History

60TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE SUGAR HILL FIRE RESCUE DEPARTMENT 1948-2008

(Article in the CALEDONIAN RECORD July 19,2008) BY ROBERT BLECHL Staff Writer OLD ENGINE 2

SUGAR HILL, N.H. – The Sugar Hill Fire Department celebrates its 60th birthday today, and in honor of the event, an open house will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the town’s museum and fire department.

The department was born after a July 19, 1948, fire devoured the town school. “It started in a henhouse and the radiant heat caught the school,” said Kitty Bigelow, director of the Sugar Hill Historical Museum. That was when Sugar Hill was still an unincorporated part of Lisbon. Roger Aldrich, the first clerk of the fire department, led an effort to get Sugar Hill incorporated, Bigelow said. Aldrich was instrumental in getting separation from Lisbon, she said, partly because Sugar Hill wasn’t getting the fire protection it needed. Sugar Hill was incorporated in 1962.

The museum – which served as the first fire station – opened its fire fighting exhibit in June. Inside is an array of vintage Sugar Hill fire fighting apparatus, most of it obsolete and some of it dating to 1948. First is a little device about 40 years old called a “water thief.” It was connected to the main hose, fed from a fire engine, employed near a fire and had the capacity to feed two additional hoses that were smaller. “You ran the water straight through it and could steal it off those two,” Sugar Hill Fire Chief Allan Clark said.

The museum also displays a “deluge gun,” about 30 years old. “There are two ways to fight a fire,” said Clark. “There’s an offensive attack, when you commit firefighters to go inside a building, or a defensive attack, where you fight from outside. A deluge gun is part of a defensive effort.” Included in the exhibit is an old metal helmet from 1948. “They were metal and conducted electricity. So, we certainly don’t use those anymore,” Clark said. Also dating to 1948 is a “fog nozzle” that would break up the water stream to make finer water drops that would absorb more heat that, in turn, would make more steam. The objective, said Clark, was to lower the temperature, which would help douse the fire.

One of the biggest changes since the department’s inception is the way in which firefighters are notified of a fire. “It used to be you’d sound a siren or horn and hope someone would hear,” Clark said. Next was the red phone system. “There were several around town,” Clark said, “in the garage, in a store, in the fire chief’s home. All rang at the same time. You’d pick one up and call five people. We always made sure someone was babysitting the phone.”

Today, Sugar Hill’s firefighters use pagers to contact one another. But there are still some who remember the days of yore. Roger’s cousins, brothers Bert and Harold Aldrich, were also early members of the department. Harold, at 83, is still a call firefighter. And Bert still maintains the department’s mechanized mascot, a converted Ford pickup truck from the late 1930s with 35,000 original miles that’s known as “Fire Engine Number 2.” Bert was also Sugar Hill’s third fire chief, serving from 1960 to the early 1970s. “You take care of everything,” he said. “It was like being a janitor. You clean up and get ready for the next fire.” Bert recalls buying helmets, each with its own number. “We had 34 members at one time,” he said.

The Sugar Hill Fire Department today consists of 20 call firefighters, two engines, one tanker and a rescue truck. And the department is part of the Twin State Fire Mutual Aid Association, which comprises personnel and equipment from 22 surrounding towns in Vermont and New Hampshire.

But the history of Sugar Hill’s early days still lives. “The town museum has dedicated their exhibit to the history of the fire department,” said Clark. “This is an opportunity for people to stop by and see how things were.”