Until the 1890s, Nappanee residents fought fire themselves as “bucket brigades,” passing water hand-to-hand in an attempt to extinguish the flames. At least one downtown business owner even had his own fire suppression system—barrels of water on the roof.
Public sentiment spurred business owners and town leaders to establish fire companies. The creation of the waterworks at the end of the 19th century allowed for fire hydrants and more dependable water deliver.
Residents started reporting fires by telephone in 1908, and a decade later, the first motorized fire vehicle was put into service.
Today, the department has several emergency response vehicles, including ladder and tanker trucks. But even with incredible technological and professional advancements, our city’s firefighters are still known as Smokey Stovers—and for good reason.
Famed cartoonist Bill Holman grew up in Nappanee and developed a love of drawing while working at a five-and-dime downtown. After taking a correspondence course, he latched on as a copy boy at the Chicago Tribune and began drawing with some of the famed cartoonists of the 1920s.
In 1935, Holman first drew “Smokey Stover” about a pun-loving fireman. Smokey lived in the comic pages for nearly 40 years until Holman’s retirement—and his hometown fire department honors his accomplishments with the Smokey Stover drawing proudly displayed on Nappanee fire trucks.