History of the Hampton Fire Department

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Compiled by Thomas P. Andrews Jr.

Dispatcher, Hampton Fire Department, retired


1885: More than a century ago Hampton did not have a fire department. The only reference to any fire related work was to "Watching fires" the task of keeping an eye on the smoking ruins of a building to make sure the fire didn't break out again. Payments of 1 to 2 dollars were made to individuals to perform this detail.

On May 6, 1885 a fire began that was to set a frightening example for later conflagrations at the beach. The fire started in J. W. Brown's Atlantic House. It burned several other hotels, a billiard parlor and cottages. Total damage amounted to over $45,000.00.

1893: The Boar's Head Hotel, one of the most conspicuous landmarks in New England and the oldest beach hotel east of Boston burned in September. Built in 1826 and enlarged by Colonel Stebbins H. Dumas, the hotel and its outbuildings were destroyed.

1900: After several serious fires in town, plans were put in motion to spend $500.00 to purchase a chemical engine furnished by the Underwriters Company. Voters, however, chose to pass over the article and no engine was purchased. The voters seemed to prefer the bucket brigade, as it was called, to modern fire fighting equipment.

1903: On October 26, five buildings burned. Three engines drawn by horses arrived in about two hours from Exeter, Newburyport, and Portsmouth. The bells alerted the local men who formed the bucket brigade.

1904: The beach was developing rapidly and among the many problems it was having was fire protection. A Sanborn Insurance Company map of Hampton Beach indicated that water facilities were not good; there were no steam or hand engines, no hook and ladder truck and no hose cart. A night watchman, pails and chemical extinguishers protected the Casino property. Realizing that the Town would not even buy fire equipment for the Village, beach residents petitioned the selectmen to form a Beach Precinct for fire protection. The request was granted but didn't become a reality for a couple of years.

1905: The next time the town had the opportunity to progress towards fire fighting was when they had a chance to purchase the Hampton Water Works Company. This would have given the village a fire hydrant and water system. Showing a major lack of foresight, the town meeting voted against it.

1906: The citizens of Hampton Beach gathered to draw up a petition to be presented to the General Court of the State of New Hampshire for the rights to form a precinct with the objective of having their own fire department.

1907: The petition was granted and the department was then organized under the supervision of the Hampton Beach Fire Commissioners and the first fire-fighting equipment was purchased.

In October, the precinct's department was put to the test when a fire broke out at the New Boar's Head Hotel. The water company's new standpipe provided the water and hoses were run down the hill to fight the fire. Although deemed a total loss at $12,000, the building was partially saved.

1908: Until this time the town continued to avoid the issue of fire protection. On December 26, 1908 at a special town meeting, voters approved an article calling for a committee of five to investigate the Badger Chemical Engine and other like machines and also the subject of a Village Fire District. The words "Village Fire District" are important because beach residents, disgusted by the lack of Town action, had already formed a fire district. Ironically, the matter of fire protection led to the creation of the most controversial entity in the history of the town, the Hampton Beach Village District, better known as the Precinct.

1909: Town voted to spend $1,000.00 for a chemical fire engine and to set up a Village Fire Precinct, excluding the beach. The wagon was 16' long with a shaft for horse propulsion, equipped with one large and 24 small extinguishers, ladders, hooks etc. On April 5th, a special town meeting again, was held to consider a Hampton Village District for the purpose of fire protection, sprinkling streets, water and sewers. Only 20 voters attended, the meeting voted to indefinitely postpone the issue, but a committee, composed solely of Judge Thomas Leavitt, was instructed to go to Concord to get a bill passed permitting the assessment of taxes to pay for the chemical wagon, approved at the regular town meeting, exempting the beach taxpayers from paying for it. In November of that year, Nelson J. Norton built the fire wagon.

1911: A vote was taken to construct a building to house the chemical engine. Typically, it was voted down so the wagon was stored in a shed behind the town hall. By July 1911, the Portsmouth Herald reported that few resorts could boast of better fire protection than Hampton Beach. Three fire companies were organized and a fourth was planned. Hydrants were installed and lengths of hoses were attached to each. Still the town did not have a fire department.

1912: On July 11, 1912 the volunteer Hampton Fire Department was organized in the town hall with Elmer C. King Sr. as Chief.
A bell system was set up to indicate the location of a fire.

The other officers and firefighters were:
Roland C. Emery - Clerk
Oliver W. Hobbs - Captain
Gerald A. Smith - Lieutenant
Charles D. Lamprey - 2nd Lieutenant
Uri Lamprey - Steward
Henry Hanson - Assistants to Steward
Walter Godfrey - Assistants to Steward
Oscar Pevear - Ladder Men
Marvin Young - Ladder Men
Ralph Perkins - Ladder Men
Fred Hawkins - Nozzle Men
Ray Haselton - Nozzle Men

1913: Chief King's first towns report that he has 5 officers and 20 members on the department. They had had 4 fires that year. He requested a building to house the equipment and another wagon, with volunteers building it, if the town would pay for the running gear. The voters responded by appropriating $150.00 to buy the water tank and $1200.00 to be spent on the building of a new station to house the equipment for both the town and the beach.

1914: Uri Lamprey was elected as Chief, even though Chief King would take the job if asked.

The new firehouse was indefinitely postponed even though Chief Lamprey also indicated in his town report that a station was needed to house the equipment.

1915: On the corner of "B" St and Ocean Blvd, September 23, a serious fire, started in the afternoon and swept more than four blocks, causing over $150,000 worth of damage. The local department at the time was not equipped to fight such a fire and mutual aid was called in from surrounding towns. The fire was halted after dynamiting two buildings to stop the progress of the fire.

1916: Reorganization took place within the department and the 1st permanent fire chief, Alex H. Brown, was appointed.

The first motor apparatus a Keissiel combination hose and chemical truck, was also ordered. It was housed in the office building of the Casino garage.

1917: The telegraph box system was purchased from Gamewell Underground Telegraph Company of Upper Newton Falls, Mass. Chief A. H. Brown installed this system. It consisted of only 5 boxes. Today (2004) we have approximately 263 boxes and the game well system is still used.

1922: The first firehouse was built under Chief Brown's supervision. They also purchased their second motorized fire apparatus, an Ahrens-Fox pump and ladder combination.

Later that year Chief Brown resigned as the first chief of the department.

1923: The firehouse burnt down and a new fire station was built, 2 stories high and able to house 5 pieces of apparatus. This station is still in use today and is located at the intersection of Ashworth Ave/Brown Ave.

1924: Homer B. Whiting was appointed new Chief of the department after Chief Brown resigned.

Town of Hampton consolidated with the beach precinct.

After several large and destructive fires in the beach area, the town finally voted to purchase a fire truck for the village.

A proposal to build a safety complex on Academy Ave was proposed but postponed indefinitely by town meeting.

1932: The town meeting, after discussions of inadequate fire protection and alarms systems in the town, approved of a new firehouse, in the basement of what is now the courthouse, located on Winnacunnet Rd/Academy Ave. This building was formally a grammar school. A paid firefighter from the beach was transferred to this station. With the insurance company threatening an increase in rates unless at least one piece of apparatus was housed uptown, action on this was not taken for the next two years.

1934: Engine 2 of the HFD was put into service in September at a cost of $1,916.50. It was a combination engine-hose wagon with a 45-gallon booster tank. It was built by local firefighters. It took four months for them to build and was built with parts purchased from the manufactures.

1937: Firefighters were working 6 days a week, 24 hours a day. The chief at that time.

Homer Whiting, who was also the inventor of the Rotary Emergency Light, asked town meeting for $1,512.50 for the purpose of setting up a platoon system so that the men could get some time off to spend with family etc. It would have 3 firefighters on duty, 2 on standby during the night, and 1 off duty. The shift would be 24 hours on. After a long discussion, it was tabled, mostly due to politics. Due to the politics in town, Chief Whiting was dismissed. The Portsmouth Herald and The [Hampton] Union leader supported the chief.

In late May of the same year Chief Whiting died of pneumonia following an operation. His foresight came to fruition later on in years.

October of this year another fire apparatus was purchased. It was a Mack pumper with a 500-gallon tank.

1941: A Seagraves replaced Engine 2.

1946: Two-platoon system was finally created and two additional men were hired.

1948: The Precinct purchased a triple combination truck. A fire destroyed the block between "A" and "B" streets, called the "Downer Block", but due to the efficiency of the department a major fire was avoided.

1949: The Town Hall burnt in March of this year. The building was destroyed except for the safe, which contained vital records, and the clock, which is on display in the selectmen's room.

1950: Water and water pressure have always been a problem in towns and Hampton has been no different. Town meeting appointed a committee to look into purchasing the water company again. It had a year before it had to report back to the selectmen. In the mean time, the water company took to making improvement, thus deflating the demands of residents who wanted the take over. A large fire on "C" St destroyed most of the block.

1953: In July of this year, a fire killed Richard M. Carrelus, when he tried to remove a truck from a burning building on Rice Terrace. A controversy developed over this when the fire department was accused of a slow response. At the time the department had eight firefighters plus the chief. Six were assigned to the beach station and two to the town (Village) station. At anyone time, three firefighters were on at the beach station but only one on at the town.

1955: The Sanford fire engine, the Town's first truck, was replaced with a four-wheel-drive Tank One for the cost of $6,800.00.

1956: Pay, hours worked, and unions have always been a major issue in town, especially since there have been no major fires since 1950. Three firefighters resigned following town meeting when they were voted only a $2.50 raise, giving them a take-home pay of $55.98 a week. They worked an 84-hour week in the station plus 60 hours on call. The firefighters proposed to cut the schedule to 56 hours because of low pay.

1962: One of the worst fires in town occurred when a fire on Mill Pond Lane destroyed the home of James H. O'Brien, tragically though; it took his life and his two small daughters. He was one of the original developers in the Glen Hill Project off Exeter Rd.

1964: An antique fire engine, named the Winnacunnet, which was used in parades and musters, was donated to the Hampton Beach Firemen's Relief Association. This truck, along with another engine used on the department from 1922 to 1965, the Ahrens-Fox can be seen at the Meeting House Green, Fire Departments Museum.

1966: Again, the Insurance companies threatened to increase the rates by as much as 50% due to what the New Hampshire Board of Underwriters report called an " inadequately manned, poorly trained fire department, as well as the deficient water supply, combined to produce an extremely dangerous situation where the probability of a conflagration is pronounced".

1967: Paul Long was hired as the new fire chief after Chief George retired from 42 years of service on the department. Chief Long immediately began training programs for the 13 full time and 43 call firefighters. Apparatus was moved around. He expanded the fire alarm system. Two additional firefighters were hired.

1968: Two additional firefighters hired.

1971: One additional firefighter hired making a total of 16 permanent firefighters.

The voters adopted the Fire Prevention Code, endorsed by the American Insurance Association. For the first time inspectors visited beach buildings, inspecting for safety violations.

1975: Chief Robert S. Fitz was hired after a dispute over who had the responsibility to hire and fire, the Town Manager or the Selectmen. A 40-hour workweek was adopted and approved for the firefighters, a reduction from the original schedule of six 24-hour workdays to an 84 then 72 and finally a 56-hour week.

1976: In two separate rental property fires, fire claimed the lives of three small children. After outcries from the press, selectmen pondered the adoption of a Life Safety Code. In response to petition from citizens, selectmen attempted to hold a special town meeting to adopt the National Life Safety Code, but the Planning Board, which had jurisdiction over such articles, refused to hold hearings.

1977: The political atmosphere between the Beach Precinct and the Town continued to be unfavorable. The beach commissioners wanted control over the beach department. As a result of this bickering, Chief Fitz resigned, citing his loss of effectiveness as chief. The beach commissioners appointed Howard Stickney for one year. The Town Manager, however, reiterated his position that he was solely responsible to hiring the chief, but would probably have appointed Stickney anyway. This problem was finally worked out. The town agreed to maintain the level of manner at both stations.

Capt. William H. Sullivan, our current (2004) Chairman of the Selectmen, resigned, after 27 years with the department.

1979: Chief Stickney resigned, after 27 years with the department.

1980: Donald J. Matheson was hired as Chief of the department.

1982: Anthony Kuncho was appointed as chief when Chief Matheson died suddenly.

1987: William H Sullivan returned to Hampton and was hired as Chief of the department upon the retirement of Chief Kuncho. The department had a budget of 1.39 million, 41 full time firefighter, 21 paid on call personnel. Both the town and beach purchased two new $160,000 tanker pumper trucks.

1999: Henry Lipe III was appointed as chief of the department after Chief Sullivan retired.

2004: Hampton has 4 Engines, 1 Ladder, 3 Ambulance 4 Staff vehicles, 2 forestry units, and 2 ATV vehicles, 45 permanent personnel and a proposed 2005 operating budget of 4.5 million. They are rated to be one of the best departments in the state.

2005: Hampton fire department, due to a second year default budget and selectmen choosing to cut personnel from this department only, have fewer personnel to rely on. They were reduced by 6 personnel. They laid off 4 firefighters/paramedics, a deputy chief, and fire prevention secretary. The department has had to rely heavily on mutual aid. This has put them at a serious disadvantage when it comes to rapid response to an emergency situation. They are currently running 1 engine out of the beach station and 1 engine, ladder and ambulance out of the town station.

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