Historian William C. Lyon, Northfield Fire Department
The Northfield Fire Department was officially founded as the Northfield Factory Fire Company in 1838. The department was founded by a group of business owners who wished to offer protection to themselves and the community.
The old records indicate that some of these cisterns had to be filled occasionally as well as keeping the snow off the access hatch. As the hand pumps progressed they were equipped with a suction side, which allowed the pump to pull water from the cistern as well as furnish pressure to the hose and nozzle. The pumps required up to ten men to operate and at one point in time the Village authorized up to 120 men on the department. This was due to the amount of work required to pump water. It was very strenuous and required a change of men after five minutes or so.
It is interesting to note that firefighters were exempt from the military draft as long as they were active members of the Fire Department.
The Fire Company used buckets initially and then purchased hand pumps, which were a great improvement over the buckets alone. The hand pumps still had to be fed by buckets but the advantage was in being able to move more water as well effectively placing the stream. The Northfield Factory Fire Company served Northfield until the early 1860s when the Village of Northfield was incorporated. The Fire Department also set up a system of cisterns or reservoirs in order to have water available for firefighting.
The Vermont Central Railroad had an interest in the Fire Department as one of the founding members and its president, Charles Paine, was an active firefighter. When he was elected Governor of the State of Vermont, he was fined by the Fire Department for missing drills. The fines were saved until enough was collected for the firemen to have an oyster dinner. The railroad had a significant amount of property as well as a good supply of water in storage for the steam engines so they were a critical part of the fire fighting efforts in the village.
The hand pumps were not only hand operated but they were hand drawn and as the size increased they were eventually pulled by horses. The Fire Department never owned their own horses but contracted with a livery stable or other owners. The old records mentioned that Doctor Mayo had a team which was available for fires.
The winter weather caused other problems and the firemen would put runners on the hand pumps to assist in pulling them through the snow. Water was in short supply in the winter and extra effort was required to keep the pumps from freezing as well.
The early form of mutual aid to other departments was utilized for large fires and the records show that Northfield went to Montpelier and Randolph by rail as well as Montpelier and Randolph coming here by rail. In those days the railroad kept the steam up all night in an engine or two at it was a simple matter to put the hand pump on a rail car and head for those in need.
As time progressed the fire service took advantage of technology and steam pumps were developed. These pumps consisted of a steam boiler which was piped to a steam engine which ran the pump. These were more efficient and pumped a large amount of water thus replacing many men. The Northfield Fire Department never convinced the Village officials to purchase a steamer so continued with their hand pumps.
A change came about in 1906 when the water system was constructed in the Village and two new hose wagons were purchased for firefighting. With the system pressure up around 140 pounds it was an easy task to connect the hoses to the hydrants directly and eliminate the hand pump. The hand pumps were kept in reserve for another twenty years or so and were finally sold.
There were two stations in the Village, with one on Central Street and one on Vine Street. The one on Central Street served until the early 1940s when the station was moved to the municipal building on Main Street. The Central Street station is now home to the Northfield News and the one on Vine Street was sold and is now a residence.
About 1924 the Town bought the first fire truck for the department and in 1932 the Village bought a truck. Not much else is known about this vehicle except that the original brass bell that came off the 1932 Chevrolet is in the Fire Department Museum, which was a gift from Mrs. Doug Gross. The next purchases included a 1939 International, a 1949 Chevy, a 1965 Ford, a 1964 Maynard, a 1976 International all now gone on to other uses.
In 1988 the department built a new station on Wall Street to house our apparatus as well as to provide training room. It houses the following pieces of apparatus; 1972 Mack/Baker Tower, 1973 International Heavy Rescue, 1986 Ford/Middlesex Pumper, 1993 International Tanker, 1996 International E-One Pumper, a 1999 Ford One Ton Mini-Pumper, and last, but not least, a rail car for brush fires along the New England Central Railroad tracks.