WATERVILLE — It was Aug. 15, 1854, and a fire broke out at a building on Oakland Road.

The firefighters took the hand tub pumper from the Silver Street fire station and started running with it down the street, heading to Oakland Road, which is now Kennedy Memorial Drive.

“You had to have a ton of people to pump that — to suck the water out — and be on the hoses,” fire Lt. Scott Holst said.

There were no fire hydrants back then, and the men had to pull the pumper by hand.

“They didn’t have horses. The horses didn’t come until the early 1900s,” Holst said. “They got as far as the church on Silver and Elm streets and they said, ‘By the time we get there, it will be burned down,’ so they turned around and went back to the station. I like that story because people don’t realize firemen had to run with the engine. They didn’t have horses.”

That story and many more are included in Holst’s book “History of the Waterville Fire Department, 1809-2015,” which he self-published earlier this month at BookLocker.com Inc.

Holst, 54, worked on the book for nearly two years, researching Morning Sentinel archives from microfiche at Colby College’s Miller Library, poring through archives and photographs at the Waterville Historical Society, spending time at Waterville Public Library, perusing old Fire Department logs and interviewing retired firefighters.

The 288-page book contains many photographs and stories, as well as information about the department’s fire chiefs and other fire officials.

Holst said $5 from every sale will be used for a memorial wall at the fire station to honor fallen firefighters.

“I hope people find it interesting and they want to purchase it,” Holst, a 33-year firefighter said. “I’m not making any money on it. I’m not here to make money. I want people to read the book and understand the Fire Department and the men that served. Everything they did was always for the city of Waterville and the protection of the city. I found a lot of the stories are funny, a lot of the stories are interesting, a lot are sad. I do cover the fatalities in the book. I do cover some of the bad fires in Waterville.”

The book is available at the fire station for $21.95, as well as at amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. Any money made that doesn’t go toward the memorial pays for publishing costs, Holst said.

DREAMING THE BOOK

It’s not his first time researching and writing history. Holst also has written two books about his family’s history.

A firefighter in Waterville for 21 years who was named Firefighter of the Year in 2001, he started his career in Winslow in 1981 after moving to Maine from Nebraska. He and his wife, Ruth, live in Winslow, and her family includes several firefighters.

While researching and writing the book, Holst also created a historical display of Fire Department memorabilia on walls of the department’s second floor.

The items include old fire helmets, badges and coats, photographs and a post indicator box that rang out numbers so firefighters could ascertain where fires were occurring.

The impetus for writing the book came a few years ago when elementary school children were touring the department and looking at photographs of all the former fire chiefs on the wall. A handful of the chiefs had no accompanying pictures and the children asked why. Holst said he did not know but would try to find out.

Firefighters in 1995 had written a book, “History of Our Fire Department,” published by Atkins Printing, but when Holst started doing his research, he found stories that were not included in that book, so he decided to write a more comprehensive one.

He worked on the book during his own time. The more stories and information he found, the more he became fascinated with the department’s history. Soon he was living, breathing, sleeping and dreaming the book.

‘THEY WORKED SO HARD’

When Waterville was incorporated in 1802, city leaders created fire warden positions, and they ran the Fire Department, according to Holst. The city’s first fire chief took the position in 1860, and he was called a fire engineer. A foreman was the equivalent of a fire captain today, and an assistant foreman was equivalent to today’s lieutenant. A fire clerk wrote about fires and meetings in the department’s log book.

In the 1800s, if a fireman did not respond to a fire, he was fined 25 cents and the money was used to help injured firemen because there was no insurance, Holst said.

In the late 1800s, the city had fire stations on Water, Main, Silver and Ticonic streets. A station was built on Western Avenue in the 1970s and closed nine years later.

“They closed substations down in 1980,” he said. “In 1981, the last one closed. They had put substations in strategic areas of town so they could be closer — have shorter response time. After motorized apparatus was available, they didn’t need substations. That cut down on maintenance of buildings.”

Holst said the story of one particular fire chief, Luke Ivers, is particularly inspiring because he was a firefighter for more than 40 years in the early 1900s and never hesitated to go inside a burning building.

“He was not the type to stand back and watch the fire. He was right in the thick of it,” Holst said.

Holst also is impressed that Waterville did not lose its downtown to fire many years ago, as other Maine cities did when hand pumpers were used to fight fires.

“If you see old pictures of downtown Waterville, everything was built with wood,” he said. “Look at the way they fought fires with hand pumpers. They went into burning buildings without air packs. A lot of the men went in in street clothes.

“They worked so hard back then. Waterville did not lose their downtown. Bangor, in 1911, lost the whole city (core) due to fire — Ellsworth, Old Orchard Beach. But Waterville, as big as it was, lost buildings, but they didn’t lose a whole complete block or a huge amount of downtown.

“I just attribute it to the way the guys fought fires and were so dedicated.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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