I have no particular quarrel at this time with the account given by Normand Chamberland in The Woonsocket Call about the Albion fire department up to the year 1948. I repeat it here in italics for the sake of topic consistency. Any comments, corrections, observations, or additional information that I have obtained will be inserted in normal typeface.
As in most new settlements, the early method of firefighting relied most heavily on the kindness of neighbors and the availability of nearby water and buckets. With the establishment of the cotton mill and the growth of housing in the village proper, much of the firefighting effort devolved to the mill employees, although the methods used were still very primitive.
Firefighting Setup in Albion Evolved From Bucket Brigade
The fire department in the village of Albion was not adequate during the ownership of the Chace family. The method used for extinguishing fires was the “bucket brigade” method, which did not prove too satisfactory.
The next firefighting equipment which was procured by the Valley Falls Company was a hand-drawn, two-wheel cart, which carries a line of hose on a cylinder. The summons for help to put out a fire would bring this cart drawn by several volunteer village folks.
The value of this firefighting equipment was found chiefly in extinguishing chimney fires, which were numerous in the village. Thus Albion was dependent on the village of Manville for fire protection when a blaze was too big for the Albion department to handle.
When William H. Erskine was appointed agent, i.e., superintendent, of the Valley Falls Company on October 18, 1902, it marked the beginning of a new era for the firemen of the Company. As a former assistant foreman with the Central Falls Veteran Firemen’s Association, Erskine quickly took the lead in establishing the Albion Veterans Firemen’s Association (AVFA). At its first meeting on November 21, 1902, with 150 in attendance, he was elected its first president. Others elected were as follows: vice-presidents, J. Dudley, G. Spencer, J. Blain, W. Gahan, L. Allen, L. Trudeau; board of directors, H. Smith, E. Champagne, T. McGarry, A. Lacombe, J. Blunt, J. Goudreau, P. Couture, St. & J. Broullieaux; financial secretary and treasurer, H. Sweet; janitor, Henry W. Garber. The first order of business was the purchase of two pool tables for its rooms (Pawtucket Times, November 22, 1902).
The AVFA held a weeklong fair in the village in April 1903. On the evening of April 28, 1903, members of the AVFA met members of the Manville fire department and the Young Men’s Social Club at the railroad station and joined them in a parade through the village led by the Albion Band. “Most of the houses in the village have been decorated for the occasion” (Pawtucket Times, April 28, 1903).
A major purchase for the AVFA was soon made through the good graces of the treasurer of the Valley Falls Company, Arnold B. Chace. The hand tub, or machine, as it was called, had been built by John D. Dennison for Princeton College, reportedly in 1858 (Town of Lincoln, 1971). It had an 8½-inch pump and 9-inch stroke.
The machine was thoroughly overhauled and entered its first muster for the AVFA on May 30, 1903, competing in the state muster at Chestnut Grove, Cranston, where the members would be decked out in their new uniforms. Erskine was much experienced at musters and would lead the men as captain (Pawtucket Times, May 29, 1903). The machine was named the “Arnold B. Chace” in honor of its principal benefactor. It placed 11th in its first muster, due mainly to some damage that could not be quickly repaired, forcing the team to retire from the contest (Pawtucket Times, June 1, 1903).
The next muster that the AVFA entered was held at Crescent Park on July 30, 1903. Some 150 men boarded a morning train to Providence, with 100 dressed in the AVFA uniforms. The mill was closed for the day to allow interested employees to accompany the firemen to the muster. The Arnold B. Chace finished fifth, having competed at a time when “a strong crosswind blowing in gusts” affected its stream of water (Pawtucket Times, July 31, 1903). The men took fourth prize at the annual muster of the Rhode Island State League in Woonsocket on Labor Day, September 7, 1903. The badges the men wore this day bore the photograph of the AVFA President, William H. Erskine (Pawtucket Times, September 8, 1903).
The Taunton muster was entered on September 25, 1903. The machine broke down, however, when “the packing was blown out of the air chamber.” Further examination discovered a number of loose screws as well. The company was awarded a prize for coming the longest distance, and another prize for the largest and best appearance of any company. As was the custom, the mill was closed for the day of the muster (Pawtucket Times, September 26, 1903).
The AVFA was admitted to membership in the New England Veteran Firemen’s Association on January 12, 1904. At this time, the name of the company was changed to the Arnold B. Chace Company, numbering about 175 members (Pawtucket Times, January 13, 1904).
The next competition was in Bristol on Memorial Day 1904. The Arnold B. Chace was shipped by rail to Bristol. The company took no prizes (Pawtucket Times, May 28 & May 31, 1904).
In the muster held at Exchange Place in Providence on the Fourth of July, 1904, the company placed eighth among the 15 competitors (Pawtucket Times, July 5, 1904).
The company next entered the muster at Crescent Park on July 28, 1904. It placed sixth out of the 14 total companies (Pawtucket Times, July 28, 1904).
As a delegate to the meeting of the New England States Veteran Fireman’s League on August 2, 1904, President Erskine of the AVFA expected some heated discussion concerning the venue for the League’s annual muster. At the opening of the meeting, he distributed two handkerchiefs, undoubtedly the work of the Albion mill, to each delegate, “receiving the thanks of the league for his thoughtfulness” (Pawtucket Times, August 3, 1904). With little fanfare, the annual muster was agreed to be held on the fairgrounds in Taunton on August 24, 1904.
On the day of the Taunton muster, the Albion men wore “red shirts and caps and ties to match, …their breasts … adorned with exceedingly pretty badges.” The Rhode Island companies traveling to the muster were embarked on a special train that left from Pawtucket. The Albion band joined other bands in traveling with the companies (Pawtucket Times, August 24, 1904). The Albion men placed 24th out of a field of 34 (Pawtucket Times, August 25, 1904).
At the annual muster of the Rhode Island League of Veteran Firemen held in Central Falls On Labor Day, September 5, 1904, the Albion company, led by foreman Hiram Smith, placed 6th among the 16 entrants. The AVFA Band also participated, led by William Christian (Pawtucket Times, September 6, 1904).
The Albion company took a fifth place at the Milford muster on September 17, 1904. However they came away with a first prize for the best appearing company in the line, which included as their mascot “a small boy fantastically dressed in green” (Pawtucket Times, September 19, 1904, page 5).
In an article in the Times on November 30, 1904, the AVFA was praised for providing “amusement” for the men in the village “outside of the liquor saloons.” It was said to have done “a great amount of good in the village and will probably lead to even more being done for the benefit of the villagers.”
At the muster held on John Street in Valley Falls on July 1, 1905, the Albion men had a second place finish. Thomas McGeary, William H. Jenks, and Hiram E. Smith of Albion were part of the organizing committee (Pawtucket Times, July 3, 1905). The company competed again a short time later, taking part in the muster at Crescent Park on July 20, 1905, where they placed seventh of the nine teams in competition. Strong winds hampered the company’s efforts (Pawtucket Times, July 21, 1905).
At a meeting of the Rhode Island Veteran Firemen’s League on January 10, 1906, William H. Erskine of Albion was elected president (Pawtucket Times, January 11, 1906). Taking part in the annual muster of the New England League of Veteran Firemen in Providence on August 16, 1905, the Albion company finished 10th out of 49 competitors. They were in the thick of competition until a plunger gave out and they had to withdraw (Pawtucket Times, August 17 & September 1, 1906). The company and its band took part in the Rhode Island Veteran Firemen’s League muster in Bristol on Labor Day, September 3, 1906. In addition to the two shifts of men operating the Arnold B. Chace, there was an 11-man hose and reel team led by Nelson Gravel. The machine contest resulted in a 10th place finish for the company out of 18 total contestants. The hose and reel team finished last out of the seven teams competing (Pawtucket Times, September 1 & 4, 1906).
The Albion company took part in the Old Home Week muster in Providence on August 1, 1907, placing 12th out of 17 entrants (Pawtucket Times, August 2, 1907). On Labor Day, September 2, 1907, they competed in the State League muster in Warren, finishing 11th out of 19 competitors (Pawtucket Times, September 3, 1907).
The 1908 annual Rhode Island Veterans Firemen’s League muster was held in Albion on Labor Day, September 7, 1908, thanks to the offer made by William H. Erskine to furnish “the grounds, water, $75 in cash, and give the proceeds of a big picnic” (Pawtucket Times, July 9, 1908). The Times reported on August 28, 1908, page 7, that “every effort is being made to have this picnic the biggest ever held in the town, and there will be visitors present from every part of the state.” Mulvey of Pawtucket was chosen to cater the affair (Pawtucket Times, September 4, 1908). Delegations met each visiting company at the railroad station and escorted them to the picnic grounds, where the companies pitched their tents (Pawtucket Times, August 31, 1908). The hometown advantage had little effect on the result for the Albion company, however. Of the 19 companies entered, the Albion men placed 15th. It was estimated that the crowd numbered between 8,000 and 10,000 people (Pawtucket Times, September 8, 1908).
It appears that the Albion company entered only one muster in 1909, the Rhode Island State Firemen’s League contest held at Narragansett Park, Cranston, on September 6, 1909. The men placed 13th out of 19 entrants (Pawtucket Times, September 7, 1909). The state league contest for 1910 was held in Manville on Labor Day, September 5, 1910. The Albion company placed second out of the 17 competitors with its best ever squirt of 220’3½”. The Times of September 6, 1910, page 10, praised Mr. Erskine as “the hero of the day.” As the general manager of the muster, it was said that Erskine was ” doing enough in running things at all, without tuning up his machine to win prizes.”
There are few details about subsequent musters that the Albion company may have entered or any results after 1910 that were printed in the Pawtucket Times. However, we do know that the Albion company planned to be at the state muster held in East Greenwich on Labor Day, September 2, 1912 (Pawtucket Times, August 29, 1912). Mr. Erskine continued to be involved, however, often serving as a judge.
To see what a muster entailed, take a look at this instructive video.
It was not until the Berkshire Fine Spinning Associates sold the Albion homes in 1935 to the renters that the people of Albion became conscious of the need for an adequate piece of fire equipment and a well-operated volunteer department.
It was only after the sale of the Albion village that a meeting of the Albion taxpayers was called on Feb. 6, 1936, and that the Albion Taxpayers Association was organized. This group elected Leo F. Bois as chairman and James Bishop as secretary-treasurer.
The principal matter brought up at this meeting was the reduction in fire insurance rates. So the Albion Fire Department was organized under the jurisdiction of the Albion Taxpayers Association.
The first officers of the fire department included Fire Chief Charles A. Warner, Deputy Chief Henry Jacques, Capt. Gaudias Metivier, Lt. Philip Gagnon, and John Blunt, chief of the mill fire department, who was elected honorary chief of the new department.
The Valley Falls Division of the Berkshire Fine Spinning Associates then turned over to the newly-formed fire department their old Dodge pumper and their fire station, a 14 by 22 cement block building which stands on the west side of School street.
The station house is at 38 School Street.
The first funds were raised by the fire department by assessing each owner $1. The amount collected was $57, including donations. Later a second collection was made, followed by several social events and donations which made it possible for the association to purchase a second-hand Reo pumper from Manville Fire Department for $325.
The first building to catch fire and also the first call for the newly-organized fire department was for a four-door toilet directly across the street from the station. No one could start the fire truck and consequently it was pushed over to the burning building by a gang of boys and volunteer firemen.
It was of no use when it got there, as it carried no water and the hose had to be dragged down to the Dionne square corner hydrant. Owing to the delay in getting water, the building was considerably damaged.
Fire District Formation Brings New Truck, Insurance Rate Cut
The water situation in the village for some time proved a problem for the Berkshire mill owners. All available springs had been piped into the houses, but that was not sufficient to meet the needs of both mill and houses. The water, however, was noted for its purity and good taste and became famous for miles around.
On June 14, 1936, a meeting was called to discuss the situation and to try to find some means of getting an adequate water supply. A committee was appointed and soon reported that the Town of Cumberland was willing to furnish water from Sneach Pond at an estimated cost of $20 a year per tenement.
Officials of the Albion mill, under the direction of Fred Williams, had surveys made and work was soon started laying a pipe line from the end of the Cumberland main pipe near the Woodstock Inn on Mendon road, through the woods west under the Blackstone River and under the New Haven Railroad tracks, near the Albion depot and into the village.
Five new hydrants were installed in the village and the new system was piped into all houses in the village. It was a Works Project Administration project, the Valley Falls Division of the Berkshire Fine Spinning Association furnishing the material for which it was to be reimbursed by the Town of Cumberland.
In view of the new water system, the Albion mill canceled all water bills for 1936 and made no charge for water furnished from the mill system for 1937 up to July, 1938, when the Cumberland water was turned on.
No Fire Alarm
It was agreed that the new water system would give the village of Albion plenty of water and in case of the fire department, good pressure. However, if a fire occurred there was no way to call the firemen and usually when the firemen did get around, the old Reo fire truck would refuse to start.
It was not until a short while later, when the Ashton Fire Department called for help to fight a brush fire, that the village people realized that they should get a new fire truck. The reason was that in answering the Ashton call, the old Reo had to be pushed down the Albion hill before it would start and then the headlights would not work.
On March 7, 1937, a meeting of the fire district was called to try to do something for the fire department. Five fire commissioners were appointed: Nelson Pelletier, James Bishop, Harry Quinn, John Sherry, and Napoleon Boudreau.
Note: “Pelletier” should be “Peltier.” A fire alarm siren was installed on March 24, 1937 (Unspecified newspaper article dated May 13, 1941).
This commission had the old Reo pumper overhauled and several new pumps installed but when the insurance underwriters were asked to inspect it, they found that it could not pump more than 300 gallons of water per minute and the minimum required amount was 500 gallons per minute.
Through various media, this group of men and several other helpful citizens canvassed the village and found out that of they could incorporate through a charter from the State of Rhode Island, they could borrow enough money for a down payment on a comparatively new fire truck.
Fire District Formed
On January 12, 1941, property owners in the bounds of a proposed Albion fire district voted unanimously to become an incorporated district. The town’s representatives in the General Assembly would be requested to assist in obtaining an enabling act to allow the district to be established (Unspecified newspaper article dated January 13, 1941). The act passed both branches of the General Assembly and was signed by Governor J. Howard McGrath on March 13, 1941 (Unspecified newspaper article dated May 13, 1941).
After becoming incorporated under the name of Albion Fire Department, the group went ahead and ordered the new truck. The new piece of equipment had a 1941 Ford chassis, a new pump and new firefighting tools. The truck was delivered on March 21, 1941, and it was immediately put into service.
The new truck was ordered from a company in Woodville, MA, for $2,775, which included “a new pumping engine with a 500-gallons per minute pump, 250-gallon water tank and additional equipment” (Unspecified newspaper article dated January 13, 1941). The truck carried “a thousand feet of large hose, ladders, extinguishers of all kinds, brooms, knapsacks, smoke masks, ropes, hooks and other tools. It has two powerful spot lights, an electric siren and red blinkers” (Unspecified newspaper article dated May 13,1 1941).
The insurance underwriters tested the new truck and found it satisfactory, As a result, insurance rates were lowered 40 per cent for all home owners within 500 feet of a hydrant and about 30 per cent up and beyond two miles from the fire station.
The first officers of the Albion Fire District included Moderator Donat Guilbault, Clerk Joseph Daneault, Treasurer James W. Bishop, Tax Collector Dominique Doiron, Tax Assessors Romeo Lacombe, William Lamaire, Joseph Simard, Wardens John Lambert, Harry Quinn and Charles Warner, Auditors Harry Quinn, William Lamaire and Chief Charles Warner.
The article that appeared in a local newspaper on January 13, 1941, listed the following men as having been elected as officers of the fire district. Several of the names differ from that listed by Chamberland above.
Moderator, Donat Guilbeault; secretary, Joseph Daneault; treasurer, James Bishop; tax collector, Henry Jacques; tax assessors, Harry J. Quinn, Walter Lund, Rev. Napoleon Plasse; auditors, Harry Quinn, Walter Lund; fire wardens, Chief Charles Warner, Alex Martin, Felix Moreau; chief of fire department, Charles Warner. Chief Warner would select the seven operating officers, subject to the approval of the board of wardens.
The lines of the new fire district make for interesting reading, and are presented here in full from an unidentified newspaper account dated January 13, 1941:
“All property in the village of Albion beginning at a point in the middle of the Albion road at the railroad crossing following along the western boundary of the Providence and Worcester Railroad Company’s land 4200 feet in a northwesterly direction, then turning and running in a southwesterly direction along the northern boundary of the land owned by the Berkshire Fine Spinning Associates, Inc., to a point in the middle of the Old River Road, then turning and running in a southeasterly direction along the middle of the Old River Road, 1040 feet, to a point opposite the dividing line between the land now or formerly of the heirs of Russell Handy and land owned or formerly owned by Arnold Mann. Thence turning and following the northern boundary of the Arnold Mann and Stafford Mann land until it comes to a large boulder, a corner of the land of the heirs of Stafford Mann, turning and following the North Smithfield Town line in a southerly direction until it comes to the corner of the Smithfield Town Line, following said Smithfield Town line in a southerly direction to a point in the middle of the Washington Highway. Thence turning at right angles and continuing along the Washington Highway, in a northeasterly direction crossing the Louisquisset Pike and continuing along the middle of said Washington Highway until it comes to a dirt road that skirts the southern boundary of the Carl Franz farm, crossing the Old River Road and running in a northeasterly direction along the southern boundary of the Soares and Newman land to the Blackstone River, thence turning and running in a northwesterly direction along the western bank of Blackstone River to the southern boundary of the Berkshire Fine Spinning Associates milliard, continuing around the western boundary of said Mill yard to the middle of the Albion Road, thence turning and running 500 feet more or less, along the Albion Road in a northeasterly direction to a point of beginning.”
During the war years, the fire district did not function so well for lack of men. By 1946, however, most of the firemen had returned to their homes and a new slate of officers was elected for 1946.
The new group included: Moderator Howard Dickie, Clerk Joseph Daneault, Treasurer James W. Bishop, Tax Collector Dominique Doiron, Wardens John Lambert, Nelson Peltier and Adelard Nault, Tax Assesor Arthur Rainville, Auditor Edwin Colerick and Chief Arthur Forand.
Chief Forand appointed the following: Assistant Chief Rosario Martin, Capt. Alfred Desjardins, Lts. Joseph Theroux, Victor Landry and Joseph Sylvia. James W. Bishop, who has worked zealously for the new and rejuvenated Albion Fire Department was appointed commissioner and serves as a go-between for the fire district and the fire department, being active in both. Mrs. Henrietta Boudreau has since replaced Doiron as tax collector.
The fire department at present is a well organized and well trained group. The men have through their own initiative and hard work enlarged the fire station and through various social events raised funds to buy uniforms for the men in the department.
In 1955, a new two-stall cinder block station house was built by contractor Cyril T. Crawley (Woonsocket Call, 1955). Gravel for backfilling had been donated and trucked by the Town of Lincoln, as well as the blacktop driveway and front entrance. The asphalt tile on floors of the office, club room, and kitchen were a donation of the Albion Firemen’s Association. Paint was purchased from the fire district funds and all painting was done by members of the fire department, except the first coat on the outside woodwork which was done by the contractor. The old fire house was demolished upon completion of the new station.
The current three-stall station house was designed by Aharonian & Associates, Inc. and was completed in 2001. The second station house was reworked to provide a training area with storage as well as a new full kitchen and administration offices.
Some of the previous emergency vehicles that the department purchased included the following units:
Squad 21 was a 1980 Ford/Pierce 1000/750.
Engine 24 was a 1992 KME 1500/750.
The current units servicing the Albion Fire District include the following:
Engine 24 is a 1992 Spartan Gladiator/3D 1500/500. It was acquired in 2012 from the Shaker Pines Fire Department, Enfield, CT, formerly identified there as Engine 52.
Ladder 20 is a 2002 American LaFrance Eagle 110′ RMA.
Click for a video of Ladder 20 leaving the station on a call.
Squad 21 is a 2005 Pierce Lance 1000/500 Heavy Rescue w/ Command Cab.
Lincoln Rescue is located at 115 Main Street, Albion, and has the following units:
Rescue 2 is a 2014 Ford F-550/Horton 4×4 ambulance.
Rescue 3 is a 2006 International/Horton ambulance. It was previously identified as Rescue 2 when delivered in 2007.
Rescue 4 is a 2010 Ford F-450/Osage 4×4 ambulance.
Sources: Genealogybank.com; Pawtucket Times [Electronic Version]; The Town of Lincoln, R.I. (1971). Once in a Hundred Years: A Pictorial History of Lincoln, R.I. ;www.massfiretrucks.com; www.firenews.org; Danny Bethel