History of the Oxford Village Fire Department

The Oxford Fire Department was started in July, 1823 with the signing of a charter by the Village Board of Trustees. At the same meeting the Board of Trustees it was resolved that every dwelling should have at least one or more "leather fire buckets" for the benefit of the Village in care of a fire and could be used for no other purpose. In case of a lease, a tenant could purchase a fire bucket and charge the expense of the bucket or buckets to the landlord or deduct the amount of the cost of the buckets from the rent.

On October 15, 1824, when the tax was levied, it was resolved that Ganett H. Van Wagenen and Ronsom Rathobone be empowered to purchase, in New York or elsewhere, a fire engine on the credit of the Village of Oxford at a price not to exceed $325.00. On March 5, 1824, a resolution was passed by the board of trustees levying a tax of $500.00 for the purchase of the fire engine. On March 8, 1824, the first fire company was organized by the appointment of 21 firemen. 

On April 15, 1824, there was appropriated $50.00 to build an engine house on Fort Hill. On May 16, 1825, the board provided a key to be deposited in the engine house for the purpose of unlocking the Saint Paul's Church so that alarms could be sounded by ringing the church bell.

On April 16, 1836, a resolution was voted on by the free holders and inhabitants of the Village authorizing the trustees of the Village to build a reservoir and to repair the engine. The reservoir was to be 30 feet long, 10 feet wide and 7 feet deep. It was to be built out of timers, lathed and plastered, however it proved a failure.

On May 21, 1837, the Village voted on raising $500.00 for repairing the old engine or buying a new one, procuring two poles for carrying fire buckets, and for repairing the ladders. All evidence indicated however that the vote was against the proposal. The records from May 21, 1837 to August 9, 1845 cannot be found.

On August 9, 1845, at a meeting of the freeholders and inhabitants of the Village it was resolved that "It is expedient to reorganize the Fire Department of the Village of Oxford, that the fire ending belonging to the Village of Oxford is unfit for use and is entirely inadequate for the preservation of property of said Village against the ravaged of fire". A committee of 10 was appointed to decide what action to take on the subject. They were given two weeks to study the problem and arrive at a decision. At a meeting on August 23, 1845, they turned in their request for an additional two weeks to study the problem, the request was granted.

On Saturday September 6, 1845 they turned in their decision at a meeting of the fire holders and inhabitants, of the Village of Oxford, the committee reported through their chairman, John Tracy, that they were unable to arrive at a decision because of a lack of information and requested to be dissolved as a committee. In a motion H. Vanvrlyn it was resolved that the Village of Oxford levy a tax in the amount of $600.00 for the purchase of a new fire engine with needful hose and apparatus.

On October 13, 1845, the hotel of Thomas Morris was "Set on Fire" and on October 4th, the trustees offered a reward of $100.00 to be paid on the conviction of the person "who last night set fire to said hotel. To be paid to the person who shall discover the offender, and that the secretary sign and cause to be posted and posted 50 copies of a notice of said reward and draw on the treasurer for the expense of printing and posted of the same". Also it was "resolved that committee of three purchase the fire engine and hose of the previous meeting of the trustees".

At a meeting of the trustees duly held April 25, 1846 , it was stated that "Henry Waterman of Hudson, New York would furnish this corporation with a engine to be delivered in Albany in October, 1846 for $700.00. The engine was to have 7 1/2 inch cylinders, man 18 men and weigh 1900 pounds, throw one inch stream of water 170 feet at near 400 gallons per minute (GFM). It was to be build of St. Domingo Mahogany, well polished, with brass mountings, with wrenches, pipes, and all the other apparatus complete".

The engine was accepted by the Village trustees.

At a meeting of the trustees duly held August, 1846 the new fire apparatus was received by the Village and put into the hands of the Oxford Fire Company, but the Village still owned it.

On October 15, 1846 at a meeting of the board of trustees, a committee of three was appointed to the then present fire station and decide on a better site if necessary.

In 1855 the board approved the formation of the Niagara Fire Company No. 1 comprised of some 50 men.

The Niagara Company has grown in membership to run such numbers that in April, 1859 the company was divided and two companies were formed. Niagara Company No. 1 had 27 members , and Niagara Company No. 2 had 44 members. On April 4, 1859 the following department officers were elected, Chief Engineer, John P. Clark, Assistant Chief Engineer, William S. Thompson, Clerk, N. B. Eccleston and Treasurer, William Balcom. On the 24th of the same month, the same building now used as the fire station, was rented and all the apparatus where housed there. On May 6, of the same year, the Lady Washington Company was duly organized.

The people of Oxford were proud of their Department, men and apparatus, at this time it was shown by the fact that on the 4th of July of the same year, a contest was arranged between a company from Norwich, The Lady Washington and the Niagara companies to determine which could throw a stream of water the highest over the liberty pole which stood 150 feet from the canal dock, the Niagara was manned by the heaviest men in town and just as the stream reached the brush on the top of the pole, "BANG" her air chamber burst.

On March 27, 1867 the present fire house was purchased for the sum of $1500.00. The Sappho Hose Company was organized February 27, 1873 with fifteen members. An interesting note taken from the minute books of this company shows that on the evening of December 31, 1874, a handsome silk banner was presented to the Company by Mrs. Charlotte Mulligan of Buffalo as a reward for the company abstaining from the use of intoxicating liquor for one year.

On April 13, 1887 the Niagara Company was reorganized as the Niagara Hose Company, and became a separate company, on June 25, 1888 the Hook and Ladder Company was organized . The Charter members were, L.R. Coville, F.P. Newkirk, A.H. Brill, C.M. Gray, E.C. Develan, Geo. T. Gillman, H.A. Curtis, L.A. Knott, F.E. Billings, Ira W. June, N.B. Eccleston, and O.M. Westover. The Fire Department then consisted of The Niagara Host, The Lady Washington Hose, The Hook and Ladder Company, The Sappho Hose and The Engine Company, 122 men in all.

On April 20, 1888 the Village voted to raise $3000.00 for the purchase of a new fire engine and this was delivered in November of the same year. In 1889, after 30 years of faithful service, the Lady Washington was disbanded and a new steamer company was formed, this company was in active service until the city water works were installed in 1897. At this time the Steamer Company changed their name to the Independent Hose Company, purchased a hose cart and took their place with the Sappho and Niagara Hose Company.

During the years of 1897 to 1918 there were few changes in equipment, the Department being composed of the Sappho, Niagara, and Independent Hose Companies, On April 9, 1918 the Hook and Ladder Company purchased a new truck from the Norwich Fire Department and later sold the old Oxford truck to the South Otselic Fire Department. In 1920, the Village voted to buy a combination chemical motor truck from the Ontario Hose Company of Norwich for $1500.00, to be paid in three annual installments. This truck saved the amount of her cost at the first fire after her delivery.

During the years of 1897 to 1920 there were relatively few changes in the companies and equipment. The department at that time consisted of the Niagara Hose Company, Sappho Hose Company, Independent Hose Company, and the Hook and Ladder Company. The basic equipment consisted of three hand drawn hose carts, the Hook and Ladder and the Steamer.

The first piece of motor powered apparatus was purchased in 1920. This vehicle a combination two-tank chemical and hose truck, was a valuable piece of apparatus because it cut the time required to answer alarms.

Two more motor vehicles were purchased in 1924, both were Knox Trucks and each had a tank and hose.

In 1929 the tree above trucks were added to by the purchase of a triple combination pumpers with a booster tank. The truck had a Seldon Chassis with Buffalo Fire Apparatus Equipment. This truck was purchased by the Independent Hose Company, it was sold in 1963.

Another truck was added to the Department in 1930 by the purchase of a Reo Chassis carrying two tanks. It was equipped with a pump after it was purchased. 

Today, (1929) the Village of Oxford has as complete and efficient equipment as may be found in any other Village of its class in the State. There are three pieces of motor apparatus on Federal Chassis, equipped by the Foamite Childs Corporation of Utica and the other two Knox Chemical motor trucks, a Hook and Ladder truck now drawn as a trailer but soon to be motorized and a Silsby Steamer which is seldom used except in congested area of wooden risks in the business section. The Independent Hose Company had just purchased a Triple Combination truck, delivery to be made soon. The Village Water system, supplied by springs with a gravity system, a large reservoir with a storage capacity of 250,000 gallons and a steady four inch supply stream, gives the fire department very efficient aid in getting stream to any spot in the Village with out the use of the steamer. The water system gives pressure from 95-100 pounds, for fire purposes, a new 450,000 gallon reservoir is to be added to the water system this year.

Three thousand feet of first class hose is always kept in the best of condition for service on the trucks and other equipment which includes: forty rubber coats, gas and ammonia masks, smoke helmets, first aid kits, rubber gloves, all essential forms of nozzles and, in fact everything that will be found on a modern city fire department truck. The drivers sleep in both station and are always on call.

The Oxford Fire Department was honored this year (1929) for the fourth time, by the election of its Chief Engineer H.C. Bartlett to the office of president of the Chenango County Firemen's Association, a well maintained promotion for Chief Bartlett after faithful an energetic work, Much of the present efficiency of the equipment of the Oxford Department is due to the persistent and intelligent work of Chief Bartlett's ability assisted by his officers and men. It is with justified pride that the citizens of Oxford can point out their Fire Department to visitors and the citizenry at large have always shown an appreciation of the work of the department in keeping down the fire losses in the Village and Vicinity.

Credit is also given to the Chenango County Firemen's Association for its helpful work in creating public interest and the securing of the better equipment for the Oxford Fire Department. Rev, O. Meyer, the founder of the County Association, was a resident of the Oxford Department at the time of the formation of the County Association. Also giving credit to him for his personal efforts in the betterment of the Oxford Department, as well as the other member Departments of the County Association.

In 1931 the apparatus consisted of five trucks, a Hook and Ladder and the Steamer which was kept in reserve for the "Big Ones" when and if they came. Along with the trucks there was 3400 feet of hose on the trucks. All trucks were equipped with all miner equipment needed.

The next important change and addition to the equipment was the replacement of our old Hook and Ladder truck. This former piece of equipment was built here locally by Charles M. Dodge, a member of the Hooks and a famous wagon builder, the running gear came from a Democrat Wagon, which in those days was a pleasure and business vehicle and was used by our rural people. The Ladders were hand made , rather heavy, and were very efficient. After many years of service the old rig was sold to the Village of South Otselic and our local Hook and Ladder Company purchased from the George Rider Hook and Ladder Company of Norwich a ladder truck which was horse and hand drawn.

After a few years of service in Oxford, the Hook and Ladder Company wanted to motorize their equipment. A Ford tractor was purchased, the front end of a truck mounted on a fifth wheel. Rubber tires and a tiller were placed under the trailer so that the trailer could be steered. After a few years the truck was completely rebuilt out of steel. A 500 gpm pump was purchased and mounted on the front of the tractor. This truck is still in service in the Department. It is the only one in the Country of its design as it was built here in Oxford New York by the Firemen.

The next addition to the equipment of the department acquired from Government Surplus a Chevrolet four wheel drive fire truck to be used for rural work. This truck has a front mounted 500 gpm centrifugal pump with a 500 gallon booster tank. This truck was in use until 1967 whe the purchase of a new Fire Truck was made. The four wheel drive truck was then sold to the Triangle Fire Department and is still in service there.

The Fire Insurance Underwriters Association passed out the information that it would not be long before we would have to purchase a truck with a 750 gpm, pump and a 1000 gallon water tank. After several meeting of the members of the Fire Department a set of specifications was drawn up and presented to the Village Board for approval. The board accepted the specifications and they were brought up for a vote by the Village taxpayers. The taxpayers approved the purchase of the truck and specifications went out to bid. The low bid was received from Howe Fire Apparatus Mfg, of Anderson, Indiana. The bid was accepted and order placed.

The New Ford truck was delivered to the Oxford Fire Department in 1962. Waterous pump, two stage centrifugal pump mounted under the main pump with power takeoff drive and a 1000 gallon capacity booster tank.

To further modernize the department equipment, in 1966 specifications were drawn up for a new 750 gpm pumper. Specifications were completed and presented to the Village Board for their approval. Upon the boards approval a truck was purchased through Sanford Fire Apparatus Corporation. Low bidder for the truck chassis was Smith Ford of Norwich, New York. A Ford C-850, 534 cu inch engine. The pump equipment was purchased through Sanford Fire Apparatus Corp. hale pump-Series Parallel Centrifugal with a 750 gallon booster tank. This truck was equipped for rural fires with a canvas drop tank, generator, lights, portable pump, C02 and Dry powder extinguishers for car and truck fires.

The latest three new trucks were made possible through taxation from the Fire Protection District. This Fire Protections District being established in 1952 by the guidance of our Late Chief Howard C. Bartlett.

The year 1966 through 1968 were the time of reorganization in the Oxford Fire Department. During this time, and with the approval of the Village Board, the four Companies (Niagara, Sappho, Independent, and Hooks and Ladder Companies) dissolved their corporations and merged into one Department. At the annual meeting on April 4, 1968, the Department became known as the Oxford Fire Department, Inc.

The Oxford Fire Department under competent officers in the Department along with a Fire police organization and an active Emergency Squad, all back up by an active Ladies Auxiliary, are a force of which every citizen in the Fire Protection District can be proud.

Special Thanks to E and J Ross for the detailed research and knowledge set forth herein.