This historic photo shows the old Central Fire Hall at Sixth and Front streets. The building’s most visible tenant now is a Mellelo Coffee Roasters.

The old Central Fire Hall's colorful past

Girlie was friendly and trusting of everyone, even the dozens of drafted soldiers who were whistling at her from the windows of a World War I troop train.

The brown, 1-year-old bulldog was playing in front of Medford's fire station on Front Street when her interest was piqued. To get better acquainted with the boys, she quickly scooted across the street. That's when one of the soldiers scooped her up and pulled her inside.

Girlie was the fire department's mascot and it was Fire Chief Wes Lawton who saw the kidnapping just as the train began to pull out of the depot. Lawton, with fireman Taylor Burch, ran to the rescue, just managing to leap onto the platform of the last coach.

Lawton's brother, Denison, had been the first president of Medford's volunteer fire department, the Protection Hose Company No. 1, when it was organized in 1890.

The company began with a "hose cart," a wagon equipped with a hand pump and 500 feet of rubber hose that could connect to the city's new water system. For housing the cart, a temporary corrugated iron shack was set up next to the jail at the corner of Sixth and Front streets.

Now that they were official, the boys needed to look the part. As the newspaper reported they "ordered handsome dark-blue uniforms with caps and shirts and leather belts. The emblem on the front of shirts will be the figure 1 on a shield, embroidered with spanner and nozzle."

A 16-by-21-foot building soon replaced the metal shack, and in 1903 it was lengthened to house a brand new hook-and-ladder wagon. At the same time, the 30-foot bell tower on the alley was raised another 10 feet to make it easier to hear throughout town.

In summer 1907, the "hose cart house" and the bell tower were moved to the middle of Sixth Street, between the railroad tracks and Front Street. The city was going to build a combination fire station and city hall.

One hundred years ago this month, the brick building was finished, but it was only half of the building we see today. The other half was added in 1921.

It was in front of this small building in November 1917, just seven months after the department had replaced its last team of horses with a truck, that Girlie became a frolicking hostage on a northbound train.

The soldiers passed her hand to hand and car to car, ignoring Chief Lawton's pleas to return the dog and pull the emergency cord.

Finally, the train engineer agreed to make a quick stop in Grants Pass, but only long enough to let the two firemen and their dog jump off. As the train pulled away, the soldiers whistled and cheered, and for a moment, Girlie was ready to run away again.

Five years later, the City Council fired the "too old" 69-year-old chief and his 70-year-old brother.

As for Girlie? No one knows what happened to her. The friendly dog who trusted everyone.

Bill Miller is a freelance writer living in Shady Cove. Reach him at

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