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History of the Somerville Fire Department

                               

In 1838, Charlestown, MA authorities paid a sum of $400 to have a two-story wooden engine-house built at the corner of Washington and Prospect Streets (this area is property of Somerville today).  In this engine-house, the "Mystic No. 6" was stored. Mystic No. 6 was not much more than a "tub" measuring three feet six inches long, by two feet wide.  It consisted of an oblong wooden tank sheathed with metal, pistons which worked perpendicularly, and handsome lancewood brakes.  It could not "draught" water, and all it threw was water which was poured into it by buckets.  A law was enforced starting that year which required each household to have two buckets hung in their front hallway.  When an alarm was sounded for a fire, each man was to run with his buckets to the fire location and lineup with the others to pass the buckets of water from a well or cistern to the men who operated Mystic No. 6.

In 1842, Somerville set off from Charlestown to become a town of its own.  Mystic No. 6 was left as a legacy to Somerville and the engine's valuation of $50 was entered into the town's record books.  All firemen at this time were volunteers and were paid a generous sum of $1.50 per year.

On November 12, 1849 town officials appropriated $1,438.75 for the purchase of a "good and sufficient fire engine".  The first-class modern suction machine , one of the best ever made by the celebrated Hunneman & Co. of Roxbury arrived about January 1, 1850 and was dubbed "Somerville No. 1".  It had six and a half inch cylinders, folding brakes and all of the latest improvements.  On January 15th of that same year, Nathan Tufts Jr. was named the first Chief Fire Engineer and George Brastow was named the clerk by the town's selectmen.  The first fire that the new department responded to was the burning of Johnson's barn which was located on School St. toward Union Square.

In 1853, the members of the fire department requested a pay raise from $1.50 to $12.00 per year.  When the board of selectmen refused to consider it, the department went on strike.  The town fathers yielded, however, and the strike was short-lived.  This was also the year that Mystic No. 6 was sold for the amount of $33.00 and it was taken to East Boston and broken up for old junk. It was also in 1853 that the first flagstaff in town was erected by the firemen in Union Square.

The engine-house was destroyed by fire on December 24, 1855 but Somerville No. 1 was saved.  A new brick building was erected on the same plot of land in 1856 for a cost of $5,000. 

The first report made by fire engineers was made by Chief Samuel H. Gooding, in 1862, for the preceeding year, in which he states that the department consists of one engine company, "whose membership has been reduced by members being in the army." He recommends the placing of larger wheels and a "stouter beam" on the engine, also the purchase of a hook and ladder truck for one horse to carry the ladders distributed about town which can not be found when wanted: to quote his own words, "they being out among the neighbors generally."  He also recommended the purchase of an extra hose carriage.  There were 8 fires that year, with a loss of about $3,300.  Of the 800 feet of hose, 200 feet were good, 300 feet were fair and 300 feet were poor.  There was also 6 ladders, 1 hook, 6 reservoirs and 3 hydrants.

In April of 1863, an amount of $300 was appropriated for a hook and ladder truck.  One was finally purchased in September of that year for the amount of $350 but it was not formally manned at that time.  In April 1865, a sum not to exceed $4,000 was appropriated to purchase a hose carriage and horse, and provide a suitable place to locate it in East Somerville.  In June of 1865, engineers purchased a second-hand hose carriage formerly used by Gen. John E. Wool Hose Co. of Troy, NY for the sum of $600 and it went into service on October 1st of that year as "Liberty Hose Co. 1".  The company disbanded on July 9th, 1866 due to internal dissention and fighting, but a new company was formed within a few days, taking the name of "John E. Wool."

In March of 1866, the selectmen and engineers were instructed to purchase a steam fire engine, horses and all appurtenances thereto not to exceed in cost $10,000 and to locate the same.  It arrived on May 26th and occupied Hand Engine 1 Station in Union Square.  Hose No. 1 Station was built on Webster Street in East Somerville that same year.  Winter Hill Hose Co. 2 was organized in 1869 and occupied a station on Marshall Street in 1872. 

A new station was erected at the corner of Highland Avenue and Walnut Street (the Somerville Public Library now occupies this site) in 1871 and Engine Co. 1 was relocated from the station in Union Square to this new station on July 20th, 1871.  George H. Foster Hose Co. 3 was organized when Engine Co. 1 was transferred to its new station , and with Hook & Ladder Co. No. 1 , which was organized in 1870, it occupied the station that Engine 1 vacated in Union Square.

The first Silby engine owned by the town was purchased in 1873 and it was also that year in which the "John E. Wool" was sold to the town of Everett for the amount of $400 and later went out of service and was returned to its original company in Troy, NY.  It was also in 1873 that the George Brastow Hose Co. No. 4 was organized and assigned to a building at the corner of Highland Avenue and Grove Street.  It was at this point in time that every apparatus in the city (Somerville became a city on January 1, 1872) was equipped with horses.

The Gamewell fire alarm telegraph system was established in 1874 at a cost of $34,500 and it went into service on June 17th of 1874.  The first box alarm pulled in the city occured on June 25th, 1874 when Box #34 was pulled on the corner of Broadway opposite Marshall Street.

In 1874 a new ladder truck was bought and the Winter Hill Company became the Robert A. Vinal Hook & Ladder Company.  Chief James R. Hopkins declined to allow the new ladder truck to be named for himself.  In 1877, the power to remove men was placed in the hands of the Mayor and the Aldermen.  In 1885 the department became all uniformed.

Hose Co. No. 5 was organized on August 15th, 1889 and placed into service in September of 1889 at a brick station located at the corner of Somerville Avenue and Lowell Street.  A huge Central Fire Station was built in 1894 at Highland Avenue and Medford Street.  The new station sheltered Engine 1, a hose wagon and the new chemical engine A.  It also included accommodations for a combined aerial-ladder truck and a water tower.  The second floor of the station was used for sleeping rooms, a recreation room, hayloft, workroom and the chief's quarters.  The third floor was used exclusively as the headquarters of the of the fire-alarm telegraph system.  The station which had stood at the corner of Highland Avenue and Walnut Street was torn down. Also in 1894, a station was built on Highland Avenue near Cedar Street to house two pieces of apparatus.  A truck was bought shortly thereafter and Hook & Ladder Co. No. 2 was organized to operate out of the new station.

In 1896 a new fire station, designed to accommodate three pieces of apparatus, was erected at the corner of Broadway and Cross Street.  To this building Hose Company No. 1 was transferred from the old wooden building on Webster Street and reorganized into an engine company.  Relief Engine Co. 2 was also assigned to this new station.

The station at Teele Square was erected shortly before the turn of the Century, and covers all of the territory west of Willow Avenue.

Since 1900, the department has become completely motorized.

In 1918 the Somerville Fire Dept. joins the International Association of Fire Fighters as Local 76.

The above histories were written by John C. McNally, William E. Brigham & H.H. Easterbrook.  Special thanks to Somerville Firefighter Bob "Monty" Doherty.

 

 




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