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And Then There Were Horses

In the year 1860, two important events occurred in the Manchester Fire Department. This was the first year horses were used in the city to pull the steam fire engines, and three of the hand engines were removed from service and sold to other departments. Fire King Steam Engine Number 2 was delivered to the city and in June the E. W. Harrington Number 3 was delivered. By the end of 1860, the Fire Department consisted of three hand engines, three steam fire engines and one hook and ladder company. The steam engine companies had only 14 man rosters compared to 45 man rosters for the hand engine companies. Staffing of the department was now set at 185, a reduction of 164 men. This reduction, ordered by the Board of Mayor and Alderman, was due to the faith in steam as a means to save labor. Apparently the speed at which it would operate also made quite an impression. The Chief Engineers Report 1861 states "Steam engines have taken five out of thirteen premiums paid this year for getting first water on the fire."

The reorganization in 1862 shows the department with three steam engine companies of fourteen men each, one hose company of thirty men and one ladder company of twenty-five men. The force available to fight fire was 97 men.

The year 1864 brought the first significant changes to fire alarm. For the still young city Chief Engineer A. C. Heath proposed a new bell be purchased to be rung solely for the announcing of a fire. Relying on the bell at city hall, which was rung for a variety of reasons, confusion was being brought about as to where and if a fire did exist. Accordingly, a bell was purchased from H. N. Hooper & Company at a cost of $853.65 and placed on the newly built Vine Street Fire Station. The City was divided into five fire districts and in case of a fire the bell tolled the district number in which the help was needed.

In 1867, the Department purchased the N. S. Bean Steamer. The Company was organized at the Vine Street station nearly two years later. They took the name of the N. S. Bean Steam Fire Engine Company Number 4 with Thomas W. Lane as Engineer. This company remained in service until 1959. After twenty- nine years of being out of service the company was reorganized and quartered at a new station on Hackett Hill Road.

At 2:30 A.M. of July 9th, 1870 the largest fire the city had ever experienced started in a building in the rear of The Merchants Exchange. Major reasons noted for the severity of the fire was the lack of any fire alarm telegraph system and the lack of an adequate water supply system. Strong winds fanned the blaze destroying the entire square from Nutfield Lane to Chestnut Street, Hanover Street to Manchester Street. The fire started in the establishment of Carpenter & Drake (formerly the Merrill Spice House). Fearing the loss of the entire city, some considered the blowing up of buildings to the halt the fire’s spread, a common practice during this era. The total area burned was nearly six acres. Property damage was estimated at nearly $250,000 with about 200 families left homeless. The First Baptist Church, Masonic Temple, and the James Stable were destroyed.

In 1872 a committee was formed by the City Council to examine the two systems of fire alarm telegraphs that were in operation throughout the United States. Both the Gamewell & Company and the Letoria systems were considered, the Gamewell fire alarm system was purchased. The installed system consisted of 29 fire boxes and cost $12,042.24. Keys to the box were placed in the hands of all the regular policemen, all night watchmen, and to nearby residents or businesses.

The problem of a lack of water was solved in 1871 by adopting the recommendations of William McAlpine to bring water from Massabesic Lake into the city. The project took over two years and $600,000 to complete, but the city has had a dependable water supply for firefighting and domestic use ever since.

Members of the fire department felt a need for helping each other when injured in the performance of their duties. Without workmen's compensation and other assurances, an injury could be financial ruin. On February 4, 1873 the Manchester Firemen's Relief Association was formed by members of the department. Although the methods of providing assistance to the members have changed the organization has been an integral part of the department since that time.

In January of 1879, Thomas W. Lane was elected Chief Engineer of the Fire Department, a position he held until July 1, 1917. Prior to Chief Lane, the former chiefs were elected by special interest groups, held various other city appointments, and served at the whim of the City Council. Chief Lane had risen through the ranks and was probably the most respected fire officer of his time. He successfully won re-election with the support of his Board of Engineers, Firemen, and even the Insurance Underwriters. Under Chief Lane's direction and by a decree of the Board of Mayor and Alderman, the Fire Department became a permanent "full time" paid department.