Glens Falls Fire Department
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Last updated 12/09/11
SOURCE: In the Days of Old Glens Falls, by Samuel G. Boyd
The Glens Falls Times, Centennial Edition, April 24, 1939
Hyde History of Glens Falls, by Louis Fiske Hyde
The Glens Falls Fire Department
was such an ever-present threat in the early days of Glens Falls, that in 1772,
only 9 years after first settlers arrived, Ichabod Merrit and Jacob Hicks,
sons-in-law of founder Abraham Wing, were elected town firemen.
The first attempt at organized fire protection was made in 1835, four years before the village was incorporated. A "vigilance committee" was appointed to examine the stoves and fireplaces in the village and to cause such alterations and repairs as safety required. Each householder was requested to provide ladders and one or more buckets. Committees were appointed to provide axes, to convey hooks and ladders where needed, and to take charge of property when exposed to fire.
In 1839, the village board had wells dug, acquired two good pumps, hooks, ladders, and other equipment. They also voted to dig a well in front of the Glens Falls Hotel (site of the Rockwell House) and one near Allen's Tavern.
The first volunteer fire co. was organized in 1842, and named the Glens Falls Fire Company No. l. The first fire engine was purchased that same year from the Button Works at Waterford. A bucket brigade supplied water to the engine and the hand-operated engine threw one stream of water. The second engine of the Company No.1 required 26 men and threw two streams of water.
Some of the expenses incurred by the town in 1861 included: $250 for a cistern in front of the Presbyterian Church (later the State Theater), $400 for three large wells, and $200 for five small wells. The wells and cistern were used until 1873, when the water system was installed.
Many persons thought the two inch main of the new water system would be impractical. One hotel owner complained that the water pressure and volume would not be sufficient for fighting fires. The first fire, however, proved him wrong. The firemen lost control of the hose because the pressure was too strong. "The hose was writhing like a huge snake and you couldn't get enough men to hold it," wrote one observer. "The stream on the building tore out the windows, sash and all, and drove a door off its hinges into the room."
The early engine houses on Ridge and Elm Streets were converted barns. A third station on Warren Street was built as an engine house.
In 1865, an engine house was built on Ridge Street next to the present city hall, followed shortly by another on South Street, next to the present Hotel Madden. The Ridge Street station was used for 75 years as fire headquarters. The South Street station lasted until 1913.
The first chief, William Mc Eachron, was appointed in 1872. Between 1872 and 1939, the department had 15 chiefs. In 1875, the first hook and ladder company, the James McDonald Hook and Ladder Company, renamed the D. J. Finch Hook and Ladder in 1882, was organized. It joined the Jerome Lapham Hose Company, the M. B. Little Hose Company, and the J. L. Cunningham Hose Company. The first ladder track had two wheels. The second ladder truck had four wheels and was drawn by eight men. A steam engine replace the three hose carts in 189, but the steamer was still hauled by men. In 1893, the town purchased an aerial ladder truck, which remained in service until 1926. Men were replaced by horses in 1894, when the town hired a team owned by Cornelius O'Leary to haul the engines. O'Leary, operating out of the South Street station, was the first paid fireman in Glens Falls. The Ridge Street station also acquired a horse drawn engine. That same year, the village installed an electric fire alarm and bell in the tower of the old Glens Falls Insurance, now the Masonic Temple.
Following the first of 1902, many persons agitated for a paid fire department that was organized in 1903, with John Mack as chief. In addition to the paid firemen, the community also had "call men" who responded to box alarms. "Call men" were paid, but also fined $2, if they did not respond to a fire. In 1908, when Glens Falls became a city, the fire department equipment was all horse-drawn and consisted of a steam engine, a combination chemical and hose wagon at Ridge Street and the aerial ladder and a hose wagon at South Street.
The first motorized fire engine was added in 1915. It was built from a touring car, carried 300 ft of hose, and located at the Broad Street station. Horses were still preferred, however, and the truck was little used. In 1919, a 1000 gallon pumper was purchased, the horse team was sold, and the old ladder and hose wagon was discarded. A motorized aerial ladder truck was added in 1925, following the Rialto Theater fire.
In 1913, the old South Street station was replaced by a new one on Broad Street opposite St. Alphonsus Church. In 1939, a new Ridge Street station was built on the site of the Ridge Street School, at the corner of Ridge and May Streets. In 1973, the new Broad Street station was built on the corner of Broad and Murray Streets.
Major Fires -
1864 - The Great Fire or Conflagration destroyed 112 buildings, including 60 stores. Only three buildings remained in the business area.
1884 - Fire destroyed the Union Hall and the Cosgrove Opera House on Glen Street at the top of the hill, and the Glens Falls Opera House and the First Presbyterian Church behind them on Warren.
1902 - Fire destroyed the Glen Street block from Exchange St. to the Fowler alley. Five buildings housing 16 businesses were destroyed.
1946 - Destroyed the Fitzgerald Hotel and Restaurant on the east side of Glen Street at the top of the hill.
1950 - Destroyed the Hotel Towers, formerly the Rockwell House
1956 - Destroyed the Woolworth and Lerner Stores on Glen Street
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