Fire Department History

Courtesy of Webster Historical Society and OldeWebster.com.

From the Webster Times 100th Anniversary Edition 1859-1959

"Mechanization of the Webster Fire Department is believed to have been started about 1908 with purchase of a Pope-Hartford engine. In 1910, a Reo was bought followed in 1914 by the ladder truck. Meantime both membership and equipment within the department increased as the town's growth continued.

Boxes were frequently added to the fire alarm system, and the water department expanded its lines to cover all outlying parts of the town. Today there are approximately 351 hydrants, and 80 alarm boxes, as well as a signal system of "phantom" boxes to designate areas outside the box alarms.

The department remains a volunteer or "call" department despite the fact that it serves the large area of Webster and Dudley. The department consists of 58 members, including the Chief and members of the Board of Engineers. The engineers are appointed annually by the Selectmen, and they in turn elect the Chief.

The Webster Fire Department is considered one of the best equipped in the state for a town of this size and has a unique standing because there are no permanent men. The excellent record of the department keeps the fire insurance record low for a community of this size with a call department. Cost of operating the department last year was approximately $31,000 of which $6,000 was returned to the town by Dudley. In addition, Webster saves the cost of water by maintaining its own municipally operated system.

In comparison, for instance, Southbridge has several permanent firemen and as a result their operational costs are in the neighborhood of $100,000 year, with an additional cost of thousands of dollars for water used in fighting fires because the water system in that community is privately owned.

Apparatus now owned by the Webster department includes the following trucks:Maxim Ladder, purchased in 1953; Engine 3, bought about 1940; Hose 1, also the Forest Fire Truck, a Ford, bought in 1940; Hose 2, a Ford, bought in 1941; Maxim Pumper, 1930; and Engine 1, bought in 1919. The first four trucks listed, respond to all alarms.

Other equipment owned by the department at the present time includes 4000 watt Army supply generator (bought since the flood danger of 1955); 500 gallon trailer pump (much used after flood); Scott Air packs with tank, which firemen carry on their backs, enabling them to enter smoke-filled buildings to locate the source of fire; two resuscitators which not only revive but can inhalate and aspirate in an effort to save life. These latter have been used many times in the case of heart attacks, drowning, electric shock, gas and smoke inhalation.

Several members of the department are skilled in the use of this equipment, particularly resuscitators, because the Fire Department today is frequently called upon for emergencies other than fires.

Edward P. Poblocki is chief of the Fire Department at the present time; H. Craigin Bartlett is clerk. Other members of the Board of Engineers are Vincent Canty, George Wentworth, Gerard Morgan, Peter Wagher and Nobel Mason."

Souvenir of the Webster Fire Department

Circa 1899:

History of Webster Fire Department

Contributed by Rep. Paul Kujawski, in honor of his father Leon Kujawski,Jr.

"Something like sixty-three years ago, the firm of Samuel Slater & Sons bought a small "tub", without suction, fed with pails of water, known as "Tiger 1." This was stationed at the South Village. Subsequently, the same firm purchased a second machine, with suction, which was stationed at the East Village and another, smaller one, which was used for the protection of North Village.

In 1845, Henry H. Stevens, well known in connection with the Stevens Linen Works, realizing the necessity of some fire organization for the town, started a movement among the citizens and headed a subscription for such organization. In this he was assisted very materially by Solomon Shumway, who gave, not only of his time but money to further the movement. These two men, more than any others, deserve the credit of originating and establishing the Fire Department of the town of Webster, which today is one of the best organized and equipped of any similar department in the state.

One of the earliest record fires occurred on the site of the present Hotel DeWitte in 1846. Pails of water were passed from hand to hand and thus the fire was fought. This fire was brought to light the need for an organized indepenent Fire Department. Chief John F. Hines was the first Fire Chief Webster had. The work which had been begun by Mr. Stevens and Mr. Shumway was vigorously pushed, public meetings were held, prominent citizens of the town subscribed liberally to a fund and the town purchased its first fire machine.

The "General Taylor, 2" was the first machine operated by the "fire boys."

On July 4th, 1846, the department, or "Fire Company," as it was then called, held its first celebration, having for guests the fire company of Millbury. The whole town turned out en masse and the occasion was one long to be remembered.

In 1873 Webster Hall was destroyed by fire, many valuable items and documents of the department were lost, including the records from 1846 to 1859. Little can be said, therefore, in relation to the history of the department during this period. It is certain, however, that the department lost nothing of its old time energy and life, and the spirit that was infused into it by the original incorporators was in no ways abated.

In an old roster of 1859, we find the names of men who not only encouraged and supported by their means and service the Fire Department, but were useful and efficient servants of the people in many capacities. Amos Bartlett, George Tracy, Horace I. Joslin, D. Wellington, Leonard Barnes, Samuel J. Leavins, Henry E Bugbee, R. B. Eddy, Joel Goddard, C. E Brown, Horace H. Cady, Francis Bugbee, Lucius Mansfield, D.A. Brown and others are found on this "roll of honor". Many of these men had been in the department years previous to this time, some from the very beginning of the department.

Early records show April 4, 1859, were H. E Bugbee, Foreman; Leonard Barnes, 2nd Foreman; D. A. Brown, 3rd Foreman; H. I. Joslin, Treasurer; S A. Tingier, Clerk. Mr. Bugbee was foreman for many years, holding the office until 1865, when he was succeeded by Byron J. Shumway. The other members of this company also served for many years, and through their earnest and efficient labors helped to place the department in the front rank of fire fighters.

The first muster, in which the Webster firemen engaged, took place in Oxford, Mass., with the DeWitt Hand Fire Engine Company of the latter place, September 10, 1859. Records did not mention how they did in the muster

Webster's Muster took place later that September, Oxford fire attended. Webster's General Taylor won, "both perpendicular and horizontal." A supper was served that evening in the old Fenner Hall, which is now a part of the McQuaid Block. Soloman Shumway was Marshall on that occasion, Capt. Amos Bartlett was chosen orator, while Dr. Fred D. Brown acted as toast-master. This was a grand affair for the department and the older "fire boys" living today who participated, hold it among their most pleasant recollections.

Henry A. Stevens, Lyman Sheldon, H. M. Dresser, Nathan Joslin, Stearns Harris, B. A. Corbin, Edward Robinson, Hiram Allen, Nathan Chamberlain, R. O. Storrs, Josiah Perry, Soloman Shumway, Emory Sibley, Edward W Mixer and Asahiel Mansfield were the committee of citizens who co-operated with the firemen to make the above affair a success. It will be seen that the most prominent men of the town in that day were interested in the fire department. Such has been the case throughout its history.

The old "General Taylor" had a long and honorable career. It was sold in 1873 to a New Hampshire manufacturing company. Besides those mentioned who saw service with this machine, it is only proper and fitting to mention others whose names occur on the roster.

As has been stated, Byron J. Shumway succeeded H. E Bugbee as foreman. Thomas McQuaid was 2nd Foreman and L. E Mansfield 3rd Foreman, associated with Mr. Shumway. The latter was presented by his company with a handsome silver trumpet, of which today he is properly proud.

In 1867, Horace I. Joslin was elected Foreman of the General Taylor, 2 Company and was afterwards re-elected to the same position. Among those who served with Mr. Joslin may be mentioned the following: Eben S Stevens, as 2nd Foreman; Marcus Allard as 3rd Foreman; Francis Bugbee, as Clerk. Among the honorary members of the department during this period, were, H. H. Stevens, Cyrus Spaulding, George Tracy and O. F. Chase. Mr. Tracy had formerly been an active member of the department.

During the time of the old "General Taylor" was in service, up to its sale in 1873, many men, prominent in town affairs, were associated with the various companies which bore its name. Among these, mention of the following is certainly of interest: E P. Morton, Chester C. Corbin, who was foreman in 1872, Elmoine D. Clemens, H. H. Shumway, Charles F. Barnes, Erastis Alton, Nash Spaulding, Jerome Marsh, Richard Thompson, George D. Bates, Patrick Brogan.

Proceeding the organization of the Board of Engineers, the management of the department was in the hands of Fire Wardens appointed by Selectmen. The Board of Engineers was first organized in 1870. Soloman Shumway was elected Chief and James H. Marshall Clerk.

The first fire handled by the new Board of Engineers was at the shoe shop of the late Henry E Bugbee, on the land now occupied by the Tracy Block. At that time the department was obliged to wait for the water pipes to be filled from the South Village and some delay was experienced before the necessary supply could be had.

In 1868 and 1869 the town expended $10,143.54 for fire improvements, putting in a system of water supply furnished by the Slater Woolen Company, including hydrants and the laying of 5638 feet of pipe.

Since that time, however, many improvements have been made. An independent water system had been adopted by the town, and the supply is ample, not only for family and other uses, but furnished the department whenever necessary with a quantity and force sufficient for all demands. There are now 110 hydrants and the pressure is about 95 lbs. to the square inch.

In 1868, the Steamer "Webster 1", was purchased for $3,700, Cole Brothers, makers, Pawtucket, R. I. This steamer has done excellent work, although for small conflagrations it is seldom called out as the water supply and force from the hydrants is usually sufficient and the four hose companies can meet almost any exigency. A force of men are held in reserve at the engine house, and whenever needed, and the call is sounded, "Webster 1" is ready to perform her part.

After the sale of the General Taylor, it was thought necessary to have another hand fire machine and so, in 1874, the "Clipper" was purchased. Albert Childs was the first foreman of the Clipper Company, organized in this year. Henry Brandes, now Selectman, was made 2nd foreman.

The next year, 1875, Mr. Brandes was made foreman and James McGeary was made 2nd foreman, with the usual efficient complement of men complement of men constituting the company.

In 1868, the James H. Marshall Hose Carriage 1 was bought, at a cost of $425. Later, the Franklin Hook and Ladder Truck was purchased, and the department began to assume its present proportions and strength.

On January 1, 1884, the fire code of alarm was adopted and nine fire districts were established as follows:

  • District 2 - Depot Village.
  • District 3 - Fenner Hall.
  • District 4 - Lake Street and Vicinity.
  • District 5 - South Village.
  • District 6 - North Village.
  • District 7 - East Village.
  • District 8 - Chase Village, Dudley.
  • District 9 - Merino Village, Dudley.
  • District 11 - Jerico Village, Dudley

These alarms were rung in if the fire occurred during the day by some citizen, if in the night by a night watchman, and were struck on the bells of the Universalist and Methodist Churches. The districts were denoted as follows: ten rapid strokes, then a pause; then slowly striking the number of the district locating the fire, and repeat.

To-day a most complete electric system of alarm is in operation, represented by some 20 boxes, rung from the Universalist Church bell, and a steam whistle on the Stevens Linen Works.

This electric box alarm was adopted in 1893. In 1886 there were but 27 hydrants - to-day there are something like 110.

Additional pipe has been put in from year to year and many other improvements made. The water supply is one of the best in the state, not only for fire purposes, but for every use required by the citizens.

Since the Board of Engineers was organized in 1870, the department has been much improved and perfected, until to-day it is the equal of any fire force to be found in the larger towns of the state. To this Board of Engineers, is due perhaps more than any other agency, the excellency and efficiency that has been attained. The character and standing of the citizens who have been chosen engineers have been a guarantee of this result.

Solomon Shumway was the first chief, elected in 1870. Horace I. Joslin succeeded him in 1872. Associated with the latter on the board were, Edward S Bradford, William S Slater, Amos Bartlett and John F. Hines. In 1873, Hiram Allen was chosen chief and in this year Leonard Barnes first became a member of the board. Mr. Barnes was elected chief the following year, 1874, and was re-elected in 1875. Thomas K. Bates, Samuel J. Leavins and Patrick Brogan were the new men elected to the board during this period.

In 1876, Horace I. Joslin was again made chief and was re-elected each year until 1881, thus serving, with his former term of office, six years at the head of the department. John Flint, Chester C. Corbin and Lyman R. Eddy were on the board during Mr. Joslin's latter term.

John F. Hines was elected chief in 1881 and held the position for seven years, being re-elected each year until 1888. Elmoine D. Clemens was first appointed to the board in the former year and was made clerk, which position he has held continuously ever since. Lyman R. Eddy, Samuel J. Leavins and Patrick Brogan constituted the remainder of the board during Mr. Hines' long term of service as chief.

In 1888, the present chief, Louis E Pattison was elected. The other members of the board were, Patrick Brogan, E D. Clemens, Joseph C. Spaulding and Joseph P. Love. The personnel of the board remained practically he same until 1893, with the exception of Mr. Spaulding, who died after two terms of service. In 1893, August Warnke came on the board. Mr. Brogan withdrew in 1896, having given many years of his life to honorable and efficient service to the department. In 1896, James Newman and Etienne Fournier were appointed to the board. The latter served two years and was succeeded in 1898 by Thomas L. Gray. The board to-day stands as follows: L. E Pattison, Chief, E D. Clemens, Clerk, August Warnke, James Newman, Thomas L. Gray.

The engineers, present and past of the Fire Department of the town of Webster, have been among her foremost citizens, many of them having served the town in public positions and others having been chosen to represent the town in the higher legislative bodies of the State. One, the Hon. Edward S Bradford, formerly a resident of the town but now of Springfield, Mass., has been Mayor of the latter city, and State Senator. The Hon. C. C. Corbin has also been in the Massachusetts Senate. Many other former members of the board have been in the State House of Representatives. Mr. Joseph P. Love, is the present representative from this district in the lower house.

Not only has the Board of Engineers been represented largely in Town and State legislative affairs, but various foreman and members of the different companies have held important official positions. Henry Brandes who served as foreman of the Clipper Company, has been the Representative from this district. The Hon. Charles Haggerty, one of the "leading hose men", in 1875, of the Clipper Company, has been in the Massachusetts Senate.

Under the able leadership of the present chief, L. E Pattison, who has held the position since 1888 the Fire Department of Webster has made rapid progress. The force is better organized. Perfect discipline prevails and every modern improvement for fire fighting has been adopted. Each man knows his duty and it is done with promptness and efficiency.

The oldest man in point of service in the department today is Elmoine D. Clemens, who joined the department, August 12, 1859. Since 1881, Mr. Clemens has been on the Board of Engineers, and Clerk of the Department. The records of the department have been in good hands, as Mr. Clemens has been most particular and painstaking. The date and history of this sketch have been compiled from his books, and the accuracy of the same cannot be questioned. Thomas L. Gray, engineer, joined the department in 1871 and has been a most valuable member. Martin O'Donnell became a member on 1876 and has been a hard and conscientious worker. So also has Jacob Hayman done good service, having joined the department in 1879. Honorable mention might to be made of many other members of the department who have helped to make history and added to the success of the organization but our limited space will not permit extended mention. Altogether the Town of Webster has fire department of which she can be, and is, justly proud."

Disastrous Fires

  • Fenner's factory, burned June 11, 1855.
  • High School Building, East Main Street, December 10, 1869.
  • Masonic Hall, Spaulding's Block, July 6, 1873.
  • Webster Hall, School Street, August 4, 1873, site of present engine house and headquarters of the department.
  • H. H. Bixby's house and barn and Erastus Alton's barn, April 9, 1875.
  • Webster Box Shop April 19, 1875.
  • Mechanic's Block, September 30, 1876.
  • Green Mill, East Village, February 12, 1878 (the biggest fire ever handled by the department, loss $60,000).
  • Power shop, foundry and grist mill, June 24, 1879.
  • Kingsbury's Slaughter House, February 4, 1884.
  • Merchants Block, March 3, 1886.
  • Grist Mill, Joel Goddard & Co., August 2, 1887.
  • Joslin House barn, March 14, 1888.
  • Dudley Hill conflagration, June 3, 1890.
  • Sash and Blind Factory, Joel Goddard & Co., February 25, 1892.
  • Carriage repository, Lyman R. Eddy, March 16, 1892.
  • H. N Slater Woolen Co. works, Drying Department, March 1, 1893.
  • Bank Block, July 4, 1893.
  • St. Jean Baptiste Hall, December 11, 1896.
  • Dwelling House and barn occupied by Edward Wentworth and family and owned by James Boyd, New York, at East Webster, April 1, 1899, loss estimated at $1,000.