Photo by Dave Warner – Saddles, hay and horses – were all housed in the fire department bays facing Williams Street.
by Scott Kinville
Over the past one hundred years, Little Falls has seen a lot of changes. The number of people living here has changed, businesses and factories have come and gone, even the physical landscape of the city has been altered by urban renewal and the relocation of the railroad tracks. Through all of these changes, there has been one constant – The Fire Station.
The address of the fire station is 659 East Main Street, although the station itself faces William Street. On May 25th, 1918, this station was officially “open for business.” Its first alarm was on May 27th for a fire in the house of Alderman George Boyle on German Street (Flint Ave), which the LFFD successfully stopped and saved the house. On the night the station opened, the firemen had a dinner there for Albert Bean and Cletus Kearns, two call firemen who were leaving the next day for service in the United States Army. To put into perspective of how long ago this was, consider the following points:
- World Ware One was still in progress.
- Prohibition had not yet happened.
- No one had heard of “television” yet.
- The original Yankee Stadium had yet to be built.
- Most of the streets in Little Falls were not yet paved.
It is important to know a little bit about the history of the fire department before this station opened. From 1808 to 1899, Little Falls was served by a volunteer fire department, which had several small fire stations located throughout the city. On June 1st, 1899, it became a paid department supplemented by call firemen (firefighters that were paid by the call) and one volunteer company (which was disbanded ini 1902). The original station for this “new” department was a building called the Star Academy, which was actually a ballroom that had a livery stable below it, and it stood where City Hall stands today. In 1900, a brand new police and fire station was built on the southwest corner of Albany and SecondStreets (where the Kinney Drugs parking lot is today). A lawyer named Hadley Jones had a hand in the financing of this building. He was elected Mayor of Little Falls in 1901, but would soon flee the city in disgrace after it was discovered he had forged several documents from the banks he had worked with! He was never prosecuted because he was never heard from again.
Over the next 15 years, the size and population of Little Falls was rapidly expanding. Consequently, so were the needs of its fire department. In 1916 construction on the new City Hall would begin and this would house both the police and fire departments as well. Fire Chief Edward Cooney was the first to spend the night in this building, as he moved there in March of 1918 to keep an eye on the fire alarm system. Back then, the city’s fire alarm was a system of several telegraph boxes and “the tape” needed constant monitoring. The fire whistle also required manual activation – exactly like it does today. In fact, the whistle we hear today was actually installed in the old station on the corner in 1908 and moved to City Hall with the fire alarm system.
The setup of the fire station when it opened in May of 1918 was a bit different than it is today. For starters, the firemen living quarters were on the fourth floor of City Hall – the attic of the building. If you look at the station from William Street, you will see several small windows just below the roof. This is where the living quarters were. Air conditioning as we know it was not in widespread use yet (and certainly not in this instance), so you can imagine it was quite hot up there during the summer. Fortunately, the living quarters would eventually come down to the lower (and cooler) floors of the station. Today, the Little Falls Police Academy occupies this space.
A staple of American fire stations in the twentieth century was the firemen’s sliding poles. Since the living quarters were on the fourth floor, this station had three poles (one for each floor)! Although the living quarters would move to the lower floors, the poles were still used until 2007, when their use was ended due to safety concerns. Even though they are no longer used, the poles at the Little Falls Fire Station are still in place – a reminder of days past.
Probably the most notable difference in the fire station today as opposed to when it opened 100 years ago is what apparatus (vehicles) are inside. When it opened, there were three motorized vehicles in this station: A 1914 Overland Chiefs Car, a 1917 Mack Fire Engine that had everything but a pump (the hoses utilized hydrant pressure), and a combination police patrol/ambulance. As you can probably tell, the ambulance service was a lot different then. If one was needed and it was available, just about any city employee could drive the ambulance and a doctor would usually meet them at the scene. If no doctor was available, a patient would basically just get a ride to the hospital, as E.M.T’s and paramedics were unheard of then.
Along with the motorized vehicles, one would find three hose wagons, perhaps a couple of personal vehicles, and if you were to keep walking into what is today called the “backroom,” you would see two horses named Tom and Jerry. They pulled the hose wagons and in the first years of this station were essential to firefighting operations. The paving of the streets of Little Falls did not begin until 1915 and would take several years to complete. Combine this with the fact that the city did not begin snowplowing the streets until 1923 meant Tom and Jerry with their hose wagons were the only ones who could make the steep hills in the winter! Sadly, as all the streets became paved and snowplowing become consistent, Tome and Jerry’s firehouse usefulness had come to an end. They were taken out of service in 1929 and lived out the rest of their lives on a farm in Salisbury.
There are several more stories of the fire station that could be told, but we do not have the space for that. It’s suffice to say that 100 years of our history has passed through those doors and that, in itself, is a remarkable achievement.