PAWTUCKET â From the days of volunteers and horse-drawn equipment to the continued importance of funding a relief fund for the injured, the long and storied history of the Pawtucket Fire Department and those serving on it, past and present, were celebrated on Sunday outside the Roosevelt Avenue headquarters.
The 2012 Firemen's Memorial Sunday marked two milestones: the 140th anniversary of the Pawtucket Firemen's Relief Association and the 100th anniversary of the West Avenue Fire Station. Additionally, the name of Assistant Fire Chief Richard Renzi, who died in February, was added to the department's memorial monument along with other firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty.
In front of a large gathering of firefighters' family members and friends, Fire Chief William Sisson spoke about the important role that the Pawtucket Fire Department has played in the city's history in keeping its citizens safe and which it continues to have today. He also noted the tradition of âbrotherhood, dedication and honorâ that surrounds those firefighters of the past as well as current members of the department and said, âIt is our duty to keep that tradition going.â
Capt. Steven Parent recounted the historical highlights of the Pawtucket Fire Department, first established as a fire district on Feb. 17, 1801 as a volunteer âcallâ department. He said that with the city's growth over the next 73 years as an industrial center, and following a deadly mill fire at the Union Wadding building, an ordinance was passed in 1874 to create a full-time, paid department headed by Fire Chief Samuel Collyer.
Parent also said that the Firemen's Relief Association was first organized in 1872 as the result of the serious injury received by firefighter Edward W. Taylor in a fire at the Dexter Bros. mill at the corner of Main Street and Pleasant Street in July, 1868. So grevious was the injury to Taylor that the citizens of North Providence voted at a special town meeting that $200 be provided for his ârelief.â
It was customary then, as today, to relieve needy firemen by private donation from the company's treasury, and the Relief Association is still in existence today.
While the memorial monument contains the names of all Pawtucket firefighters who have died, the center section is reserved for those who perished in the line of duty. Parent listed the brief history behind each of the names inscribed there, which include James Everette, a fire alarm superintendent who died in a fall from a telegraph pole in 1884; Samuel Collyer, fatally injured when the horse-drawn hose cart he was riding in enroute to a call overturned in 1884; James Cogan, killed when the wheel of his ladder truck got caught in a trolley track and he was thrown underneath it in 1893; and Napoleon Taupier, the fire chief in 1943 who died in a car crash while responding to a fire on a day when there were 42 fire alarms in a 12-hour period.
Parent also recalled George Sontag, who died in 1943 from injuries he incurred after being thrown off a ladder truck and then struck by a bus while responding to a call. Sontag initially said he was okay and reported for duty, but was found dead later at the bottom of a fire pole. Also noted was John Hargraves, who perished in 1993 from severe lung injuries he received while battling a blaze at the former McBurney Law Office. Of Renzi's inclusion on the memorial, Parent noted that the assistant chief was preparing to report to his shift when he suffered a fatal heart attack on Feb. 24, 2012.
Renzi's son, Richard Renzi Jr.; daughter, Nicole Renzi, and granddaughter, Jasmyn Renzi, accompanied by Parent, laid a wreath from the firefighters' union on the monument to honor all of the deceased firefighters. Earlier, a wreath from the Fire Department also been placed at the monument by Sisson and Millie Campbell, the widow of firefighter Richard Campbell.
Lt. Raymond Masse spoke about the centennial anniversary of the West Avenue Fire Station and its significance for housing engine 1 and rescue 1. He said the station was one of the first in the state to make the change from a horse-drawn fire cart to a motorized apparatus, something which government leaders felt at that time was a high priority due to the city's industrialization.
The family of the late Capt. John McConaghy, who had spent his career at the West Avenue Fire Station, presented the Fire Department with a bound log book recounting the period from February 1911 through June 1913, during the time of the equipment modernization. Masse said that one log entry noted that firefighters had âexercised the horsesâ and then the horses were transferred to the new station. The next day's log stated that ânew apparatus was deliveredâ and that firefighters âhad exercised the new fire apparatus,â said Masse.
Mayor Donald Grebien and his wife, Laureen, were among those in attendance at the hour-long ceremony, which included an invocation by Fr. Charles Galligan, chaplain of the Fire Department, and performances by the Pawtucket Firefighters Pipes and Drums band and honor guard. Following the playing of âTaps,â the ceremony was concluded with a roll call of all of the deceased members of the Pawtucket Fire Department.