126-year-old fire bell calls the spirit of volunteers

In the parking lot behind the local bank is a nearly 130 year old bell, standing alone.

There are many unique and majestic buildings as you drive through downtown Trenton, MO. It is home to the magnificent Grundy County Courthouse built in the early 1900s, which looks more like a castle on a hill than a courthouse. It can only be accentuated by an even smaller medieval building on its north side, which once served as the county jail.

But for all that grandeur, it was a small monument surrounded by modern concrete that stood out – a fire bell.

This fire bell once held a prestigious place in the community in 1896. It was in the bell tower of City Hall, according to the poster on the brick monument. The story engraved in the metal explains that when someone reports a fire, the bell rings for 15 seconds, followed by one, two, three or four rings to tell the volunteer firefighters where to respond.

At that time, they used a horse-drawn fire wagon to transport equipment and firefighters to the scene. The carriage and horses were located on the first floor of the town hall, along with the clerk’s office, the town collector’s office, the marshal’s office, and even the prisoners. The second floor is where the fire chief lived.

Now, I can’t imagine a town hall today being home to horses, but it shows the importance of fire protection in the late 1800s. It rivaled that of local government. But what still amazes me is that at the time, when the bell rang, volunteers came to serve. This spirit of rural communities is still true today.

Although technology has advanced and alarms are now on the airwaves, volunteer firefighters still answer the call. According to the National Fire Protection Association, there were 745,000 volunteer firefighters in the United States, representing 67% of all firefighters. Most counties in Missouri have at least one volunteer fire department.

However, I am not one to wonder whether volunteer or “career” firefighters have more or less heart. I believe that anyone who rushes into a fire, a car accident, a flood or a blizzard has something that I don’t have: courage. These men and women place the life of someone else, someone they don’t know, above their own without hesitation. And that kind of determination and commitment deserves a place of honor in any small town.

So while our fire stations no longer have historic bells, when those sirens sound, take a minute to stop and thank our emergency personnel who have been serving our communities since they began.

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