It was in 1920 the Norwich Fire Department was first formed. The first appliance was a hand drawn chemical engine that expelled water through a hose and nozzle by the generation of carbon dioxide produced by the mixing of sulfuric acid and sodium bicarbonate. The hand drawn chemical engine was later mounted on a truck chassis and served the town until the first motorized pumper was put in service in 1938. This antique 500 gpm Class B pumper is still owned by the department and used for parades and special events. The first fire station was in a converted garage in 1925 at the site of the existing fire station built in 1981. A study is currently underway for a possible new public safety building.
For many years the fire department was operated by the Fire District and the Chief Engineer was elected at the annual meeting of the Fire District. In 1989 the fire department was transferred from the Fire District to the Town and came under the authority of the Selectboard. The EMS Division of the fire department became operational in May of 2002.
The Insurance Services Office (ISO) determines the Public Protection Class of municipalities with fire departments in most states in the United States including Vermont. This is done by evaluating the major components of a town’s fire suppression facilities. These measurements are used to develop a Public Protection Classification number on a relative scale from 1 to 10, with 10 representing less than the minimum recognized protection and 1 the best protection. For insurance companies that use the PPC to determine insurance costs there is little or no benefit from having a PPC better than 4.
The Public Protection Classification (PPC) is used for fire insurance rating purposes along with individual commercial, institutional and commercial property characteristics such as construction, occupancy, processing hazards, exposures, and private fire protection. The PPC is also used by some insurance companies as a component in determining home owner insurance rates. Often with home owner insurance the rate is the same for a range of Public Protection Classifications.
In determining the Public Protection Classification an evaluation is done of Receiving and Handling Fire Alarms, the Fire Department and the Water Supply. If there is a significant difference between the rating of the fire department and the water supply a Divergence figure is applied that represents inequities between the fire department and the water supply. The last grading for Norwich was done in 1999 and Norwich’s PPC improved to a Class 4 for properties within 5 miles of the fire station. The Town’s previous classifications from 1982 was a Class 5 in the hydrant district and Class 9 for the rest of the town. The Class 4 is one of the best ratings in Vermont and the Upper Valley.
Snippets from the Past
The fire apparatus was housed in a wooden shed purchased in 1925 with two swinging doors and one overhead door. The 1963-1964 budget for the fire department was $4,600.
The apparatus consisted of Engine 1, a 1938 Ford with a 500 gpm pump and carrying 200 gallons of water, and Engine 2, a 1956 Ford with a 600 gpm pump and carrying 500 gallons of water. The total pumping capacity of the department was 1,100 gpm and only 700 gallons of water could be carried to a fire on our apparatus. The only ladders were those carried on Engines 1 and 2.
The department was dispatched by a combination of Red Fire Phones and a small siren located on the fire station that had limited range. A telephone tree call out list was used to alert individual firefighters.
The wooden shed had been replaced by a three-bay modern steel fire station capable of housing six pieces of fire apparatus and with a meeting/training room. The 1979-1980 budget for the fire department was $21,200.
Additional apparatus had been purchased consisting of Engine 3, a 1969 Ford with a 750 gpm pump and carrying 1,000 gallons of water, Engine 4, a 1981 Ford with a 1,000 gpm pump and carrying 1,250 gallons of water, and Ladder 1, a 1952 Maxim ladder truck that was completely rebuilt in 1979 with a 75 foot aerial and a full complement of ground ladders.
Firefighters were alerted to a fire call by Ruth Cook from a transmitter located at the Cook’s house using twenty alert radio receivers and a new larger siren. This significantly improved the ability to alert firefighters of a fire call. Fire equipment was equipped with two-way radios.
The Department joined the Upper Valley Regional Emergency Services Association and the Twin States Mutual Aid Association. This increased access to additional emergency equipment when the resources of Norwich were exceeded.
The fire department had evolved to a fully equipped, well trained and excellently managed department. The 1994-1995 budget for the fire department was $89,200. The fire department changed from being part of the Fire District to a town department. Under the fire district, the chief engineer was elected yearly at the Fire District meeting. Under the town, the fire chief was appointed by the Selectboard.
Additional apparatus had been purchased consisting of Tanker 2, a 1980 International with a 750 gpm pump and carrying 1,000 gallons of water, and Engine 5, a 1989 Ford with a 750 gpm pump and carrying 200 gallons of water. The total pumping capacity of the department had increased from 1,100 gpm to 4,350 gpm. The total amount of water that could be carried to a fire on first response had increased from 700 gallons to 4,150 gallons.
Emergencies were reported using Basic 9-1-1 and the fire department was dispatched by Hartford Public Safety Dispatch which provided professional 24 hours a day service. Firefighters carried small radio-pagers and could be alerted wherever they were. All the fire equipment had mobile two-way radios and there were portable radios available for coordination at the scene of an emergency.
The safety of firefighters had been increased by changing to Nomex fire resistant protective clothing, modern helmets and acquiring 12 positive pressure self-contained breathing apparatus for use in hostile environments. Training had increased to eleven drills a year. Four firefighters had been certified as Firefighter I, the certification level for career firefighters, by the Vermont Fire Service Council. Safety and fire department management and organization were improved by appointing Assistant Chiefs to be responsible for apparatus operation, equipment maintenance, safety and training.
Since 1995: The Insurance Services Office Public Protection Classification improved from a 5/9/10 to a 4/10.
Standard Operating Procedures have been issued. Run cards with auto-aid for first alarm structure fires and mutual-aid are being used. The Basic 911 system was upgraded to Enhanced 911 and locatable addresses developed for all structures. A incident accountability system was implemented which is compatible with our mutual-aid partners.
All the fire department apparatus, with the exception of Engine 3, have been replaced and a forestry unit acquired.. Ladder 1, purchased used in 1995, is scheduled for replacement in 2009. The present plan is to purchase a used, approximately 10-year old, 75′ Quint. Annual testing of pumping and aerial apparatus is being done.
Developed and implemented a rural fire protection water supply plan with dry hydrants now protecting many parts of the town.
SCBA have been upgraded to Scott Air-Pak Fifty 4.5s. A SCBA fill station with compressor, cascade and containment station has been acquired. All turnout gear has been upgraded to Globe G-XTREME or GX-7. A washer/extractor has been purchased to clean turnout gear and EMS equipment. Safety glasses and Class 3 Highway Vests have been issued to all members.
Purchased two thermal imaging cameras and two multigas meters, hazardous materials cleanup equipment, foam generators, portable pumps, electric generators, lighting equipment, vent saws, PPV fans, highway signs, hand lights and forestry personal protective equipment.
Mobile and portable radios have been upgraded to provide increased channel capacity, operation on national interoperability frequencies and a new Norwich tactical frequency was implemented in 2006. All pagers have been upgraded.
An EMS Division was added to the fire department in 2003 and is licensed at the EMT-I level. Hanover Fire Department continues to provide EMS transport services.
Training has increased to 36 drills per year with additional special training sessions as needed. Membership has increased to 28 including 10-Firefighter I, 2-Firefighter II, 1-Fire Officer I, 13-EMT-B and 4-EMT-I certified members.
Fire station doors are equipped with electric door openers and an automatic standby generator installed.