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Organizing the Fire Department


If you compare the Village of Hilton to its larger neighbor, the City of Rochester, you will see that the ways in which their fire departments were organized are similar in some ways but different in others. Both the Village and the City began by using volunteers rather than paid labor in the 19th century.

More information and charts comparing the growth of the fire companies in Hilton and Rochester.


Organizing Hilton's volunteers

Originally known as Unionville, the village of North Parma was incorporated in 1885 (the name was changed to Hilton in 1896). After the incorporation, village leaders decided to devise a better system than bucket brigades for fire protection.

Therefore, the North Parma Fire Co. was organized in 1888 and was officially incorporated on October 31, 1889. Equipment, purchased by the village the previous year, included leather buckets, ladders, hoses and a hand-pump engine.

This picture of around 1894 shows some North Parma citizens, six of whom were members of the fire department.

In May of 1895 the North Parma Fire Co. faced its first major blaze at the Wright Block at the corner of East and South Avenues (later site of the Flatiron Building). The fire apparatus of the company proved to be insufficient to extinguish the flames. The fire spread and destroyed or damaged nearby buildings and homes. Citizens refused to give money to what they perceived as an ineffective company. People lost interest and the company became inactive.

In 1897 village leader John E. Cooper sought to re-establish the unorganized, if not non-existent, fire department. Cooper organized the Hilton Fire Department into three fire companies: E.M. Upton Engine Co., Rescue Hook & Ladder Co. and Barnes Hose Co. Cooper also became the first fire chief, serving in this position from 1897-1899, 1903, 1904 and 1907-1910.

This group portrait of 1910 shows the three fire companies of Hilton.

The new department used the old apparatus from the North Parma Fire Co. and they also began purchasing new equipment, including uniforms. The department also started having fire drills so that the fire fighters, all of whom were volunteers, could practice with their equipment. In 1923 the three separate companies were organized into one. The Hilton Fire Department was incorporated in 1928.


Finding equipment

When studying the types of fire equipment in use throughout the years, consider how the advances of technology changed the way in which fire fighters could fight fires. In the beginning fire fighters relied on bucket brigades. The importance of getting water and equipment to a fire as quickly as possible made technology like water supply systems, motorized trucks and other inventions especially welcome to Hilton's fire fighters. Of course, all this technology would cost money and new fire engines and equipment would need to be stored somewhere!


Hand pumpers and creeks

Without a water supply system, early fire fighters relied largely on natural water sources, such as lakes, ponds, rivers and creeks, to provide enough water to quench a fire. Getting the water to the scene of a fire required the muscle power of many men using hand pumpers. Here are two pictures from Hilton which show the hard work required of fire fighters of the early 20th century.

During one of the 1903 fires, firemen pumped water from Salmon Creek while village women served them refreshments.

This Gleason & Bailey hand pumper, seen here during a parade, required the actions of 20 men. In the background is the 1892 village/fire hall/ jail building.

The fire department becomes modernized

In 1915, fire hydrants were installed in the Village, providing a reliable water supply to fight fires. In 1923, the department received its first motorized fire truck, a new Pierce-Arrow. Since then, the department has purchased a series of increasingly modern vehicles. The need to store the equipment led to the building of fire halls.

This 1936 picture shows the department's 1923 Pierce Arrow vehicle (on the right) and the 1936 American LaFrance truck (on the left).

Fire equipment on parade circa 1950.

Building fire halls : the four locations

The development of fire halls shows the growth of the department, as is seen in the following timeline.

1888 - The barn of Mrs. William Pickett was rented for $12 per year as a place to store the department's equipment. Louise Curtis also provided some storage space around 1891.

1892 - The village bought the old schoolhouse that was built in 1853 on West Avenue and moved it to 62 East Avenue where it was used as the village hall. It also housed the jail and the fire department's apparatus.

1912 - A combined village and fire hall was built at 12 East Avenue. This building was ruined in the 1965 Main Street Fire and was razed shortly thereafter.

A view of the 1912 combined village/fire hall.

1957 - A new fire hall was built for the Hilton Fire Department on South Avenue.

A view of the new fire hall, as seen during its grand opening in 1957.


Raising the money

As a volunteer organization, the Hilton Fire Department has always searched for ways to reach out to the public for financial support. This picture is from the 1901 Field Day, which may have been the first fund-raiser for the department. Field Day was expanded into a three-day carnival in 1930, and became the Firemen's Fair in 1950. In more recent years it was renamed the Hilton Firemen's Carnival and it became a four-day event.

Rescue Hook & Ladder Company as seen during the 1901 Field Day, which was designed to raise money for the department.

Although the village unfortunately suffered many losses from more than its fair share of fires throughout the years, the citizens never again lost faith in their fire department. Hilton residents still support the department through fundraisers, parades and the carnival.


Expanding services

Ambulance Corps

The Hilton Fire Department was the first fire department in Monroe County to sponsor a volunteer ambulance service, in 1936.

This is a view of the first ambulance in service for the Hilton Fire Department Ambulance Corps.

Fire dispatchers

According to Don Stilson in his book on the fire department, in 1950 Cora Cox became the first Hilton fire dispatcher when the local telephone office closed and she and her son Frank " were asked to continue the fire alarm service from their home on South Street. Radio equipment was installed in the home... Fire calls were received at the Cox home and immediately the Hilton Fire Department was alerted. Then "Grammy" would notify the Fire Bureau in Rochester that Hilton is answering a call and to stand-by in case additional help was needed." After Mrs. Cox passed away in 1964, a series of dedicated dispatchers took her place.

Cora Cox, first Hilton fire dispatcher.

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