Horse-Drawn Fire Wagon Guarded Hopedale in 1886
By Gordon E Hopper
From a meager beginning with horse drawn wagons and a single hose company, it has
gradually progressed throughout the intervening years to become a most modern and well-
equipped fire fighting facility.
The earliest piece of motorized equipment was an electric chemical truck obtained in 1905. A
second piece of motorized equipment was a hook and ladder truck, purchased in 1910.
Motorized pumpers started to be used in 1911.
The year 1916 saw the construction of a new fire station, so well designed that it is still in use
A new chemical truck was purchased during 1916 and a new pumper was added in 1926.
Documentation of the activities of the Hopedale Fire Department continues from the 1930s up
to the present time.
During 1936, $6,250 was appropriated for the purchase of a new Ahrens-Fox pumper. It was
identified as Combination Truck No. 2, it would pump 500 gallons per minute and it remained in
continuous service until 1969.
A barn owned by W.D. Howard burned on March 20, 1937. It took two days to completely
extinguish the smoldering hay.
Personnel in 1938 was as follows: Combination 1, 10 men; Ladder 1, 8 men; and Chemical 1, 7
men. In addition, each company had two substitutes.
During 1942, the forest fire truck was replaced by a new one built by the Farrar Co. in
Woodville. Usable hose at that time included 8,100 feet of 2 ½" hose, 1300 feet of 1 ½" hose,
and 500 feet of 1 1/8" hose.
Fire Chief Samuel E. Kellogg, who passed away on Oct. 9, 1943, was replaced by William
Whitney. Mr. Whitney served until the end of World War II.
The first aerial ladder purchased by the town was in 1944. It was 65 feet long, cost $16,000
and was built by the Seagrave Corporation.
One hundred fire alarms were received during 1945. From 5:30 a.m. on Aug. 14 until 1 a.m. on
Aug. 17, 1945, the fire department answered 52 false alarms. Box alarms had been struck by
individuals to keep the fire whistle continually audible in celebration of VJ Day, the conclusion of
World War II. Two other calls were for bonfires which had been set during the occasion.
The number of calls or alarms received has followed an upward growth pattern ever since the
Hopedale Fire Department was initiated. In 1974, the department received 262 calls.
Throughout the past 89 years the nature of the calls received have changed. Some of them of
heard today would seem most unusual.
For instance, there was a squad call to rescue a horse, another call for a fire at the Hopedale
Coal & Ice Co. icehouse, while another one sent men and equipment to extinguish a fire in a coal
pile. (Here's a horse rescue story, though not necessarily the one referred to here.)
No information was recorded about the horse rescue, but horses were know to occasionally
wander onto the trolley car bridge that spanned Hopedale Pond until the early 1930s.
Whenever that happened, it became necessary to lay wooden planks along the trolley track ties
for the horse to walk on while it was being led to the end of the bridge.
Charles Watson was appointed Fire Chief in 1945 and served for 25 years until he retired in
During 1947, the old chemical truck was replaced by a new $10,000 American LaFrance 1,000
gallons per minute pumper. It is identified as Engine 4 and it still answers every box alarm that is
sounded today. Engine 4 is the oldest vehicle in service and it is one of the first eleven cab-
forward models used in fire engines.
Major repairs were made in the Central Fire Station during 1949 and a two-way radio
communications system was initiated in 1949 and 1950.
A 1942 GMC oil truck was purchased for one dollar from the Hopedale Coal & Ice Co. during
1953. Members of the fire department converted it into a 600 gallon water tank truck. It was
equipped with a pump, some hose and was used in fighting rural house and forest fires.
The Draper Co. donated a 16 foot long aluminum boat to the department during 1955 for
rescue purposes. It is equipped with a 10 horsepower Johnson motor. It is mounted on a trailer
and housed inside the fire station.
The present fire alarm telegraph system was installed around 1950 and cost $15,000. The
outside system and control panel on the fire station were built by the Gamewell Co. and includes
a special bank of batteries that are continually kept on a trickle charger. The system was
enlarged in 1960.
The first death caused by fire in Hopedale since the department was organized in 1886
occurred on Dec. 24, 1960. Elzear Viens suffocated in a house fire at 53 Hill Street.
On Nov. 3, 1961, a new 750 gallons per minute International pumper was added to the
equipment roster. It was built by the Farrar Co. of Woodville at a cost of $17, 500. Identified as
Engine 1, it is still in service today. Along with Engine 2, they were the first Hopedale fire trucks
to feature the large 500 gallon tank.
An alarm sounded at 4:15 a.m. on Dec. 11, 1962, signaled what was to become the total
destruction of the Union Evangelical Church on Dutcher Street.
Hopedale firefighters and mutual aid from Milford and Upton battled more than three hours to
contain the blaze and prevent its spreading. Losses amounting to $250,000 caused this fire to
be the largest one in Hopedale's history.
Further expansion of the fire alarm system took place during 1963. Equipment in use during
1963 included the 1936 Ahrens-Fox pumper, 1942 GMC tanker, 1943 Seagrave aerial ladder,
1947 American LaFrance pumper, 1961 International pumper and a new 1963 station wagon.
During 1963, a new set of rules and regulations applicable to the operation of the fire
department went into effect.
Mrs. Margaret LeDuc died on May 13, 1964 from burns received in a small fire at the Hopedale
Garden Nursing Home.
On May 31, 1967, Waina M. Erickson retired after serving 26 years as a driver, head
houseman, member of the Board of Fire Engineers and 11 years as Deputy Chief.
On March 18, 1968, many man-hours were worked by members of the fire department pumping
out cellars that were flooded by a heavy rainfall.
In 1968, a new Cheverolet station wagon replaced the fire chief's 1963 model and a new 1,000
gallons per minute Maxim pumper was received on Jan. 23, 1969. This is Engine 2 and was
acquired at a cost of $27,500. It is the first vehicle to leave the Hopedale station and it answers
all box alarms.
The value and need of a rescue vehicle had long been realized by Hopedale firefighters.
During April 1969, the men purchased a 1964 Cheverolet panel truck which they remodeled into
a light rescue truck.
The old 1942 GMC tank truck was disposed of in January 1969 when a 1953 GMC oil truck was
donated to the department by the Hopedale Coal & Ice Co. It was converted to a 1500 gallon
tanker and was used on fires outside the hydrant system.
Chief Charles A. Watson retired on Aug. 1, 1970 after 43 years of service to the town of
Hopedale. He started working for the town in 1927. Later he was a fire department driver and
then a deputy chief. After returning in 1945 from active military duty, he was appointed Fire
A barn owned by the Mauger family at 77 Hartford Avenue was completely destroyed by a fire
on April 18, 1970. Engines 1 and 2, the tanker, and the rescue truck were at the scene from 7 p.
m. until midnight.
Arnold F.J. Nealley, who was appointed Fire Chief on Aug. 1, 1970, served until April 1, 1971,
when illness forced his retirement. He had been a call man from 1934 until 1942, then served in
the U.S. Navy until 1945. In 1947, he was appointed Captain of Engine 2, a position he retained
until he became Call Deputy Chief in 1953.
Herbert S. Durgin served as a call firefighter between 1950 and 1960 and was assigned to
Engine 4. He became a permanent firefighter on Aug. 28, 1960 and was appointed Acting Fire
Chief on Dec. 17, 1970. On April 23, 1971 he was appointed Fire Chief.
Edward H. Scott was appointed Call Deputy Chief on June 1, 1971.
In 1971, the private fire department which had operated inside the Rockwell Draper plant was
phased out. For a half century, or possibly longer, the Draper Co. maintained its own group of
industrial firefighters. There were hydrants and small hose reels strategically placed around the
company property and one company-owned fire truck was kept on the premises. An old fire
station with a hose drying tower remains adjacent to the Bancroft Park railroad crossing at the
present time. (1975)
There was an alarm system inside the plant which would summon company firefighters when
needed. Aid from outside the plant would be requested only if the private company could not
handle the problem.
Company personnel participated in weekly drills until around 1971 at which time the truck was
dismantled and the industrial fire department disbanded.
Currently, whenever an alarm box inside the Rockwell plant is pulled, the power plant room is
automatically alerted to start their fire pumps which boost the pressure of the internal sprinkler
and water hydrant system inside the large plant.
From the inception of the Hopedale Fire Department there has been a Board of Fire Engineers
directing the operations of the fire department. During 1972 it was phased out by action taken at
a town meeting. The department now operates under Chapter 48, Sections 42, 43 and 44.
Men known to have served on the Board of Fire Engineers include the following:
Frank L. Andrew, J. B. Bancroft, Joseph B. Chapin, F.G. Crockett, Milton F. Doxey, Herbert S.
Durgin, Waina M. Erickson, Joseph J. Grant, William E. Grant, George W. Jenkins, Samuel E.
Kellogg, A.W. Lamb, Arnold F. Nealley, Charles E. Pierce, F.B. Sweet, Charles E. Watson, A.W.
Westcott, and W.E Whitney.
A catastrophe occurred when a plane crash and fire in Hopedale took the lives of five people on
Aug. 16, 1972. Chief Durgin and firefighters with two trucks were the first to reach the scene.
The occupants of the aircraft were horribly burned as the flames quickly destroyed everything
that could burn.
A new 4-section, 85 foot long Maxim aerial ladder truck was received on May 2, 1973, replacing
the 1943 aerial ladder truck. It cost $62,000 and is a hydraulic operated device that can be
raised and placed in operation by its driver in less than three minutes.
During 1973, a local citizen left a bequest to the department to erect a granite memorial on the
property at the fire station. This was done; a stone was placed on the front lawn of the station
and inscribed as follows:
"In memory of all firefighters who served the town of Hopedale. Erected by firefighters
A few years ago, students of the Blackstone Valley Regional Vocational Technical High School
overhauled a 10 kilowatt Army surplus gasoline-driven emergency power generator owned by the
department. It was used for 19 hours during an ice storm in December 1973, to supply power to
the station and communication equipment.
An Army surplus generator converted by members of the department is now a trailer-mounted
mobile unit. It is towed by the rescue truck and it is housed on the lower level of the fire station.
A fatal house fire took the life of Albert H. Andrew of 159 Mendon Street on Nov. 24, 1974.
Chief Durgin and four members of the department broke into the burning home and found Mr.
Andrew's burned body. Forty men, Engines 2 and 4, Ladder 2 and the Rescue 1 responded,
and quickly brought the tragic fire under control.
Fire destroyed a furniture-filled warehouse at 17 Plain Street on Dec 6, 1974 with a loss that
Ever since the first two-way radio units were installed in the fire station and on the trucks during
1949 and 1950, communications has played an increasing part in the safety and protection
efforts of the department. A scanner-type radio located in the communications room of the
station continually monitors radio signals from the Mendon, Upton, Milford and Bellingham fire
departments. There are eight mobile radio systems installed in various Hopedale Fire
Department vehicles. A tone generator at the fire station is used in conjunction with the fire
department's radio transmitter when it becomes necessary to activate 40 home alert radios. This
alarm summons all off-duty permanent and call firefighters. Audible fire alarm signals in
Hopedale include an air whistle on top of the fire station tower, an air whistle at Rockwell which is
connected with the town's fire alarm system and a whistle at the Rosenfeld concrete plant off
At the present time, Hopedale is protected by 50 street fire alarm boxes along with 11 master
fire alarm boxes. A compressor purchased in 1974 is used to recharge the self-contained
breathing apparatus units owned by the department each time they have been used.
In May 1974, Nicholas Pannicelli acquired the present Rescue 1 vehicle through the
government Surplus Property Division. It is a 1966 International walk-in van and is has been
modified for firefighters.
Rescue 1 responds to accidents, car fires, and other emergency calls. It answers to all
resucitator calls, and is used to transport injured firemen.
The fire alarm maintenance truck is a 1958 Ford equipped with storage compartments on both
sides of its body. It utilizes a 2-way radio and carries 14 and 28 foot long extension ladders. the
truck is used for outside fire alarm system work.
The fire chief's car is 1975 is a 1968 Cheverolet station wagon. All of the fire department
vehicles use snow and mud tires at all times and chains are available when needed.
Fire Department personnel at the present time is comprised of a permanent fire chier, Herbert
S. Durgin; a call deputy chief, Edward H. Scott; 8 permanent firefighters, 30 call firefighters, and
four auxiliary firefighters, Gary Barrows, Richard Daige, Peter Lemon and James Vignone.
The permanent firefighters are as follows:
Group 1 - Robert K. Lamora, John W. Foley, Michael J. Ballou.
Group 2 - Donald A. Moore, James F. Woolheiser, Thomas A. Daige.
Group 3 - Robert A. Rocks, Robert A. Hammond.
Engine 2, Ladder 1 and Engine 4 each have 10 assigned call firefighters.
Nearly 90 years after its meager beginning, the Hopedale Fire Department now is one of the
best equipped and well trained fire departments in Massachusetts. With a large industrial
complex such as Rockwell International located in the town of Hopedale, it is imperative that a
modern and well-equipped fire department be immediately and continually available.
The author of this article, in addition to spending many hours researching old books, papers
and town records, acknowledges the cooperation of Hopedale Fire Chief Herbert S. Durgin and
Firefighter Robert A. Hammond. Without their help, this historical summary could not have been
documented. Milford Daily News.
Fire truck parades, muster, 1976, 1986 Then and Now - The Fire Station
Draper fire stations Hopedale Fire Department website HOME
From the Draper Company periodical, Cotton Chats.
The caption above states that the Unitarian Church in Mendon was interested in the
bell. Did it go there? I asked David Lowell if it had. Yes, indeed, he said. Below are two
photos of it taken in July 2014, and one taken after a fire in 1936. Thanks to Peter
Metzke of Melbourne, Australia whose interest in Hopedale history prompted him to ask
where it went That lead me to asking Dave about it.
I presume this was the reason for the new bell.
Thanks to John Butcher for the timeline.