Firefighting In the Olden Days

The first fire engine in Somerville was acquired in 1849. Costing the town more than $1,000, the machine had a modern, state-of-the-art engine with a suction hose and was an enormous step up from the literal tank on wheels – dubbed ‘Mystic No. 6’ – that was relied upon prior to the purchase.

Undated photo of fire station in Somerville, MA.

It’s hard to imagine but before this households were required to keep two buckets of water on-hand in the unfortunate case of a fire, and all present adult males were expected to assist the volunteer firemen. The purchase of the new engine was a vast improvement, but firefighting capabilities were still greatly hindered by the lack of a central plumbing system and the men had to rely on private wells or the reservoirs that had been placed strategically under main roads throughout the town. The days of the Civil War had been the hardest for the town to endure, as almost half the firefighters volunteered to serve in the war. The town was left vulnerable and became an arsonist’s playground, a suspicious fire sweeping through homes and businesses every few days.

By the early 1860s an infrastructure of pipes was assembled to draw water from Cambridge Water Works and the Walnut Hill reservoir, vastly improving access to water. In 1866, firemen begin to receive salaries for their services. The town also upgraded its equipment, trading hand engines for steam engines, hook and ladder carriages and hose carriages. This was shortly followed by the installation of alarm boxes and fire hydrants, immeasurably improving the town’s firefighting abilities.


DAILY TRIVIA: Boston’s Fisher College was founded in 1903 by brothers Myron and Edmund Fisher. It was originally called the Winter Hill Business College, and was located on Broadway in Somerville.



One response to “Firefighting In the Olden Days

  1. How very interesting! Thanks for sharing. Very interesting indeed.

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