A Brief Historical Outline of the Auburn Fire Department
The first fire protection brigade was formed to protect the Auburn/Lewiston area in 1849. They called themselves the Lewiston Falls Village Corporation. The corporation placed Excelsior #2 (first fire apparatus) on the west bank of the Androscoggin River. As the years went by, the corporation purchased Androscoggin #1 and Excelsior #3 that was placed on the opposite side of the river to expand their fire protection capabilities. The Excelsior #2 can be viewed at Falcon Shoe's Facility at 27 Wright's Landing, Auburn Maine.
The corporation was put to the test in August 17, 1855 when a large fire erupted in the Town of Auburn. This was the first conflagration in the town resulting in approximately 30-40 buildings catching fire and declared a total loss.
On July 4, 1866 the corporation was notified by the Portland Fire Department in need of an engine for the conflagration that was taking place in Portland, Maine. The corporation placed Excelsior #2 on a train to provide additional fire suppression equipment and manpower during the Great Fire in Portland.
In 1869 the Town of Auburn purchased more equipment and town properties to further expand their fire suppression capabilities and services. The Town of Auburn became a city, thus taking over the responsibilities of the Fire Department.
In 1870 the city purchased and built a station at the corner of Spring and Court Street. This station housed the "Amoskeag Fire Engine" which was a steam engine. This steam engine was a new machine of its kind, allowing for firemen to concentrate more on placing hose lines and water onto the fire instead of manually pumping an old manpowered water pump that they were use to.
As the city began to grow in population, they continued to provide fire suppression services along with adding safety measures to preserve the city. In doing so, the city installed the first fire hydrants in 1874. The fire hydrants were placed into service at the Roak Block and the other at the Elm House on Main Street. This was the start of what now is known as the hydrant system that current firemen of Auburn use to battle fires. Hydrants allowed for a large continuous quantity of water which was readily available and quickly accessed.
December 7, 1878 the Fire Department was called by a bell alarm to a fire at the Auburn Engine House. The firemen at the time were able to save the fire equipment housed in the station however the fire was large and went uncontrolled resulting in the destruction to four buildings. Back in the late 1800’s fire departments were volunteers, so there was a delay in response not to mention there was no one at the station to prepare the steam engine.
As new technology became available to the city, the city continued to update their fire department providing high quality services to its citizens. In August 25, 1882 Auburn orders their first fire alarm system. The system was used in conjunction with the bell in the tower of the Court Street Free Baptist Church. When one of the five street boxes came in, the bell would ring out alerting the firemen of the location of the fire. Later on more street boxes were added to the system allowing citizens to advise the fire department of emergencies easier. The use of telephones started in October 1866 in addition to the fire alarm system. It was not until January 1883 when the first electronic alarm system was installed in the City of Auburn.
An alarm came in on December 1884 notifying the department that the “old” Edward Little High School at the corner of Academy and High Street was on fire. This fire caused extensive damages to the school. There were no fatalities in this fire, however the school system at the time had their hands full with already over populated class rooms, not to mentioned a damaged building now.
As the demands on the fire department grew so did the need for more stations. In May of 1895 the city passed an order to build a new fire station in New Auburn. This station was to be built on the corner of 5th and Cook Street. Later on the city decided to build a new station down the road on South Main Street were the current Engine-2 is housed. The old fire station on 5th and Cook Street was than purchased and converted over to the present American Legion Post #153 .
In 1909 the fire department purchased "Old Jabe" to become the first fire horse which turned into the pride of the department. Old Jabe loved to show off in parades along with pulling hose wagons. Before the purchase of Old Jabe, the apparatus was moved by manpower and privately owned animals.
On April 22, 1914 the Auburn Fire Department purchases its first piece of motorized fire equipment. This was a Seagrave Chemical wagon called "Combination #1”. This motorized vehicle changed the fire service forever. The Seagrave not only was able to be driven to the fire but only needed one person to pump the vehicle as well. This new machine increased the pressure and amount of water in hose lines while freeing up more men to perform fire duties on emergency scenes. The Seagrave stayed in service with the city until 1925 when it was finally retired.
In 1923 the city noticed that the department had a hard time responding to fires on top of Goff Hill. In the 1900’s trucks did not have the power, speed, and acceleration needed to climb that hill like the current trucks do. With this being a significant problem for the fire department the city built it’s second substation on top of Goff Hill on Court Street. In addition, a Reo truck (Combination #2) was purchased, as well as two additional gasoline powered pumping engines. These new pumps were divided throughout the city. The new gasoline engines provided more power with faster response times than previous horse or steam powered trucks.
In the year of 1927 an Ahrens-Fox Ladder Truck was purchased, making the department totally motorized.
A large fire broke out in May 15, 1933. This conflagration destroyed a large part of what is currently known as “New Auburn”. The fire broke out at Pontbriand Garage on Mill Street. During that day, there was a steady northwesterly wind that blew the fire across the city. Even though the fire only lasted for about five hours, it destroyed roughly 4 city blocks including 249 buildings, 2 schools and left over 2,000 people homeless with damages costing roughly $2 million back than which is equivalent to $35 million in present time. It took more than 12 surrounding communities to bring this fire under control. The result of this fire is how New Auburn received its name.
In 1934 another sub-station was added to the department. This station was built on Center Street to provide fire protection to the east side of the city.
On June 30, 1936 at 10:00 pm Box 14 was sounded for a structure fire with people trapped at 92-94 Main Street. The department responded with a full assignment and initial crews started fire suppression tasks. Pvt. Maguire, who had followed other fireman up a ladder in the front of the building, was about to step off the ladder when it slipped away. Pvt. Maguire stepped onto a metal awning and grabbed the window sill. He shouted for other fireman to raise the ladder but fell before help could reach him. He was rushed to C.M.G. but succumbed to his injuries.
The year was 1943 when the Edward Little High School caught fire again. This fire nearly destroyed the school on High and Academy Street. The fire wiped through the school’s third story destroying the entire floor along with the bell tower. That floor was closed and a partial roof was added to prevent the loss of education to the children. The school remained a two-story building.
On July 19, 1944 the Auburn firefighters became recognized members of the International Association of Firefighters, Local 797.
January 31, 1945 an alarm came in for a fire on South Main Street. As the fire department responded they arrived at the Lacoste Nursery. The fire department was met with heavy fire showing and multiple reports of children and adults missing in the one and a half story building. Three woman and five children escaped the fire that apparently started in the kitchen. However the fire took the lives of sixteen babies and one adult. This was the single highest fire fatality of children in the State of Maine. The cause of the fire was never determined
In the year of 1949 the City of Auburn lost a police officer when an Auburn and Lewiston Fire truck collided at the intersection of Court and Main Street. Along with the Auburn Officer, two Lewiston Fire Fighters were also killed at the same incident. The fire trucks were responding to a fire as the police officer was directing traffic. The fire trucks failed to yield to the officers’ wishes, colliding together and taking the lives of the police officer and firefighters.
On June 29, 1952 Deputy Chief Whirley was ending his 24 hour shift when the deputy appeared to have suffered a heart attack while putting his gear away. The Deputy was rushed to Central Maine General where he was later pronounced dead.
On October 27, 1952 Box 116 rang in for a structure fire at 317 Main Street. Eleven minutes later the fire went to a second alarm with reports of people trapped inside of the building. Captain Millett ascended to the second story of the building to search for the possible trapped victims. As the fire continued to burn uncontrollably the on-scene firemen suddenly realized that Capt. Millett was missing. Pvt. Poto, Pvt. Tapley and the city electrician entered the second floor apartment to search for the captain. Upon doing their search they were able to locate the unconscious captain that was behind the kitchen door protecting a young girl. Once the wooden door was forced opened, they removed both the captain and the girl. The three man made quick work of the removal of the victim and fireman. Through the action of the captain using his body and coat to cover the girl he sacrificed his life but saved the young girl’s. The six year old girl survived while Captain Millett succumbed to his injuries four days later on October 31, 1952. On November 30, 1952 the new South Main Street fire station in New Auburn was dedicated in his honor.