Paris, KY is a small town with a huge heart. Its location is nearly perfect if you want to take in the beauty of Central Kentucky. You can be in Lexington, Georgetown, Winchester, Mt. Sterling or Cynthiana within 20 minutes. Bourbon County is home to some the most beautiful scenery you will ever experience. Main Street has been revived and is a vibrant example of small-town America. The courthouse is one of the most majestic in our Commonwealth. There is a beautiful covered bridge, a family-oriented drive-in theater and horse farms galore. Look no further than this year’s Kentucky Derby for proof, as five horses had ties to Bourbon County.
All that is magnificent, but I want to talk about something a little different. Something you’ve likely never thought to check out. A fire station. That’s right. The things we all too often take for granted. Paris has a rich history, so it should really be no surprise that their fire station does as well.
Nestled directly behind the aforementioned majestic courthouse, and the neighbor of both the historic Duncan Tavern and St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, stands an underwhelming, albeit charming little two-story building. If you judge books by their covers, you would undoubtedly miss this little gem.
Of course, the first responders are by far and away the most important aspect of this article, we totally respect and admire them all for their courage and dedication. In fact, one in particular, made this article a possibility. I was introduced to Fire Fighter Mike Fields by a mutual friend and he invited me down to see what the firehouse had to offer. Man, am I glad I took him up on that offer.
The Paris Fire Department was established in 1874, after a volunteer force had served the town since 1810. Since then, they’ve been continuously serving the community and now employs roughly 50 first responders. The intriguing part of the department is the bay that has been remodeled and hosts an exhibit like no other. A display of the fire alarm system that was used for many, many years in Paris. It was manufactured by the Gamewell Fire Alarm & Telegraph Company and it is one of two systems in working condition in existence. That rarity has garnered the attention of The Smithsonian Institute. They want the system to display in the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, but the city wants no part of letting their prized possession leave Paris and that’s great news for the citizens.
The system is quite fascinating and I am certain the firefighters can explain it better than I, but here goes nothing. The call boxes were situated on specific street corners and numbered. That number corresponded with a list that the firefighters had to memorize. The initial alarm rang in the office of the dispatcher. It would ring and the dispatcher would see the number displayed. They would then place a gear into a machine that was motorized to spin the cog, which in turn caused a series of short rings that matched the box number. So if the number was 32, it would give three short rings, wait a second and then send two short rings. This signal would ring at the Fire Chief’s home, the water plant and the Fire station. Allowing all parties involved know where to respond or route water to. The display is presented in a beautiful way and thankfully, will be a treasure for the foreseeable future.
There is also an original fireman’s ladder. You may have heard the term, hook and ladder, that’s exactly what the fireman’s ladder is. It was about 10 feet in length, with a bent upper section or hook. The bent section was used to initially break a 2nd story window and has “teeth”, which were used to secure the ladder on the window sill. The Fire Fighter would then climb up to the second floor. The scary part is, if it was a building with say 10 stories, this process had to be repeated from the lower window. I can just say one thing about those daredevils, they were more of a man than I’ll ever be. As the kids like to say, that’s a whole lotta nope.
The other real treasure is the Americam LaFrance Fire Truck kept in the “basement”. The “basement” was actually the horse stables used for years to pull the fire wagons. It now houses Fire Engine No. 1., a truck original to the Paris Fire Department bought in the 1930’s. It is stunningly beautiful and in working order, minus a bad alternator. On beautiful days during the summer, you may get to see this beauty on the street. If you do, stop and let them know that Capture Kentucky sent you their way!
The needs of the station have nearly outgrown their building, so it is a bit crowded with the equipment in storage. It was neat, tidy and pleasant environment, but it certainly ia showing it’s age. Which is why the Fire Station is about to begin surveys for the government that will provide them with a large grant to pay for a remodel. So if a Fire Fighter comes to your home to do a survey, please take the time to help them out. They risk their lives to keep us safe, it’s the least we can do.
Visit the Paris Fire Department here.