Circa 1860. This grainy photo shows the original Central station with the Hunneman hand tub and volunteers.

Fire Department volunteers and apparatus of 1932.

State-of-the-art apparatus behind the present Norway Fire Station.


When we look at the earliest firefighting methods of the town’s fire department, we must remember that the village was the area protected, not the outlying rural areas. The earliest fire department was organized in 1829 by local businessmen and town leaders, for obvious reasons. The “Defence Engine Company” was the name adopted by the group. The Company was officially sanctioned by the town selectmen, and oddly enough, had no engine, only buckets.

Wells and the stream that ran through town supplied water and in case of a fire, the “bucket brigade”worked to limit the destruction to the fewest possible structures. Often a burning building was pulled down to keep the fire from spreading.

In 1847 the town agreed to contribute $500 toward the purchase of a Hunneman hand tub. When the engine was delivered in 1852 it was designated the “Oxford Bear”. The first photograph shows the engine in front of the Central Fire Station. General George Beal, one of the original founders of the fire company, is thought to be the figure at the far left. This Central Fire Station was destroyed in the Fire of 1894.

The Hunneman machine required a good number of able-bodied individuals to “work the brakes” at the fire scene. The brakes were long shafts on either side of the machine that needed to be moved up and down with force. The hand tub was a water pump on wheels that could throw a stream of water under pressure as long as the enginemen could endure and the water supply remained adequate.

In 1885 the Norway Water District was formed and a public system provided the town with water and hydrants. The “Oxford Bear” was put on reserve status and hand-drawn hose carts were located in three areas of the village for quick access.

The second photo takes us to 1932 and we can see the progress that has been made in the apparatus used for firefighting. The four companies of the department are seen in front of the post-1894 Central Fire Station.

Starting at the left is a 1927 American-LaFrance combination pumper, hose and ladder truck, purchased new. This was stored at Company No. 1, a heated shed on Main Street next to the Opera House. Central Fire Station housed the 1931 Chevrolet chemical and hose truck. Company No. 3 at Steep Falls was assigned the 1922 Ford chemical and hose truck, the very first piece of motorized equipment purchased by the department. The chemical trucks mixed soda and acid to produce pressure to propel the water from the truck’s tank. Finally, the hook and ladder truck built by the department on a Reo chassis was also housed at Central Station.

You might notice that all of these trucks had open cabs and no windshields, a cold ride on a winter night. Turnout gear, as we know it, was not available in the 1930s and volunteers answered the alarm in whatever they happened to be wearing. One volunteer of this period commented that every time he answered the call, he ruined a pair of shoes. Volunteers worked in the several factories in town so during the day were available if a fire occurred. Factory managers generously allowed the workers to leave their work stations whenever a fire threatened.

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