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100 Year Anniversary of the Durham Fire Department

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
March 9, 2011

The first fire department in Durham was in the basement of the Pettee Block on Main Street. It was created in 1911.

On Monday, March 14, the Durham Fire Department will mark its 100th anniversary. A ceremony will take place at 10 a.m. at 60 Main Street, the former site of Pettee Block where the first fire station was located in the building’s basement. A plaque commemorating the site will be dedicated.

When the Durham Fire Department was created in 1911, keys to the station were given to the volunteer firefighters appointed by F.W. Taylor, the town’s first fire chief, A key also was kept at the store of W. S. Edgerly and in a glass box outside the fire station.

The department’s services were needed only once during that first year, when the residence of a Frank Morrison caught fire on Nov. 17, 1911. “At the risk of their lives” and “with coolness and deliberations” the men battled the blaze until it was under control, according to a report submitted by Taylor. 

The Pettee Block burned down in 1924 and the department dissolved, according to Fire Chief Corey Landry, who has been researching the department’s 100-year history in preparation for the upcoming celebration.  (A fire parade and muster is planned for July 23.) Then, in 1927, the Durham-New Hampshire College Fire department was formed. It was housed in a shed behind Thompson Hall. The name was later changed to the Durham-UNH Fire Department.

This 1931 Seagrave was the Durham Fire Department’s first piece of motorized equipment.

According to documents in the university’s archives, “When the fire alarm sounded, anyone who was so inclined could run to the shed on campus behind Thompson Hall, where the hose was housed on a reel, and haul it by hand to the fire.”

“The fire department has never had a permanent home,” Landry says. “It was in the DeMeritt area at one time,” he says. “In 1986, it was moved to the Service Building temporarily and it’s been here ever since.”

In 1989, the fire department went back to being a town entity although it still services UNH. Today there are 26 full-time and 13 call fire fighters.

The Durham Fire Department is one of the few in the country funded by both a municipality and a university.

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