Fire protection in Shelbyville began soon after the city was incorporated in the early 1850s. Strict ordinances regarding the care of stove pipes and smoking were prohibited in stables. Restrictions on candles and fireworks were adopted to prevent a conflagration. An ordinance was also passed requiring owners of tenements to provide one good leather bucket for each property. A "Bucket Brigade" provided the only means to extinguish fires when they occurred.
Following a series of destructive fires in 1868, two local businessmen traveled to Springfield, Ohio and purchased a hand pump fire engine. The second-hand fire engine, hose reel and fixtures were purchased for $800.00. The engine, which was emblazoned with the words "With This We Conquer", arrived in early June and the Union Fire Company #1 was soon organized. The engine was kept in a livery stable until the fall of 1869 when construction on the new city building was complete. The new building housed the engine on the first floor, prison room in the rear, and meeting rooms and mayor's office on the second floor. A ladder wagon was added in 1872 to carry ladders to reach the tall buildings being built.
In October 1874, the city was so impressed with a demonstration of the steam pump fire engine built by C. Ahrens and Company of Cincinnati, that an order was placed for a 700 gallon- per -minute pumper. The engine arrived in January of 1875 and was tested on the large well in the square. Water was thrown from a nozzle 4 minutes and 10 seconds after lighting the boiler. Dubbed the ¡°Major Hendricks¡±, the steamer, hose reel and equipment cost $6,000.00 This was a small price to pay for the many thousands of dollars in property it saved.
The fire company used the steamer until 1886, when the water-works was installed. The new system of hydrants placed throughout the city provided unlimited water supply, making the steamer and wells obsolete. By 1892, the volunteer fire department, now called the Shelbyville Fire Company #1, was being alerted to fires by the new Gamewell Fire Alarm Telegraph that was installed in May. The old hose reels were replaced that year by two new hose wagons that could carry more equipment.
When the city building was razed in 1902 to make room for the new city hall, the fire department was forced to keep the three wagons in livery barns scattered throughout the city. In 1916, the city council finally agreed it was time to provide a professional fire department. A new building was constructed on W. Broadway St. and two new Gramm-Bernstien fire trucks were purchased. The new Shelbyville Fire Department began operation on February 1, 1917. The new department consisted of six firemen and the Fire Chief with salaries set at $780.00 and $800.00 respectfully. Five auxiliary firemen were also appointed and paid $3.00 for each alarm answered. By 1928, it was apparent that the city was in need of more equipment following the fire that destroyed city hall. In the spring of that year, a 1,000-gallon per minute pumper truck arrived from Ahrens-Fox. This truck was supplemented in 1935 by a White pumper. In 1945, a Buffalo Quad was purchased to replace the 1917 ladder truck.
In 1954, it was evident that growth in the city was moving east. Foreseeing delayed responses due to a main railroad line that went through town, the city approved hiring additional firemen to staff Fire Station #2 in a rented building on East Jackson St. The department also purchased two new Midwest-Ford pumpers the same year. Station #2 moved into a newly constructed building on East Michigan Rd. in 1960. As structures in the city were being built taller than the ground ladders could reach, a 65ft Snorkel truck was purchased in 1964.
Fire Station #3, which was a combination water-tower/fire station, was completed in 1985. Located in the southwest part of the city on McKay Rd., the new station provided faster response times and increased water pressure needed in this growing area.
In 1990, the fire department began providing EMS when the Shelbyville and Shelby County Emergency Ambulance was placed under the control of the Fire Chief. As the years followed, all members hired to be firefighters were cross-trained to be EMT's or Paramedics.
In December of 2006, the fire department moved into a new state of the art facility that replaced the old station #1 on W. Broadway. The new structure contains room for apparatus, living quarters, exercise area, and administrative offices.
Today the Shelbyville Fire Department's 58 members do not only provide EMS and fire protection. Rescue services such as the Shelby County Water Rescue Team, the Shelby County Dive Rescue Team, and the Confined Space Rescue Team are just some examples of it's commitment to helping people in their time of need.