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Curious Cbus: How Did Columbus Fire Stations Get Their Nicknames?

Fire truck with sign of a rat with helmet and tools
Michael De Bonis
The firefighters of Columbus Fire Station 10 are known as the River Rats.

The Columbus Division of Fire is nearly 200 years old, with 35 stations covering the city. Over the department's long history, some of those stations have garnered interesting nicknames.

This led one WOSU reader to ask Curious Cbus “How did the Columbus fire stations such as the ‘River Rats’ each get their unique names?”

As it happens, a fire station getting a nickname or adopting a mascot is a fairly common practice across the country, and Columbus is no exception. Nearly every station in the Columbus Division of Fire has a nickname or mascot of one kind or another, including a pig, goose, bull, turtle, dragon and tasmanian devil.

Columbus Fire Station 10 is in the heart of Franklinton, a neighborhood with its own nickname: The Bottoms. That name comes from the fact that Franklinton was prone to flooding from the Scioto River before the construction of a protective flood wall.

The area's history, and its the proximity to the river, led the firefighters of Station 10 to be affectionately known as the River Rats.

A fire station's location often plays a role in its nickname. Historian Ed Lentz explains that was the case for for Station 5, which is located at 211 McNaughten Road.

“For a long time, it was the only station on the Far East Side. It was the farthest station out there, and so it came to be called the House of the Rising Sun," said Lentz, who cited Columbus Fire Battalion Chief Steve Martin for the information in this story.

Station 5 is no longer the eastern-most station in the Columbus Division of Fire, but the name stuck.

Rusted metal sign of a bulldog in firefighter gear
Credit Michael De Bonis / WOSU
An old painted metal sign from Station 2, The Bulldogs, is now part of the collection at the Central Ohio Fire Museum.

In some cases, the physical building itself lends itself to a nickname. Station 1, located at 300 North Fourth Street, is known as the Eagle's Nest because it's a tall building, and people have to go up and down a lot of steps to get anywhere.

Station 2 is the John Nance Station, dedicated to a longtime Columbus firefighter who died in a 1987 arson fire. But it also has a different nickname, which Lentz said started decades ago when their ladder truck carried a monitor nozzle on its running board.

“To protect it from the weather, they had a canvas cover over it, which looked something like a bulldog.” Lentz said.

Eventually, the firefighters of Station 2 came to be known as the Bulldogs.

One of the more unusual nicknames came from a connection to the King of Rock and Roll. Station 14, which today is located at 1514 Parsons Ave., is known as the Elvis station.

According to Lentz, when the station was having their annual inspection party in the early 1990s, someone put up a bust of Elvis Presley. The assistant fire chief at that time was not pleased with that particular piece of artwork and asked the station captain why it was there.

The captain reportedly explained that they were following the Division Systems Manual instructions to “do their best to fit in with the neighborhood.” 

A street sign reading Elvis Presley Blvd is attached to the side of Station 14 (L). A bust of the King greets visitors at the stations front door (R).
Credit Michael De Bonis / WOSU
A street sign reading Elvis Presley Blvd is attached to the side of Station 14 (L). A bust of the King greets visitors at the station front door (R).

The statue stayed, and over time neighbors started donating collectables such as paintings of Elvis on black velvet.

“It wasn't long before Elvis had a locker with a set of fire gear next to a guitar in the apparatus bay,” Lentz said.

What questions do you have about Columbus, its history and its oddities? Ask below and WOSU may answer as part of our Curious Cbus project.


Michael De Bonis develops and produces digital content including podcasts, videos, and news stories. He is also the editor of WOSU's award-winning Curious Cbus project. He moved to Columbus in 2012 to work as the producer of All Sides with Ann Fisher, the live news talk show on 89.7 NPR News.