Before 1916, firefighting services in Cape Elizabeth were provided by the city of South Portland or the fire company at Fort Williams. Due to the distance and the reliance on volunteers, a fire in Cape most often resulted in a total loss.
So, in 1916, following a series of destructive fires, residents from the Mountain View Park area of town got together and authorized the creation of Hose Co. 1. It consisted of 17 volunteers who relied on a 1912 Studebaker remodeled to serve as a hose wagon.
That was the start of the Cape Elizabeth Fire Department, which 100 years later consists of two fire companies that provide 24-7 coverage, an ambulance service, a water extrication team and a fire-police unit.
This week, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the creation of Hose Co. 1, the fire department is hosting a special event at the fire station, starting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 9.
The evening will include reminisces from former Fire Chief Chuck Wilson, long-time department member Gerry Murray and Carol Ann Jordan, one of the first female firefighters in Cape.
“We could write a book about the changes in the fire service over the last 100 years,” current Fire Chief Peter Gleeson said this week. “The changes in equipment, tactics, communications and apparatus are massive.”
Prior to 1916, firefighters responding to an incident in Cape would often have to rely on the availability of Clint Twitchell’s horse, which not only pulled the hose wagon, but also made deliveries.
“Therefore the Willard Company (in South Portland) could respond (to a fire in Cape) only when it could catch Clint and his horse,” historical documents provided by Gleeson say.
In addition to forming Hose Co. 1, in 1916 the Cape Shore Improvement Association also purchased an alarm bell that was installed at Hill’s Garage and was rung by hand when a fire broke out.
The first fire the new company responded to, according to the historical documents, was on Aug. 15, 1916, when a fire was discovered at the Thomas H. Eaton Cottage in Loveitt’s Field. The timely discovery of the fire and the prompt response by Hose Co. 1, led to the cottage being saved.
In 1923, a second hose company was created, and its equipment was housed in the basement of Town Hall. The town’s first fire station was built in 1934 on Cottage Road.
Another momentous change in the fire service in Cape came in 1949 when the first radios were purchased for Engines 1 and 3, which allowed firefighters to talk with Central Station, with firefighters in South Portland and even truck to truck.
Cape didn’t hire a full-time fire chief until 1989.
Early firefighting equipment in Cape Elizabeth included this 1918 Packard.