Pittsfield and Its Up-to-Date Fire Department
Has Long and Interesting History—Its Early Beginnings and Struggles—List of Fire Chiefs—Present Apparatus and Personnel
PITTSFIELD, the “Heart of the Berkshires” and Convention City of 1925 for the New England Association of Fire Engineers, takes pride in its modern and well equipped fire department which under command of Chief William C. Shepard has been brought to a high state of efficiency.
The apparatus which is all motorized consists of one 75 ft. American LaFrance aerial hook and ladder truck, two Seagrave combination chemical and hose cars, one American LaFrance city service ladder truck, two American LaFrance 750 gallon combination pumping engines and hose cars, one Metropolitan steam fire engine, one Silsby steam fire engine, one Sanford service track, and one Chandler chief’s car.
How the Fire Apparatus is Quartered
In the large headquarters building and central fire station (Fig. 1) there are quartered the aerial truck, a motor pumping engine, chemical and hose car, service car, chief’s car, and two steam fire engines.
In the Morningside fire station on Tyler Street (Fig. 2) there are quartered the city service ladder truck and a motor pumping engine, also a chemical and hose combination.
The permanent force consists of a chief engineer, deputy chief, two captains, two lieutenants, one mechanician, and thirty-five firemen. The call force of the department consists of eleven men. The West Pittsfield Company has a volunteer force of fifty members.
Beginnings of the Fire Department
According to old records of the city the first real organized attempt to check destruction by fire in Pittsfield occurred at a town meeting in March of the year 1811 when a proposition was made for the purchase of a fire engine. This was voted down, however. In the following year a movement was started to raise funds by subscription for the purchase of an engine. The project hung for some time without much success until June, 1814, when Major Melville, with a view to the safeguarding of the valuable national property in the town, asked all those who had subscribed to the fund or who were interested in the project to gather in Capt. Campbell’s Tavern on July 6 in order to discuss ways and means of immediately obtaining the desired engine. An enthusiastic meeting was held and resulted in the purchase of the engine.
At the next town meeting the authorities were asked to convert the small dwelling house occupied by William Smith, sexton and caretaker of the burying ground, into an engine house and to provide buckets for the engine which had no suction hose. Both requests were denied on the grounds that the expense involved was not warranted.
Burned Residence Proves Object Lesson
The burning of the residence of William Hollister on South street near the Housatonic River on January 4, 1819, proved an object lesson to the voters on the Question of the need for fire protection.
The volunteer fire fighters did the best they could on this occasion and that their work was appreciated is shown by the following letter written at the time which we find in the booklet on the Pittsfield department published by George E. Joyce in 1908:
“To the Members of the Pittsfield Volunteer Fire Department:
Gentlemen:—Permit me to express to you my warmest thanks for your good conduct at the distressing fire yesterday. Even prejudice itself is now awake in your favor. In giving me this new proof of your zeal and abilities you have confirmed the good opinion I have ever entertained of you.
Signed: M. R. LANCTON, Director.”
Citizens Meet to Consider Fire Protection Measures
A meeting of the citizens was held to consider further measures for the protection of the community from fire. As a result William C. Jarvis, H. H. Childs, and Josiah Bissell were appointed as a committee to consider the expediency of establishing a mutual fire insurance company. Report was made that the losses from fires in Pittsfield for the preceding ten year period had amounted to $3,300. The committee published an address to the citizens urging strongly the establishment of the company as suggested. The number of dwelling houses in the town was estimated as 280 of an average valuation of over $1000 each, making a total of $280,000 of insurable property. An act was procured from the legislature incorporating the Pittsfield Fire Insurance Company.
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In 1828 the Berkshire Fire Insurance Company was incorporated and in 1835 the Berkshire Mutual Fire Insurance Company was chartered.
First Engine Company is Praised for Its Work
During the next 15 years the engine company was many times praised for its services at fires. The roll of the company contained many famous names including Bartlett A. Luce, Robert Campbell, John H. Seymour, Jacob Luce, James Warriner, Frederick Carter, William E. Gold, Charles A. Luce, Clark Wright, Jacob Learned, Jonathan Day, Horace P. Bissell, John Bell, William R. Richmond, and Nelson Brown.
These were all representative Pittsfield citizens, the members of the company being appointed annually by the board of selectmen. While Dr. Robert Campbell was in command of the company the tavern of Ansel Nichols near the Dalton line was burned. This took place in 1827 and the company won high commendation for its work at this fire. The records of the company are complete up to the year 1834.
There were two other engines in the town. One was owned bv the Pittsfield Woolen Company and the other by the firm of Lemuel Pomeroy & Sons. These engines were kept at the factories of their owners.
Pittsfield Fire District Created
Agitation for the establishment of a regularly organized fire department resulted from the burning of the middle building of the Young Ladies’ Institute in the year 1844. A committee was then appointed to “consider the matter of protection against fire.” The committee was composed of Henry Stearns, Thomas F. Plunkett, Robert Campbell, Ensign H. Kellogg, and George S. Willis. A report was brought in by this body on April 29, 1844, favoring the formation of a fire district. The Pittsfield Fire District was created on June 3, 1844. and on June 8 officers were appointed as follows: Chief. Levi Goodrich; Assistants. Robert Campbell, George S. Willis, Jason Clapp, Henry Callendar, Jared Ingersoll, William G. Backus, and Ensign H. Kellogg; Prudential Committee, Phineas Allen, Edward A. Newton. and Ezekiel R. Colt. The town had already given land and $1000 for fire department use.
At the first meeting of the Fire District an additional $2000 was voted. A house for the apparatus was built on School street at a cost of $500 and a new engine purchased from Henry Waterman, of Hudson, for $680. This engine was a 7 1/4 hydraulion with 328 feet of hose and was christened “Housatonic.” It was delivered to the company on October 12, 1844, and had a long record of unbroken organization of its members, this being one of the earliest regular fire companies in the United States.
New Fire Companies Formed
Later in the same year, 1844. two additional engines were purchased and given the names “Fame” and “Union.” On June 12, 1848, the Pontoosuc Engine Company was formed and given charge of the “Fame” machine under the name of Engine No. 2. Officers were chosen as follows: Foreman, Seth W. Morton; First Assistant Foreman, Gordon McKay; Second Assistant Foreman, Henry I. Pope; Clerk, James D. Colt. 2nd.; treasurer, Newell Bliss. In 1855 Foreman Morton retired and was followed in succession by the following as foremen of the company: John Lane, Charles Pitt, John E. Dodge, Wesley E. Shepardson, A. H. Munyan, George W. Smith, Edward Dunham, P. E. Morton, and Henry Hurlbut. In 1858 this company was merged with the Protection Company and in 1871 became known as the George Y. Learned Company. (Fig. 3.)
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The Eagle Engine Co. was formed with John Van Vechten as first foreman followed by Foreman Charles M. Welden. This company was later disbanded and succeeded by the Taconie Company. The latter company was dissolved in 1869.
On October 20, 1848, the Greylock Hook and Ladder Company (See Fig. 3) was organized with 29 men under Foreman George R. Groot. Daniel J. Dodge was the second foreman of this company which became famous for deeds of daring. In 1870 the S. W. Morton Company was formed and won many prizes at tournaments. A fire house for both engine and ladder companies was built in 1845 near the present site of St. Stephen’s church. In 1849 a new house was built for No. 2 Co. and the truck company on the site of the present No. 2 house. The house of No. 1 Company was destroyed by fire in 1859 and replaced by a brick structure. This building was extensively repaired in 1885.
The No. 3 engine house on North street was built in 1889. Two fire engines were purchased in 1871 at a cost of $8000 and in 1885 a third was bought for $5000.
District Becomes Fire Department in 1891
Pittsfield became a city on January 1, 1891. The Pittsfield fire district was then replaced by the Pittsfield Fire Department. Antiquated apparatus was discarded and modern equipment took its place. George W. Branch, who had served under the old district management since the year 1887, was appointed as the first chief engineer of the new department. It was during his term of office that the handsome brick central fire station and headquarters building was erected.
W. F. Francis became chief engineer on February 1, 1896. He induced the city to purchase horses and abandon the hired livery service. . Five regular men were added to the department, the big reserve steam fire engine was placed in service at the central station and the old wagon of the Protection Co. was built over from a fire patrol to a hose wagon. Much new hose was purchased by the fire committee which was composed at this time of E. A. Talbot, H. S. Russell, J. F. Kahl, and P. W. Goewey.
Complete List of Pittsfield Chiefs
The complete list of chief engineers of the Pittsfield Fire Department from earliest days to the present time is as follows:
Improvements Recommended by Chief for 1925
According to Chief Shepard’s report for the year ending December 31, 1924. the Pittsfield department responded to 304 alarms of which 64 were box alarms and 240 were telephone calls. The department has 11,000 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose in good condition.
The chief recommends the erection of two bungalow fire stations, one at a point near Wahconah Street and Pecks Road and the other at a point near Elm Street and Holmes Road.
In his report the chief also advises the purchase of two new 750 gallon motor pumping engines and the appointment of 25 additional firemen. The number of building inspections made during the year was 6.439. The total losses by fire during the year 1924 amounted to $109,024.78. Chief Shepard is assisted in the administration of the department by Deputy Chief W. F. Lloyd.