There was a time in Beacon Falls when the word “fire” meant a warm house in the winter, a way to light the night, a hot cooked meal and even protection. Today, it most often means an alarm, a warning, a cry for help, property damage, and at times, even loss of life. That’s where Beacon Hose Co. No. 1, the volunteer fire department tasked with the job of protecting life and property in this small New England town, comes into play.
Beacon Hose Co. No. 1 was formed on May 11, 1899, as the Beacon Falls Fire Department. The original firehouse was a building owned by the Beacon Falls Rubber Shoe Company. Later, the shoe company moved the firehouse across the street into the company’s former recreation club building, behind the First National Store. In 1922, the rubber company sold the top floor of the club to the Town of Beacon Falls for use as a town hall, with the fire department occupying the first floor. In 1956, the town turned the entire building over to the fire department, which was headquartered there until the present firehouse was built next door in 1969 at a cost of $189,000.
In the early days, the fire department was headed by a foreman. The title of chief didn’t come into favor until the 1950s. The first foreman of the department was George Butz, who served the Beacon Falls Fire Department from 1899-1906. The assistant foreman in these formative years was E.J. Stevens. Bart Howell was foreman from 1906-07. In 1907, Foreman William “Pop” Lee began his 42-year tenure as foreman, ending in 1950. Any members on the roll call as of Jan. 1, 1900, were deemed “charter members.” The department was incorporated in 1930 under its new name, Beacon Hose Co. No. 1. Throughout the 115-year history of Beacon Hose, the department has been served by 22 chiefs. In that auspicious group, you will find fathers and sons, brothers, grandsons and cousins. Membership in the department always has been — and continues to be — a very proud, family tradition to many.
The fire apparatuses used by Beacon Hose Co. No. 1 has changed dramatically over the years. It started with the original hand-drawn carts in 1899. Soon, Beacon Hose added a 1919 Ford pumper, a converted Dodge truck during World War II, and eventually the department’s prized possession, the 1929 Seagrave. The cost of fire apparatuses has increased tremendously over the years. The 1929 Seagrave cost $6,650, while the department’s newest engine cost more than $450,000 — two and a half times what the new firehouse cost to build in 1969.
The first community ambulance, a converted Packard hearse, was donated by the Buckmiller family of Naugatuck. Later, through the combined efforts of the community club and the fire department, a used Cadillac ambulance was purchased from the Borough of Naugatuck. The original Packard ambulance was sold to the Town of Oxford for $1 to help start its own ambulance service. Today, Beacon Hose Co. No. 1 mans two state-of-the-art modular ambulances 24/7.
A history of Beacon Hose Co. No. 1 wouldn’t be complete without spending extra time on the pride of the department, our 1929 Seagrave Suburbanite firetruck. Originally traded in when purchasing a new pumper in the 1950s, the membership, realizing the historical significance of the Seagrave, bought it back from the dealer. Over the years, the Seagrave has seen many restorations and improvements. Today, Beacon Hose can boast about its Seagrave being a former state champion for Best Appearing Motorized Antique Fire Apparatus.
Written by Beacon Hose member Peter Christensen.