fire Chief in July of 1995. Chief Daley’s tenure initiated many progressive changes including an enhanced public education program, individual membership award programs and a renewed regional and state involvement. The following full time employees were members of the Bellevue Fire Department under Chief Daley’s leadership: Capt. Dan McHale, Capt. Mark Seeger, Capt. John Henderson, Lt. Chuck Enzweiler, and Firefighters Adam Hall and Jim Richmond.
Through good or trying times, the Bellevue Fire Department endured for more than 100 years. However, changing times and greater populations demanded more fire and emergency service protection in the city. In 2002, the Bellevue Fire Department merged with the Dayton Fire Department to become the Fire Department Bellevue-Dayton, also known as FDBD. The FDBD began serving both cities with its main location at 514 Sixth Avenue, Dayton, KY. Dayton Fire Chief Denny Lynn served as the first Fire Chief of the merged departments. Under his leadership, he completed the work necessary to integrate the two fire departments. He also lead firefighters through several large fires in Dayton, including the Baptist Church of Dayton fire at 501 Dayton Avenue, in 2004. Chief Lynn served as Fire Chief until his retirement in December 2012.
Today, the fire department is located at 514 Sixth Avenue in Dayton and continues to serve the cities of Bellevue and Dayton. Michael P. Auteri, a 24-year veteran of the Dayton Fire Department, succeeded Chief Lynn as Fire Chief on January 1, 2013. Chief Auteri oversees 15 career professional firefighters and medics at the FDBD. He has been instrumental in obtaining new apparatus for the department, increasing higher levels of operating standards and instilling working relationships with neighboring fire departments.