Brattleboro Fire Department

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History of BFD

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Mazeppa Engine Company

In 1854, at which time the firefighting forces still operated as independent and often competing companies, there was formed the Mazeppa Engine Company #4. Many prominent citizens were enrolled in the company, which a short time later answered it's first alarm. Records of the day state that upon recieving the alarm on Canal Street, the company arrived on the ground "in good time only to find that some daring scalawag had put the fire out before the arrival of the machine". Members of the company, as were all the town's firefighters were paid one dollar per year, but at the same time were fined one dollar for missing an alarm of fire and the exhorbitant amount of 10 cents for missing a company meeting.

Fire fighters of the time, in their efforts to preserve lives and property and social standings, were much revered by the townspeople and the press of the day. As is often the case with dramatic change as was brought about by great suffering and hardship in the "Great Fire of 1857". Following the great conflagration there was a cry from the citizens for greater organization of the fire services. Thus in that light, there was the first appeal for a town organized fire department with one knowledgable and competant leader. That first spar came from the Mazeppa Engine Company which, in some quarters was the target of critcizem for their actions at the scene of the "Great Fire". The membership asked for the formation of a chain of command with all the towns forces organized under the leadership of a competant chief officer. However it would take another three years for the plea to be heeded.

Even the mutual aid system as it's known today got its beginnings in these early days. On March 14th, 1860, an alarm of fire was received in Brattleboro, from Bellows Falls as fire fighters of that village faced a great challenge. Receiving a request for assistance, the local heroes put a "machine" on a specially prepared train at the depot and arrived in Bellows Falls at 5:30 pm, an hour and a half later, only to be informed that they were too late to join the fight. However, though times and methods have changed, the spirit of neighborly cooperation is as strong today; the dedication to thier task in a nearby town, to the fire fighter, is the same as that at home.

Formation of the Brattleboro Fire Department

At last, the Brattleboro Fire Department came into being in 1860. Charles Chapin is generally regarded as the first "Chief" of the department, which consisted at that time of: "Hydropath #3", "Fountain #4" and "Pheonix #6" (formerly Mazeppa) Engine Companies, all hand drawn and operated. The" Proctor Hook and Ladder" Company and West Brattleboro's "Western Engine Company #1" and "Rapid Engine Company" were also important componants of the department.

At various times, there were still independant fire companies such as: "S.M. Waite Hose Company", "Estey Organ Engine and Hose Company" and that of the Brattleboro Asylum (later the Retreat). The "Estyville Fire Company #7" operating a hand drawn, chemical engine housed on Chestnut Street later became an important addition to the Brattleboro Department. Another included the "Elliot Street Hose Company" which eventually was housed at the "Proctor Hook and Ladder" quarters on Elliot Street, the site now occupied by McNeils Brewery

Motorized Apparatus

1914 marked the iminent death of the horse drawn era of fire fighting. In that year, the first piece of motorized fire appartus arrived on the scene in Brattleboro with the purchase of a Seagrave, air cooled combination truck. It wasn't until 1923 that the second motorized piece was purchased and still the fire fighter had the best of two worlds; the horse drawn and the "gas buggy". But at that point in time, the demise of the fire service horse was inevitable. In 1926 the town aquired a 750 gallon per minute Seagrave pumper and in 1927, a 500 gallon per minute American LaFrance moved into West Brattleboro, and the apparatus has continued to evolve into the apparatus of today.

Arrival of Steam Engines

In Brattleboro as elsewhere, dramatic changes were taking place with the fire services in the latter third of the century. The advent of the steam engine was revolutunary in the fire services and Brattleboro wasn't far behind. As hand operated engines were replaced by steamers, some of them went to other towns as front line apparatus, and some were to be used only for competition and parade relics. The old "Fountain #4" sold at auction in 1880 moving to Waterville, MA with it's career ending in Westerly, RI in 1920, when it was dismanteled.

The Fountain Company moved into the Elliot Street Central Station to operate the town's second steam engine, the first having been given to the Hydropath Engine Company which was housed there. Then, the hand operated "Pheonix #6" moved across the brook to occupy the old Fountain quarters at South Main and Canal Streets. The Hydropath hand operated machine went to Lowell, MA and the old Western hand engine was sold to Williamsville, VT.

Evolving Times at the Brattleboro Fire Department

The Brattleboro Fire Department became a paid, full time organization with the arrival of Arthur D. Horton, the town's first full time fire fighter. He served Brattleboro for 42 years, until his death in the Central Fire Station in 1933. Arthur lived to see most of the dramatic changes, for it was in 1933 that motorized apparatus finally replaced the last horse drawn unit in Brattleboro.

Even though some of the 4000 pound steamers could pump 350 gallons per minute at 100 pounds of pressure, they were no match for the onslaught of motorized equipment. Some old departments boasted they could hitch up a steamer in eight and a half seconds from a standing start and be ready to pump in ten minutes away from the station. That could not forestall the arrival of the internal combustion engine. Along with increased water supplies from hydrants and increased pressures, the steamers gradually gave way.





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