Although Rutland was chartered as a Town in 1761, it would take another 68 years before an organized form of a fire department was implemented. In 1829, the Rutland Fire Society was organized and approved by an Act of the Vermont Legislature. The Society enrolled members and purchased a used hand pump engine and promptly named it the Torrent. As the Town’s population and economic vitality increased, so did the number of fires. In the late 1840’s and early 1850’s, there were several disastrous fires that had an impact on the community causing the reorganization of the fire department. The reorganization consisted of the formation of two engine companies and a hook and ladder company. Each company would be organized to provide sufficient personnel, equipment and quarters. In 1858, the Nickwackett Engine Company #1 was formed and a new building was erected at the corner of Center and Nickwackett Streets at a cost of $1,200.00. In 1860, the Washington Engine Company #2 and the Union Hook & Ladder Company #1 were organized. They were temporarily housed in a building at the intersection of Strongs Avenue and Washington Street, until new quarters were provided with the building of city hall on Washington Street. Facilities were provided to the Fire Department on the south end of the structure. This building would eventually become the home of the Rutland Fire Department until 1970, when a new building was constructed on Center Street.
Following the Civil War, more devastating fires began visiting the Town. The fires of 1868 provided the largest economic loss the Town has ever experienced, when the west side of Main Street burned, the north side of Center Street and both sides of Merchants Row were gutted. The losses initiated the purchase of an Amoskeag Steamer from the Amoskeag Works in Manchester, New Hampshire and the Killington Steamer Company was formed. This was the first steamer purchased in the State of Vermont. The more prominent members of the Community became active in funding supplemental fire companies to assist with the expanding community. Since a water supply system was implemented in the 1850’s, these additional companies were designated as hose companies. Between 1874 and 1886 five new hose companies were created. These included: the J.W. Crampton Hose Company #4, H.H. Baxter Hose Company #5, J. A. Sheldon Hose Company #6, J.D. Hanrahan Hose Company #7 and the Reynolds Hose Company #8. This was the heyday of the volunteers in the Rutland Community. Aside from fire suppression efforts, the volunteers enjoyed musters, balls, dances and social events.
In 1892, the Village had ascended to a City status with an elected mayor and Board of Aldermen. Many of the hose companies, who had originally received private contributions, now relied on the City for funds. The number of volunteers had grown to 225. Insurance rates had also risen dramatically. In order to lower insurance rates and reign in costs, the City approved the formation of a paid career Department and dissolved the volunteer companies. The career Department was initiated on January 1, 1894. It consisted of a total of eight paid personnel supplemented by 32 call people. Personnel worked six twenty-four hour shifts with one day off. Two hose wagons, which were drawn by horses, were deployed at Station #1 on Strongs Avenue and Station #2 on Center Street, the Nickwackett Engine Company quarters. In the first year of the career Department there were 100 calls. After the disastrous Mead Block fire, at the intersection of Merchants Row and Center Street, the City opted to purchase another steamer, instead of a new “motorized fire truck”. The first motorized apparatus was purchased in 1916 from the American LaFrance Company. This was followed by the purchase in 1919 of another motorized vehicle. By 1929, the Department had become fully motorized and the last of the horses disappeared. In 1924, the venerable Chief Alfred H. Koltonski was appointed Chief engineer, a position he would hold for over 60 years.
The rising number of fire calls prompted the City to increase the number of on duty fire fighters and through necessity created the shift system. By the 1940’s there were two shifts with nine personnel on duty every day. The apparatus now consisted of four engine/pumpers and one aerial ladder. There were still two station houses. As the need for more apparatus, support vehicles and equipment increased, the Department found it quarters becoming cramped.
In the late 1960’s promotion of a new headquarters for the Fire Department began to take root. In 1969, voters approved a referendum to construct a new central fire station at a cost of $500,000. The new building would be built at the intersection of South Main and Center Streets. It allowed for the consolidation of the two former stations into one. In 1974, the regular rank and file affiliated with the International Association of Fire Fighters (Local 2323) to allow collective bargaining for wages and benefits. By 1975, the Department had grown to 36 full time fire fighters with 24 call personnel. The Department also began initiating responses to emergency medical calls. This would lead to the organization and implementation of the first paramedic program in the State of Vermont in 1981.
Today, the Rutland Fire Department has 30 full-time personnel that are equipped with three engine/pumpers, one aerial 102’ platform, one 75’ quint and one 48’ bucket truck. The Department is a progressive, service orientated organization that provides effective leadership through continuing training and education. The City of Rutland Fire Department is committed to providing an effective service in a professional manner. It is committed to protecting lives, property and the environment through fire suppression, emergency services, hazardous materials mitigation, fire prevention and public education.
Michael J. Walsh, Deputy Chief