John Matthew Dolan.. a Memphis Fire Department icon was born December 19, 1866, one of six children born to James and Bridget Finn Dolan.
In 1859 his father James was hired to be the Engineer for the first steam operated fire engine ever used by the Memphis Fire Department. In 1878 his father James and three of his siblings all died from yellow fever. John and his brother James Thomas would later be hired on the Fire Department. He was appointed to the department in 1893 and assigned to Chemical Company Number 1 which ran from Headquarters and was the attack piece for Engines 5, 3, 2, and 10. In February of 1894 he was transferred to Chemical Company 2 which ran from its own house at 37 Poplar Avenue, and supported Engines 1, 4 and 6
On April 24, 1894, a fire which gained considerable headway, was turned in at the Chase Grain and Feed Company, a 4 story building located at 185 Main Street. As the fire fighters were advancing a 2 ½” line to the second floor it collapsed trapping 8 fire fighters in a full collapse. Dolan was pinned down by a large beam and suffered a crushed arm, a broken leg and burns.
His recovery was not enough to return to work as a firefighter but in 1896 was given a job as the department Assistant Secretary, a wonderful position for this wonderful man. This historian has seen the beautiful handwriting in India ink, entire pages on business entries and NO mistakes ever. He recorded everything from the fires of the day to department purchases. In 1910 he was made a Fire Alarm Operator and in 1911 was appointed as the Secretary. During this period the Secretary position was the modern day equivalent of today’s Administrative Deputy Chief. He handled all of the business side duties including purchasing and the pay of employees. Although he was not required to wear a uniform, he worn one almost all of the time while on duty.
The newspaper reporters of the day liked him as he was their contact for department related stories. John Dolan was one of the best liked guys on the job and was respected by everyone. John M Dolan died July 5, 1928. There was a requiem mass at St Mary’s Catholic Church at 8:30 on July 6 1928.
His active pall bearers were First Assistant Fire Chief Irby Klinck, Assistant Chief James Burke, Captain Richard Borner of Engine 2, Captain Tom Haggerty of Engine 15, Captain Richard Burroughs of Truck 2, Captain William Coleman of Engine 8 and Captain Edward Callahan of Engine 12.
The Commercial Appeal article stated “So closely interwoven was John Dolans daily life, the department asked “how we can go on without him?”
He was just that good at what he did.
Written by Joe Lowry with research and editorial assistance by Trish Gully.