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Local 856 Organized

Local # 856 of the International Association of Firefighters was organized to represent the city firefighters on April 4, 1946. On June 1, 1946, the members began working 72 hours per week on a day-night shift system. By 1952 the schedule was again reduced to 48 hours and 52 firefighters were hired. This organization represents all members of the department up to the rank of district chief.

Deputy Chief Napoleon Guevin, a 31-year member of the department, was promoted to Chief on October 1, 1947, after Chief Aubrey Robinson left the department to accept the position of State Fire Marshal. The new chief had a unique record. For his 31 years in the department nearly every major fire the city suffered occurred on the Chief's day off.

On Saturday afternoon, June 29,1946, city firefighters battled a 3 alarm fire at J. J. Moreau and Sons Hardware Company in the rear of its main building at 1117-1127 Elm Street. Firefighters were hampered by explosions from the drums of volatile chemicals and thick smoke. The blaze caused $90,000 damage. The fire was started by an employee who accidentally spilled a jug of shellac on the floor, which ignited. The fire spread to large quantities of linseed oil, anti-freeze, turpentine, kerosene, creosote, and benzene, all highly explosive or flammable. In less than a minute the entire structure was an inferno. The intense blaze warped steel girders and caused the roof to drop 6 feet.

Manchester's most disastrous fire in 37 years occurred on November 2, 1946 reducing the Rimmon Block on Elm Street, between Kidder and Hollis Streets, to rubble. Estimated loss was one million dollars. The first floor was occupied by Auto Electric, where the fire was believed to have started, N. H. Hardware and Plumbing Company, and the Camera Shop. The 3-alarm fire consumed the 4-story brick structure. The building had 200 feet of frontage and was 100 feet in depth and was in the process of being remodeled. The second floor designed to be office space and over 100 apartment units were to be on the 3rd and 4th floors. Two people on the roof were rescued. A section of the front wall collapsed within an hour of the start of the fire narrowly missing firefighters.

On March 21,1953 at 6 A.M. a cellar fire broke out in the Red Arrow Restaurant on Elm Street. Fire spread rapidly, raging out of control for more than 4 hours gutting the 4-story brick building and causing heavy damage to a clothing and music store. Chief Guevin reported an explosion in the basement lifted the floor about an inch. Tenants living on the upper floors were safely evacuated. Damage was more than $100,000.

A defective gasoline pump and a blowtorch were believed to have caused one of the most spectacular blazes in Manchester’s history on September 4, 1953. The general alarm fire completely destroyed the J. E. Faltin Motor Transportation warehouse on Dow Street and claimed the life of one employee.

On March 2, 1955 city firefighters fought a fire for nine hours in the 82 year old 3 story business block. Located on the west side of Elm Street, from Spring Street to Baldwin Street 1st floor businesses sustained an estimated $500,000 to $700,000 damage.

On January 1, 1958, Edward Grady was appointed to position of fire chief. He served as chief from 1958-1964.

Shortly before midnight on January 31, 1959 a two alarm fire swept through the four stories of the Essex Hotel at Hanover and Chestnut Streets claiming the lives of 3 elderly men. Chief Grady estimated the loss at $200,000. The bitter cold 14 degrees Fahrenheit temperature covered firefighters and apparatus with ice. The building also housed a bakery shop, clothing store, flower shop, sandwich shop, and a beauty parlor supply shop.

On January 11, 1960, fire gutted a 4-story building at 962-970 Elm Street damaging 13 businesses and offices. Blackened storefronts with water soaked and ice coated merchandise bore testimony to the intensity of the blaze. Due to 5 feet of water in the basement, firefighters launched a rescue boat to extinguish the fire remaining in the ceiling, a unique phase in firefighting rarely seen.

An automobile accident at Elm and Salmon Streets on July 5, 1960 claimed the life of Deputy Chief John H. O'Malley. The chief was responding to a false alarm at box #2311.

On the evening of October 15, 1962, Lieutenant Frank J. Bruton of Engine 10 died while fighting a garage fire at 383 Laurel Street. Resuscitation efforts failed and Lt. Bruton was dead on arrival at Sacred Heart Hospital.

On May 25, 1964 Chief Edward Grady, 62, resigned and ultimately retired after a disagreement with the Fire Commissioners involving departmental issues. The commission accepted his resignation with regret, thereby ending a 35-year career with the department.

Captain John E. Devine was appointed acting chief of the department to fill the vacancy. On September 1 of that year he was appointed Chief. Chief Devine served 33 years on the department was known for his colorful personality. Among his many accomplishments was improved insurance rating for the city, which lowered insurance rates for the residents and businesses. Chief Devine was also instrumental in the construction of the new Central Fire Station on Merrimack Street as well as starting the annual corned beef dinner held at the March meeting of the New Hampshire Fire Chief's Association. Chief Devine passed away on March 6, 1976.

A spectacular 3-alarm fire destroyed 3 business blocks on Elm Street across from Merrimack Common in the heart of the city's downtown shopping center June 20, 1965. Flames caused $2 million dollars damage to the stores in the 2 four story blocks at 760 Elm Street and extensively damaged Kaufs Automotive store at 740 Elm Street.

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