Portsmouth Fire Department,  Emergency Dial 911, Portsmouth Fire Station 1, 170 Court Street, Portsmouth, NH 03801 Tel: (603)427-1515

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Portsmouth Fire
A Chronological History of a New England Seaport Fire Department


  • 1696:
    • First recorded fire in Portsmouth. Five houses and nine barns are set aflame during an Indian raid at Portsmouth Plains.  
  • 1744:
    • March 26, A Committee is established to purchase a "New Ingine". Twenty Pounds for the purchase were made available through Capt. Eben Wentworth.
  • 1756:    
    • September 13: A special town meeting is called to consider the best measures "to extinguish and prevent the spreading of fire in any building" and to "regulate the labour and proceeding of people assembled on such occasions." Voted that the selectmen procure six fire hooks, 12 leather buckets, and six axes "with long helves." Additionally 12 Fire Officers (Firewards) elected.
  • 1758:
    • The Fire Companies had a room at the State House and the Fire Department was located in the lower story, which consisted of one immense room.
  • 1761:
    • March 17, The United Fire Society instituted. Each man brought 2 leather buckets, bed wrench, and a large cloth bag (4 bushel), (and long handled mops)
    • Their primary purpose of the Fire Society was not to quell general fires, but provide a mutual aid to protect personal property recovered from a fire in a home or business.
  • 1762:
    • March 25, another fire engine ordered to be bought, cost not to equal 60 pounds.
    • March 25, voted that "there shall be a house built for to keep the new engine in"
    • August 1, Friendly Fire Society formed
  • 1781:
    • The first great fire in Portsmouth broke out in a barn standing on the site of the present Music Hall, consuming among other buildings the Jail and Mr. Langdon's house.
  • 1789:
    • March 6, Federal Fire Society formed
  • 1795:
    • March, At Annual Meeting, town authorized selectmen to purchase "a large fire engine of the best construction."
  • 1797:
    • The private company – Portsmouth Aqueduct Company – installed one of the earliest underground piped water systems in America. Purchased by city in 1892
  • 1798:
    • March, Voted that $8 be given as a premium to the first Engine Co. who shall first be at a house on fire and work with the engines, to be allowed by the Firewards and an order given by them for that purpose.
  • 1802:    
    • December 25, Great Portsmouth Parade Fire: 132 buildings
    • As a result, the NH Fire and Marine Insurance Co. incorporated Jan. 10, 1803
  • 1806:
    • March 31, 1806 town meeting expanded the job of the fire wardens. 13 named, 4 chiefs chosen. Meet at Union Hall – old "Alms House" on Jaffery (now Court) street. (Site of the current Station 1)
    • December 24, Chapel Street Fire - St. John's Church and 13 other buildings destroyed by fire.
  • 1811:    
    • Mechanic Fire Society formed on July 12, 1811
    • Members owned black bags for collecting silver, "bed-keys" to dismantle beds, and buckets. Membership limited to 30 members.
  • 1812:
    • A new engine house was built for a cost of $127.66.
    • ( May have been Station on lower Court Street)
  • 1813:
    • The Alert Fire Society formed
    • December 22 - "The Great Portsmouth Fire" destroys 108 dwelling houses (occupied by 130 families,) 64 stores and shops, and 100 barns, &c., making in the whole 272 buildings. From west to east the fire extended one third of a mile, and from north to south, the width of the ruins in the widest part was an eighth of a mile".
    • NH Fire and Marine Insurance Co. fails as a result of the fire.
  • 1814:
    • April 19, 1814 Portsmouth voted to apply to the Legislature for an act to prohibit the erection of wooden buildings over 12 feet high in the town.
  • 1830's:
    • "Washington No. Two, was the first suction engine.
  • 1834:    
    • Fines of $3.00 were deducted from the bounty of any company going to a fire without full equipment and suitable number of buckets.
  • 1839:
    • Fire Companies–
      • 6 fire engine
      • 1 hook and ladder
      • 2 axe
    • A badge of office was required to worn by fire companies when on duty.
  • 1840:
    • December 28, an Engine House at the corner of State and Summer streets was under construction.
  • 1845:
    • May 4, "Great Market Street Fire", loss $150,000.00
  • 1846:
    • April 12, Congress Block, built in 1846, destroyed by fire, rebuilt at once  
  • 1850:
    • Portsmouth becomes a City
  • 1851:
    • June 5, 1851 – Department receives "Laconia No. 2 hand-tub
  • 1852:
    • City Ordinance No. 21 establishes duty and powers of the Board of Engineers, Chief Engineer, Assistant Engineers, Clerk, organization and duty of fire companies, and policies governing members and apparatus. No mention of any pay rates
  • 1858:
    • February 25, the Portsmouth Fireman's Relief Association was organized
  • 1863:
    • Apparatus –
      • New Hook and Ladder carriage in service, cost between $600.00 and $675.91
    • Engine Houses-
      • A new building for the use of the Hook & Ladder carriage and engine, was built east of the Courthouse. Cost $3558.81
  • 1864:
    • December 30, First steam fire engine received in Portsmouth: "Sagamore"
  • 1865:
    • June 1865, steam fire engine "Dearborn" received
  • 1870:
    • June, steam fire engine "Kearsarge" received
  • 1872:
    • "Kearsarge No. 3" with twenty-five men along with  nine men from "Dearborn" steam fire engine are dispatched and travel by railroad to assist in what I snow known as the Great Boston Fire of 1872.
    • Portsmouth Men credited with saving the Old South Church.
  • 1876:    
    • July, steam fire engine "Moses H. Goodrich" received
  • 1880:
    • Steam fire engine "Col. Sise" received.
    • December 4, The Kearsarge Mill, formerly the Portsmouth Steam Factory, was burned
  • 1885:
    • Municipal, tax supported fire service in place  
    • May, first fire alarm system, "Gamewell" installed at a cost of $2,860.00
  • 1887:
    • The first annual parade of the department occurred on Thursday, September 15th.         
    • Eagle Chemical Engine Co. No. 5 received.
  • 1900:
    • New engine house on Bartlett street built.
  • 1905:
    • October 4, the Franklin Pierce Veterans Firemen's Association organized with Horace W. Gray as the first President and Foreman.
  • 1908:
    • Revised City Ordinances establishes pay rates, staffing levels, vacation and leave coverage, inspectio
    • ns, along with duties and policies governing members and apparatus
  • 1912:
    • First gasoline-powered fire engine in service
  • 1920:
    • New Central Station opened – replaces Hanover St, Court St., and Old Central, Cost $85,000.00
  • 1921:
    • All motorized department
  • 1926:
    • Fire at Maplewood Garage on Vaughn Street, consuming nearly one hundred autos
    • and completely destroying the old wooden building.
  • 1935:
    • Salaries
      • Chief Engineer: $2,100.00
      • 1st Assistant: $200.00
      • 2nd Assistant: $200.00
      • Clerk: $25.00
      • 8 Permanent Men
        • $1,700.00 each
      • 44 Call
        • 36 @ $100.00 each
        • 8 @ $105.00 each
  • 1943:
    • March 15, A Flaming inferno described the scene at the height of an early morning blaze which left a five-store Portsmouth block a mass of twisted wreckage. Destroyed were the Portsmouth Hardware & Plumbing Supply Co., Hubbard's, Shaines', and Katherine G. Connors and Louis' Men's Shop

  • 1945:
    • Ambulance service begins
      367 trips
      131 out of City of Portsmouth
  • 1947:
    • Two-way radio system installed at Central Station.
  • 1955:
    • Department Services
      • 467 Fire Calls
      • 660 Ambulance Calls
  • 1957:
    • New "watch room" at Central Station
  • 1958:
    • September 20, Central Fire Station Firefighter's Association Local No. 1313 chartered
  • 1960:
    • December 14, Pierce Hall Fire, Congress and High Streets
  • 1967:
    • New "Sub Fire Station" on Lafayette Road completed and manned on September 25. Engines 3 and 5 were transferred from the Central Station to the Sub-Station
  • 1970:    
    • August 1, New 80' Aero-Chief, American LaFrance snorkel delivered. Cost: $65,000.00
  • 1974:
    • The 1st NH Firefighter Recruit School was held at the NH Technical College in Portsmouth with 14 Members of the department enrolled.
    • Opticom® traffic pre-emption system installed in collaboration with Portsmouth Police Department.
  • 1976:
    • National Registry Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) program taught to members of the department for the first time.
  • 1977:
    • Bureau of Fire Prevention and Control  established
  • 1981:
    • January 20, Howard Johnson's Restaurant at the Portsmouth Traffic Circle was extensively damaged by a fire. Intense heat caused the orange roof to collapse, as firefighters fought to bring it under control.
    • January 30, An FB 111A bomber from Pease AFB crashed into multiple units in Seacreast Village (known presently as Spinnaker Point) in a ball of flames.
  • 1983:
    • July 15 – 3 Alarm Blaze at a complex of buildings that once housed the Frank Jones Brewery between Islington and Albany Streets.
    • September 16- Seven buildings damaged, destroyed; more than 100 are evacuated. The fire is to have started in the bakery, a 100 year-old structure fronting Hill Street.
  • 1985:
    • Department Services
      • Total Number of Fire Alarms (All Causes): 1411
      • Ambulance Emergency Calls: 1221
  • 1987:
    • March, Portsmouth Fire Commission approved by city vote.
  • 1993:    
    • Department opens Station 3 at the former Pease Air Force Base's structural fire fighting station.
    • Fire dispatching duties are transferred to combined Fire and Police "Central Dispatch" center at Portsmouth Police Station.
    • Established second staffed ambulance.
    • National Fire Incident Reporting System implemented
  • 1994:
    • May 16, the Firefighter Monument, created by blacksmith Peter Hapney of Portsmouth, was dedicated at Station 2 on Lafayette Road.
  • 1995:
    • EMT-Intermediate service implemented in cooperation with Portsmouth Regional Hospital
  • 1997:
    • Portsmouth Hazardous Material Technicians became core members of the Seacoast Chief Fire Officer's Association Hazardous Materials mutual aid response group
  • 2000:
    • February, Call division of department discontinued
    • April 24, Portsmouth Professional Fire Officers Association Local 4039 of the IAFF chartered
    • 4 Portsmouth Fire fighters complete 1 year Paramedic Program, Paramedic level Ambulance service begins
  • 2004:
    • Received and installed Motorola® digital capable mobile radios in all apparatus. Made available through State of NH Homeland Security Grant
  • 2005:
    • E-One 75' Ladder "Sidestacker" Quint on a Hurricane Chassis. 2000 gpm Hale pump received by department.
    • October 7, An early morning multiple alarm blaze on Madison Street at Lovell destroys two condominiums that were under construction.
  • 2006:
    • December - 33' FireStorm Fire Boat, 1740 gpm Darley pump delivered
    • Mfg by Metalcraft Marine, Kingston Ontario received, cost $350,000.00. Purchased through NH H
    • omeland Security Grant
  • 2007:
    • September 28, 2007 – The new Fire Boat is christened "Sagamore" at a ceremony along Prescott Park.
    • City Council approved bonding of new District 2 (Lafayette Road) Station. Construction estimated in 2008
  • 2008:
    • February 15, Ferrara 100' Mid Mount Aerial Platform on "Inferno" chassis delivered with a 2000 g.p.m. Hale®
    • pump. Cost $824,990.00
    • August 2008 – City purchases land at 3000 Lafayette Road for sire of new District 2 fire station.
    • September 28 – Renovations project raise and widen the Station 1 apparatus bay door begins. Project includes replacing the doors with energy efficient, historically accurate overhead doors that represent original 1919 design
    • December 11 – 14, Massive Ice Storm Hits Northeast. The fire department responds to over 250 calls over the three day period, including a structure fire at Camp Seawood on Banfield Road, a partition fire at City Hall, and a partition fire at 1345 Islington Street.