By Steve Jusseaume, Staff Writer
Hampton Union, Friday, February 2, 2001
[Staff Photo by Emily Reily]
HAMPTON -- The Hampton Fire Department took receipt of a history of the department this week, researched and written by local historian John Holman.
Holman presented the two-volume, 100-page history to Fire Chief Hank Lipe Tuesday at Lane Memorial Library, where Holman works as a volunteer historian for the library Web site.
For the past two and one-half years, under the direction of library Assistant Director Bill Teschek, Holman has been researching and compiling information on all facets of Hampton history for the Web site (http://www.hampton.lib.nh.us), and during that time his interest was drawn to the history of the fire department.
"I came across quite a bit of material on its history and the great conflagrations at Hampton Beach in 1915, 1921, 1950 and, of course, the large fire on June 16, 1999, when six businesses were destroyed," Holman said.
Much of the material Holman obtained came from area newspapers, including the Hampton Record, Hampton Union and Rockingham County Newspapers.
During his brief remarks Tuesday, Holman gave a brief history of the fire department from 1906 through 1936.
"The citizens of Hampton's beach area gathered together in 1906 to draw up a petition to be presented to the General Court for the state of New Hampshire for the right to form a precinct," Holman said.
The first firefighting equipment -— three hand reels drawn by members of the department — was purchased in 1908. Elmer C. King was the first fire chief of the then-volunteer department. Following a major fire in 1915, at the corners of B Street and Ocean Boulevard, the department was re-organized and Alex H. Brown was appointed the first permanent chief. The first motorized firefighting apparatus was also purchased: a Keissel combination hose and chemical truck. The truck was housed in the office building of the Casino garage.
In 1917, a telegraph box system was purchased from the Gamewell Underground Telegraph Company of Upper Newton Falls, Mass. The system was installed by Chief Brown, and consisted of five boxes. By 1936, more than 32 boxes were located at the beach, Holman said.
He also related that in 1922 the first fire house was built on Ashworth Avenue, and a year later it burned down. The station was rebuilt and upgraded the following year. In 1925 the fire commissioners purchased a White Ladder Truck city service type, and a Reo Touring car to be used by the chief on official business.
Lipe accepted the two-volume gift on behalf of the department, and joked that unlike Chief Homer B. Whiting, who had access to the Reo (Chief Brown had resigned in 1924), he has no touring car of his own and, in fact, walked to the library from Station #2 to attend the presentation.
"Chief Brown is probably looking down on us and laughing," Lipe said, noting that the same company that installed the first boxes at the beach is still in operation and continues to service beach fire boxes. Lipe called the transition from horse-drawn fire wagons to motorized apparatus "one of the biggest technological changes," but said the mission of the fire department has remained the same over the 90-plus years of the department's history.
"Our baseline mission remains constant despite changes in technology. Our mission is as critical as ever, but more important now, with increased emergency services and HazMat (hazardous materials) responsibilities," Lipe said.
Holman called his work on the history "a labor of love," and noted that the library Web site contains the complete history of the department, plus other historical pieces. Over the past year, Holman said, he has logged 900 hours of historical research in his volunteer service to the library.