At the turn of the last century, fire protection in Barbourville was minimal. Following a series of major fires which destroyed the main building at Union College and the Queen City, Anderson and Eve Hotels during the first decade of the 20th century, the City of Barbourville established in 1909 a volunteer fire brigade. The fire brigade was headed by George Mike Golden and consisted of a few men living in the extreme south end of the community. They had a two-wheel hose cart that was housed in the garage of one man’s home. The cart could be pulled, by the firemen, to the location of the fire. The hose was connected to the nearest fire hydrant. The amount of water coming from the hose nozzle was solely dependent on the amount of pressure on the hydrant. At best, adjacent structures were saved from the ravage of the fire but rarely the burning house itself.
In early 1929, a large group of people gathered to organize the fire brigade and ask the citizens of Barbourville to buy them a motorized fire apparatus. They named this new organization the Barbourville Fire Department.
A 1929 American LaFrance motorized pumper truck was purchased. Space was made available for the truck to be housed in the blacksmith’s shop located in the National Theatre Building (Mitchell Building) on Liberty Street. Charles Mitchell let the department use the lower floor opposite the theatre rent free and also made available a dormitory area on the second floor of that building, with showers and a club room, for unmarried firemen.
Bert Churchill was elected as the new department’s first Fire Chief in February 1929, and the roster was composed of fourteen firemen. Professional training ensued and the men were regularly drilled.
The Barbourville Fire Department remained in that location until the destruction of the Mitchell Building by fire in 1938. A City Hall building was then built near the river on Liberty Street. A large garage area was incorporated into the building to house the fire department. Again, a dormitory was located just above the garage, connected by a fireman’s pole. The department stayed in that location until 1971.
The present steel-structure two-bay fire station building was built on Daniel Boone Drive adjacent to the new City Hall in 1971. This was the first time the fire department had been housed in its own building.
At present, our Department consists of two stations housing a variety of apparatus. Our roster consists of a paid Chief Officer and thirty volunteer firemen. We serve a population of 3,900 in the city limits and an additional 4,300 in the surrounding area.