THE HISTORY OF THE HULL FIRE DEPARTMENT
Fire, while one of man's great aids and comforts has also been one of his dangers and scourges. That this was recognized early in the history of the town may be seen when we read the records for the year 1673:
"Moreover it is ordered that whoever be found smoking tobacco in any barn or other place where straw or combustible stuff is for danger of fire or in the town street upon penalty of 12 pence a time, half to the town and half to the informer." Again, in April 1700, we read: "Taking into consideration the great danger that the neighborhood was in lately by the breaking out of fires did then renew the order formerly made: that every householder should have a ladder to reach from the ground to the top of his house by the last of August next - Penalty 2 shilling and sixpence for every week's neglect."
Still there were fires as we read in the Records of the Village Church: "July 13, 1735: a day never to be forgotten by us, for the terrible thunder and lightning, in the evening, whereby a large barn was consumed and the meeting house and several dwelling houses greatly endangered." From the same source for March 6, 1821, " the Widow Swain's house was taken on fire by the burning of the chimney and burnt to the ground and endangered other houses which were saved only by the exertion of the people... their furniture was entirely saved by the great exertion of men, women and children."
The first indication of the fire service in town reports are that men are getting paid small sums of money for attending and 'watching' fires. In 1878, it is recorded that J. McLauthlin "watched the Pickering fire, and that he and O. A. Labre "watched" the Nantasket Beach Fire.
The year 1883 brought an increase in the number of "watchers" to five men. The total expense for this fire service was $60. Their role was to attend these fires and contain them.
It is apparent from records that between the years 1883 and 1885 the town began the process of acquiring fire apparatus, as the report of 1886 had an inventory of: 1 hose cart with 900' of hose and ladder (Village); 1 hose cart with 450' of hose and ladder (Atlantic Hill): 1 hose cart with 450' of hose at Strawberry Hill.
Apparently fires started from other causes in the old days, for the Annual Report of the Engineers of the Fire Department for the year 1885 states: "An attempt was made to burn the hose carriage and hose station at Strawberry Hill, but it was fortunately discovered in time to save all but 200 feet of hose, which was burned. The engineers had the carriage and hose removed to another location, which no doubt saved it, as a second attempt at firing the building proved successful."
The year 1887 brought a little more turmoil to the fire department. District #2 was concerned because a portion of the volunteer members left the beach in the fall. Another issue was the size of the Village Hose House (location uncertain), as it was barely large enough to contain apparatus and the 20 men who were expected to get inside to hold their monthly meetings as prescribed by law.
At a Town Meeting in 1889, permission was sought to occupy the present school in the Village, when vacated, for the hose company, and the present "hose house" could be used as a morgue.
Six hundred dollars was appropriated for preparing and altering the old school room under Town Hall for the use of the Fire Department (present Village Station). The town paid $450 to Abbott Downing Company for a new hose wagon.
The 1889 Board of Engineers A.L. Mitchell, John Smith, and Horace Sampson-Clerk, reported that "the Fire apparatus was in the first class condition, that attention should be called to the unprotected conditions of property located on the highlands, and recommended purchase of a steam fire engine and telephone connections." They also reported that the Fire Department had been out twice.
In passing, the difficulty in securing information of the town in the nineteenth century is partially due to a fire, for the blaze at the Arlington House in 1892 consumed many of the town records, which were stored in the lodging of the Town Clerk.
A typical description of the old fire fighting equipment is given in the 1893 report: "We now have in the department one hose wagon and 1200 feet of hose in the village; at Point Allerton one small hose reel and 400 feet of hose: at Strawberry Hill, 500 feet of hose which is on a wagon belonging to Harvey T. Litchfield, which we pay $5 a year for the use of; at Sagamore Hill one small reel and 300 feet of hose; at Atlantic Hill, one large hose reel and 1,000 feet of hose. There are two volunteer companies: one in Hull Village of 20 members and one at Nantasket of 10 members. These men receive no pay with the exception of the steward of each company, who receives $25 per year.
In 1894 it was voted to pay each member $10 for every fire they attended and that amount was changed two years later. It was voted to pay each regular fireman $25 per year, and water proof clothing was purchased for 46 men.
The early 1900's brought a number of changes to the Fire Department. (In 1900 there were eight fires, the worst one at Kenberma, as there was no water pressure.) In 1904 steam whistles were put on the Electric Light Station for the notification of firemen. A code of signals was also established for the location of fires.
Some of the locations being #25 at the corner of Beacon and #26 at the Atlantic Club.
In the year 1909 a bold step was taken: "Under article 41 last March meeting the town voted an appropriation of $5,250 for the purchase of a steam fire engine."
There was a new Webb automobile fire engine in the market. This machine was a combination fire engine and hose wagon of 70 horse power, four cylinder gasoline motor, with a speed of 55 miles per hour, a hose carrying capacity of 1000 feet; also two-three gallon chemical extinguishers and two ladders. It was rated to carry seven men. A Town Meeting was called and held on June 29th and it was voted to buy a Webb Motor Fire Engine at a cost not exceeding $8,000.
This was the first motorized pump in the entire New England area. Many were aghast at the recklessness of the small town. The Boston Herald headlined its account of the meeting: "Hull Drunk with Money." However from the 1913 report: "Within the last four years the department has purchased three automobiles engines and today stands first in fire-fighting ability with any of the towns in the State. It can be readily seen that the engines are a success, both in responding to calls after receiving them and in handling fires."
But the day of the horse was not dead, for from the 1920 Report: "During the severe snow storms last winter, it was necessary to use horses and pungs when responding to alarms, and we wish to take this
opportunity to thank John Smith, Bradford Weston, and John R. Wheeler for the use of their horses and pungs at these times. Only for the use of John Smith's horses and pung on the Feb. 6th fire we would have lost several houses. We also feel that something should be said of the splended efforts the firemen made to get to that fire, many of them being obliged to wade through deep snow from Waveland, Whitehead and Surfside. The Waveland companies were obliged to dig their horses out of the snow drifts many times." The fire in question was Box 65, at Gun Rock, which was quite a walk through heavy snow.
In 1918 following a particularly heated town election, the Board of Engineers and the department resigned and a new Board was formed with Henry J. Stevens as Chief. Under Chief Stevens the department continued to acquire the finest fire fighting and lifesaving equipment available. Along with their other duties the men of the department became so skilled in use of inhalators and resuscitators that when the United States Coast Guard purchased their first piece of such equipment it was assigned to the Point Allerton Lifeboat Station, so that the men learning to use it could utilize the talents of the Hull Fire Department.
In the years following the First World War, conditions in the Town were reaching a dangerous climax. Particularly in the South End of town, buildings had been erected closely, buildings designed under inadequate building codes or no codes at all. In several instances fires had spread quickly, damaging four and five houses at a time, despite the efforts of the firemen. But the worst fire in the history of the town came on March 28,1923 when the Park Fire spread a path of destruction form Paragon Park to the top of Atlantic Hill before it was checked.
Another famous fire was the Steamboat fire of November 28, 1929, when the entire fleet of the Nantasket Beach Steam Ship Company, wintering at Nantasket Pier, was swept by flames and, with the exception of the steamer Mayflower, was completely destroyed.
The large resort hotels have also presented a major problem to the Fire Department and provided several fires most notable of which was the Atlantic House Fire of January 7, 1924.
During the years the department continued to improve its equipment and services, maintaining its position as one of the most outstanding departments in the entire region. In the annual meeting of 1939 the town adopted Civil Service for the Fire Department members, marking the last step in the transition of the modern Fire Department.
1917 - Henry J. Stevens became Chief of the Fire Department when a serious strike among personnel left the lives and property of the citizens endangered from fire and hazards.
1929 - Henry J. Stevens was appointed Commissioner of Public Safety and held this position until his death in 1938. Raymond McDonald and Ralph Place served as Engineers along with Hugh C. Ross. They held office until Henry Farrell was appointed the first permanent Chief on April 29, 1941.
Henry Farrell held office until May 8, 1946 when Adrian P. Dowd was appointed to succeed him.
Harrison Gardner was appointed the first permanent Deputy Chief on November 27, 1941.
George E. Bushey was appointed the second permanent Deputy on June 2, 1942.
Captain Robert Myers was appointed the first permanent Captain on February 6, 1957.
There can be no better way to close than with the words of Henry J. Stevens, in his report as the Commissioner of Public Safety:
" I used to read from Tennyson, The Charge of the Light Brigade, and I used to cry, as all children do, as you and I do when we read a beautiful poem or something particularly striking whether in poetry or prose.
" I used to form a picture of what actually happened there in the Crimean War, and the only picture my imagination allowed me was a picture of firemen, as I have seen them hurrying to a fire to save a life and property; and I used to say to myself, that is what Tennyson must have had in his mind because he wasn't in the Crimean War himself, when he spoke of them going into the jaws of death and into the mouth of hell. That is the life that the fireman leads today. He goes out in the morning. He kisses his wife and his little children and he tells them that he will be home in the evening and he will have dinner or supper with them. He little knows. Perhaps a great fire springs up and he is under command, and he goes forth and perhaps he does not return and a family is berefit of its guide,
its counselor, its glory, its joy. Then, what happens? Tears in another home because man has died for man.
" I think of the great fires that we have had here in Hull and in various other places, and I ask myself if these men, warriors in time of peace, haven't done front line duty, and if they are not entitled to the same amount of consideration from those whose property and persons they have saved as are even some members of the great World War.
" Sometimes I ask myself whether sufficient consideration is given to these men. I ask myself whether they are securing enough of comfort for the sacrifice they make.
" When the call comes, the fireman has nothing to say, he puts on his clothes. In a half a minute he is on the apparatus and he is off to do his best for the protection of life and property. All he has to do is obey the behest of duty, with the result that persons and property are saved and you and I feel content. I am proud to be asscoiated with these men."
Compiled by: Robert A. Hollingshead, Fire Chief
From the Notes of: Anne Kinnear,
Chief Adrian Dowd (Ret.),
and Deputy Chief John Green (Ret.)