Manistee seeks Guinness record for oldest continuously operated fire station

John L. Russell
Special to The Detroit News

Manistee — The Manistee Fire Department was recognized by the state in 1989 for operating Michigan's oldest continually active fire station.

Now, as the department nears its 130th anniversary, one of its members is aiming for global recognition of the station's longevity. 

Fred LaPoint, a paramedic and firefighter for 40 years, is trying to persuade Guinness World Records to recognize the Manistee facility as the oldest continuously operated fire station on Earth.

Fred LaPoint of the Manistee Fire Department shows one of two brass poles that allowed firefighters to slide to the main floor to respond to a call. There is a pole on both sides of the living area, allowing crews to slide down to their two engines parked next to the poles on the main floor.

“When I first joined this department in 1979, I was struck by the historic building and its history," he said. "There was still evidence of the horses that once pulled fire apparatus; grain is still found in the upstairs where it was stored to feed the horses and there were remnants of a blacksmith shop. A lot of it is still here.”

The station will mark 130 years of continuous service in June, and LaPoint hopes to include recognition from Guinness as part of the celebration.

“I have demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that we should be given the record,” he said. “If anyone out there feels their station meets the qualifications, then let them prove it."

LaPoint has found many fire departments that are older — one in London dates to 1869 — but its station has burned down twice and was destroyed by German bombers during World War II.

“Their history is not the same, we have been in business for 130 years with no interruptions in service," he said. “No other fire house in the world that I have researched fits this new category. We are the only one that is still in its original building that is fully staffed continuously 24/7 all year.”

To document the fire station's history, LaPoint spent hundreds of hours searching through library, museum and newspaper archives.

“Fred has been combing through our archives for a couple of years,” said Mark Fedder, executive director of the Manistee County Historical Museum. “We’ve been able to provide a lot of information to him about the fire station. We certainly hope Guinness World Records recognizes the department, it‘s a beautiful building with a lot of history. People love it.” 

LaPoint submitted two gigabytes of data to convince Guinness to establish a world record.

The Manistee Fire Department's station still displays an original floor when walking into the department. (Designed in 1888, the fire hall opened in 1889.) A circular entrance leads into the first floor, where fire engines are parked.

Guinness agreed — and asked for more data.

 “You submit your application and wait at least 15 weeks for review,” said LaPoint. “It’s very time-consuming and frustrating.”

The company says it is working on his request.

Rachel Gluck, a spokeswoman for Guinness World Records North America in New York City, confirmed LaPoint submitted an application for "oldest continuously manned fire station."

“I can also confirm there is no current or previous record-holders for this title," she said.

Chartered in 1869, the Manistee Fire Department began as a volunteer outfit, with the city divided into seven fire districts. Each district fire officer could conscript local men to fight fires.

The city virtually burned to the ground in 1871, persuading officials that a full-time department was needed. In 1873, the department became a fully-staffed operation.

Plans were put forward to build a stone and brick Romanesque Revival firehouse that featured galvanized iron, a copper-topped tower and plate glass windows. Opening in 1889, the building cost $7,516 and is virtually unchanged today.

LaPoint does not plan on slowing down on his quest for the recognition.

"In the interim, no one holds the record except us," LaPoint said. "Give us the record — someone has to be first. We'll gladly hand over the record if someone else proves they have been around longer than us.” 

John Russell is a writer and photojournalist from Traverse City.