by Craig Hoyt
(reprinted from The Rindge Connection (vol. 4, ed. 3, March 2009)
Prior to 1925 Rindge was without an organized firefighting force and apparatus. There were three Fire Wards, one for each village, who maintained a small cache of equipment to be used in case of fire. These were portable pumps, hose, back pack tanks (Indian Pumps), and extinguishers. In the event of a fire, the fire ward would sound an alarm (the church bells were good for this) and take the equipment to the fire scene. In addition to citizens answering the alarm, a Fire Ward had the authority to conscript any able-bodied man to fight a fire, so passersby could find themselves instant firefighters.
On April 8, 1925 a catastrophe which became known as the “Great Fire,” acted as a catalyst to take Rindge’s firefighting capabilities into the twentieth century. On that day, a fire broke out in the barn of E. A. Fuller’s Store on the common. When the flames finally subsided, the destruction tally was as follows: the barn, Fullers House and store (which contained the post office), the house and barn of James Danforth and Konsta (Tommy) Pentilla’s house, barn and garage.
Mrs. Danforth was the first person to notice the fire and she telephoned Harris Rice, a former selectman, who lived nearby. (It was Harris Rice who donated the land now occupied by the fire station.) Mr. Rice looked out and saw flames creeping up the outside of Fullers barn and had the Meeting House bell rung to bring out help to fight the flames. The fire proved too much for the limited amount of equipment mentioned above, and bucket brigades were formed. By this time the flames had gained too much headway to save any of the properties that were eventually lost.
Help was called in from Winchendon, Mass., Baldwinville, Mass., Peterborough, Fitzwilliam, and Jaffrey but this was before our current mutual aid dispatch system, so much time was lost. Two companies responded from Winchendon and one each from the other towns. The only water obtainable was from wells and proved inadequate for a fire of this magnitude. It is reported that as many as 300 men helped to fight the inferno.
The flames were finally stopped at a garage, 40 feet from the Crosby house, a change of wind direction making this possible. (This house still stands today on the corner, opposite the watering tub.) Many roofs of houses in the center caught fire from burning embers but were extinguished by firefighters, thereby averting additional loss of property. A field a half mile away also was set ablaze by embers and was extinguished before any further damage resulted.
This fire acted as an awakening to the community, making them realize more had to be done for fire protection. On April 17, 1925, nine days after the fire, the Board of Trade unanimously voted to form a committee consisting of Henry Wellington, Pearly Jones, and George Todd to purchase a motorized fire pumper. The following month the Rindge Fire Company was organized. This was a private organization that volunteered its services to the town and used town equipment, including the new fire engine, under the direction of the Fire Wards. This was another case in history where it took a catastrophe to awaken the populace to address a need.