By the year 1839 the population of the town of Manchester was nearing 6,000. A building boom was underway as a result of land sales near the Merrimack River by the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company, the major employer. A town meeting took place on October 26, 1839, and the voters adopted fire protection measures. They appointed eleven Firewards with Amory Warren as chairman and Walter French as chief along with the appropriation of $1000.00. A Hunneman hand tub was purchased for $631.25, housed in a new station, built for $90.00, and located on Vine Street.
Any indifference to the need for efficient fire protection must have evaporated after the disastrous fire of May 14, 1840. On that day Manchester experienced the first fire of major proportions as the "Island Mill," located just below the Amoskeag Falls, was completely destroyed. The loss was estimated at $40,000 and one hundred and twenty-five employees lost their jobs.
On April 12, 1841, the first hook and ladder company was organized. The carriage at the time consisted of four heavy wheels, attached by two strong timbers with arms on each side to prevent the hook and hand ladders from falling. Ladders longer than the truck carried were made up by lashing several together. From 1844 to 1852 the company consisted of 45 volunteers who served without compensation. Upon receiving a modern replacement truck in 1872 the company adopted the name "Excelsior".
The town hall, built in 1841, was destroyed by fire on August 12, 1844. Smoke was seen issuing from the bell tower at about 10:30 A.M. and soon flames broke through the northwest corner of the roof and in an hour the whole structure was in ruins. The loss was estimated at thirty thousand dollars. The present city hall was erected on the same site the following year.
In 1845, a Board of Fire Engineers was established, taking the place of the old Firewards with Daniel Clark appointed as the first Chief Engineer. At the annual town meeting held on March 10, 1845, it was voted to pay firefighters 10 cents an hour for actual service at fires. The city purchased two additional hand tub engines that year. Massabesic Number 4, costing $855.50, and Torrent Number 5, purchased for $780. The "Torrent" hand tub won the first prize of three hundred dollars at the 1855 Worcester muster. The "engine" was later purchased by the Manchester Veteran Fireman’s Association and donated to the Manchester Historic Association where it may still be seen.
The 1850’s brought old problems and new solutions. In 1850 the Stark Mill, a major employer, suffered a serious fire that burned the top floor. The next year new communications equipment was purchased; speaking trumpets were furnished to the board of engineers. In 1852 the city recognized the efforts of the volunteers and agreed to pay each man five dollars yearly, twenty cents for answering an alarm, and forty cents an hour for actual service.
By 1857 the Department organization consisted of the following companies: "Merrimack" Engine 1 with 50 members located on Vine Street; "Massabesic" Engine 4 with 50 members located on North Chestnut Street; "Torrent" Engine 5 with 50 members located on Manchester Street; "Piscataquog" Engine 7 with 50 members located on Main Street; and "Hook and Ladder Company" with 44 members located on Manchester Street.
There were three fire brigades owned by the major corporations. These fire companies were available to fight fires in the City on a reciprocal basis. These companies were:
- "Niagara" Engine 2 owned by Amoskeag Manufacturing with 60 members located on Canal Street at Market;
- "Manchester" Engine 6 owned by Manchester Mills with 50 members located on Canal Street at Pleasant;
- "Stark" Engine 3 owned by the Stark Mills with 50 members in the Stark Yard.
Private steam fire engine companies operated until 1936 with the city answering alarms in the millyard beginning in 1927. Over the years several volunteer companies operated at various locations in the city until the 1950’s.
Nehemiah S. Bean, an apprentice of the Canterbury Shakers, was the supervisor of the locomotive department of the Amoskeag Machine Shop until 1857. In 1859 he was persuaded to return to Manchester and reenter the employ of the Amoskeag. Here he designed the first Amoskeag steam fire engine, known as Amoskeag Number 1. This engine was given its first test on July 4, 1859, playing two streams of water to a height of 203 feet. On July 6, 1859, Amoskeag Steam Fire Engine Company Number 1 was organized with S. G. Langley as foreman, and Mr. Bean as the engineer. "Amoskeag Number 1" was purchased by the City of Manchester for $2,000.00, was delivered in August of 1859 and continued in service until 1876. After being replaced by a new Amoskeag engine the old steamer was sold to a Canadian lumber company.
In September of 1859, a great firemen's muster was held in Manchester bringing over 2,500 visiting firemen into the city. Fifty- two hand tubs entered the event, which was held on the Merrimack Common. The festivities were marred by one of the most violent riots in Manchester's history. Starting as an altercation between a gambling house proprietor and a visiting fireman it soon escalated into a riot. Several gambling houses were destroyed in a nightlong brawl. The event was still held the following day and “Alert” from Winchendon, Massachusetts was the winner.
During this era the Department also utilized 12 member "Hose Companies". These were proud companies that would stretch lines while the steamers were building pressure. The Pennacook Hose Company Number 1 was organized April 7, 1858, and housed at the Vine Street station. The Massabesic Hose Company 2 was organized February 9, 1875 and located on Maple Street corner of East High Street. The Merrimack Hose Company 4 was organized June 21, 1883, and occupied a small wooden hose house on Lake Ave. near Massabesic Street. The Amoskeag section of the city was served by the Independent Hose Company, known as Riverside Number 5 and housed on Front Street at the corner of Old Falls Road. Some of the other volunteer hose companies that operated were the E. W. Harrington Hose Company located on Clinton Street and the Amoskeag Hose Company.