Pictured above are some of the early members of the CCVFC. From left to right: Dick Shangraw, Douglas Wright, George Lambert, Roland Gifford, Marcus Washburn, George Magoon, Howard Smith, Moulton Clark, Bud Monta, Ray White, Dick Washburn, Ed Stowe, Luther Heath, Jerry Sweeney, Robert Montgomery, and Alwyn Button. (Thanks to Clark Sweeney, who provided this photo and identified the people pictured)
Interview with retired Chief Ed Stowe
When Ed first looked to move to Colchester, he said to his friend, Ray White, "It's too bad there's no fire department in town." Ray replied, "Well, there's going to be." So began the story of the Colchester Center Volunteer Fire Company (CCVFC).
It all began before 1950, when the Town of Colchester voted against buying a fire truck for fire protection. A group of men then approached the Colchester Select Board about starting a fire department, they were told, "Go ahead and do it, on your own”. Ed says, “Town attorney Myron Samuelson set us up as a corporation, told us that was the thing we ought to do, for the company and everyone else's protection”. So they did.
Not long after that, CCVFC began looking for a way to purchase a fire truck. So they started investigating how they were going to do this. First, they didn't have the money. They talked with local banks, and got laughed right out of the front door because the banks were not going to loan money with a fire truck as collateral. A salesman for the Farrar Company arranged for a Massachusetts bank to take the truck as collateral.
So, CCVFC went back to the town to discuss how much money was paid by the Town for fire protection to Essex Junction and Burlington. Ed notes, that this was not adequate for covering Colchester, "when you called about a fire, you had to call a Selectman, then he called the fire department, so everything burned down [because of how long it took other departments to arrive].”
The initial amount given for fire protection was "about two percent a year of the total collected taxes" says Ed. Because of the size and layout of Colchester, two fire departments were formed - CCVFC and the Mallets Bay Fire Department (MBFD) to provide service to all of Colchester's 36 square miles. "So started the process,” Ed recalls. "Now, we ought to have a fire truck to get by with [until the new one arrives]. Yeah, well, we got one you can take says Farrar, and that was a 1923 Maxim. It was older than heck at the time. We got that truck here, and it was kept over a grease pit at Jack Kaiser's filling station, down where the Champlain Farms store is now [on Rt. 2A]."
"The Fire Company was actually formed in 1951 and the first Chief was Roy Penoyer," says Ed, "the reason he was chosen was that he had been a member of a fire department similar [to the CCVFC] in Central Square, New York." Ed Stowe was actually the first "recruit." With the original group of men numbering only nine, CCVFC invited others to apply. Ed filled out an application and was accepted.
Regarding training, Ed says, "there was no such thing when they first started. Roy Penoyer was the only one with any fire department experience. I was trained in the Navy in 1942 in Firefighting School."
The first fire call CCVFC responded to occurred at the house directly across from the old Mallet's Bay drive-in on Bay Road. Ed recalls, "Back then, we had no real alarm system. We had a red phone system with three telephones. Each person had a list of people to call. My wife answered the phone and says to me 'A house is on fire!' so I hurried down to the filling station and Ray White was just getting there and sticking his key into the lock on the overhead door. They key was attached to his belt with a strip of rawhide, and I grabbed the hinge, and when I raised that door up with him attached to it, well, you can just picture what happened, " Ed laughs, "But we did make it to the fire, there was a hell of a south wind blowing, and the road was all ice. I remember when we came around where we could see the house, there was a red ball of fire that came right off the front porch and reached straight across the road. It blew the windows out across the front of the house and the front door blew out. Ray got out of the truck and I ran around to the front to get the pump going, while he hauled the hose off the back up onto the front porch. When the other guys arrived, they hauled the portable pump off the truck and went down to a brook out behind the house. Some more guys pulled a two-and-a-half [2.5 inch hose line] down to them, and we finished up that way." CCVFC’s first call was a success! The house still stands today.
The CCVFC, along with the Malletts Bay Fire Department, provides public safety fire protection for the Town of Colchester and surrounding areas. Pictured above are the fleet of vehicles kept by the departments to facilitate this protection for the Town. (Thanks again Clark!)