Proud volunteer fire company discovers this is its 150th anniversary

By Kristen Ray
Posted 8/16/19

They started with a team of 17, back in the year of 1869. Back then, they were the Dreadnot Fire, Hook and Ladder Company, commanded by Clark Straight, equipped with a carriage costing less than …

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Proud volunteer fire company discovers this is its 150th anniversary

Posted

They started with a team of 17, back in the year of 1869. Back then, they were the Dreadnot Fire, Hook and Ladder Company, commanded by Clark Straight, equipped with a carriage costing less than $200.

Much has changed since then; the original station has since burned down; an addition was added to its replacement to house larger-sized trucks. The spelling of the company name itself has undergone two more iterations.

Yet 150 years later, one thing remains the same for the 81 active and lifetime Dreadnaught volunteer firefighters: They continue to live by their company motto, to “fear nothing” as they serve and protect Bristol residents each and every day.

History in the making

It was a happy accident, really, discovering that 2019 was an anniversary year for the company. Knowing their exact history had always proved tricky; when a fire from an overfilled coal oven burned the original station to the ground in 1899, it had taken all of their records with it.

With renewed interest about their roots expressed from a member at their February meeting, however, company clerk Rick Giannini began to do some digging on Dreadnaught’s past. While searching through the online archives of the local newspaper — not even realizing that he had mistyped “dreadnot” in his haste — Mr. Giannini suddenly came across an article linking the “Quick Steps” (their old company nickname) to an organizational date of Aug. 2, 1869.

“That was how we started to go down the rabbit hole,” said Mr. Giannini.

Since the new station was erected on the corner of Church and High streets in 1900, the Dreads have made sure to either preserve or obtain many of their historical documents and artifacts in their upstairs meeting room. There is the since-retired roll call book, containing signatures of members that date back over 120 years; an original ladder belt and worn-down helmet. There is even the original contract dated July 1899, signing off to rebuild the fire station for $7,428.

They have preserved not only these various objects over the years; they’ve preserved traditions as well, such as visiting the gravesites of past members every Firemen’s Memorial — a unique ritual among the different stations.

“I think that’s something we do very well, is remember the members that don’t come back,” said First Lt. Jason Caetano.

Being a dreadnaught

Today, the Dreadnaught station — consisting of a ladder truck, marine unit and special hazards unit — is the busiest fire company, responding to roughly 600 calls each year. Unlike the Ever-Ready, Defiance and Hydraulion stations, the entire town is the Dreadnaught’s domain; regardless of whether it is a building alarm or structure fire, motor vehicle accident or water rescue, their men and women are racing to the scene.

“It’s a lot of time away from the family, a lot of dinners being put down,” said Capt. John Perry.

It also means that, with such a wide range of responsibility, their volunteers must be highly trained. Prospective members must complete a background check and meet with the station committee. If voted in at their regular monthly business meetings, they serve a year’s worth of probation. As of now, their newest member was accepted just two months ago; their oldest has served for 62 years.

For some, joining the Dreadnaughts is a family tradition, going back generations; for others, like Capt. Perry, they had simply just always had the itch. Growing up, Capt. Perry remembered watching his next-door neighbor respond to fire calls; staring in awe when, Christmas Eve of 1986, it burned down.

“For me, I couldn’t wait ’til I was 18,” said Capt. Perry.

The big day

Now that the Dreadnaughts have solved the mystery of their past, they will celebrate their 150th anniversary on Friday, Sept. 20, at the Bristol Yacht Club. Active members will be dressed in their Class A uniforms, while older volunteers are asked to wear semi-formal attire.

Throughout the festivities, a brief overview of their company history will be given, lifetime membership awards will be granted. Every member will be gifted a commemorative ribbon, boasting their name, years of service and the company’s official anniversary date.

Though organizing the celebratory event has been a little chaotic (“We weren’t expecting it to be, ‘hey, guess what, it’s this year,’ ” Mr. Giannini said), the company has managed to raise a significant amount of money by selling anniversary T-shirts through their Facebook page and at various town events. Even though it has all been a bit of a shock, the Dreadnaughts are looking forward to celebrating the hard work and dedication of every volunteer in the station, honoring all of the sacrifices they have made.

Said Asst. Chief Drew Lombardo: “It all falls back on sense of pride.”

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