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Warner Fire Department - History

Summary Version for Warner's Home Page on the Internet - 1999

Believed to be one of the oldest organized Fire Departments in our area* (see note below), the Warner Fire Department was established on August 16, 1830 in the section of town called "Lower Warner" and now officially named, Main Street East. The Warner Fire Engine Company, as it was then named, consisted of 17 members, with one of the members usually elected as "Foreman" and one as "Clerk". They had a small "hand-pumping, hand-tub engine" which was later named "Kearsarge No. 1". This engine was sold around 1903 to a member of the Lowell Veteran Fireman's Association in Lowell Massachusetts. It was completely restored and in 1904 was loaned to the Trustees of the Great Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri to be viewed by all people who attended this grand affair. The exact date of its construction was unknown, but it was believed to be one of the oldest hand pump engines in this part of the country.

In 1848 another engine company was formed organized on July 1 and called the "Niagara Fire Engine Club", to protect the "Central Village". This company also consisted of 17 original members and their hand-pumping, hand-tub engine, was built by the Wm. Hunneman Co. of Roxbury Massachusetts in 1824. It is still owned and displayed by the Department today. This unit was completely restored in the 1960's and we won many hand-pumping for distance contests around the state with our "muster team" during the 1980's. In fact we never lost a contest against other hand-pumpers in our class. We could place sixteen fire laddies & lassies "on the brakes " each side of the pumping tub and with a person manning the nozzle and a "Captain" to keep things coordinated. At the end of a 50 foot length of 2 1/2-inch fire hose, with a straight-tipped nozzle, we could blast a stream well over 200 feet.

In the late 1800's still another hand-pumping engine was purchased. This unit, built by the J.H. Sickles, Co. of New York, was nicknamed "Old Rooster". A suction hose engine and a good firefighter, this pumper was sold, (we are not sure why) about 1907 at which time the Warner Village Fire District bought a hose reel wagon and a ladder wagon. Suction (or drafting) type of pumping engines many times worked out real well. Instead of being fed water by a bucket brigade, this unit would pick up a draft and be able to suck (or draft) water from a water supply, like a river, stream, pond, basin, etc. In fact, in the center of Warner Village was just such a water deposit, which most people don't even know about. In 1894 a 10,000 gallon all brick and concrete cistern was constructed underground at the junction of Main, Kearsarge and Church Streets, right smack in the center of town. . On the hill behind Simonds School, a well was dug and the water was piped down the hill using lead piping and into this cistern. This water supply was used on many occasions for fire suppression, probably the most recent extensive use was during the Cricenti's Store fire of January 1974. It appears that during construction of the large addition to the Simonds School in the 1970's, most of the lead pipes were cut off or crimped shut, thus the supply to the cistern was closed. In the late 1980's when road work was being done in the Town Square, the old cistern was filled in and ceased in existence. Some of us remember it well and some of us, at one time or another, during the summer months of course, used a ladder to climb down into the cistern to measure its size and check for usefulness.

On August 5, 1893 a group of village residents petitioned the Selectmen to establish a Village District for the purpose of providing water and fire protection and in March of 1894 the first Annual Meeting of the District was held and it was voted to purchase new hose, buckets, ladders and other supplies. It was also voted to purchase land and construct an engine house. In May 1894 the Fire Commissioners leased the "old paint shop" of the late Hiram Buswell for an engine house. This building was located at the top of "Creamery Hill", now Mill Street on the lawn across from the current Parsonage. That same building was later moved after no longer used as a fire house and is believed to be the shop behind Dean & Roxanna Smith's house on West Main Street. Later the engine was kept in the "old gun house", near what was Clough's Blacksmith's Shop and was later moved to the site on Kearsarge Street (Kearsarge Mountain Road) where the "old" Fire House stands today. This fire house was used by the department as headquarters from that time until May 1962 when the new station was finished on Main Street in 1962.. The old station is still used for storage of historical and spare equipment. In 1907 the District purchased a new hose reel unit and an extension ladder for use of the Hose Company. Later in the same year the district purchased a new Ladder Truck (wagon) for the Hose Company. In 1907 "Old Rooster" was to be sold, the machine weighed 2,450 pounds. An article in the newspaper at the time carried the following advertisement:

"FOR SALE" "A second-hand Suction Hose Hand Fire Engine, with two 2 1/2 inch hose-coupling attachments; powerful pumps, and room at the brakes for 30 men. Manufactured by J.H. Sickles, New York. A powerful fire fighter - all in good condition." "We have a good high pressure hydrant system and do not need the engine." April, 26, 1907, by the COMMISSIONERS OF WARNER VILLAGE FIRE DISTRICT.
Upon demonstrating the units abilities, it was found to be in need of major repairs to the suction pump and many attempts to correct the problems failed over the next few years. Records show that they finally sold "Old Rooster" in 1917 for the sum of $25.00.

On June 16, 1898 it was voted to organize the Silver Lake Hose Company No. 1, now known as the Warner Fire Department. The membership was set at and limited to 24 members, of which one was elected Chief Engineer. All members were required to reside within the precinct (Village District) limits. The reason for this was for timely and adequate response. A new hydrant system was installed with the Silver Lake Reservoir in the North Village as a water supply, thus enhancing fire protection for the village area and the entire town. Not only was there instantly available water, under pressure to protect the village area, but over the years, many thousands of gallons have been "trucked" with tank trucks outside the village precinct to suppress fires in the outlying areas of town and even into other neighboring towns.

In 1928 the first motorized apparatus was purchased. It was designated Engine 1. This "open-cab" 1928 Chevrolet 4-cylinder, 250 gallon per minute front mounted pumper was tested on Christmas morning that year, at the cistern (we have a picture of this and other events which we intend to include at some point) in the Village Square and later in the day at the Waterloo section of town. The Demonstration was a fine success in every way. Cost of this unit was approximately $600.00. The District Commissioners had a difficult time coming up with the funds, but the fire engine was badly needed, so Harold "Gramp" Dow, a Fireman himself and owner of Warner Lumber Co., "loaned" the department and district $300.00 to purchase the pump from Page Belting Co. in Concord and then he constructed the all hardwood body and donated materials and labor for this. So, the district raised the remaining $300.00 and we hope they paid back to Gramp Dow at least the $300.00 cash he had loaned. Knowing Gramp, he probably didn't really much care as he was an avid firefighter. This pumper was in service until around 1950. It then was used as a maintenance vehicle for the Water Department for a few years. In the 1970's it was restored as an antique fire truck and is still owned by the Department today.

In 1937 the Fire District purchased Engine 2, a 500 gpm, front-mounted pump, open-cab pumper on a 1937 Ford V8 chassis with dual wheels. The coach work was done by Farrar, Co. in Massachusetts. This unit also had a new feature, a 250 gallon Booster Tank with 3/4 inch Booster Hose. For its time, Engine 2 was fast and dependable. It also carried a 24 foot extension ground ladder and a 14 foot roof ladder, along with a hefty compliment of 2 1/2-inch cotton-jacketed fire hose. The complete unit cost approximately $2,200.00. In 1940 the Selectmen authorized the purchase of a new Fire Siren, which was placed atop the Fire House on Kearsarge Street with the control switch at the local central office of Merrimack County Telephone Company. The Fire Commissioners worked out a set of signals (number of blasts or cycles) to be used in case of fire. These signals were used for many years, in fact until the late 1970's. For example: 2 blasts indicated a fire within the Precinct area, 4 blasts denoted west of the village, 6 blasts meant east of the village and 8 blasts indicated either an out-of-town fire or a forest fire. One blast at 12:00 noon each day was a test of the siren.

After World War 2, the town was growing again and by 1950 it was time to add a new piece again. Old Engine 1 had pretty much outlived its first line firefighting usefulness. So, the District purchased Engine 3, a Triple-Combination Pumper. It was built on a 1950 Ford F-6 Chassis with a V-8 engine and two-speed rear axle. This time the unit had a full cab, heater and defrosters. It also had a 500 gpm front mounted pump and this unit had a 700 gallon booster tank, with two 3/4-inch booster lines stored on top mounted reels. A 35-foot wood, 3-section extension ladder and a 16 foot roof ladder were stored atop the hose bed. The term "Triple-Combination Pumper", came from its ability to carry, water, hose and ladders as well as pump. The coach work and pump were supplied and installed by Robinson Boiler Works, Inc. of Cambridge,Massachusetts. This unit cost approximately $6.500.00. It was replaced by a new Engine 1 in the 1970's and sold to a private individual in the Manchester area.

More equipment has been added throughout the years including a new Firehouse on Main Street which was built in 1961-62 and dedicated to Warner Veterans of all Wars. This building was built on a site which was purchased and then donated to the District by Clarence "Cy" Hyde of Lake Winnepocket, Webster. Mr. Hyde loved Warner, firefighting, firefighters and really liked the then Chief of Silver Lake Hose Co. 1, Maurice F. Randall. The two-bay single-story structure and its fixtures was constructed entirely by the firemen and other town volunteers. Many pieces and parts of the building were donated by townsfolk. Some of the funds were raised by the Fall Foliage Festival. We certainly do not want minimize this event as it was a huge task and with the leadership, diligence and patience of Chief Maurice Randall, they completed it and held an open house and dedication ceremony on Memorial Sunday in 1962. Cost for the project, not including volunteer labor was approximately $10,000.00.

In 1964 another piece of equipment was added, Engine 4, a Class A, 750-gpm pumper on a Ford F-750 Chassis with a 391 c.i. V-8 engine, 5-speed transmission. Air-packs, aluminum ladders, a large hose bed, and other assorted tools and equipment. Prior to this time all of our apparatus had been painted red. This time we wanted to go with a two-tone design, the top half being white and the bottom half being red. This combination was thought to have better visibility for people to see it and distinguish it more easily, especially at night. We ordered the Ford chassis in all-white and then when the coachwork was completed by Farrar Co., it would be painted the new combination red & white. However, apparently there was a misunderstanding by Farrar Co. and when Chief Randall and Deputy Chief Waldo Bigelow went to inspect the unit prior to delivery at Farrar's plant in Hopkinton, MA, they found it painted entirely white from bumper to bumper. It looked real nice and it was all lettered and gold leafed, so they decided to take it as is. That set the stage as the next five units the department would build or acquire. They would be painted all white. Old Engine 2 was relegated to backup duty. The new Engine 4 cost $13,500.00. This unit is still in-service today, having been converted to a 1,250 gallon Tank Vehicle.

A new Engine 1 was placed in service in January 1974. It was a 1973 GMC chassis, with a 637 c.i. V-8 engine, 5-speed transmission with 2-speed rear differential. This unit had a 1000 gpm mid-ship mounted single-stage pump. It carried 3,000 feet of 3-inch hose, along with 2-inch and 2 1/2-inch attack lines. Breathing Apparatus, Deluge Gun, Lighting Plants, etc. Of course it was all white in color and cost new, $31,500.00. The apparatus vendor was Maxim Motors, Inc. in Middleboro, Massachusetts. Throughout its life with the department, this pumper was generally used as a water supply (source pumper) unit and as a mutual aid (out of town response) piece. This unit has recently been replaced and sold.

Members of the department constructed two separate tankers during the 1970's. We needed water tenders (tankers) to carry larger loads of water directly to the scene of an incident, thus backing up and adding to the initial attack load provided on the pumpers. Not feeling we could ask the town to purchase new, we found a used 1962 Chevrolet Chassis, which David Wachsmuth of Warner Fuel Co. donated to the department. Mr. Wachsmuth also donated a used oil tank unit from one of their older vehicles. Department members donated many hours of time and personal expense to complete this project. Members like Captain Dick Cutting, Captain Philip Rogers, Ernest Nichols and others. Paul Violette was Chief of the Department during this time. This tanker carried 1,500 gallons of water and "quick-dumped" its load through a 6-inch valve. We called it TANK 1 and it saw service from about 1977 until replaced in 1981. Of course it was "all-white". We sold TANK 1 to the East Alstead, NH Fire Department, where it was used for a few more years.

We also obtained a used military chassis, with a 1,500 gallon tank attached, from the NH Forest Fire Division. This was a 1953 all-wheel drive, 2 1/2-ton vehicle. It was designated TANK 2 and saw service from approximately 1978 until 1989. Again, this was constructed, painted, etc. by department members, most of which were the exact same members who constructed TANK 1. Since it was only "loaned" to us by the state, once we no longer needed this unit it was returned. Another unit we received, on loan from the state, was a 1952 military jeep with trailer. We named this unit FORESTRY 1, painted it completely white and it was used for many purposes from 1978 until 1989.

As of 1999, the Warner Fire Department has the following equipment or "rolling stock":

A large addition was constructed to the fire house in 1992 and again this work was done almost in its entirety by the department members voluntarily. Chief Richard Brown, himself a carpenter and jack-of-all-trades, worked tirelessly to see this project through to completion. Again, we do not want to minimize the tremendous savings to the taxpayers of Warner, from the countless hours of labor performed by members of the department. Sometime in a later writing we will expand on this subject.

Today's department has a roster of 33 Firefighters which included 9 Officers, of which most are Certified NH Firefighters and there is also 8 to 10 Rescue Members who are Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT). This usually keeps the roster at approximately 40 persons. We began a Rescue Section in the early 1980's, when many firefighters completed a Certified NH 1st Responder Course. The continual increase in medical related calls and incidents required us to look at solutions for quick response to medical emergencies. In 1982, twelve firefighters successfully completed a 150-hour course and became Nationally Certified Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT's).

We have never called our department "volunteer", because since the inception of Silver Lake Hose Co. No. 1, the members have been compensated or paid for time spent in fire suppression activities. So we are like a 'CALL ("on-call") FIRE DEPARTMENT'. Now, we want everyone to understand that no one has ever struck it rich or retired solely on their compensation from the department. At most it may provide a small Christmas Bonus which might allow the firefighter to buy a present for their spouse or children. In fact, most firefighters spend more money on gasoline and other personal gear than they usually receive in pay over a period of years. Many have purchased their own radio equipment, emergency lights, etc.

Chief Richard "Dick" Brown currently leads the department as he has since 1987. Chief Brown succeeded Edward Monaghan Sr. who held the office for one year in 1986. Monaghan succeeded Paul Violette who was Chief of the Department for 12 years from 1974 until 1986 and Chief Violette had replaced Chief Maurice F. Randall who had led the department for 28 years from 1946 to 1974. Ronald Piroso Sr. and O. Fred Hill are currently Deputy Chiefs.

We are proud of our long history of the fire service to the town and intend to carry on in the same tradition that our predecessors began one hundred sixty-seven years ago. We hope to expand on this segment in the near future as we believe that there is a great story to tell.

*Note: In our area, many of the Fire Departments were not officially organized until the early 1900's, some even later. Examples from some of our neighboring towns: New London, 1926, Bradford 1930's, Sutton 1947, Webster 1940's. Other neighboring towns, like Hopkinton (which includes Contoocook) had organized departments in the early 1800's. Towns with mills of all types along the rivers usually had early fire departments, due to the extreme hazard and the frequency of fires at those locations.

Submitted by Paul Violette