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EFD rings Four Fives bell

By Staff | Mar 17, 2011

Estherville Fire Department firefighters who just completed work on the bell for the Striking the Four Fives ceremony include, from left, Larry Crees, Chris Inman, Greg Langford, Mark Paulson, Chief Dick Beaver, Tom Inman and Alan Hanson. EDN photo by Michael Tidemann

Just in time for the funeral service of a fellow firefighter Wednesday, the Estherville Fire Department Tuesday night finished work on a former truck bell the department can now use to ring out The Four Fives, a time-honored tradition that is the firefighters’ equivalent of the three-gun salute.

The department rang The Four Fives at the funeral of 16-year veteran firefighter Allan Kautz Wednesday. The tradition will most certainly continue.

Fire Chief Dick Beaver said the bell came from a 1940s-era firetruck that is long since gone. The truck’s bell, which has rested in a place of honor in a display case at the Estherville Fire Department, will see new duty as it rings out The Four Fives at memorial services for firefighters.

According to John Schultz of the Indianola Fire Department, the service of Striking the Four Fives, the fire service is rich with ceremony, custom and tradition. The custom of rendering final honors has its origins in the Fire Department of the City of New York, where many years ago, long before the advent of radios or pagers, fire alarms and daily announcements were dispatched from central headquarters to outlying firehouses by a system of bell commands and telegraph.

Each different type of alarm or announcement would have its own number sound a series of bell strikes. When a firefighter died in the line of duty or when some important official or personage died, headquarters would transmit five bell strikes, repeated in four series, with a slight pause between each series, followed by the announcement. The ceremony began in 1865 in the New York Fire Department to tell the rank and file of the death of Abraham Lincoln.

The custom has continued down to the present day to honor departed firefighters in the fire service known as the Striking The Four Fives.