History of the Westport Fire Department
Since humans first appeared on earth fire has been a boon and a burden, a tool and a terror. Fire, throughout history has given life, safety and comfort and taken the same away. The use and control of fire remains one of the single most important stages in the evolution of human civilization.
Protecting the citizenry from the ravages of uncontrolled fire is one of mankind’s most noble and honorable callings. In AD 6, for the first time in recorded history, men are organize together not to make war and conquer territory but protect and save their fellow man. Credited for organizing the first firefighting force is generally given to the Roman emperor Augustus Caesar. The force is composed of nearly 600 slaves who are stationed around the city of Rome to serve as watchmen and firefighters. A mere 80 odd years later the Emperor Nero has a group of 7000 “Vigiles”, free men who were charged with firefighting, prevention and inspection of buildings. The Corps of Vigiles used the formal rank and structure of the famed Roman Legion similar in organization to the fire service of today.
In early colonial America, fire struck with unsettling regularly. The early wooden structures, thatched roofs and the close proximity of buildings in early cities were a perfect recipe for conflagrations time and time again. The need to control the occasion of devastating fires lead Boston, in 1630, to establish the first fire prevention regulations in North America when it banned thatched roofs and wooden chimneys.
With the settlement of Old Dartmouth in 1650 and the community that would later become the Town of Westport in 1787, fire still plagued the early inhabitants; yet organized fire protection was still more than two and a half centuries away.
Prior to the formation of a fire department, fires certainly occurred in the town causing damage and destruction with the same regularity as they did after. How the citizens dealt with those early conflagrations is lost to history, but a safe bet is that neighbors arrived, buckets in hand and made an attempt to control the fire. By all accounts the bucket brigade of the day did little to stem the loss and the seed of organized fire protection is planted.
One night in 1927 a group of men out bowling were told that the Town Shed was on fire. When they arrived they found not the shed but the woods adjacent to the shed ablaze. Collectively they determined to organize and on November 28, 1927 the Westport Volunteer Fire Company is formed. The Volunteer Organization sets out to raise funds for firefighting equipment and to lobby the Town for a fire department.
The first order of business was to secure a piece of fire apparatus from the Town Meeting which met with failure. Not to be discouraged, they instead took a less direct route and determined to build a fire truck. WFD No. 1 was made up from an old Chevrolet Touring car with a 35 gallon water tank and some garden hose. What the little engine lacked in firepower it made up for in spirit and in spite of its humble beginnings proved to be successful enough to convince Town Meeting the very next year to purchase a “First Class Fire Truck”.
Housing the engine was accomplished through a lease of land from Charles R. Wood to the Volunteers and a two bay firehouse is built on the site where it will be in operation for the next 83 years.
March 14, 1928, Irving C. Hammond is appointed Fire Chief by the Board of Selectmen by authority of the Town Meeting and the Westport Fire Department is organized. Members of the department are without compensation.
1928 - Chief Hammond reported in the Annual Town Report that the fledgling Fire Department responded to a grand total of 37 fire calls in its first year of service Two years later In 1930 the department broke the 100 call mark. It will not be until 1968 that the 200 call mark is reached.
1932- An additional truck is added to the fleet and is stationed in the Greenwood Park section of Westport. The North Westport Volunteer Fire Company is formed.
March 13, 1934 - Westport Firefighters become Permanent and compensated. Town Meeting voted in favor of $1,350 for permanent firefighters and $750 for the remuneration of call firefighters.
Sept. 8, 1934 – Vote was unanimous at Town Meeting to insure Firemen while on duty.
1938- Lynwood Potter is appointed Fire Chief
1941- Stanley Gifford is appointed Fire Chief
December 2, 1946 – Head of Westport Fire Association, INC. is formed. They begin plans to construct a fire station to be located in the Head of Westport.
August 2, 1948 - Building Plans for Station 3 were accepted and construction began. The cost of the building is being paid off by the annual Fourth of July Parade and Fireworks. These events began in 1947.
November 14, 1952 – 8 Children and 1 Adult perish in a fire on Mt. Pleasant St. This is the greatest loss of life in a single fire in the history of the Westport Fire Dept.
1961-Lynwood Potter is re-appointed Fire Chief
1961- Chief Potter designed and institutes the first Westport Fire Department patch. The simple maroon maltese Cross with the firefighter scramble in the center will remain the department patch throughout his tenure as Chief in 1970.
September 25, 1968 - Westport full-time Firefighters join the International Association of Firefighters & Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts. The newly formed union is known as the "Westport Permanent Firefighters Association". They are given the number 1802 from the IAFF.
1970- Harold J. Miller is appointed Fire Chief
1970- Chief Miller modifies the department patch shifting the maroon to bright red. The patch is used until a completely new patch is designed in 1986.
August 25, 1970- Firefighters move from the Rt. 6 station into new Fire Station at 85 Briggs Rd. To this date it is the only station in the history of the department that is owned by the Town of Westport
1972-George Dean is appointed Fire Chief
March 8, 1973- Westport responds mutual aid to the Firestone Mill Complex in Fall River. Westport, 8 other communities responded to help battle this monstrous blaze.
July 1, 1974- Ambulance service was first offered to the citizens of Westport by the police department beginning October 12, 1937. The police would continue to provide this service for the next 37 years until July 1, 1974 when the fire department officially assumed the responsibility of providing emergency medical care.
1978- Addition to Station 1 is built. This addition gave the department the ability to house 3 more apparatus in the Central Village Fire Station. Construction was done by students of Diman High School
1982- William D. Tripp is appointed Fire Chief
May 11, 1982 – Westport Fire Dept. responds mutual aid to the Notre Dame Fire in Fall River. Westport along with dozens of surrounding communities help bring the blaze under control.
1986 – Chief Tripp authorizes a new department patch. Designed by Captain Norman Duquette and his daughter Lisa, the new patch incorporates the Town Seal that depicts the 3 major industries of Westport, Homestead, Agriculture and fishing. Controversy with the new patch results when it is discovered that Captain Duquette’s initials ND have been incorporated patch in the water below the boat. Chief Tripp orders that the initials be removed or covered on all patches. Close inspection shows the where the initials were covered with black thread.
April 6, 1989- Town Meeting unanimously votes to staff two full-time ambulances.
July 1, 1989 – The Head Fire Station (Station No.3) becomes an unmanned station due to shortages in money and manpower, a short time later the last of the firefighting equipment is removed and the doors are permanently closed.
February 6, 1995 – The Westport Fire Department ambulances begin to provide Advanced Life Support in the prehospital setting.
1999 - Addition to Station 2 is built. The addition added 4 bays to the existing structure.
September 11, 2001 - Attacks result in the death of 363 New York City Firefighters, fundamentally changing the fire service across the nation and the world.
2002 - Stephen A. Motta is appointed Fire Chief
September 10, 2002- Work is completed on the Westport Firefighter Memorial located at Station 2, one day before the first anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. The memorial will be formally dedicated on October 6th, 2002.
November 2, 2003- Westport Firefighters begin working 24 hour shifts
2006- Brian R. Legendre is appointed Fire Chief
March 10, 2006- The Ladies Auxiliary is re-organized and begins to hold regular meetings
May 1, 2006- The new department patch debuts on the new all navy uniform. The design is the result of a collaboration of many department members. It incorporates design elements from the previous patches.
March 17, 2007 - Ladder 7 goes into service. This ladder was mostly funded through a Federal Grant. This is the first ladder truck in the history of the department. Within 1 hour of being placed in service the ladder responds to a working house fire on Watuppa Road.
April 12, 2008- The Westport Fire Department hosts the first Firefighters Ball in many years. The event was held at Rachel's Lakeside in Dartmouth, MA. The following members received medals:
Deputy Chief Allen N. Manley Jr. - The Chief's Cross
Firefighter Daniel K. Baldwin- Firefighter of the Year & Meritorious Service
Firefighter Brian Souza- Meritorious Service
Principal Clerk Terry Vaillancourt- Meritorious Service
May 26, 2008- Westport Fire Department Color Guard debuts at the Memorial Day parade.
June 17, 2008- Voters approve a not to exceed 7 million dollar figure for the construction of a new south end fire station. The final vote count was 1243 in favor and 798 opposed. The article received a majority at all polling locations in town. The new south end station will be located at 54 Hixbridge Rd.
June 23, 2008- The Department purchases back the 1932 MACK after it had spent over 40 years sitting in an open field on Pine Hill Rd. It was the first 1000 gallon truck built by the MACK Company for a country fire department and served the town until 1963. Initially the company would not warranty the chassis, but the truck proved to be a prototype for future models
August 3, 2008- Westport Firefighters along with members of the Tiverton, Fall River, and Portsmouth Fire Departments respond to a call of a man overboard on Stafford Pond. Tiverton Firefighter Gerald Leduc loses his life during the rescue efforts. Brother Leduc was 52 years old, a 25-year member of the Tiverton Fire Dept, and a certified diver.
January 2, 2009- The word "SLOT" is replaced with the word "GROUP" to describe the crew shift on duty. Each group is composed of a Shift Commander and 4 firefighters.
April 7, 2009 - Construction of the new station 1 is awarded to BARR General Contractors, Inc. BARR construction is located at 588 Pomfret St., Putnam CT. They were the lower bidders on the project at $4,350,750.00. Construction will begin in late April of 2009 and is expected to last 14 months.
May 5, 2009 - Groundbreaking for new south end fire station.
Pictured left to right are Veronica Beaulieu, Jack DeVeuve, Chief Brian Legendre,
Steve Ouellette, Paul Schmid, Elizabeth Collins, Deputy Allen Manley & Warren Messier
August 18, 2009- Firefighters respond to report of fire at the Westport Point United Methodist Church located at 1912 Main Rd. Firefighters work through the extremely warm weather to limit the damage to $100,000. Assisting Westport Firefighters in the preservation of this historical building were members of Dartmouth District 2.
September 11, 2009- Two Flags are flown over the new station 1 construction site at 54 Hixbridge Road for the first time. The American flag flown this day was the casket flag of Westport retired career firefighter George F. Mosher.
October 8, 2009- "Topping Off" Ceremony takes place at the Station 1 Construction site at 54 Hixbridge Rd. In this ceremony, individuals are given the opportunity to sign a metal beam that will be secured into the structure. This day also marked the construction project as 50% completed.
July 16, 2010- Firefighters move into the new station at 54 Hixbridge Rd. leaving the station at 911 Main Road which housed firefighters since 1927.
July 1, 2010- Deputy Allen Manley is demoted to Captain due to financial constraints within the Town's Budget. Lt. John Andrade retires from the ranks of Full time Firefighter as a way to save other firefighters from layoffs.
July 30, 2010- The new station one at 54 Hixbridge Rd. is dedicated.
December 31, 2010 - Firefighters finish off the busiest year on record with 2,374 calls for service. Firefighters worked a large structure fire from 2010 into the early hours of the New Year.
March 10, 2011 – 12 members of the Westport Fire Department travel to New York City to retrieve an artifact from the World Trade Center to be used as a permanent memorial to those lost on September 11, 2001. The 435 pound steel I beam will be located at the new South End Fire Station.
January 7, 2014 – 2 hunters die when their boat capsizes in the Westport River. 1 hunter is rescued by the US Coast Guard via helicopter from Cory’s Island. The water temperature is 36 degrees and the air temperature is 8 with wind gusts to 20 knots.
December 19, 2015 - A deadly fire occurs claiming the life of 4 year old Caleb Nadolillo in the same Mount Pleasant Street house that took the lives of 9 members of the Audette Family in November of 1952.
June 24, 2016 - The largest fire in recent Westport history destroys the century old Ferry dairy barn. At 32,000 square feet the barn is a series of additions to the original structure. No animals were lost in the fire and assistance from throughout Bristol County and neighboring Rhode Island was brought in, to help quell the flames.