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Fire!

Not every building in Agincourt is “old”, nor would I wish it to be so. And while I myself am old and have the perspective of multiple years, I am also facing forward, however reluctantly these days, to what lies ahead. “The past is prologue,” as they say.

sioux city fire station

Agincourt’s original fire station, or rather its most recent facility, was part of the 1938 city hall (contributed to the 2007 exhibit by Prof Steve Martens). As the city grew northward—the river and creek inhibiting growth to the south and west—Fire Station #2 would have probably been sited north of Highway #7 along the extension of Broad Street. By the 1950s #7 had already responded to suburbanization with its increasing commercial and other developments: a drive-in movie, fast food (a la Tastee Freeze and A&W), car and implement dealerships, a motel, etc. Given my age, imagining The Strip should be child’s play, but it hasn’t been; it’s the issue of forests and those pesky trees. The hospital probably relocated there for easier access to major roads, and so did the high school in the 1960s for similar reasons. Some of these building types responded to federal initiatives, like the Hill-Burton Act, others to local whim. I have a scheme for addressing these issues, but it involves luring others into the vortex. Be forewarned.

In the meantime, a little cleansing seems in order. So I’m working on a smaller southside fire station, a “now” project for change of pace. The site isn’t precise yet; I wonder, for example, which side of the railway tracks is better, given the infrequency of trains these days. As these work themselves out, Howard has a few words on the history of fire fighting in Agincourt, the dark side of the light.

Agincourt after dark…

A COLUMN OF LOCAL INTEREST AND INTROSPECTION

by Howard A. Tabor

Blessed Curse

When commissioned to write corporate history, what’s an author to do. Sugar beets? Taconite pellets? Motel 6? Hardly the stuff of Nobel laureates. But food must be put on the table; utility bills paid. No one has yet asked for those services, so until then I’ll just wonder. In the meantime…

Firefighting is a vital service. It was required in Agincourt from the beginning, testified in early issues of The Plantagenet, which record preservation of both property and lives.

For twenty years, firefighting was voluntary. Hose or Hook-and-Ladder companies depended on subscribers, and we’ve seen the consequences of such a system: A house fifty yards outside a municipal boundary recently burned as firefighters watched, because the homeowner had not paid a required annual fee; literally, “the check was in the mail” but until it was cashed, sorry. Garry Wills writes about Abraham Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg, where a pivotal textual moment shifts from the plural to the singular; from collective “us” as several States to unified “us” as a Nation. Agincourt reached that point about 1880 when city government assumed firefighting as a municipal service underwritten by taxation. Sorry, Libertarians. The fire department was municipally funded, while the firemen (also sorry, ladies) were still volunteers. How our firefighters today (both men and women) became trained paid professionals and more recently cross-trained as law enforcement is a story yet to be written—happily, by me, and the topic is a lot more fun and less mercenary than Motel 6.

Casting my nets for input, I’ve spent a few afternoons at the History Center awash in news clippings, photographs and diaries. But I also posted some queries on the internet and twitter-verse (though that one still creeps me out) and been the recipient of many replies—one of them troubling.

Prometheus

Since Prometheus stole fire from the gods, it has been a cursed blessing. Without its warmth, for example, brewers and distillers would be unknown professions; but unchecked, it has also burned those breweries and distilleries to the ground. Not all fires, however, are accidental.

Last week the mail brought invitations of several sorts: new magazines, medicare supplementary insurance, hearing aids, foreign travel with my alma mater. It also included a note postmarked Sioux City and the brief message “Unexplained Agincourt fires? I can help.” I was invited for coffee on Sunday in a back booth of Perkin’s Restaurant in Council Bluffs. The sleuth that I pretend to be uttered a cautiously enthusiastic “yes.”


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