The Photogenic Hook and Ladder Company No. 8

Over the past couple weeks we have been scanning a series of boxes of photographs donated to the Detroit Historical Society by the Detroit Fire Department primarily in the mid-1950s.  Within have been a multitude of portraits of chiefs, entire companies proudly posing alongside their early horse-drawn apparatuses, action shots, and even a few fire dogs.  While I love the early engines, the stone masonry of the firehouses, and the sense of learning about those everyday people who get left out of the overarching narratives of history, my favorite of this batch has been the portrait of Hook and Ladder Company No. 8, who were stationed on Dix and Vinewood in the latter portion of the 1800s.  Fortunately most of the firefighters of this company were named on the photo’s back, a rarity in many of these group shots.  Not content with simply standing with their wagon in the street before their station, the firefighters of this company, possibly guided by an ambitious photographer, arranged their equipment as well as themselves into an elaborate composition.  Behind a frame of fire hoses, axes, and helmets emblazoned with the company’s 8, a pair of firefighters, Bill Egan and Fitch Buckendale, recline side to side.  Are they relegated to the floor because they’re the newest members (after all, Buckendale is one of the company’s mere two non-mustachioed members) or because they selflessly volunteered to do so?  Behind them, three firefighters, Joel McKenney, Captain Irwin, and one unknown man sit in chairs flanked by shiny brass fire extinguishers, much like one in our collection.  As the captain is among them, I can only imagine rank was the determining factor here.  Behind them Henry Konen, Bill Wilkins, T. Noyes, G. Shea, W. Cilian, C. Gaffney, and Martin May stand arms akimbo in a tight row, the camera perfectly capturing the light glistening from their badges, buttons, and chains.  The company’s namesake—a pair of crossed hooks centered underneath a ladder, provides the perfect backdrop.

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