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History of the Carthage Fire Department

On June 25, 1841 a group of citizens met and organized the first fire company in the village of Carthage. Samuel A. Budd was elected the first Captain of the newly formed Carthage Fire Company #1. The first roster presented for approval to the Village showed 20 members, the maximum allowed by law. Village meeting minutes from this time indicate that the fire companies were disbanded each year with the changing of the village trustees. On August 2, 1842, the original company was "disbanded and the firemen removed". A new fire company, Engine #1 was formed with 10 of the original members, and 10 new members. On June 9, 1843 it was resolved that "The fire company be and is hereby disbanded and the firemen removed. It is resolved that the fire company be re-organized and that the applicants present their names at the next meeting for consideration." On June 10, 1844 the company was again re-organized and re-named the Washington Hose Co. It appears that this tradition continued until the re-organization of the department in 1870. During these years, a number of Captains were elected to run the company. It was at the meeting on August 2, 1842 that the Trustees voted to purchase the first "Fire Engine" for the village. The unit was a hand pump purchased from L. Button & Co. for $300. They also purchased 58 ½ feet of fire hose at $.70 per foot, for a total cost of $340.95. This purchase was made in three payments. An initial down payment of $113.95 followed by notes in August 1843 and August 1844 for $113.00 each. This hand pumper was the sole engine until 1874 when the Silsby Steamer was purchased.

Firefighting during this time must have been an extreme hardship for those dedicated to putting them out. The men had no protective clothing other than their personal rain slickers or whatever they could find, no helmets, and just one hand operated pumper with which to direct a stream of water onto the blaze. The primary piece of equipment available was the fire bucket. Every homeowner would bring their bucket to the scene to be used by the "Fire Laddies", as they were commonly called. An example of one of these very buckets still is in the possession of the Department, if for nothing more than to remind us from where we came.

On January 2, 1875, the Silsby Manufacturing Co. submitted a proposal for a steam engine, hose cart and hose for $4,300. The Board of Trustees made a conditional contract with the Seneca Falls, NY company to purchase of them for the Village, one of their 3rd size Steam Rotary Fire Engines, two hose carts, and one hundred feet of rubber hose, warranted to withstand a pressure of 400 lbs to the square inch, for the sum of $4,500 to be delivered at Carthage providing the same was acceptable. It seems that the mood of the residents had changed since the last vote on a similar proposition. On February 1st, an election was held for two separate propositions. This piece of apparatus marked the beginning of the new era in the history of the Carthage Fire Department, and was the pride of the department, the Village Trustees and its citizens. The unit remained in service for more than 35 years with a least one major re-build. The engine house was then prepared, and furnished up by the Trustees for the reception of the new engine.

silsby-steamer
The Silsby Steamer (Circa 1892)

By March 15,1875, the Trustees and department began to struggle over who was in charge of the new fire apparatus. A resolution was passed by the Trustees stating that a qualified engineer be with the steamer at all times. This resolution would have implications to the present day as the department since that time, has had a staff of paid Fire Drivers to man and operate the trucks ensuring that there would be an immediate response to the call of fire, and a qualified operator manning the truck.

THE GREAT CARTHAGE FIRE

"The morning of October 20, 1884 --a Monday-- dawned bright and clear. A brisk, warm southwest wind hurried the clouds across the sky and stirred whisperings among the crimson and gold leaves of the maple trees that lined the village streets. "The first alarm sounded at 11:10 a.m. from the west side of the river, where fire was discovered in the sash and blind factory of P.L. and C.E. Eaton. The volunteer firemen dropped what they were doing, gathered their equipment (a steamer and two hose carts) and raced to the scene to find that the flames already had spread to Harvey Farrar's tub factory and were moving fast to destroy the Meyer and Ross furniture factory. Soon a huge pile of hemlock bark at the Revell tannery also was ablaze. The tannery itself was saved, as were Clark's Grist Mill and Rice's tub factory.

"But by then the church bells were clanging from the east side of the river and flames were seen leaping high into the sky from the roofs of the Guyot island mills. Burning embers and leaves from the west side fires, carried by the strong wind, had traveled the quarter of a mile across the river and found a foothold in the roof of the Gibbs shingle mill. The volunteers galloped back across the bridge--their day's work just beginning.

"Soon the carding mill, the grist mill, and the saw mill, all owned and operated by the Guyot brothers, Fred, Victor, and Minor, were in flames. The fire moved on to the next island, Furnace island, where the Ryther and Pringle foundry gave employment to 35 men. Not content with the destruction of the mills, the malevolent flames moved on to the mainland and were making their way up Brown, Furnace and Mechanic streets to the residential section, the very heart of the village.

Watertown City Surveyor Hodgkins reckoned that the burned area covered no less than 70 acres. The ruins were bounded on the north by Fulton Street, on the south by State and West Streets, on the east by Clinton Street and the cemetery, and on the west side by the east side of Mechanic and River Streets. The number of buildings destroyed initially was estimated at 157, although later reports gave the number as 200.

In 1899 a fire devastated the downtown block housing about 9 buildings. Thoughts of the great fire re-kindled in the minds of those who survived the conflagration of 1884. 101 years later, in March of 2002, this same group of buildings would burn again in a spectacular fire that was fought by nearly every fire department in the county. Again, thoughts of the great fire re-emerged, but the firefighters were able to stop the spread, preventing another conflagration in the village.

The Carthage Fire Department began as a Village owned department and continued as such for the next 163 years. Due to budget issues and other financial challenges, the Village of Carthage decided to cut the paid drivers and make other cuts to the fire department budget. The Firemen offered to investigate the formation of a fire district to provide fire protection to the Village and Town. After numerous public hearings and meetings with both the Village and Town, the public voted to form a new fire district. On January 1, 2004 the Carthage Fire Department was disbanded by the Village of Carthage and The Carthage-Wilna Fire district was officially formed. The Carthage-Wilna Fire District now serves the residents of the Village of Carthage and the areas surrounding the Village in the Town of Wilna.

Today the department averages about 30 volunteer members along with one paid fire driver on duty at all times. The average response time is under 3 minutes. Our forefathers saw the need to have paid drivers 130 years ago and they still exist today. The department is housed in a station on the south side of town and boasts 2 class A pumpers, a 100' Aerial platform, utility vehicle, and numerous smaller pieces of rescue vehicles including a rescue boat, an ATV and a snowmobile with a rescue boggan.

Article provided by Bill Blunden; edited by Linda Prashaw

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Mission Statement

It is the mission of the Carthage-Wilna Fire District and the Carthage Fire Department to provide the highest quality of professional emergency services that are humanly possible. As first responders to fire calls, accidents and public safety issues we strive to protect the lives and property of the residents and visitors of our community.

The fire department holds regular and special training sessions for its members to ensure the safety of each firefighter as well as to provide superior service to the community.

Our Values

SERVICE: The Department will continue its unwavering call to protect and serve.
BRAVERY: Bravery is the ability to overcome fear through fortitude, instinct, compassion for others and training.
SAFETY: We strive to keep our citizens free from danger, especially deliberate, harmful acts. With the best equipment and training, the Department can reduce the risk to the public and its members at fires and other emergencies.
DEDICATION: A commitment to the objectives of our mission is an essential part of our code of conduct. The faithful observance of duty calls for us to fulfill our obligations professionally and honestly. We inspire each other through pride in our units, which is a belief that every action reflects on all the members of the District and the Department, both past and present.