Firefighting in pre-1855 Andover was a challenge, both physically and politically. The North and South Parishes covered approximately 60 square miles, and the debates of where to assign firefighting equipment were often "hotly" contested.
Early settlers relied on their neighbors, nearby water sources, and "bucket brigades" whenever fires broke out. The safety of people and animals was the first priority.
Phillips Academy records the first fire apparatus in town, the hand engine "Phillips Academy #1," purchased in 1822 for its own use. In 1823, the town designated 12 fire wardens, six from each parish. These men responded to fire scenes and directed firefighting efforts. (Nathaniel Poor, Thomas C. Foster, John Flint, Paschal Abbot, Daniel Poor, and Capt. Timothy Flagg were appointed from our South Parish.)
But Town Meeting resisted purchasing its own fire engines, and on Feb. 28, 1828, several "men of means" came together to form the Merrimack Mutual Fire Insurance Company to insure each other against fire losses. The following year, 25 men in the South Parish - trades and professional men who lived in the center of town - organized the Friendly Fire Society to protect their homes and businesses.
Member volunteers were required to keep two buckets and one large linen bag - with the owners' initials - next to their entrances at home or in their shops. The buckets were used to extinguish the fire; the bags were used to remove inventory and household items that firefighters judged the most valuable.
In 1833, Town Meeting voted the sum of $265 to build an engine house on Essex Street for South Parish. This also included money for hoses, buckets and the engine, although funds for the engine were from an "anonymous donor."
Not until 1850 were public funds approved for two Hunneman engines - manually-operated, portable waterpumpers. Other privately-funded engines soon followed.
In 1855 with the split of the parishes, a major part of the agreement was for Andover to relinquish to North Andover two fire engines called the Cochichewick and the Merrimack. The "Shawshin" handtub remained in Andover, housed in a building built in 1850 and located at 70 Main St. (That structure was later moved to 78 Maple Ave. where the owners recently received a town Preservation Award.)
A new station was built behind the Town House in 1882. By 1919, firefighters boasted "one truck and a pair of horses." In 1924, Andover established a formal Fire Department with Charles Emerson as Chief. Professionalism came to the operation in 1937 with new regulations established by the Selectmen, intending to deprive the department of its "club atmosphere." As reported by the Townsman: "no loitering is to be allowed; spittoons must not be at handy places on the main floor; no one may enter the station under the influence of liquor...and fire laddies must come to work and leave in full uniform." In addition, comprehensive reports on all fires were required.
Firefighters moved to a new Police/Fire Public Safety building on Main Street in 1970. That same year, the old station on Park Street, tower and all, was razed. Renovations and upgrades to the Main Street station were later begun in 2002 and completed in 2004.
Today, the town maintains three stations: on Main Street, Chandler Road, and on Clark Road in Ballardvale. With the Ballardvale station woefully out-of-date, studies are currently underway to determine a location for a new station in that area.
Throughout its proud history, the Andover Fire Department has been led by the following chiefs: 1924 - Charles Emerson; 1941 - C. Edward Buchan; 1956 - Henry L. Hilton; 1977 - William Downs; 1986 - Harold F. Hayes; 2000 - Charles Murnane, Jr.; and in 2007, current Chief Michael B. Mansfield.
"Andover Stories" is a weekly column about interesting local people and events, launched to celebrate the Andover Historical Society's 100 anniversary in 2011.