ADAMS — Generations of firefighters have kept the legacy of the Adams Fire Department alive into its bicentennial year this year by preserving artifacts, memories and dedication to community service.
The department’s oldest known apparatus, a wooden, hand-cranked pumper bought in 1819, still sits in the fire hall that was built in 1939, a room over from one with a red truck the department bought in 1934. Dozens of pictures depicting crews and tools from a bygone era hang from a second-floor wall, and various mementoes including pins, an old horn, ledgers and more sit in a cabinet in a lounge area.
For firefighters like Robert D. Simpson, a member of the department for 54 years, turning 200 resembles any other birthday, he said, celebrated alongside the annual Labor Day festivities. Yet he and other volunteers still take great pride in their history and evolution.
“The biggest thing about it being 200 years is I’ve been here for more than a quarter of them,” Robert Simpson said. “It feels good when you’re the oldest guy here and you can still answer a call.”
The department has 59 firefighters manning it with eight apparatus and hundreds of pieces of equipment, a much greater force than in previous centuries.
Crews in the 1800s would fight blazes, which they would receive notification of via bells, by hauling water, until they purchased the pumper in 1819. The pumper would require four to six men rotating two large metal cranks on the side to push water through the house, Robert Simpson said. The village was home to 30 to 40 families then, he said, meaning extinguishing a fire prompted more of a community-wide effort. Nowadays, the department can muster 15 to 20 firefighters and multiple vehicles packed with equipment when responding to a call.
The department’s tools and operations have evolved in the past several decades, let alone the past century or two. Years ago, firefighters only responded to fires, but Robert Simpson said their activities have since encompassed accidents, downed utility wires, carbon monoxide alerts and more. Members used to share boots and coats, but now each member has their own designated hats, gloves, boots and coats, he said. They also have much more equipment that has become advanced, including mobile air units and thermal imaging cameras.
“The equipment we’re provided allows us to do a lot more,” said Joseph Simpson, a firefighter and Robert Simpson’s son, “but the fires burn a lot harder than they did 50 years ago.”
Volunteer fire departments in the area have typically struggled to recruit members in recent years, but according to the Simpsons, the Adams crew has retained a sufficient force over the years. It’s membership encompasses 16 families with multiple generations of participants. The Simpson family has been involved for four generations.
Joseph Simpson, who has served in the department for 34 years, said he attributes a strong staffing to the department’s explorer program, which allows teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18 to learn about and train with firefighters. The department has 12 explorers, and of the 59 firefighters who serve, Mr. Simpson said 19 graduated from the explorer program, including himself.
“The explorer program has allowed us to survive and by having a recruiting tool,” said Joseph Simpson.
A commemoration of 200 years of service will coincide with the department’s 109th annual Labor Day celebration on Sept. 1 and 2. The festivities include music, games, a food stand, a bounce house, a chicken barbecue and the 109th annual firemen’s parade.