The Falmouth Fire Department: A Short History
A tale of the fire department's early days and growth.
The urban fire department as we know it is a relatively modern invention. It used to be that when fire threatened a community, the townspeople themselves would fight the blaze.
The primary weapon in firefighting was the bucket chain. Citizens would line up at the nearest water source, fill buckets with water and pass them along the way to pour water on the blaze. But as communities got larger, this technique became less and less effective. Dedicated fire departments were created to target and combat fires more ably.
Falmouth's first fire department was created in 1897, when the town voted that $700 should be set aside to create a basic firefighter unit. These funds went to fund several separate units within the department itself, such as the crew that operated the hand drawn firefighting machine, the ladder team and hoses.
Two years later, the department had rented sheds in Falmouth's town center, Woods Hole and West Falmouth. This was a hallmark of the fire department's expansion, which was also due to a budget increase of the town's water department.
All this activity improving the fire department sparked interest amongst the citizens. Fire department recruitment swelled as each village sponsored their own firefighting units and citizens signed up en masse.
The next big change for the FFD came in 1919, when the New England Insurance Exchange was commissioned to do a thorough examination of both the town's fire and water departments. Its assessment was that both departments needed extensive upgrading in terms of management and equipment improvements.
That same year, Ray Wells was sworn in as the town's first fire chief, and he began to change the fire department into a motorized and modernized agency.
These changes included replacing the rented sheds with dedicated fire houses for the storing of mechanized equipment, ensuring that the levels of active personnel were maintained and improving the response time of fire department units by placing call boxes equipped with telegraph devices to serve as a town-wide fire alarm.
One of the most well known improvements Chief Wells made during his 35-year tenure at the fire department was the creation of the fire rescue squad, which was initially just a fireman driving a station wagon with some first aid equipment on board.
The patient placed inside the vehicle would just be driven to Toby Hospital in Wareham, a half hour away from Falmouth. This was a sizable delay for a injured patient to wait, so in 1962 Falmouth Hospital was built.
The survival of patients was further improved when fire department personnel started receiving EMT training in 1967. The FPD's first big challenge came in 1947, when a massive forest fire raged in Beebe Woods, destroying 1,500 acres and coming close to threatening the village itself.