The New England Association
On July 12, 1922, 38 men, “interested in fire departments,” met in the office of the Gamewell Fire Alarm Telegraph Company in Boston. The group consisted of fire chiefs, ex-chiefs and manufacturers of fire fighting equipment. Chief John P. Doyle of Wellesley was elected temporary chairman and Chief John W. O’Hearn temporary secretary. Following this, Chief John F. Leonard, Belmont, Mass., “moved and it was so voted (that) the association be now organized as a permanent organization to be known as the New England Association of Fire Chiefs.”
The first slate of officers was then elected: Chief John P. Doyle, Wellesley, Mass., president; Chief John Moran, Hartford, Conn., first vice president; and Chief John W. O’Hearn, Watertown, Mass., secretary-treasurer. O’Hearn, incidentally, was to hold this post until his death in 1959.
Plans were then made for the first annual convention of the association which was held at the Hotel Stratfield, Bridgeport, Conn., on June 21-22, 1923. Membership by this time was up to 119. It is interesting to note that at this convention there were 27 exhibitors of apparatus and equipment. The exhibits covered 5,880 square feet of floor space at 10 cents a square foot. (How times have changed!)
Some of the red-hot topics presented at the meeting of this historic first conference were: The Fire Hazards of Popular Radio, How to Get Better Insurance Classifications, and Standardization of Fire Hose Threads.
Conference locations varied
Conferences following the first were held at a variety of locations in the New England States including Pittsfield, Mass., Burlington, Vt., Manchester, N.H., and Dixville Notch, N.H. Two conferences were cancelled because of World War II—1941 and 1944. The 1945 conference was held at The Wentworth, Portsmouth, N.H., and the association has returned to this famous seaside resort every year since. It is fitting, therefore, that the Golden Anniversary will be held at The Wentworth in June 1972.
We note in the records of 1925 that members went to and from Pittsfield, Mass., on the Boston and Albany Railroad and in parlor cars. And that the membership list had increased to 281. By the time of the 1926 meeting in Manchester, N.H., the membership was up to 335. Exhibitors numbered 25 and included the big items from American LaFrance, Seagrave, Maxim and Ahrens-Fox.
Fred Shepperd, editor of Fire Engineering, was one of the leading speakers at this conference; his topic was “Dusts and Their Relation to Explosions.” At the same conference a rising vote of thanks was given to Harry Belknap, press representative of Fire Engineering for “the splendid publicity work he has done during the past year for the association.”
Baseball featured in 1932
In the Depression year of 1932 the association met at Newport, R.I. Membership was up to 746, but the exhibitors went down to 18, with Mack Trucks featuring a new 85-foot aerial. A feature of this conference was a baseball game played between the Fall River Fire Department team and an all-New England firemen’s team. In a free-hitting contest New England won 15 to 6. Following the game, all retired to the Viking Hotel for an evening of whist followed by a buffet. At this meeting the well-known Chief Alfred H. Koltonski of Rutland, Vt., was elected president.
At the conference, it was brought out that “water was preeminent in forest fire extinguishment.” The speaker was K.F. Williams, supervisor forest fire control, New York State. Williams brought out the fact that rotary, piston and centrifugal pumps were available in weights from 40 to 300 pounds.
With war clouds gathering, the conference in 1940 at “The Balsams” Dixville Notch, N.H. started on a somber note. Fred Shepperd spoke on “Fire Protection During Air Raids” and Director George Fairley, Pittsburgh Fire Department, explored the effects of the war on taxes and the consequent reduction in funds available for fire fighting forces and equipment. Fire Commissioner William A. Reilly of Boston took a 10-year look ahead to 1950 and predicted heavy traffic congestion and the end of the two-piece engine company—a pretty good prognostication.
Down through the years, timeliness of subject matter has always been associated with the New England Chief’s conferences. And the subject matter was such that it affected the entire fire service. The new-fangled radio in 1922 was explored for fire hazards and in 1947 the new-fangled television. Pneumatic tires presented a problem when they began to replace the solid rubber, and in 1927 the requirements for such tires were discussed at Portland, Me.
Papers geared to need
Training has been featured on the programs since 1929 when “The Organization of State Training Schools for Firemen” was discussed. Radio Service for the Fire Department (1934), Fire Alarm Telegraph Versus Telephone (1937), Fire Prevention in War Industries (1943), Fog Versus Foam (1946), Fire Chiefs’ Salaries (1951), Peacetime Hazards of Radioactive Materials (1961), The Problems of Fire and Police Unification (1963)—all these and many other subjects were covered while they were hot and of major interest to all.
In 1947 some of the members of the New England formed a group that became the New England Division of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. This group remained in the original association and has held concurrent meetings with it since 1951.
The New England Association has played a strong part in the affairs of the International Association of Fire Chiefs and has contributed six presidents to this association: Chief Selden R. Allen, Brookline, Mass.; Chief Daniel B. Tierney, Arlington, Mass.; Chief Samuel J. Pope, Boston, Mass.; Chief Henry G. Thomas, Hartford, Conn.; Chief Lewis A. Marshall, Providence, R.I.; and Chief Walter R. Carter, Lynn, Mass.
Down through the years, the programs of New England conferences read like a Who’s Who of the Fire Service: Percy Bugbee, Warren Kimball, Paul Lyons and Charles Morgan of the National Fire Protection Association; Fred Shepperd, Roi Woolley, Don O’Brien, Dick Sylvia and Jim Casey of Fire Engineering; W.J. Scott, Ontario Fire Marshal; Chief Gray Burnett, Ottawa, Canada, who was then president of the IAFC (1955); Frank Brannigan of Civil Defense, and many others too numerous to name.
The 1971 conference lived up to the reputation that the association has for timeliness and big names, with Dr. John A. Rockett, director of fire research and safety of the Bureau of Standards, explaining the “National Fire Program and the Fire Service.”
The 1972 Golden Anniversary Conference at Wentworth, N.H., promises to be the biggest and best ever. We hope you will all join us in spirit, if not in body.
Editor’s note: Albert W. Kimball as chief of Hingham, Mass., joined the New England Association of Fire Chiefs in early 1942. He has been secretary-treasurer since 1959. Al retired from his department early this year and will relinquish his post with the association after the Golden Anniversary.