The evolution of the town of Carlisle fire department

On October 1 in the Wilson Chapel at Green Cemetery, Deputy Fire Chief David Flannery offered this extensive historical commentary on fire protection in Carlisle, 1754 to 1979, during a special service to honor six 20-year veteran firefighters.

As I studied the evolution of protection from fire over the past 200 years, I found that there were four major elements required in order to provide fire protection in our community. The first requirement was firefighters. Volunteers who were willing come forward to do the job and who would be there. The second need was a way to alert the firefighters, some method of communication to let them know they were needed. This would be a fire alarm or communications system. The third element needed was water. There is just no other way to fight fire. And water needed to be nearby and available. The fourth requirement was the ability to move water, from the source to the fire. Whether the method was a bucket, a portable extinguisher, a wagon, chemical tank, a truck, pump or hose, moving water in sufficient quantities from point A to point B was a never-ending challenge.

In the last century two other factors greatly enhanced the fire protection services within our community. These were facilities, a place to keep and store equipment and organization, a local governmental organization with a structure and a leader.

As you look back over the past 200, years and study the evolution of protection from fire in Carlisle you can see the struggle the town went through developing these basic elements -- elements which today are just as important as they were 200 years ago and with which we continue to struggle, particularly in a community with no municipal water supply.

Carlisle first became a district on April 19, 1754. The first meetinghouse was built in 1760 in the center of Carlisle with voluntary contributions. Carlisle became the second incorporated district in April 1780. Remember that Concord was first incorporated as a town in 1635. Carlisle finally became a town on February 18, 1805. We are going to observe our 200th birthday in just a few years.

Early fire department records indicate that the meetinghouse burned to the ground when it was struck by lightning on May 26, 1810. The second meetinghouse (now the First Religious Society ), the one that stands today ,was built by the Town of Carlisle in 1811.

1754 to 1868

Between 1754 and 1868, fire protection in the town was scant. Every man in the village owned his own bucket. Fires were fought with bucket lines of bucket brigades. That is if there was a nearby water supply and enough men and buckets were available at the time of the fire.

The first firefighting equipment believed to be horse-drawn was acquired by the town in 1832. A firefighting company was organized. Two masters and twenty-one engine men were appointed by the selectmen to work as firefighters to manage the engine. The engine was paid partly by subscription and partly from the town treasury. This engine was later described as an inferior machine and never much advantage to the town. It was finally sold in 1868 for $6.50.

In the town's historical collection there is a certificate of membership of Isaac Duren in the Fire Department of the Town of Carlisle. It's dated August 4, 1832, and signed by the three selectmen. The certificate states that Isaac Duren is entitled to all the immunities belonging to said office.

During the period 1888-1889 town records show that Mr. Marshall Lee was the town Weigher and Fire Warden.

According to the town report of 1912 the town paid $275 for a forest fire wagon from Penniman and Jones of Boston and $99.85 to American LaFrance for the equipment to outfit it. This was a horse drawn wagon. George G. Wilkins was Forest Fire Warden between 1913 -1923.

In his report in 1913 George Wilkins described the equipment then in use for forest fire fighting "we now have good equipment for forest fire fighting: the Forest Fire Wagon equipped with ten chemical extinguishers, water cans, pails, shovels, rake and axes. We have one set of double harnesses with the wagon, and the above outfit is housed with W.S. Barrett at the Village Farm ( No. 8 Bedford Road )." The rent was $18 per year. In addition, it was announced that "Fire Warden Extinguishers" had been placed at different parts of the Town and their locations were given for the five districts, each having an appointed deputy fire warden. The one thing needed, he noted, was an organization of young men as firefighters.

Interestingly, Article 12 for the Annual Town meeting in 1916 asked that the town vote to sell the Forest Fire Wagon with the approval of the state forester.

On July 21, 1916, a meeting was called to organize a volunteer fire company. The meeting was called to order at 8 p.m., Fire Warden George G. Wilkins presiding. On a motion it was "voted that a fire company be organized in Carlisle, to be known as the Carlisle Volunteer Fire Company, for the purpose of protecting life and property from fire especially forest fires." Nineteen at this meeting signified their desire to join the organization. A committee was selected to draft a constitution and bylaws. The meeting adjourned. On September 16, the second meeting was called and presided over by Fire Warden George G. Wilkins. A constitution containing nine articles was adopted and the meeting was adjourned again to September 23. At this adjourned meeting, the permanent organization was formed and officers elected. Captain George G. Wilkins, Lieut. William Foss, Clerk Fred P. Nickles, Treasurer D.C. Whittemore.

Article V of the constitution, referring to membership, made it imperative that members of the company be between the ages of sixteen and sixty-five years, and before admission to membership sign the roll, pay a one dollar membership fee, and receive a two-thirds vote of members present and voting.

In his report as forest warden in 1916, George G. Wilkins said that the Carlisle Volunteer Fire Company had been formed and had 24 members. The purpose of the organization was for better protection of life and property from fire. He further stated that some of Carlisle's best citizens were connected with the organization.

In 1917 a report of the Committee on Better Fire Protection recommended that the town purchase an auto truck and chemical extinguishers. $1000.00 was appropriated. A Ford chassis was purchased this truck is believed to have been a Model T. The chassis was lengthened and equipped with a suitable body to carry the equipment needed for the fire service. Records show that the purchase was made from Allen Auto for $ 650. This truck was stored in a building on Lowell Street belonging to Mr. A.C. Blaisdell, and for which the town paid rent.

Forest Fire Warden Wilkins noted in his report of 1918 the need for one 40-gallon chemical tank which could be mounted on a truck and which could be drawn by an auto or team of any kind. He stated that he still believed that the Carlisle Fire Company was of much use and credit to the town.

Eugene Teabo was appointed to the office of Forest Fire Warden on February 22, 1923. He remained in this position until 1926.

In his report in 1923, Eugene Teabo stated that several buildings had been lost during the year, and there had been ten chimney fire calls in addition to two serious forest fires, one in April and one in October which burnt over 100 acres. Several farms were placed in danger. He urged the necessity of purchasing and maintaining a chemical truck of at least two forty gallon tanks with hose and necessary equipment as the town had nothing to combat a situation such as they were called upon during the year.

A committee consisting of Eugene R. Teabo, James H. Wilkins, and Frank J. Biggi, appointed at the 1924 annual Town Meeting to look into the question of fire protection and fire apparatus, reported at a special town meeting in April. The committee recommended the purchase of a one-ton chassis of Ford type, and placing on it the body of the old horse drawn wagon, two chemical tanks of 40-gallon capacity, and "all the equipment that goes with it." It was voted that $1,500 be appropriated for the purchase and equipment of this truck which consisted of a Ford chassis , two 40-gallon tanks with 25 feet of hose for each one. Following the purchase of the authorized equipment, Mr. Teabo said in his annual report, "This truck is a combination for building and forest fires." The fire department expenditures for 1924 amounted to $ 1544.00

In the year 1925

A question that soon claimed the attention of the voters was that of suitable housing for the fire truck and other town property. When the fire truck was first purchased it was placed in an unheated building which had been used as a carriage house then located at 64 Lowell Road. When winter came the fire truck was moved to the basement of the Gleason Library. (The Gleason Library was built in 1895 ) This arrangement was less than ideal and came with a few difficulties.

A committee formed in 1925 appointed by the annual Town Meeting to look into the matter of site, size, cost, and related information about the necessary building, reported at a special Town Meeting in June 1925. This committee recommended the plot of land between the Old Cemetery and the Congregational Church Parsonage on Lowell Street and there erect a building of semi-bungalow type with a frontage of 32 feet and 50 feet in length. This building should be warmed, they reported, and opportunity provided to build an additional room should that become necessary. The report was accepted and the committee was retained with instructions to purchase the lot and erect a firehouse such as had been suggested, the cost was not to exceed $3200.00 That amount was appropriated from the Town Farm Fund. The fire department moved into this new building in 1925. Coincidentally, this was the same year the center of town was threatened when a disastrous fire occurred. The old country store, sheds and one barn were entirely consumed. This was one of the most serious fires in the town's history.

Now for the beginning of the Carlisle Fire Department, as the organization we have today, three quarters of a century later. The year is 1926.

What was happening

in the world in 1926 ?

The president was Calvin Coolidge and the population in the United States was at 117 million. U.S. Marines were dispatched to Nicaragua during the revolt against the new president there and Chiang Kai-shek became the leader of China's revolutionary party. A general strike in Britain brought that nation's activities to a standstill. Federal spending was at 2.93 billion and unemployment was 1.8%. The cost of a first class stamp was 2 cents. The St. Louis Cardinals won the World series against the New York Yankees ( 4-3 ). RCA, General Electric and Westinghouse established NBC, which operated two national radio networks. The Book-of-the Month Club was founded and the first liquid fueled rocket was fired. Auto anti-freeze now allowed people to use cars year round.

What was going on

in our town in 1926?

Eugene Teabo, Forest and Fire Warden stated in his report to the town that the fire department is greatly in need of re-organization and the cooperation of the voters of the town.

The population of the town was 510 and there were 100 students attending the Highland School. (Incidentally, our town is just a few people less than 5,000 today and we have approximately 800 students in the school now.) Selectmen were James Wilkins, William Foss and James Anthony. The Town Clerk was Ruth C. Wilkins, William Foss was town treasurer and Arthur Lapham tax collector, Mabel Bates served on the school committee, and Guy Clark was a field driver. It was voted to raise an additional $230 for the moth department [gypsy moth control] in that year. A vote to allow the sale of non-intoxicating beverages failed on the ballot with 29 yes and 50 no votes. Under Article 5 the town appropriated $500 for the fire department budget. A vote was taken to sell the Town Farm, and under article 17 that the old fire truck, so-called, be placed at the disposal of the highway department. A Special Town Meeting took up the question in April of a fire alarm system and action on this matter was indefinitely postponed by the meeting. Voters who were conscious of their vulnerability in the case of a serious fire of this type appointed a committee in 1926 for the purpose of investigating the formation of a Town Fire Department.

At a Special Town Meeting in April 1926, on an article "To see if the Town will accept the provisions of Sections 42-43-44 of Chapter 48 of the General Law which is an act authorizing the establishing of a Fire Department," it was voted to accept the sections, and the board of selectmen was duly authorized to establish a fire department.

In their report for 1927, the selectmen, then James H. Wilkins, William Foss, Jr. , and William Robbins announced "At the beginning of the year a fire department was organized with seven members, consisting of a Chief, Assistant Chief, and five men." The original seven members were Waldo D. Wilson, Everett Heald, William Knowles, Herbert Lee, Charles Reynolds, William Wilkie, and Ali Garthe.

Each member of the department received a small salary, the Chief received $75, the Assistant Chief $30, and the five others $20 each; the salary required the Chief to look after the fire house and have general charge of the department, and required the six other members to attend meetings, keep the equipment in order and respond to fire

calls, each man receiving a per hour wage for actual service when responding to a call.

A telephone was installed and was listed as the Carlisle Fire Department. This phone had connections to the residence of the Chief and other members of the Department.