We continue this week with the history of the Willard Engine and Ladder Company No. 2. As mentioned last week, the call company was originally formed in 1892 by a group of men in the Willard neighborhood, led by Willis F. Strout. Initially under the name Willard Hose Company No. 2, the men voted for Willis Strout to serve as their captain and they quickly set about the work of building a hose house on Preble Street in Willard Square.

Members of the Willard Hose Company riding on their Peerless Hose 2 truck. Fireman Norman Thompson is at the wheel. South Portland Historical Society

On Sept. 5, 1894, the company bought their first ladders, however, they had no ladder truck at that time so the men had to carry the ladders to fires. On Dec. 24, 1904, they incorporated as Willard Hose and Ladder Company No. 2.

Notable fires

One of the biggest fires ever attended to by the Willard Hose Company was on Jan. 16, 1898, when the Willard Casino went up in flames. According to a history of the hose company, “The building was finished in pine and it was heavily varnished inside, 21 barrels of varnish having been used in the interior finishing. With the pine, and the varnish and the pitch, the old casino made a grand blaze, and it was completely destroyed, together with C.J. Willard’s dance hall and restaurant [adjacent buildings] … Three sections of hose burst that night and it was so hot at times that two men had to keep throwing buckets of water over the nozzle men to keep them from being burned. It was the hottest fire that Company Two has any record of and one of the hardest, if not the hardest to fight. Hose burst, water froze, and the men were first heated to the burning point or else nearly frozen from exposure.”

Another notable fire occurred on Jan. 19, 1904, when the old Willard School caught fire. The old school was a wooden building and, although the members of Willard Hose turned out, they couldn’t get enough water pressure to reach the second floor and the building burned to the ground.

Demolition of the original hose house on Preble Street. Note the new brick fire station that had been built directly behind it. South Portland Historical Society

During the massive forest fires of 1947, members of all five of the call companies in South Portland responded.

The cost to the city was significant due to the number of men and the considerable effort (they made 17 trips to the devastated areas of the state) and it put a strain on the city budget. In response, all five call companies came together and agreed to return about $2,000 to $3,000 received for their hourly wages, back to the city.

The hose house

When the original hose house was built on Preble Street, it measured roughly 20 x 30 feet. The hose house later received additions – the first took the original 20 x 30-foot building and extended it to become roughly 20 x 46 feet. In 1901, on the back of the main building, a 25-foot tower was erected which the men could use to dry hose. In 1908, the company purchased a lot of land on Pillsbury Street from Edward Thompson and they moved the hose house down the street to the new location.

An ell was added to the right side of the hose house, so that the main original hall could be used for meetings and social functions with the fire equipment stored in the addition on the right.

In 1948, the company decided to build a new fire station – they bought an adjacent piece of land at the back of their property to provide additional room to build behind the existing hose house. The $25,000 brick fire station was designed by architect William O. Armitage and was completed in 1949. The original hose house in front of it was then demolished.

South Portland Historical Society photo

Fire company vehicles

While the company first used a hose reel that was mounted on wheels, with a 50-foot rope attached so that it could be pulled to wherever it was needed, the hose company members were thrilled when, on Jan. 17, 1900, the Portland Fire Department presented them with a fully-equipped ladder truck. This was a hand-me-down from the Woodfords fire station and was designed to be drawn by two horses.

In 1915, Willard Hose and Ladder Company became the first fire department in the city to acquire a motorized vehicle (hoses had previously been hauled to the site of a fire in a horse-drawn wagon). This first vehicle was a Peerless seven-passenger touring car that was converted into use as a hose truck.

In 1927, the company received a donation of a GMC chassis for a ladder truck from the city of South Portland. The hose company raised money to pay the $5,000 of expenses to complete and outfit the vehicle as a combined chemical and ladder truck. It was put in commission on Jan. 15, 1928.

Just two years later, in 1930, the company acquired a new hose truck – this one also was built on a GMC chassis that was donated by the city, with the hose company paying the expenses of outfitting the truck. The new Hose 2 truck replaced the old Peerless hose truck.

In November of 1930, the company authorized the expenditure of $36.50 to install windshields on both the new hose and ladder trucks. In April of 1938, a 500-gallon pump was installed on the hose truck. According to company records, the company changed its name to Willard Engine and Ladder Company No. 2 on May 4, 1938.

In July of 1950, the Willard Engine and Ladder Company received a new ladder truck from the city of South Portland. The company then sold its old ladder truck in 1952. Over the years since, there have been several engines and ladder trucks put into service from the Willard station. The trucks are now owned by the city, but the building continues to be owned by the call company.

The two trucks currently housed and run out of the station are Engine 42 (a 2003 Ferrara/Hackney Heavy Rescue that carries 500 gallons of water (and has a 1,000 gallons-per-minute pump) and the very impressive Ladder 42 (a 1991 E-One truck with a 110-foot ladder).

Note to readers: South Portland still has two volunteer call companies, one in the Willard neighborhood and one in Thornton Heights, and both are in need of people. The city does provide some compensation, so these are now considered paid/on-call positions. The city of South Portland also provides all of the necessary equipment and training. If this sounds interesting, please contact Capt. Phil Viola for more information at 749-5703 or by email at [email protected].

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director of the South Portland Historical Society. She can be reached [email protected]

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