Today we take a look at the life and times of Chief Clarence DeFields, Windsor’s longtime Fire Chief. He was a fireman with the Windsor Fire Department from 1900-1916 when he became the chief. He served as Fire Chief for 30 years, from 1916 until his retirement at the end of 1946. Below are articles that ran about him at his passing in 1965, and another one from longtime Windsor Star Reporter Angus Munroe from Windsor’s Centennial in 1954. Interestingly, some of Munroe’s passages were lifted word for word and put into his obituary a decade later. The original copy and paste! He has left a rich legacy many years after his passing as the Goodfellows Christmas Drive lives on to this day.
C. J. ‘Chief’ DeFields Dies After Long Service
Known fondly to Windsor and area for more than half a century as “The Chief”, former Windsor Fire Chief Clarence J. DeFields died Tuesday afternoon at Huron Lodge. He was 88 years old. A member of the Windsor Fire Department for 47 years, 30 of them as chief, he had retired Dec. 31, 1946. For years after that he was “Mr. Goodfellow” in the city and served a term on Windsor’s Board of Control. He was cited as “Citizen of the Year” for 1955 by the Civitan Club of Windsor.
Known as a tough, seemingly gruff man, the “Chief” had a heart of gold which shone on every youngster he encountered. He headed the Goodfellows Christmas campaign for years and missed organizing the program at Christmas last year for the first time.
His list of public services extends beyond the length of any man’s arm. He joined the fire department as a volunteer in 1900 and was elevated to a regular post in recognition of his fine work in the Ferris Livery Stable blaze of April 2, 1900. He was made a captain in 1907, assistant chief in 1912 and chief in 1916, succeeding George Murray. Throughout the years he improved efficiency and equipment to the point that he earned a nation-wide reputation. He pioneered work in the field of fire prevention, initiating fire inspection team, and continued as deputy fire marshal for Essex County after his retirement His 47 years of public service still stands as a record for the city.
His years of firefighting did not leave Mr. DeFields unscathed. In the D. M. Ferry fire of March 24, 1910, a fall from a ladder fractured a vertebrae in his back and an explosion during the Windsor Gas Co. fire left him blind in one eye.
In addition to his fire department chores Mr. DeFields served many other causes. He was active in the city’s welfare work was responsible for the maintenance of the city’s signals and communications department, headed an unofficial bylaw enforcement squad of firemen, and even took charge of parking meters for a time. Mr DeFields never hesitated to speak his mind on any subject. An inveterate friend of the reporter, he was always ready to condemn carelessness and indolence in anyone. He fought many a verbal battle with city administrators and politicians who eventually learned to listen rather than try to talk him down. But even his ‘retirement’ did not slow him down. Almost immediately he sought elective office and won a seat on the Windsor Board of Control. At the time, the “Chief” said “Windsor has been mighty good to me for 60 years. The only way I can repay that debt is by service, and I want to repay it.”
He was one of the early members of the Windsor Kiwanis Club and during the early 1930s headed the city’s welfare investigation staff. He was also a member of the Masonic Lodge. But Mr. DeFields really shone in his work with the Goodfellows.
From its inception he was a leading figure and annually supervised the spending of more than $30,000 for Christmas food baskets to be delivered to needy families. During the rest of the year be directed the distribution of shoes to needy youngsters. Only last Christmas, confined to a wheelchair in Huron Lodge, did the “Chief” at long last miss out on the Christmas drive. The “Chief’s” inner strength lay in his sympathy for the distressed. But to express it, he had to demonstrate his bluff, almost cruel outward manner. His friend knew this to be only a defence mechanism, which, in fact, bid his deep sentimental desire to serve. A reporter who accompanied him on many of his investigations of burned-out families and welfare recipients, recalls going into a home which fire had turned into a mere shell. There were small children without clothing, there were evidences of neglect and carelessness all about. The fire had followed a late drinking party, and the chief was hopping mad. He vented his ire on the parents for their incompetence. Then he sat down on a scarred chair and took two of the smallest youngsters into his lap. He cuddled them and spoke gently. When he rose up to leave, there were tears in his eyes. Once outside with the reporter, he said: “Those blankety-blank so-and-sos give me a pain. They don’t deserve children.” Driving back to the fire station, he seemed to take his satisfaction from speeding. In his bright red chief’s car, with siren open, he drove at such speed that the reporter paled at the thought of meeting car. Fortunately, it was early in the day and traffic was light.
One of his last big fires was the destruction of the Victoria Block, where the main S. S Kresge store is today. It was in December, bitter cold. Citizens arriving for work that morning saw the ice-coated figure of the chief standing in the middle of Ouellette Ave., directing the fire while icicles clung to his face and ears. In the words of his fellow-fire-fighters, he was “a tough old bird.” As Angus Munro of The Star put it more than 10 years ago: “Some have termed the “Chief” a harsh man, difficult to get along with and crude in his bluntness of expression. This is the surface personality of the man. No kindlier soul ever ministered to his fellow man. Those truly in need never need fear their treatment at the hands of Clarence DeFields. The shirker and the panderer he dismissed as unworthy.
“He takes a fierce pride in the job of the professional fire-fighter and he staunchly defends his community against those who would defame its name. A strict disciplinarian, he demands nothing from others he himself will not willingly undertake. His name and his record will stand as exemplary high. lights for all time in the Windsor story.”
Special Masonic services will be held Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Chief DeFields was a life member of Great Western Lodge No. 47, AF& AM. Mr. DeFields was born in Simcoe, Ont., and moved to Windsor when he was 10 years old. He worked as a butcher in a shop directly across from the present fire department headquarters until joining the firemen in 1900. His wife, Kate, died in 1939. One son, Clarence E. DeFields, lives in Windsor, and there are two surviving daughters, Mrs. Kenneth (Mary) Libby, of Tecumseh, and Mrs. Douglas (Ruth) Lamberton, of Windsor. He is also survived by five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Funeral will be Friday at 1 p.m. from the Anderson Funeral Home, 895 Ouellette Ave., with Rev. Gordon W. Butt officiating. Burial will be in Windsor Grove Cemetery.
DeFields Headed Brigade in City
Mr. Goodfellow Widely Known for Charitable Efforts in Windsor
By ANGUS MUNRO
Forty-seven years a fireman, 30 of them as chief of the Windsor Fire Department, makes Clarence DeFields forever a part of any history of the city’s fire-fighting forces. He is sill familiarly greeted as “Chief” by the thousands who know him in and around Windsor.
Came Here at Age 12, Worked for Butcher
Born on a farm near Simcoe, he came to Windsor as a lad of 12. His first job was delivery boy in a butcher shop located across from the present fire department headquarters on Pitt street east. He recalls selling newspapers on Windsor streets along with another old timer, Simon Meretsky. He learned early the value of fire prevention. It v. as a lesson he never forgot. Against orders from his father, young DeFields built a bonfire near the family barn. The barn caught fire. Considerable heat was generated by the pants-warming he got from his father for his carelessness. From that date on he looked upon all fires gas someone’s careless handling of potentially dangerous material. He pursued earlier than most fire officials a thorough program of fire prevention. This, a daily part of his job as boss of the city’s fire-fighting staff, he carried on with a zeal that brought nation-wide attention and brought the city’s fire-insurance rates to a new low. He established a trained force of fire inspectors whose job it is to see that fire hazards are re-moved wherever they are found.
Joined Firefighters After Making ‘Tour’
In 1900, after a tour of the U.S. and Canada to satisfy a youthful wanderlust, he joined the Windsor Fire Department. Five years later he became assistant chief. He was named fire chief in 1916, succeeding the late Chief George Murray, who had followed Chief George Chene, regarded as Windsor’s first fire chief. The department which the youthful DeFields first joined was officially only two men, but there were many anxious and able volunteers. Serving in that early brigade in the 1900’s were such men as Charlie Grant, Henry Mason, William Walker, Joe Rounding, Richard Brooks, Frank Janette, Albert and James Parks, George Bradley and Henry Meadows. At the sound of a fire bell, they dropped whatever jobs they were doing and went into action at the scene of the fire. They received the modest pay of $100 a year (it cost much more than that to buy uniforms and equipment) but the prestige of being a volunteer was high in those days. The department, first organized in 1897, still lacked sufficient horses when a big fire broke out. Horses therefore were hired from individual owners when a fire required their presence. One of the most frequently hired on this basis, the records reveal, was the delivery horse owned by the Drake Furniture Company.
1900 Hall Situated On Present Pitt Site
The main fire hall in 1900 was on the present site of the Pitt street headquarters. In addition, there were two hose-reel sub-stations, one at London and Bruce, the other on Aylmer, near Sandwich street. Both were manned by volunteers. Chief DeFields recalls the horse-drawn fire engines, the underground wooden tanks which supplied the fire engines with rain water. He also remembers, with a sigh, the Christmas Day in 1916, when the last team of horses was led out of the fire hail to be replaced by completely motorized equipment. Windsor was among the first cities to thus become modernized. The Chief’s first big fire was on April 2. 1900, when flames roared through the old Ferris Livery Stable which stood on the site of the present Empire Theatre. Three days after that fire, the young and eager fire-fighter DeFields, was added to the permanent force. He had shown his ability and his stamina, his courage and his presence of mind in an emergency. Despite his years, he is still a fireman at heart.
Served Civic Causes, `Goodfellow’ Original
But it is not only as a fire chief that Clarence DeFields served his community. Ile has associated himself for many years with worthwhile services. He was a leading figure in establishing The Goodfellows Club here and is still its general manager. As such he annually does the buying and supervises the spending of more than $20,000 at Christmas time to aid needy families with food baskets. He has been aptly termed: “Mr. Goodfellow.
Following his long years of department service he ran and was elected a member of Windsor’s board of control to whose deliberations he made a fine contribution. He had been well trained for the job of dealing with council affairs because as fire chief he constantly pestered the life out of civic legislators and administrators for more money for his department. He was among the early members of the Windsor Kiwanis Club and for the duration of Windsor’s period of unemployment during the depression years of the early 1930’s, he headed the welfare investigation staff. He learned to know the true worth of every applicant for aid.
Harshness of Surface Covers Heart of Gold
Some have termed the “Chief” a harsh man, difficult to get along with and crude in his bluntness of expression. This is the surface personality of the man. No kindlier soul ever ministered to his fellow-man. Those truly in need never need fear their treatment at the hands of Clarence DeFields. The shirker and the panderer he dismissed as unworthy. He bears the scars of numberless fires, including the loss of sight in one eye. He takes a fierce pride in the job of the professional fire-fighter and he staunchly defends his community against those who would de-fame its name. A strict disciplinarian, he demands nothing from others he himself will not willingly undertake. His name and his record will stand as exemplary highlights for all time in the Windsor story.