Hudson Fire’s Early Days as a Citizens’ Group with a Horse Cart are Long Past

October 10, 2014

by Shannon Lindsay, Rivier University Intern

When the Hudson Fire Department began back in 1892, it was simply a small citizens’ group made up of volunteers who were on-call and earned minimal pay.  At first, they didn’t even have a real meeting place, and they definitely didn’t have a fire station.  This citizens’ group used to meet in a school, until they were able to earn enough money to build a small building of their own.  This little building was the first fire station, housing the department’s horse cart, the original fire truck.  It’s actually still standing today, but as a private residence, rather than a part of the fire department.

In 1924, the ownership of the fire department switched over to the town of Hudson, and this is around the time that the first real fire station was built:  the Ferry Street Fire Station.  This station was used all through the ‘30s and ‘40s, until the Leonard A. Smith Central Station was built in 1952 on Library Street.

The Lenny Smith Station was quickly and easily approved by the town, and it was built from used bricks by the hands of the town’s very own fire department.  Once this station was built and opened, the Ferry Street Station was closed down (It has since been torn down, and a repair shop resides there at this time), and the Lenny Smith Central Station became the sole station for our town.

Even once the Lenny Smith Station was built and opened, though, there was still not a full-time fire department staff.  All firefighters were still volunteers on-call until 1976 when the first full-time staff was inducted.  This staff worked out of the Lenny Smith Central Station.

Shortly after the addition of a full-time staff, another station was added:  the Robinson Road Station, which opened in 1979.  This station was meant to be staffed from the beginning; the town had allocated funds to hire two firefighters.  It was actually not fully staffed by the fire department until earlier this year, though.  A few rooms were added, but it was not largely renovated, and there is now a full-time staff present at this location, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In 1981, the Burns Hill Station was the last station built.  Although newer than the other stations, it was never meant to be staffed full time.  Its original purpose was as a place to house volunteer firefighters temporarily and a place they could go to shower and change after being called onto the job, before going home.  It was also meant to house equipment for the on-call firefighters.  Despite its original purpose, it has been fully staffed since 2001, even though it is not properly equipped for this job.  The rooms are not separated by walls; only lockers separate “rooms” from one another.  The chief’s bedroom doubles as an office, and the kitchen doubles as a training room.  There is also no workout equipment or space for equipment storage.

Currently, Hudson has three fire stations in use:  the Leonard A. Smith Central Station, the Robinson Road Station, and the Burns Hill Station.  All three are staffed full time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  There are four shifts of nine firefighters each (three at a time at each location), four dispatchers, the fire chief, two deputy chiefs, an executive secretary, an administrative secretary, six members of the inspectional services team, and three on-call firefighters.

Other than the three on-call members, firefighters no longer have to go from their houses, to the station, to the emergency each time there is a call.  And, just as the staffing has improved, so has the technology.  There are faster trucks and faster received phone calls.

Even though the staffing and the technology have both improved over time, other significant changes have occurred as well.  Unlike the early days, now the fire department actually answers a lot more medical-oriented calls now than they do fire-related calls.  The fire department is responsible for responding to every 9-1-1 call, whether it involves a fire or not, and most of their calls now don’t.  Every member of the department is either a licensed EMT or paramedic, able to care for someone who is injured just as well as the team coming from the hospital can.  Because of this, the number of calls taken by the fire department has increased.  Currently, it is estimated that the department receives about 10 calls a day, although this can obviously vary.

Another big change over time has been the population.  Hudson is currently home to 24,645 people, quite a difference from the 14,022 people who lived here in 1980.  The additional 10,000 people living here now means that where people live in the town is much more spread out.  More developments have popped up everywhere these days, and, quite simply, a larger geographic area needs to be covered.  In addition, a slight shift has occurred in where people are living within the town; the majority of calls taken now by the fire department come from the Lowell Road area, one of the more congested parts of the town currently.

These changes in the population size and where people are living have made it more difficult for the fire department to respond quickly enough to every area of the town when necessary.  The staffing and the technology have improved, but the amount of area to be covered is significantly larger.  There used to be a three-minute response-time to any area of town from one station or another; however, at this point in time, that’s no longer true.  The current 2014 data shows that the response times now fall between 4.41 minutes and 7.07 minutes for every part of Hudson.  Also, the response time to Litchfield (which Hudson responds to as its ambulance service) is at about 9.91 minutes.  Because of this, it may be time for another change.

The fire department is interested in relocating the Burns Hill Station to Lowell Road which would be a more efficient spot for it to be located due to where people are living right now.  This would also allow for the new station to be more fully equipped as it should be for a full-time staff, since the Burns Hill Station never was.  Furthermore, the winding back roads where the Burns Hill Station is located make it harder for the trucks to get where they need to be quickly.  Moving the station to Lowell Road appears to be an all-around solution to these problems.

Stay tuned for more information about goings-on at the Hudson Fire Department in upcoming issues.