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Carlisle Fire Company 615 NW Front St

PO Box 292 Milford, De 19963
Phone: (302)422-8001
Fax: (302)422-2146





History of the Carlisle Fire Company

In the spring of 1802, the Delaware Legislature granted a charter to the People of the Town of Milford authorizing the operation of a volunteer fire fighting organization. The first water mains and fire plugs were installed in Milford in 1892 and the fire company was equipped with a hand-drawn hook and ladder truck from the Rusmsey Company of Seneca Falls, NY. The “modern” fire equipment was housed in a building owned by Angelina Marshall and located behind W.A Humes Hardware Store.

The first known fire report is dated August 9, 1895 at Grier’s Laundry which was located next door to the Firemen’s Hall and Hose House. According to the report “most of the damage was from water and Mr. Grier, being just started in business, had no insurance.” Another interesting report dated September 31, 1893 states: “2:30 am James Abbott & Co. Shipyd. In response of the alarm, a large number of citizens of the town repaired to the yard to save the vessels on the stocks, but were unable to save the shed or its contents. Loss about $400 of lumber and $35 in tools.”

It was thought there was a “fire craze” in January of 1903 because there “have been four alarms of fire given in the last two weeks.” The fourth alarm however “required only a few buckets of water to quench the fire.” Town fires were recorded for the year 1910 consisting of a stable, store, oil wagon and chimney. From 1910 to 1913, Frank Rickards was elected President of the fire company which was still using the original hand-drawn apparatus. William Pierce was elected Fire Chief at the same time.

C.E. “Charles” Varney was elected President of the firefighters on April 13, 1915 and remained in office for more than 30 years. At that time the fire company reincorporated under the name of the Milford Fire Company, Inc., with a charter which permitted them all the rights of any commercial corporation. They decided to raise funds to purchase a triple combination fire truck, including pump, chemical tanks and ladders. After a busy ten-day campaign which raised $4,345, the purchase of Truck No. 1 from the American La France Fire Truck Company of Elmira, New York was made.

The truck cost $6,750 and the difference was made up by carnival proceeds. At the same meeting which authorized the first truck, the men also agreed to purchase their first uniforms and caps from Derrickson’s Men’s Store in Milford. When the new truck arrived in July 1916, it was housed with appropriate ceremonies in the building then occupied by the city offices. There was an Open House party, a parade and all the firemen attended church services in their new uniforms.

The Milford Fire Company was renamed The Carlisle Fire Company on November 12, 1918 in honor of Paris T. Carlisle, IV, an active member of the Milford Fire Company who went off to fight in World War I and never came back. Carlisle was killed in action on October 6, 1918 near the Meuse River in France. Eight members of the company fought in World War I and those who stayed home actively engaged in war relief work making the Milford firemen the leading group during those years. One program which they sponsored was a Soldiers’ Day Celebration on July 4, 1916 which netted $700 for personal supplies and gifts for the men overseas.

Carlisle’s own C.E. “Charles” Varney is referred to as the man behind assembling the State’s Fireman’s Association. The Delaware Volunteer Fireman's Association can be traced to a meeting in January 1921. Several firemen from throughout the state of Delaware met in Milford to establish a state fireman's association. The Carlisle Fire Company of Milford was authorized to begin the process to form the association. Notices were to be sent to all volunteer fire companies throughout the state, asking them to send two delegates to a meeting at Milford on February 24, 1921, although some newer companies were left out, such as the newly formed Ellendale Vol. Fire Company, the next company south of Milford, which had been formed in April 1920.

Department City Delegate 1 Delegate 2
Robbins Hose Company Dover, Delaware Alonzo W. Clifton Sam H. Carson
Georgetown Fire Company Georgetown, Delaware Joseph G. Green Thomas B. Pepper
Harrington Fire Company Harrington, Delaware James L. Harmistead Warren T. Moore
Laurel Fire Department Laurel, Delaware M. T. Calloway W. T. Bennett
Lewes Fire Company Lewes, Delaware F. W. Williams T. R. Duffel
Volunteer Hose Company Middletown, Delaware W. R. Gary Edward S. Jones
Milton Fire Company Milton, Delaware Samuel Fithian R. B. Banning
Citizens Hose Company Smyrna, Delaware Harry Collins John D. Morris
Carlisle Fire Company Milford, Delaware James P. Pearce R. E. Pettyjohn

The first resolution was adopted at the first meeting:

"Resolved, that we, the delegates of the Volunteer Fire Companies in the State of Delaware, in convention assembled in order to form a more perfect organization, establish harmony, insure prosperity and success, obtain and compile statistics concerning the practical working of various apparatus, cultivate fraternal fellowship among the companies and promote the best interest of the Volunteer Firemen of Delaware, do hereby form an organization to be known as the Delaware State Volunteer Firemen's Association." With the delegates from the nine companies present, the officers were elected and a set of by-laws was adopted.

From that initial meeting held in February the first regular convention was held on July 1, 1921, at the Laurel Fire Department, with thirteen companies being represented. The Association has continued to hold conventions regularly each year with the exception of 1942 - 1944 when gatherings were restricted by World War II to executive meetings. In 1994 the DVFA changed the annual meeting format from a convention to a more formal conference style. Today, all 60 volunteer fire companies in the state are members of the Delaware Volunteer Firemen's Association. The Wilmington Fire Department, Delaware's only paid municipal fire department, is an associate member. Not only serving as President of Milford, Varney served as the State Association’s ‘First President” from 1921 through 1923.

Land on which the former firehouse stands was purchased on August 4, 1921 and located at the corner of Church and Southeast 2nd Streets. Originally designed as a firehouse and community building, it was completed at a cost of $87,000 and dedicated on September 25, 1925. Considerably larger and much more elegant than any other community building on the Eastern Shore it was built with the future in mind. This farsighted planning has been justified because the building is still in use today without any physical expansions. A gym which was used for the community and school athletic events was turned into and engine room in 1954, however, and the Milford “free” Library which was filled with over 5,000 volumes moved to another location. The upstairs banquet facilities were considered the most elegant place in town for civic meetings and other community affairs. The attractive design of the building, including glass arches above the truck access doors, brick floors, embossed ceilings and a huge old gilt mirror dominating the upstairs entry hall all gave an air of elegance of the bygone days.

All this space and grandeur was paid for by the firemen and their ladies with fund raising events as well as City of Milford appropriations. One of the big money raisers were carnivals. Between 1915 and 1936 fifteen carnivals earned $69,000 for the firemen. This money was put into fire apparatus and equipment as well as for civic and social services in Milford. By 1943 the firemen had raised the sum of $248,000 through various fund raising programs and the City of Milford contributions. Assets exceeded $120,000 at that time and because of the excellent fire equipment and services offered by the Milford firemen, the insurance rates were substantially reduced. Today, Carlisle continues retaining an excellent bond rating with the insurance underwriters providing substantial savings to the homeowners and businesses throughout our district. In 1945 the firemen had paid off the entire note against their firehouse and remained fully operational from those quarters equipped to fulfill the needs of our community until 1978 when the fire company moved in to our current location at 615 Northwest Front Street.

Today, the Carlisle Fire Company with approximately 94 members and twelve pieces of equipment. The men and women of Carlisle stand by fully operational with pride to serve the City of Milford as well as our remaining first due district.

Contributions to the history of our Fire Company were provided from excerpts from History of Flames History of the Delaware Fire Service by Bonnie Baggett and from Wikipedia.