History of Barnstable Fire Department

In the late 1800’s, discussions began within the Town of Barnstable on the possibility of establishing a town-wide fire department, following a major fire in the Hyannis downtown business district. On at least two separate occasions, petitions were brought forward during town meeting requesting the formation of a town-wide fire department. These petitions were rejected both times, citing that there were no plans to provide fire protection outside the Village of Hyannis, and that equipment responding from Hyannis would not help residents in other villages in town, 12 – 14 miles away. Following these failed attempts to form a town fire department, the Hyannis Fire District was the first fire district to form within the Town of Barnstable in 1896.

In 1926, when Barnstable Village residents requested streetlights be added to the village, they were turned down by the governing boards in Hyannis and told to “tax your own people.” A petition driven by the residents in Barnstable Village was presented to the legislature to form the Barnstable Fire District and on March 12, 1926 the petition was granted. The Barnstable Fire District was officially formed following a meeting with Barnstable district residents on August 5, 1927 at 7:30 p.m. at the Village Hall. At this meeting, District residents voted to accept Chapter 109 of the Acts of 1926 titled, “An Act to Establish the Barnstable Fire District in the Town of Barnstable.” Although the Barnstable Fire District had officially been formed, there was no organized fire protection until 1935.

Prior to establishing an organized fire department in Barnstable Village, the Hyannis Fire District was charging Barnstable Village for any emergency response it was providing to the village. During the Barnstable Village District Meeting in April 1932, residents authorized a committee of three people, Paul M. Swift, William A. Jones, and Frederick Kent “to confer with the Hyannis Fire Department to secure an adjustment, reduction, or compromise in connection with bills received from the Hyannis Fire Department.” The issue was settled when three people were designated as the only village residents allowed to call the Hyannis Fire Department in case of fire. Their actions could then bind the District for payment to Hyannis for any services that were provided. Those entrusted with this responsibility were Edward L. Harris, Harry Ryder, and Frederick S. Kent.

In 1934, two major fires in Barnstable Village provided the impetus to establish and combine a fire department and a water department to form the Barnstable Fire District. One of the two fires was at the Blue Tavern, which was located across from the present-day Barnstable House on Main Street. This was a large inn and their rooms were all named after towns on the Cape. The second fire was at the Jail, which was located behind the Superior Court. The fire at the jail was started when a flue pipe overheated and started the roof on fire. The jail burned to the ground and was rebuilt in 1935.

At the March 11, 1935 Barnstable District Meeting, a question was raised as to whether the fire district could legally establish a fire department. The meeting was adjourned for one week. Following some research into the matter, the district residents voted to adopt Massachusetts General Law Chapter 48, Sections 64 and 65 and the Barnstable Fire Department became a reality.

The Barnstable Fire Department was officially established on July 14, 1935 under the command of the first fire chief, Chief Fire Engineer Raymond J. Neil, and Assistant Chief Engineers W. Dana Holmes and Harrison Kent. At the 1935 Barnstable District Meeting, voters approved $9,000.00 to purchase a fire engine, and $7,000.00 for land and construction of a firehouse. On a plot of land donated by Alfred Crocker in memory of his father, a fire station was constructed, located on Main Street in the center of the Village. This is the same location of the present Barnstable fire station that operates today. The District’s first fire engine was purchased shortly after the District Meeting, a 1935 Mack fire engine which served as Barnstable Engine 1 until her retirement in 1965. The 1935 Mack is still owned and operated by the Barnstable Firefighter’s Association and is usually on display during special events and parades. The first organized meeting and training session in the Barnstable Fire Department was held on September 14, 1935, where it is recorded that the members conducted a drill involving pumping operations.

The Barnstable Fire Department was an on-call fire department from 1935 until 1985. In 1985, Richard Lizotte was hired as the departments first full-time firefighter working a day-shift schedule. Although the department had taken initial steps to staff with full-time personnel, the on-call firefighting staff was still active and very much needed. Firefighter Lizotte worked for the department until 1987 when he left to work in private industry. In 1987, the department was approved to hire two (2) additional firefighters bringing the daytime staffing up to three (3) personnel. Firefighter Robert Stansifer was hired to replace Firefighter Lizotte, and Firefighters Glenn Coffin and Firefighter Blaire Greenhalgh were hired as the two additional firefighters.

In 1988, Chief William A. Jones III became the first full-time fire chief of the Barnstable Fire District. Chief Jones had been an active member on the call firefighter force for over twenty (20) years and served as Assistant Fire Engineer from 1976 to 1981. He was appointed Chief Fire Engineer in 1981 and served as Chief of Department until his retirement in 2002.

In July 1989, the Barnstable Fire Department began staffing 24 hours a day/7 days a week/365 days a year with the addition of six (6) full-time personnel. This level of staffing on a 24-hour schedule provides for two (2) full-time personnel to be on duty at all times. Even with 24-hour/full-time coverage, the on-call firefighting force was still heavily relied upon to provide additional manpower at emergency incident scenes.

Three (3) years later in 1992 as emergency incidents were rising, the department added four (4) full-time personnel. This brought the shift staffing up to three per shift around the clock. Then again in 2004 as the department was experiencing another increase in emergency incidents an additional four (4) full-time personnel were hired. The on-call firefighting force was slowly fluctuating due to increased demands on professional training and standards as well as the strains of limited time availability from on-call firefighters who had full-time employment outside the fire service and family commitments. In January 2006 due to the limited number of on-call firefighters in the department coupled with rising costs of equipment maintenance and insurance for the call firefighting force, the decision was made to transition to an all-career fire department.

As the fire department continued to grow, the need for administrative help was imminent. At the May 14, 2001 Annual District Meeting, voters approved funding for a part-time clerk for the Prudential Committee and the fire department. In 2001, local resident Karen Hickey was hired as the first part-time clerk. This position remained part-time for the next thirteen (13) years under different personnel. As administrative demands, emergency incidents, and local development were increasing in the District, a transition to a full-time administrative assistant was desperately needed. In 2014, Karen Hickey was once again hired as the first full-time administrative assistant for the department. Since returning, she has completely transformed the position and seamlessly manages all the administrative functions of the department.