Early History

The History and Functioning of the Hyannis Fire District (as published in 1930)

The history of the Hyannis Fire District, as given by Edward F. Maher before the Hyannis League of Woman Voters on Tuesday, Dec. 29th last, was of such general interest and so informing in detail that it is printed herewith in its entirety:

The science of Civil Government enlightens us on the great aspect of National life, describes the divisions and sub-divisions of the great body politic into which our nation is divided and sets forth the laws and methods by which they are administered.

The National government, at Washington, levies taxes, makes and executes laws applicable to the country as a whole and to the territories thereof.  The various state government make and execute laws applicable to the states as a whole.

The states are divided into counties which have functions dealing with large sections of the state and separated from the rest for political or judicial purposes.

The counties of the state are divided into cities and towns.

The cities are the largest populous and compact sections incorporated as municipalities usually having a mayor and council in charge.

The towns are the more numerous sub-divisions, often large in area, but of not sufficient wealth and population to be incorporated as a city.  The rights and duties of the voters of towns are unique in that the matter of raising moneys and its appropriation is exercised by the voters themselves whereas in cities, counties and other large divisions this power is delegated to others.  It has been said that the New England town meeting is the ideal form of Democratic government.

Now it may transpire that there is a certain populous, and important community within a town that desires certain conveniences, improvements and protection that the town as a whole may not wish to provide funds for.  In that case, the law provided that this community may petition the town to set it aside as a Fire District and define its boundaries.  If the town refuses to comply, the petitioners may proceed to organize a Fire District under the general laws.

A Fire District may be formed also by special act of the legislature.

In the course of events, it came about that the village of Hyannis required improvements, conveniences and protection comparable with its material growth, and it was evident these could only be acquired through the incorporation of the village of Hyannis as a Fire District.

Now, a Fire District is in some respects like a little town with restricted rights.  Its powers being the right to raise money by taxation for the maintenance of a Fire Department, including fire houses, fire engines, chemical engines, hook and ladder trucks, articles used in the extinguishment of fires, hose carriages, hydrant rental, pay for firemen, a few other minor matters and the installation and maintenance of street lights.  Its activities are limited to these matters, unless by special act of the legislature.

Now, the establishment and organization of the Hyannis Fire District was achieved in this manner:

An article was inserted in the warrant for the annual town meeting held, on March 2, 1896 on petition of a number of citizens, inhabitants of Hyannis, to see if the town of Barnstable will received and act on said petition for the establishment of a Fire District in the village of Hyannis.

The town of Barnstable refused to grant the request of the petitioners by its vote.

Following such refusal, a petition signed by a number of freeholders, inhabitants of Hyannis, was addressed to the selectman of the town of Barnstable asking them to notify a meeting of the inhabitants of the proposed District to meet in Hyannis for the purpose of considering the expediency of organizing the Fire District and establishing a Fire Department.

The Selectman of the town of Barnstable called a meeting of the voters of Hyannis, the same being held in Masonic Hall, Hyannis on May 6, 1896 and there after fulfilling all the legal requirements was voted to establish the Hyannis Fire District with the same limits as set forth in the petition to the selectmen of the town of Barnstable.

At this meeting, the Fire District organized by the choice of Henry H. Baker, Jr., as clerk and appointed a committee consisting of Messrs. Franklin Crocker, James H. French and Charles C. Crocker to investigate water works and other methods of fire protection.

The first Prudential Committee of the District elected May 20, 1896 consisted of F. Percy Goss, Charles C. Crocker and George M. Smith.

On May 29, 1896 it was voted to purchase a chemical engine, a hook and ladder truck, four hand extinguishers and to build a house for the use of the department the whole entailing an expenditure of $1,500.00.  It was voted at this meeting to establish a Fire Department and at a subsequent meeting, O. Howard Crowell was chosen the first Chief Engineer of the District.

On May 23, 1902 the sum of $1,100.00 was raised and appropriated with which to purchase a new chemical engine, the first one not being deemed adequate, as it had been in use elsewhere before coming to Hyannis.

During this period and at each annual meeting there were discussions, suggestions and investigations concerning street lighting by the District, but nothing was really accomplished until the year 1904.

The matter of lighting the streets of Hyannis had always been one of much concern.  Years ago the individual would place a kerosene lamp in front of his house and would keep it lighted.  This was done here and there throughout the village.

Then the Village Improvement Society was organized and with such leaders as Miss Ida Bearse, Miss Clara J. Hallett, Mrs. Sarilla H. Smith, Mrs. Maud P. Chase, Mrs. Cleone Chase, Mrs. Ida Frost and others, a more general system of lighting the streets was accomplished.

Later under the management of the Hyannis Woman’s Club the matter was gone into more seriously, more lights were added.  A system of gas lighting was introduced and a man employed to care for the lights and light them at the proper time.  Much progress was made under that management and through their untiring labors and efforts.

On May 25, 1904, the following vote was passed at the Annual meeting of the Hyannis Fire District:  Voted to accept certain street lamps, poles and other appurtenances, together with a certain sum of money from the Social Service Department of the Hyannis Woman’s Club.  That sum of $325 was raised and appropriated at this meeting for the erection and maintenance of street lights within the District, and thus, the Fire District formally assumed the duties of street lighting. (20 street lights on moonlight schedule).

And, thus, began through the instrumentality and cooperation of the women of Hyannis, a system of street lighting which has steadily increased and today compares favorably with the best in any town in the state.

In the year 1905 a movement was started to investigate the installation of Hydrant and Water service in the District and it was voted to petition the legislature for an act authorizing it to produce pure water to the said District for domestic, fire and other purposes.

The Legislature, in June 1906, passed an act to provide for a water supply for the Hyannis Fire District to become operative upon its acceptance by a two thirds vote of the voters of the District.

The matter was twice formally presented to the voters of the District and each time rejected.

Many believe that had we then accepted the provisions of that act and installed our own water system, today we would be free from debt and water would be had at a very low rate.

In 1907, a new chemical engine was purchased at an expenditure of $1,300.

In 1909, the street lighting system had been so extended as to call for an appropriation of $1,000.

Since its establishment and up to the year 1911, the District through its Fire Department depended upon the valor of its firemen and the use of hand drawn chemical engines, hand fire extinguishers and the hook and ladder equipment to cope with any conflagration and wish to say that on all occasions, the Fire Department has done the best of work.

In 1911, the Barnstable Water Company installed a water system in Hyannis and the Fire District in 1912 appropriated $2,380.00 to cover the rental of 68 hydrants, which was at the rate of $35.00 per hydrant, per annum.  We have one of the best water systems in the state, there being a pressure of 80 lbs. to the square inch at the hydrants and capable of throwing three streams of water from the same hydrant to a height of more than 70 feet.

Much can be accomplished by the chemical engines if they reach a fire early, but water is the most effective agent after a fire is well started.

In 1914, a substantial and artistic drinking fountain dedicated to the use of human beings and dumb animals and erected at a cost of several hundred dollars was presented to the Hyannis Fire District.  This fountain is located in Depot Square and is a monument to the benevolence, charity and humanity of the Hyannis Woman’s Club.

The appropriation for Street Lighting was increased from year to year according as additional lights were needed and in 1922 electric lights were installed on that part of Main Street between Ocean Street and the residence of Dr. Harris.  For a number of years there had been a division of opinion as to whether pole locations should be granted on that part of Main Street, but this matter having been amicably adjusted Main Street received the lights as was its due.

In 1922, the Fire District was given further attention and Main Street from the Yarmouth line to Sherman Square was converted into a great white way by the installation of forty 250 watt lights throughout its length.  This has been very satisfactory and strangers entering our village are favorably impressed.

The District seems to be very well taken care of at present.  There was appropriated for Street lighting at the last annual meeting the sum of $4,728.00 which provides one hundred sixteen 40 watt lights equitably – distributed throughout the district and the forty 250 watt lights on Main Street.

For many years a fire alarm system was considered and there was appropriated the sum of $1,100 in 1923 and the following year a siren was purchased and through the courtesy of the officers of the Federated church, it was installed in the belfry of the church.  The telephone company has cooperated cordially with the District and when notice of a fire is received the operator through a system of wires connected with the siren sends out the alarm.

Heretofore all the equipment in use by the District was drawn by hand or conveyed by horse or automobile, but in 1923 a new motorized chemical engine was purchased at a cost of $3,500 which is really a credit to the community.

In 1923, the Fire District was enlarged by the addition of adjacent territory at the request of the residents.

The organization of the Hyannis Fire District is as follows:

A Prudential Committee of three members whose duties in the Fire District are similar to the duties of Selectmen of towns.

The following have served at various times since the organization of the District:

Chas. C. Crocker, F. Percy Goss, George H. Smith, Arthur G. Guyer, Edw. L. Chase, Luther G. Hallett, Irving W. Cook, Edw. C. Hinckley, N.A. Bradford and the present board – Frank Thacher, Chas. W. Megathlin and Edw. F. Maher.

The following have served as Clerk and Treasurer:  Henry H. Baker, Edw. F. Maher, Walter S. Chase and the present incumbent Wm. G. Currier.

The following have served as Chief Engineer:  O. Howard Crowell, N. Alphonso Bradford, Irving W. Cook, W.R. Nickerson and the present Chief, Everett O. Bond.

The present Asst. Engineers are Winslow K. Thacher, Frederic Scudder and J. Lester Howland.

All the officers of the District serve without pay with the exception that for the last few years the Clerk and Treas. held by the same person is paid $50 per year.

The Fire Department is organized under the engineers into Fire Police, Day Crew, Night Crew, and are on call at all times and should the apparatus be called out of town any any time, competent men are always on duty at Hyannis.

The money appropriated at Fire District meetings is assessed by the assessors of the town and collected by the tax collector of the town and paid over to Treasurer of the Fire District.

A total of $118,416.33 has been appropriated in the Fire District since its establishment.

The assessed valuation of property real and personal within the District in 1898 was $970,000.00 and on April of this year it amounted to $2,757,610.00 and at the present time it is probably more than 3,000,000.00 and is larger than most towns in Barnstable County.

For some years, the old engine house has been inadequate for the needs of the Fire Department and last year the District voted to expend the sum of $28,000.00 for a plot of land and the construction of a new engine house.

A plot of land was purchased on Barnstable Road for the sum of $3,000.00 and there has been erected thereon a model fire proof engine house complete in all details and it is believed it will serve the needs of the District for years to come.

There is ample room to store the engines, hook and ladder truck, hose reels and other equipment.  There is an apartment for drying the hose after a fire.  There is an assembly room for the firemen.  The building is heated with a modern Spencer heater so there is no danger of the radiators freezing in the cold weather.  It is a building that any city might be content with and I am recently told by the Chief Engineer that the assembly will soon be furnished after which open house is to be held to which the public, including this worthy gathering, are to be invited to attend.

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