Stoughton Fire Department First Organized in 1852-1853
Progress from Volunteer Unit to Modern Department is told for the First Time.
From the 80th Anniversary Edition of The Stoughton News-Sentinel, November 6, 1941.
To add to the reading experience I have added hyperlinks to photos online that originally were copied at the Stoughton Historical Society for another website.
The Stoughton Fire Department has a very interesting history which began in 1849 and from that time to the present day is full of interesting data. In the olden days before the era of Fire Departments the farmers, of which Stoughton was mainly composed, served as sort of a volunteer department when the occasion arose. At the time of a fire they would come from all directions and would do their best to quench the flames with bucket lines and other rather useless efforts.
In 1849, two brigades of firemen from Canton and Randolph held a meeting .in the Old Town Hall. As the old story is told in a history of the Town of Canton, they stole a keg of beer from the cellar of Captain James Hill and fought over the contents. As the old record states, "a real lively feud followed, the Town House being burned to the ground." This caused a great deal of excitement in Stoughton, for this fire ably demonstrated the fact that the efforts of local townspeople were futile at such a time, and agitation was begun for the purchase of fire engines and the establishment of a. department.
As near as can be established the Stoughton Fire Department had its beginning sometime during the years 1852 or 1853, when two Howard and Davis hand tubs of the Hunneman type were purchased. The first engine was called the Pacific number 1 and its captain was Henry Drake, Sr., with the second being called the Atlantic number 2, with James Capen as captain. These two engines were stored in barns hear the center of the town for the first few years and in 1855 the first firehouse was built on the spot where Porter street, east, now enters Washington street. In 1878 this station was torn down and another built by Elisha Hawes of North Stoughton upon the same site.
Many interesting stories are told of the first Fire Department and it was the object of ridicule and praise in turn for many years. Editor Standish of the Stoughton Sentinel had a great habit of spreading stories concerning their escapades throughout his paper, many of them being not at all in the department's favor. One particularly scathing story concerned the practice of the various companies fighting one another for the privilege of trying to put out the fires of the town. The first company on the road to a fire would build barricades to prevent the other companies from getting to the scene, and if they did arrive before the fire was under control they would immediately forget the blaze and do battle with them. The company that won the fight would then have the privilege of continuing to fight the blaze, which by this time usually was quite out of control.
This practice continued through the 1880's and was finally stopped toward the latter part of that decade. The salaries of the first firemen of Stoughton were set at the huge sum of $2.00 per year, there being no regular men on the job and the two com companies having about 25 men in each. In 1860 the first Washington Hook and Ladder truck was built by Jabez Talbot and Stoughton had three companies of firemen. It was also in this year that the Bay State number 3 engine was purchased and placed in operation in East Stoughton. The first really organized department was had in 1862 when a Board of Fire Engineers was appointed by the selectmen, they being James Mears, Jabez Talbot and Elisha Hawes. James Mears was appointed Chief and has the honor of being the first head of this fine organization. It was also in this year that Stoughton had one of its largest departments with 102 men upon the rolls.
The year the Stoughton Sentinel began, 1861, found the local department answering seven calls during the year. The. total loss due to these fires reached the sum of $2,400.00, n almost every instance a total loss being incurred when a fire began. So we find that in 80 year's the Stoughton Fire Department has progressed greatly in efficiency and skill.
In 1863 the Washington Hook and Ladder company expressed dissatisfaction concerning their pay and the company disbanded. This also was the case in regard to the abandonment of the Pacific Engine company. The matter was brought before several town meetings before action was finally taken and the volunteer members of the department obtained a raise in pay. In 1865 the firemen received $3.00 per year and were paid fifty cents an hour for active service. This brought about a complete department once again and the four companies continued operation for a number of important years. The year 1867 was very important in the fire history of Stoughton as the local department did not receive a fire call all year, the first time this has ever transpired during the history of Stoughton.
Stoughton spent the sum of $815.59 for a new engine in 1869 and a new company, called Ocean engine company, number 2, was formed. This engine was bought from the city of Providence and was substituted for the old Atlantic number 2 engine. In 1870 Stoughton had five fire companies completely organized. They were Pacific number 1, Ocean number 2, Bay State number 3, Washington Hook and Ladder and Ocean Hose company. In 1871 and 1872 a total of $806.40 was spent for new hose, most of it being leather hose which became obsolete shortly afterwards. This old time hose was easily destroyed as it needed the utmost care in drying for it would crack and chip if left to lay when wet. The Board of Fire Engineers urgently requested the town to make some sort of arrangement to aid the water supply throughout the town by building reservoirs at various points. They stated that the department would just about begin to function with efficiency and have partial control of a fire when their water supply would run out and the fire would rage out of control. This situation came from the fact that practically every fire was fought with well water, the town water system was not installed at this time. This matter was called to the attention of the Board of Selectmen and the residents of Stoughton for a number of years before any action was taken. It was also during this period between 1872 and 1875, that the firemen again began complaining about their rate of pay. The town fathers and residents of the town took this matter under advisement and in 1875 decided that the fire department was spending too much money for the work it did and curtailed expenses to such an extent that the money was all used up long before the year ended. This brought about a complete collapse of the department and no regular companies were had during the latter portion of 1875 and nearly all of 1876. During the year 1874 the department had expended the sum of $2100, this being the extravagant allowance made by vote of the town. During the year 1876 the Fire Engineers voted to employ ten experienced men for each engine and to pay them each $10.00 per year. This system worked so well that the town fathers voted to pay $7.50 per year to fifty men for each engine, also to twenty men for the Hook and Ladder company. The town thought that this would cut the expenses of the department considerably and were disagreeably surprised to find that the sum of $2600 was expended in 1877. The matter was left this way for several years before a final adjustment was made satisfactory to members of the department and the town officials.
The first radical change in the Stoughton Fire Department came in 1880 when the members of the local department prevailed upon the town to purchase a horse drawn steam fire engine. A bit of skuldugery was practiced in order to obtain enough votes to assure the purchase of this engine, as the residents of East Stoughton (now Avon) refused to have anything to do with the matter unless an engine was purchased for their part of the town. The affair was settled before the annual town meeting and the conspirators passed the motion to buy two engines at $3000 apiece, one for Stoughton Center and one for East Stoughton. With the purchase of these two very modern pieces of fire fighting equipment the old hand tubs, Atlantic, Pacific and Bay State, were retired, with the two former being stored in barns outside of the station.
It was also in this year that the pleas of the fire department were answered and several water reservoirs were completed in and near Stoughton and East Stoughton centers. In this year the Stoughton Fire Department consisted of Ocean Engine, number 2, fifty men; Hook and Ladder, fifteen men; Stoughton Steamer, fifteen men; East Stoughton Steamer, fifteen men.
At this time several of the outlying sections of the town, namely North and West Stoughton and Dry Pond, were beginning to complain of lack of fire protection and in the year 1881 a department was organized in North Stoughton. The old Atlantic hand tub was re-conditioned arid put in use at this new station. It was stored in a barn owned by Mrs. Gillis and had a number of calls the first year. The volunteer force in charge of this substation were paid the same as the firemen in the center and East Stoughton stations. The year 1882 found the local department again adding to their equipment as a one horse hook and ladder track was ordered and the Washington Hook and Ladder company was disbanded. In 1885 a new hose wagon was built by members of the fire department at a total cost of $300 and presented to the town. The Washington Hook and Ladder company also reorganized in this year and took charge of the new hose truck and the one-horse Hook and Ladder truck. Additional pieces of equipment were added through the next several years with a hose wagon added to the East Stoughton department in 1886, relief wagon in the center station in 1889 and several thousand feet of the new fabric hose.
The Stoughton Steamer was practically rebuilt in 1889 and the North Stoughton company was named Engine company number 4 in this year. The horses used for the power in transporting the steamers, hook and ladder trucks and hose wagons were always in some stable near at hand but in 1891 the town was urged to purchase its own horses and save considerable money through the year. This plea was made continually from this date until they were finally purchased in the late summer of 1906. Previous to this time horses had been hired from Morey's stable, Riley's stable, Tom Waldon, and the Phinney Counter company. Powerful horses were needed to drag the steamers for they weighed between 5700 and 5800 pounds, without a hose reel on back.
The old fire station at Porter street was finally condemned and moved to Morton street in 1890, where it was practically rebuilt and made into a residence, where it is standing today. The fire station was moved to the town house and occupied a space in the basement of that building for many years. The department of the town did a lot of moving in the next few years for the North Stoughton Fire station was erected in 1892, when the old District Schoolhouse was moved to Page street and made into a firehouse at a cost of $285.00. In 1894 a company was formed in West Stoughton and a hose carriage was installed there. This company was known as the West Stoughton Volunteers and operated successfully until 1928.
On January 1, 1894 the most radical change ever to effect the local department was made when the present fire alarm system was installed, with four boxes placed at Upham Brothers' factory, Lighthouse in Dry Pond, in West Stoughton and at the Town House. Before this time the alarms were given the department by having somebody ring a bell at the station and having the members report. With the installation of this system a huge 2,000 pound bell was installed in the Congregational church steeple and was rung automatically when a box was pulled. The old time boxes had keys to open them and certain men in the districts were given the keys. It was then necessary to find a man with a key, then pull in the alarm and wait for the engines to arrive. The first addition of boxes came in 1898 when three new ones were placed in strategic spots in the town. Stoughton then had seven fire alarm boxes as follows: 26, Park and Sumner street; 35, School, Canton and Summer streets; 41, Chestnut and Seaver streets; 46, Pleasant and Lincoln streets, 58, Town House; 68, Central and Canton streets; and 72, Pearl and Central streets.
Various improvements now became rather easy to obtain money for, as the residents of Stoughton seemed reconciled to the fact that a Fire Department was a much needed town department. In 1896 a two-horse Ladder Truck was added to the equipment at the local station and the old one-horse carriage turned over to the North Stoughton department. New fire alarm boxes were installed nearly every year and the lines began running all over town. The North Stoughton station was given a thorough overhauling and many much needed repairs were made in 1899. North Stoughton was fortunate in 1901 when it received a new hose wagon for there had been some talk of closing this station but residents of the northern part of town put up such a disturbance that the matter was dropped.
The Stoughton Fire Department consisted of Stoughton Steamer Company, Washington Hook and Ladder Company, North Stoughton Hose Company and West Stoughton Volunteers in 1901. In 1902 a fire whistle was installed in the Old Stoughton Gas and Electric plant with steam operating the whistle. The total equipment of the department in 1902 consisted of the following: Steamer House, Wagon, 2 Hook and Ladder trucks, 1 steamer, one reel, 3000 feet of hose. West Stoughton, Hose reel, 400 feet of hose. North Stoughton, Hose wagon and reel, 500 feet of hose.
Dry Pond received a hand tub in 1903 but no regular department was organized in that district. The tub was stored in Frank McNamara's barn and was for the convenience of those living in that district. Drills were had for awhile until the novelty of having the tub in the district wore off and then it was only used in cases of extreme necessity. Another big event in the history of the Stoughton Fire Department came in 1906 when the first horses ever owned by the department were bought. These horses were used by the department for hauling the steamer and it was still necessary to hire other horses for the use of the hose wagons and ladder trucks. These horses were not only used by the firemen but they were also used for plowing snow in the winter and for hauling road scrapers for the Highway department.
In 1906 the department also purchased a storage battery system for the fire alarm whistle and installed several boxes in the alarm system. The battery system proved much better than the old steam whistle and it was improved from time to time. A new hose Wagon was purchased in 1908 at a cost of $550.00 and new boxes were put in the alarm system, costing $691.00. At this time there were over six miles of wire in the alarm system. The firemen received a fine gift of several protective rubber blankets from Albert A. Meade following a fire in which they did fine work in 1910.
1912 was a year that will long be remembered for this year found the local department obtaining their first auto fire truck, a Pope-Hartford combination. This truck was purchased through the efforts of a group of public spirited citizens led by Thomas Stretton. They solicited funds more than enough for the engine and presented it to the town together with a $1000, 4%, interest bearing bond, which was for its upkeep and the buying of new equipment by the department. The truck cost $5,750 and was the latest of its kind to be developed.
A compressed air system for the fire alarm was installed in 1916, the same as in use today, in the town house and the old alarm at the Stoughton Gas and Electric plant was taken out. A bell striker was also traded for five new fire alarm boxes and these installed. This marked the first year of the cooperation between the towns of Stoughton, Canton and Brockton in answering aid calls, a system that, has proven well worth while during the past years.
The Hook and Ladder truck was repaired in 1917 and in 1918 the fire alarm system was completely gone over and repaired. At this time the alarm system consisted of nineteen miles of wire, twenty-eight boxes, one station gong, ten house tappers, one whistle machine, a Lebaron compressed air system, and the Gamewell switchboard and batteries combined. The second piece of motorized kit was purchased in 1919 when a Ford Forest Warden's truck was completely equipped and installed in the central station. This truck cost $905.00. The old steamer, being forty years old, was condemned in 1920 and in 1921 the Ahrens-Fox motor pumper was purchased at a cost of $13,450. Repairs were also made at the North and West Stoughton stations during this year.
The old steamer was sold in 1922 and the equipment of the department consisted of the following: Ahrens-Fox motor pumper, Pope-Hartford motor combination, horse drawn hook and ladder, one exercise wagon, one hose reel and wagon at North Stoughton, one hose reel at West Stoughton, one hose reel at F. McNamara's on West street. Two sprinkler systems were also installed in factories during the year and connected with the alarm system. This was the first time sprinklers were used in Stoughton.
The Maxim Ladder truck was purchased in 1923 and a Universal gear box was installed at the Town House station. This box had 77 gears, 28 for outside boxes, 38 for telephone boxes and eleven for factories. In 1924 the present system of companies was instituted and three companies were made up of the men of the department. Chief James Pye headed the department under the new system and was aided by assistant chief and clerk Henry M. Bird, and captains Frank Phillips and Alvah L. Gould of the Central Station and Royal G. Madan of North; Stoughton and Charles Murphy of West Stoughton. Two permanent, men were on duty at all times, this i being the first time any permanent men were employed by the department.
In 1925 a new Forest Warden's truck was purchased and the old 1919 Ford was turned over to the North Stoughton department. It was also in this year that the permanent force i was increased to three men. April, 1927 found the Stoughton Fire Department moving the whistle machine, air compressor and motor to the present fire station on Freeman street, and on June 13, 1927, the entire department moved to their new quarters. On August 25, 1928 the Maxim pumper was purchased for the sum of $7,394.25 and the permanent force was increased to four men. In 1929 the State Forest Fire unit was installed in the Stoughton Station and has used it as its headquarters ever since. Stoughton Department had twenty-three miles of wire in its alarm system and 39 boxes in this year.
During the past few years, the local department has made several refinements which have increased the efficiency of the department to a tremendous degree. A machine shop was installed in 1930, the firemen, being aided in this enterprise by Fred C. Phillips who gave a great deal of the machinery and equipment. They then built combination 2 as a Forest Warden's truck, a Chevrolet chassis being used for the job. The department was completely reorganized in 1933 and Chief Bird, after forty-three years of service, resigned, together with many other of the old timers. Fred Pye was then appointed Chief and has served in that capacity since that time.
The Firemen began attending the State Firemen's training classes and Fire Department Drill School in Brockton in the year 1934. The permanent men and call men of the department were placed under civil service regulations in 1935. A rectifier floating type of battery system was also installed in this year for the Fire Alarm and is still in use. The Forest Fire Warden also had two trucks in this year. The substitutes of the department were placed under Civil Service regulations in 1936 and for the first time began to get paid for their services at fires. 1938 found the firemen participating in First Aid classes and also found the Belcher Last Company installing a sprinkler system connected with the Fire Alarm system.
The latest bit of kit which has been purchased by the department is the new combination truck which arrived this year. This is the latest type of equipment for fighting woods fires and building blazes. Today the local department is one of the best equipped in this section and has a fine group of men handling the fires of Stoughton.
One of the most important steps taken by the local department since its first inception was the procurement of the radio sending and receiving station which was installed during the past year. With this equipment it is now possible for the chief to communicate with the station at all times and for other departments in the state to call for aid with the least possible waste of time. The local department has been greatly aided by the work of the Sharon Fire Tower since its inception. It has informed the local department of many woods blazes and has been invaluable in locating them. At the present time the local department is headed by Chief Fred Pye, assisted by Assistant Chief Chester C. Smith and Lieutenants, Everett S. Winship and Charles L. Wade, permanent firemen.
The equipment of the department includes the following: Ahrens-Fox combination, Ladder Truck, Maxim pump, Forest Fire truck combination, new combination, Emergency truck and the State Forest Warden's truck. These pieces of apparatus are fully equipped with the latest types of emergency flood lights, generators, hose, extinguishers, gas masks, inhalator and all necessary equipment for a modern fire fighting force. Stoughton can today be proud of its modern streamlined force and it has been proven to be well worth while.
Stoughton Fire Department Chiefs
James Mears, 1862
Henry Jones, 1863-1870
J. Freeman Ellis, 1871-1873, 1877-1878
Augustus W. Carpenter, 1874
Thomas W. Bright, 1875-1876
Walter R. Swan, 1879-1881
H. F. Woodward, 1882-1883
Richard Vanston, 1883-1891
James J. Pye, 1891-1924
Frederick Pye, 1924-1926, 1933-
Henry M. Bird, 1926-1933
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