Fire Department.—W. P. Ryman contributed to the Historical Record
concerning the early fire department; the borough of Wilkes-Barre was
incorporated in 1806, thirty-seven years after the first house was erected
and thirty-four years after the town was first laid out.
Among the first things to occupy the attention of the officers of the new
borough was the question of how best to protect it from fire, and the first
action taken was at a special meeting of the council called for this
purpose March 31, 1807. There were present Mathias Hollenback, president
pro tem., Nathan Palmer, Charles Miner, Arnold Colt and Samuel Bowman. On
motion of Miner it was "resolved to appoint a committee to obtain
information as to the expense of a fire engine."
Messrs. Palmer and Miner were appointed as this committee, but they never
made any report except to offer a resolution, which was adopted January 11,
1808, requiring all householders to provide themselves with fire buckets.
[p.482] April 12, 1808, a committee, Consisting of Councilmen Ebenezer
Bowman, Jonathan Slocum and J. P. Arndt, were appointed "to purchase the
patent right of a water machine for the borough of Wilkes-Barre," and it
seems the committee paid $8 for the same.
The fire problem did not long stay solved by the "water machine." August
16, 1609 [sic], on motion of Mr. Sinton the borough council resolved "that
a committee be appointed to endeavor to obtain opinion of inhabitants of
the borough on the propriety of procuring a fire engine, to form an
estimate of the expense and whether the funds of the corporation are
sufficient to defray the expense." Thomas Dyer, Charles Miner and Joseph
Sinton were made the committee. This committee did not make any report
until June 18, 1810, when they delivered themselves as follows: "That they
have considered the subject submitted to them; are of opinion that it is
expedient to have an engine procured."
At the same meeting Mr. Arndt, in behalf of committee, brought in a bill to
purchase an engine. Nothing was done with this resolution, nor was any
action ever taken on it afterward. After these efforts the council rested
from its labors for nearly three years. Tuesday, March 16, 1813, council
met. Present, Jesse Fell, president, and members Arndt, Bowman, Cahoon,
Drake, Robinson and Sinton.
A petition was presented by Ebenezer Bowman, in behalf of himself and
others, stating "they desired the council would take such measures as may
be thought necessary to procure without delay a fire engine for the use of
It was also resolved to appoint a committee of two, Messrs. Arndt and
Sinton, to procure an engine as soon as the funds of the borough shall be
sufficient to meet the expense." It was also at the same time resolved
"that the sum of $700 be appropriated for that purpose." This committee was
never heard of by report, or otherwise, afterward. Nothing more was done in
the matter for three years next following.
In the meantime there seemed to grow up a conviction that something more
than resolutions and committees would be necessary to secure the fire
engine. A petition was drawn with so much adroitness that it completely
captured the county commissioners, and induced a grant of one-half of the
entire cost, not only of the engine, but also of the hose and other
fittings, when they supposed they were only contributing about one-third of
cost of the engine alone.
A petition was laid before the grand jury, and they made report that $200
be given by the county. This recommendation was approved by the court.
Nothing more was done in relation to the fire engine until March 7, 1818,
when the council resolved that the check drawn by the county commissioners
of Luzerne county on the treasurer for $200 be received; also, resolved
that Messrs. Beaumont and Ulp be appointed a committee to contract with
John Harris, or some suitable person, to haul the fire engine from
April 18, 1818, it was "Resolved, that Messrs. Dennis, Ulp and Beaumont be
appointed a committee to cause to be built and prepared a suitable building
to receive and preserve the fire engine and appendages belonging to the
same, on the back of the academy lot, if the trustees of the academy will
Also, "that an order be drawn in favor of Perkins & Co. for $300 on account
of the fire engine, and delivered to the treasurer, who has advanced the
May 13, 1818, new council was convened. Messrs. Dennis, Tracy and Miner
were appointed to superintend the erection of the engine-house. John Barton
was paid $40 for building an engine-house.
A total of $34.48 was charged Mr. Harris for hauling the engine.
December 27, 1819, Joseph Dennis contracted to dig a well.
December, 1819 it was resolved to procure the hose, ladders, buckets and
fire hooks, and Gen. W. S. Ross, Col. Bowman, Joseph Sinton and David Scott
were appointed fire wardens.
Wilkes-Barre, 1820, had a population of 732, and with the equipment and
[p.483] appropriation thus obtained there were no changes or improvements
made in the fire department for the next ten years.
Nothing more was done by the borough in this matter until March 18, 1831,
when the council resolved to appropriate $250 for the purchase of a fire
October 1, 1831, Mr. Davidge and Mr. Laird appointed committee to draw
funds from county commissioners, and to make arrangements with Joseph P. Le
Clerc, Esq., with respect to purchasing an engine and to give him
instructions on the subject.
October 21, 1831, it was resolved that an order be drawn for $650. being
the amount appropriated for the purchase of an engine.
November 5, 1831, the engine "Reliance" was purchased.
December 3, 1831, Dr. Christell, Mr. Davidge and Mr. Howe were appointed a
committee to make any arrangements necessary to obtain the engine and to
take charge of it when it arrived. Also the president and secretary
authorized to draw an order on the treasurer for the freight bill for
engine upon examination and ascertaining the amount.
December 30, 1831, Mr. Morgan, Dr. Christell and Mr. Howe appointed
committee to locate engine-house and ascertain its cost, etc.
February 21, 1832, resolved: "That when the funds in the hands of the
treasurer shall amount to $100 the construction of the engine-house be
Also resolved: "That Mr. Barnes be authorized to take such boards as may be
used for roof boards of the engine-house and enclose a part of the
market-house for the temporary reception of the engine."
April 7, 1832, "The account of Gilbert Barnes presented for material labor
furnished and done for the engine-house for $11.90½ and an order drawn
August 30, 1833, "A petition presented from very many of the citizens of
the borough, soliciting the erection of an engine-house in connection with
a set of weight scales."
September 27, 1833.—Matter of engine and weighhouses was called up and
resolved "that the old engine-house be converted into a scalehouse, and
that the scales be immediately built, or as soon as funds sufficient for
the purpose shall have accumulated in the treasurer's hands." The committee
on engine and weighhouse were continued, and instructed to obtain and
prepare the lower room of the academy for the reception of the meetings of
the town council and fire company during the coming winter. They also were
instructed, if possible, to obtain a suitable site for an engine-house.
August 2, 1834, a petition from many young men praying for privilege to
have the small engine appropriated to their use as junior fire company, was
read and accepted. Whereupon a committee was appointed to consult with the
"Reliance" Fire company and ascertain their views on the matter in
question; Hugh Fell, A. C. Laning and W. S. Bowman, committee.
Saturday, September 26, 1834, committee on small engine matter reported as
"WHEREAS, The Reliance Fire company have delivered to the town council the
small engine, and a petition has been presented by a number of young
gentlemen who are desirous that the town council should place said small
engine in their hands:
"Therefore, Resolved, That the small engine, 'Davy Crocket,' be placed
under their control, and to be under the immediate Control of a director
selected by said young men from among the members of the Reliance Fire
company, who, in case of fire, shall be subject to the general control of
the directors of the Reliance Fire company."
Thus the long struggle for a fire engine and company was at last ended, and
from that day to this, the good work has gone on uninterruptedly.
The city has a paid fire department, and it is accounted as efficient now
as any similar service in the State. Four steamers, fully manned, numbered
from one to [p.484] four inclusive; one hook and ladder company and three
hose companies, with ample and suitable buildings so distributed over the
city as to give the greatest facility in reaching conflagrations.
Fire Department.—The equipment and efficiency are equal to the best.
There are thirty-one Gamewell non-interference alarm boxes, and four fine
engine-houses, including the new one on Ross street, finished March 1,
1892, costing $16,000; a new hosehouse, with stable on Barney street. There
are constantly employed five hose-cart drivers, four stokers, four engine
drivers, one hook and ladder truck driver and one tillerman. Chief
engineer, T. S. Hillard; A. Constine and E. F. Roth, assistants; steamer
foreman: No. 1, G. A. St. John; No. 2, Charles Sauermilch: No. 3, W. A.
Richards; No. 4. G. J. Stegmaier; hook and ladder, No. 5, C. Shiber; hose
No. 6, J. G. Shuler; No. 7, D. R. Gates; No. 8, S. W. Bartleson; No. 9,