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Delhi Firefighting History

Before Delhi became a village in 1894, the citizens realized the necessity of having some method of extinguishing fires. Large cisterns were built at intervals along the unpaved streets. A horse-drawn tank watered the dusty streets in summer, and it was the duty of the man who drove the watering system to fill the cisterns as well.

Around 1860, a hand-drawn pumper was procured. A round compression chamber was in the center. Volunteer young men, by means of those poles at rest, took turns pumping water from the nearest cistern until it was dry. Then they moved on to the next cistern if the hose would reach. This was purchased on June 1, 1895, for $250.00. The “Pumper” was housed in almost the same location as the present fire engines. Meanwhile, down in the cellar, Richard (Dicky) Lyness made soft soap from ashes that he collected from householders. The odor from the soft soap industry was objectionable, so Mr. Lyness moved his equipment to the north side of Talbot St., where the refuse could be dumped over the bank of Big Creek. On top of the Fire Hall was a bell which someone kept ringing if there was a fire. Ladders and pike poles were made by Clarence Gerhard in June 1896. James Boyce was appointed Fire Chief on April 24, 1897.

When the first motorized Fire Engine was purchased, the Fire Hall and Council Chamber were situated where Tony Pasek’s shoe repair shop now stands. With the building of the Community Hall in 1936, all Fire Equipment was moved there. A wailing fire siren called the fire brigade when there was a fire. At present (1969), all fire alarms come to a dispatcher at the Police Station, and 12 of the Firemen receive the call by radio in the same manner that Police Cars receive their messages. The Fire Department at this time received payment of half their telephone bills as remuneration for their services.

The Firemen’s Association held its annual ladies’ night in March 1960, when Mayor W. Barnard told the history of the Delhi Fire Department. Frank Quance, President, welcomed 50 members and guests, who enjoyed a delicious dinner prepared by the Kinette Club. Mayor Barnard, in his address to the group, referred to the first hand pumper as a museum piece. The first piece of mechanized equipment was mounted on a Model T Ford one-ton chassis, and the pump was a whey pump actuated by the truck engine in much the same fashion as today’s engines. Along with this unit, two chemical jobs were purchased: one was mounted on light wheels like a cart and drawn by hand; the other was mounted on a Model T Ford passenger chassis. The town was really set up in business, and these three units served faithfully for a long time.

The next engine was a second-hand one purchased from the City of Windsor, which was mounted on a Reo chassis. It was much bigger and consequently much more powerful than its predecessors, but like any second-hand piece of equipment, it had certain mechanical defects which frequently caused trouble. The speaker gave credit to its guardian angels who nursed it along carefully, and it gave a good account of itself over a period of years.

The next three pumpers required no special mention as they were of such recent vintage as to be known to some of the members of the fire department. The purchase of the first of these was the real beginning of modern and up-to-date machines as far as Delhi was concerned, and each new unit was an improvement over the last.

Under the direction of a series of dedicated chiefs, the progress in equipment has been matched by equal progress in the personnel of the Fire Department, and the speaker said that he questioned if any volunteer fire brigade around the country has better-trained firemen than can be found right in Delhi. Modern methods of firefighting are continually under study, and new techniques are put into practice (Tweedsmuir History of Delhi, 1812-1970, 1970).

Reference: Tweedsmuir History of Delhi, 1812-1970. (1970). . Delhi.