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Feb 16, 2011

Public Request for Historical Pictures or Images of the Rockland Fire Department


The Rockland Firefighters are working on recording and preserving the history of the Rockland Fire Department and we need the public’s help.

We have been scanning all of the photographs that we have in the department’s archive and now we are requesting that the public go through their photo albums and collections and look for any photographs of the fire department, fire scenes, crashes, fire musters, firefighters or other interesting items so that we can scan these items to catalog and preserve them. We will return any items that we borrow, we are only looking to scan them, of course any donations of memorabilia are greatly accepted.

A large number of the photographs we have already scanned are posted on our website ( for all to look at.

If you have any photographs please e-mail or call the fire station at 781-878-2123 and we can arrange to scan them.

May 03, 2008

Early History:

The Rockland Fire Department traces its routes back to Old Abington.

In 1833, a subscription paper was circulated in order to secure money to purchase a fire engine. 53 people signed up, each donating $200. An engine was purchased, but little is known of this unit. It was believed to have been a small Chemical Cart (soda acid) that was hand drawn.

Further along, in 1839, The Selectman of old Abington appointed 27 men as "engine men", to act at the "will and pleasure" of the selectman. They were organized as "Engine 1".

March 8, 1868, the town voted to establish 4 hook and ladder companies in Abington. These were known as Center, North Abington, East (Rockland) and South (Whitman). There was no mention of engines, so it is assumed that the old Chemical engine purchased by subscription was still used here in the "East District". While the old Chemical engine saw good service, it still was not adequate to protect the growing town.

Again, a movement to purchase an engine by subscription came forward and was successful. It was built by the Hunneman Co. of Boston MA. It was a squirrel tail hand tub, meaning its suction hose was carried up and over the back of the rig, much like a squirrel’s tail! This engine became know as the “King Philip.” It was originally hand drawn, but was quickly adapted to be horse drawn. Some time in the 1880's, a hose carriage was purchased and was trailered behind the engine to provide hose right to the pump for a faster response.


On the King Philip, you could put as many as 20 men on each pump handle or "brake". The pump itself was really two oversized farm well pumps, working in opposition to each other. There was a lever that would shift the operation from suction from pond or river, to filling from the tub...BY BUCKET BRIGADE!! Remember, this was in the days before there was a water works!

The Department consisted of a Board of Engineers (Chief Engineer, a 1st and 2nd assistant Chiefs and a Clerk). The Engine Company numbered around 35 with the ladder company running at a similar level.

The original members were true "volunteers", but at some point, probably coinciding with the incorporation of Rockland, the members would be "paid on call."

To Be Continued...


May 03, 2008

List of Fires 1808-1901
Information from the 1901 Rockland Firefighter's Relief Association
Fireman's Ball Souvenir Book

May 03, 2008

The Rockland Fire Station:

There has always been a fire station on Union St. (at its present location) since Rockland was incorporated in 1874. The very first fire house was located on Church St., somewhere behind the Congregational Church. In 1871, the Town (East Abington) built the wooden engine house to house the King Philip hand engine. In 1877, the bell tower was added. The bell weighed 500 lbs and struck the tone C-sharp. It was first rung for an alarm of fire on September 4th, 1877. The bell is now part of the memorial in front of the station. That same year an addition was added to house the Hook and Ladder Company.


The Hatherly Hose Company No. 2 was built in 1891 at a cost of $1076.10. The station sat at where the entrance to VFW Dr. now is. The company disbanded with the advent of motorized apparatus.


In 1939, the old headquarters station was torn down to build a new station. The new station, now masonry construction, was a W.P.A project. In the late 1970’s, with a growing town, came the need for better fire protection. Unfortunately the station at that time could only hold so much equipment, so an addition was needed. With Mobile Oil Corp. vacating the land next door, an addition was built, using all of the land to Pacific St. This is the Rockland Fire Station that we have today.




May 03, 2008

King Philip Hand Fire Engine


The King Philip hand fire engine (#701) was built in 1869 by the Hunneman Fire Engine Company of Boston, MA. It was a first class size, with 2 opposing pistons in the middle. The large “kettle” in the middle was an air damper. It gave it the ability to pressurize the water being pumped out. The discharge outlets are on the sides with the intake being from the rear. The total cost was $1800.00 and was delivered on February 10th, 1869.


It was originally pulled by hand and a horse drawbar was fitted for it after a short time. The RFD never owned their own horses but relied on 1 or 2 livery stables up town. It’s said that a few horses were so conditioned that when the bell went off at the station, the stable owner simply opened the stalls, and the horses would run up to the engine house on their own.


Once at the fire, the long wooden poles or “brakes” would be separated (at the sides) and swung 90 degrees to meet up with the brakes from the other side to form front and back brakes. The front wheels would be turned 90 degrees to make clearance for the front brakes (hence the curve in the iron pump handle).


The company captain would form men along the brakes, on both sides of each brake, and order the men to pump in rhythm. The faster you pumped, the better the stream out of the nozzle.


Back in the days of the King Philip there were no hydrants. Water had to be taken from cisterns (large underground storage pools built by the town) or draft from a pond or river with the “squirrel tail” suction hose on top of the rig. If you couldn’t get close enough, you had to fill the tub of the engine by hand (a bucket brigade).


The company of men assigned to the King Philip engine numbered around 50. A Foreman or Captain would be in charge and under him would be 2 assistants or Lieutenants. There was also a secretary and treasurer for administration purposes. The members were from all walks of life. When a call came in the members would respond to the fire from all types of businesses; grocers, hardware stores, shoe factories to name a few.


In 1884 the Rockland-Abington Joint Water Works went on-line providing a reliable source of water to the Town. The Fire Engineers (before the one Chief system) felt they no longer needed a large company of men. They would rely on hose wagons and hydrant pressure for their fire streams. They disbanded the King Philip Hand Engine Co. and reorganized them as the King Philip Hose Company #1. The strength of the new group was half that of the old company.


This proved to be disastrous. On July 16th, 1890, the worst fire to strike the Town (To Date) occurred, starting at the Congregational Church. Painters burning the paint off of the sides started the church burning. A long drought that summer had lowered the water level in the standpipes on Beech Hill so much that the hydrants were unable to supply a stream adequate to stop the fire. The King Philip, now in reserve at the engine house, was brought to the scene but by then it was too late. The fire burned 14 buildings including the church, the Town Hall, Dr. Underwood’s residence (where the South Costal Bank now stands), a factory and several houses. It was obvious that the Town needed the King Philip Hand Engine.


Sometime after the fire, the Town purchased a hose reel to assist the King Philip. This way it could not only provide its own water supply but also give the Town a better response.


The King Philip was finally decommissioned with the advent of the motorized apparatus. However, even though it spent time in and out of storage, it enjoyed a colorful career competing in various musters and pumping competitions. Its best stream ever was at the Weymouth Fairgrounds Muster… a prize winning 227+ feet.


The King Philip was on display at the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) in Quincy, MA. until May of 2015 when she returned home to Rockland Fire. 

Jul 14, 2008
  The 1924 Firemen's Herald


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