The Early Years
There has always been fire in Pawlet, but there has not always been a fire department. Many significant structures of 19th-century Pawlet were lost to fire over the years. The need for fire protection was pressed home in 1895, when West Pawlet suffered a catastrophic fire, which killed three residents and destroyed almost the entire downtown commercial district. The Granville Sentinel noted the absence of fire protection in their coverage of the blaze, noting that, “like many other places West Pawlet had no facilities for fighting fire, but trusted in heaven and insurance companies.” Pawlet’s own downtown had a brush with such a fate just nine years later, in 1904, when the Crescent Valley Hotel burned. The townspeople sought to meet this need and acquired a horse-drawn, gasoline-powered fire pump, seen at right. This apparatus was housed in the shed beside the Mill Pond, which still stands today. There was still no organized fire company, nor any fire dispatch at this time. Townspeople would simply yell from house to house for help fighting a fire.
The Postwar Years: The Beginnings of the PVFD
The organization that is today’s Pawlet Volunteer Fire Department began in the early 1950’s when several young men in town took it upon themselves to organize an independent fire brigade. After much debate as to whether the outfit should be called the Pawlet Volunteer Fire Department or the Pawlet Volunteer Fire Company, the name Pawlet Volunteer Fire Department was settled upon. In the earliest days of the department, a single tanker truck, a 1947 ex-Army 2.5-ton, was housed in the barn of a private residence which once stood near the site of the current firehouse on Rt. 133. The Pawlet Volunteer Fire Department was formally incorporated in 1967. The company hosted their first game supper as a fundraiser in the autumn of 1968. A fundraising campaign was undertaken to build a new firehouse as a permanent home for the fire company, progress towards this goal marked on a sign outside the building where the apparatus was housed. This goal was achieved just in time; the structure being used as a temporary firehouse was ultimately destroyed by a fire, though the apparatus was saved.
1972 – Present: Building a Modern Fire Department
The firehouse that stands today was built as a permanent home for the PVFD in 1973. At that time, it housed the Army “deuce-and-a-half” tanker and the newest addition to the fleet, a 1958 Chevy panel truck, which carried ladders and other equipment. The first auction was held at the firehouse that summer, with auctioneer Buss Mars presiding, to help recoup costs associated with the new building. As the 1970’s went on, a circa 1960 Maxim pumper was added to Pawlet’s apparatus fleet, and a Chevy pickup replaced the panel truck.
In this era, dispatch was conducted using a system of fire phones, which were a party line that townspeople would call in an emergency. Ten phones on this line were distributed throughout town, one in Mach’s Store and the others in firefighters’ homes. Firefighters would field the emergency calls themselves, and then call other members to alert them, going down a “call tree.” A whistle mounted in the cupola of the Town Hall would alert firefighters in the village that their help was needed. This system remained in use until the early 1990’s, when it was replaced by radio pagers.
One of Pawlet’s most significant fires occurred in February 1979, when fire broke out in the Methodist Church, which stood along Rt. 133 between the firehouse and what is today know as the Pawlet Community Church. Many local fire departments worked to extinguish the blaze, but the church was irreparably damaged.
In 1981, the department obtained an American LaFrance pumper which was painstakingly refurbished in-house. This apparatus fleet can be seen in the October 1981 Neil Rappaport photo at left.
In 1992, a 1972 Maxim pumper was purchased from the AA Young Jr. Hose Company in Jewett City, Connecticut, replacing the older Maxim in service. This truck carried the “We Strike When it’s Hot” tagline and fist grabbing a lightning bolt graphic motif, which the department adopted as its own. The Maxim served Pawlet until 2001. If you look up “Maxim” on Wikipedia, you can see a photo of this very truck. The ALF served Pawlet until 1998, when it was replaced by a 1998 E-One on a Freightliner FL70 chassis– Pawlet’s first-ever brand new fire apparatus. A second new apparatus, a E-One on an International chassis, replaced the Maxim in 2000. The Chevy pickup served until 2004 when it was replaced by an E-One brush truck on a Ford chassis.
In the mid 1990’s, Pawlet switched from Rutland County dispatch to Washington County, New York. This change was made mainly due to topography, without the Taconic Mountains in the way, Washington County offered better radio reception. The department radio identifier “54” was assigned at this time, replacing “23.” The Maxim became Engine 541, while the new E-One was designated Engine Tanker Apparatus (ETA) 542.
Throughout the last decades, the Pawlet Volunteer Fire Department has invested in newer, more modern equipment, while members invested their time in formal training in modern firefighting techniques. The result is the department we have in town today.