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Fire ‘buff' pens book on Livonia department's 70-year history
May 15, 2012

Livonia's Station No. 1.

                     Livonia's Station No. 1.

Al Judge has never worked as a firefighter, but he said he has had “fire” in his blood a long time.

“I'm a buff,” the 81-year-old retired teacher said of his interest in fire fighting, which started in childhood. “It's never waned any.”

A Livonia resident since 1958, Judge recently authored a book on the 70-year history of the Livonia Fire Department. He was asked to write it by former Chief Al Brandemihl.

“He knew I had a lot of the history,” Judge said. “He asked, ‘Will you do this for us?'

“I didn't get around to it until Shadd (Whitehead) came on as chief.”

The book took him four and a half years to write.

Judge said he's always loved fire. “Kids do,” he said. “The sirens and the excitement.”

While in high school, he was the mascot for the fire department in Chatham, N.J., where he grew up.

“I was the gopher. I helped maintain the engines,” dried out the hoses, he said.

The firefighters there had taken him under their wing, after he lost his dad at age 10 and then his mother at age 17.

Judge was drafted into the Army in 1951 during the Korean Conflict and served two years in Korea and Japan.

Illness kept him from firefighting

He started to go into the fire department while in the Army, but he wound up in the hospital with bronchial asthma, from which he still has scar tissue.

After he was discharged, he went to Michigan State University because the school was friendly to veterans. He taught for one year in Battle Creek before spending the rest of his career teaching at Farmington High School. He retired in 1990.

Judge even owned his own fire truck for 23 years, a 1946 Chevrolet/Darley front-mount pumper, which he allowed students at Farmington High School to ride in during homecoming parades.

“I was the second vice president (of the Michigan fire club) so I had to have a truck,” he said.

He sold the truck after having open heart surgery in 1998. “They were hard work, and a lot of fun.”

Judge talked one of his sons in law, Tom Hurtleff, into going into firefighting. “He was going to go into police work,” Judge said. Hurtleff worked 27 years for the Farmington Hills Fire Department, retiring as training officer.

Judge has volunteered at the Livonia Fire Department over the years by helping out at open houses, participating in parades and collecting money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association during the department's Fill-the-Boot fund drives.

‘Community face' of fire department

Chief Whitehead calls Judge “that community face to the fire department.”

He said Judge “almost by default” became the department historian because of the countless newspaper articles and photos he had collected over the years.

“He had amassed so much information,” Whitehead said, and was the first person to step up to the challenge to put it all together, though others had talked about it.

Whitehead said Judge brings a citizen's perspective to the department's history, providing “interesting insights” on how he saw things.

Judge worked with retirees and current employees of the department, going over information they had, then spent hundreds and hundreds of hours narrowing down the information for the book, Whitehead said.

“I think he did such a great job,” the chief said of the book. “I think it's outstanding.”

Judge said what stands out for him about the Livonia Fire Department is its level of training and cohesiveness as a team.

Changes in fire fighting

Firefighting itself has changed significantly over the years, he said.

When he was a mascot for his home town and even when the Livonia Fire Department was formed in 1941, no one needed any specialized training.

Livonia's first chief was Cal Roberts because he had a gas station at Plymouth and Merriman near Rosedale subdivision and could house the first fire truck.

“If you had the nerve, had the guts, you were in,” he said, adding they early members of the department trained themselves.

Today, firefighters can't respond to certain emergencies unless they are specialized in areas like hazardous materials.

Other changes include national standards for hoses so they are interchangeable with different departments' equipment while aiding in assists; and advanced life support, so paramedics can start life-saving IVs on patients while they are transporting them to the emergency department.

While Judge never became a firefighter, he said he wouldn't mind being named honorary fire commissioner of the Livonia department one day.

Whitehead said that isn't his call to make — that would be up to Mayor Jack Kirksey and the Livonia City Council.

But whether Judge ever gets that title or not doesn't really matter. “Certainly in a way he kind of (already) is,” Whitehead said.

Hard-cover copies of 186-page Livonia Fire & Rescue “A Living History,” with many color photographs, are $40 each. Send check or money order to Livonia Fire Department Donation Fund, 14910 Farmington Road, Livonia MI 48154. To order by phone, call (734) 466-2444.

Four copies of the book are also available at the Livonia Public Library.

Vargo's Restaurant fire in 1974.

IAFF Local 1164
14910 Farmington Rd.
Livonia, MI 48154

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