Over a century ago the Falmouth Fire Rescue Department began operations with few resources and funding compared to today. In the spring of 1897 $700 was approved for a minimal fire department. With this money, the town purchased two hand drawn units; a chemical unit and a ladder unit, hoses, badges, and other necessary equipment. By 1899 the town stored hose reels in rented sheds in West Falmouth, Woods Hole, and Falmouth center as well as significant development and expansion of the water system. Overtime, there was an increase in interest of being a member of the fire department; each village initiated a hose company and citizens joined to be call firefighters.
In 1918 the town enlisted the New England Insurance Exchange to do a study of the town’s fire and water departments. The study published its recommendations which were to hire a full-time fire chief, full-time firefighters, motorized apparatus, and others. Ray D. Wells, a summer resident, was hired as fire chief in 1919 and served for 36 years until 1955. During his tenure he molded the fire department to what it is today, by building fire stations in each village in town for motorized apparatus, hiring adequate amounts of full-time firefighters, and installing call boxes and telegraph equipment. Another one of Chief Wells’ advents was the Falmouth Rescue Squad developed in 1928. This was initially a station wagon staffed by one firefighter that would simply drive the patient to Toby Hospital in Wareham only after the patient was first seen by their doctor.
In 1962 Falmouth Hospital was built and then 11 years later Cape Cod received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to train firefighters to be EMTs. The town acquiring radio equipment and defibrillators was also a great advance to the quality of services the fire department was able to provide.
Over the past 60 years, the department has fought many large, spectacular fires. In October 1947 a general alarm fire destroyed 1150 acres in Beebe Woods and threatened the center of town. The Wood Lumber Company was engulfed by fire in 1963 that also threatened downtown Falmouth with fling ambers. An arsonist hit Falmouth from a period of time in 1967 and 1968. In four months during 1968 the fire department fought 24 “working” house fires, many of which were multi alarms, sometimes two or more fires a night. In February of 1994 firefighters were alerted around 0400 of a fire at the Falmouth Playhouse, upon arrival 90% of the structure was already collapsing due to fire, and units remained on scene for days.
Computers were introduced to the fire department in the 1980s and today much of what we do revolves around computers including the Enhanced 911 system, Geographical Information System (GIS), computer aided dispatch (CAD), and radios controlled by computers. In the future computers will be used even more with electronic ambulance billing, fire incident pre-plan programs, hazardous materials information, electronic tracking of mass casualty incidents to online video training.
The department has grown significantly over the years, now with five stations, six class “A” pumpers, four ALS ambulances, three brush breakers, a ladder truck, and a host of other apparatus. We are currently staffed with 30 EMT-Basics and 34 EMT-Paramedics and in 2007 had over 5,700 incidents making us the third busiest department on Cape Cod.
Sources: Falmouth Fire & Rescue: A Brief History written by Deputy Fire Chief Glen Rogers