The story of the Shelburne Fire Department begins nearly a century ago — on Town Meeting Day 1923.

Like many small communities nearly 100 years ago, it is more than likely that Shelburne residents relied heavily on help from neighbors to extinguish fires in town, but it wasn’t until 1923 that town records show the first documented formation of an official fire brigade.

Shelburne resident Tom Tompkins recounted a booklet that was published for the 1963 Shelburne bicentennial, “Part of it the fire department had written that said, ‘much of the department’s early history is shrouded in mystery as no records were kept before its reorganization on Dec. 3, 1942,’” he said.

For years, the town had equated the beginning of the fire department with its reorganization in 1942, but according to Tompkins, who has lived in Shelburne for 62 years, the department has nearly two decades of rich history prior to that.

“When I joined the fire department in 2006, I was pretty much retired and I had time on my hands. When I joined, they were saying that (the fire department) started in 1941,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘That’s not accurate.’ So, I went over to the town offices and in the vault are all the old town reports going way back. I went back as far as 1923.”

It was there that Tompkins discovered that on Town Meeting Day 1923, residents of Shelburne petitioned the local government to see if money could be voted for the purchase of equipment for fire protection. Voters approved the expenditure of $500 at that meeting and a “fire committee” was appointed with the department’s first known members: B. Harris Maeck, W. H. Bacon and Henry Harrington.

According to records, Maeck, a local businessman, served as spokesman for the committee and seemed to have provided some of the money to get the service started.

Although the date is unclear, sometime immediately following that town meeting vote, a new Ford Model T one-ton truck chassis was purchased from Hinesburg Ford dealer Mead and McKenzie for a total of $500. A. F. Shattuck was paid $20 for painting the truck, T.J. White received $12 for his labor and Shelburne Farms provided $40.99 in supplies and labor.

Although there are no known photographs to show exactly what this first fire truck looked like, Tompkins was able to speculate based on extensive research that the Ford chassis would have been cab-less and without rear fenders, which records show were later added.

Tompkins spent months of his free time compiling town records, receipts and first-hand experience to pin down the exact history of the department and compiled his findings into a nearly six-page document that can be viewed on the department’s website.

“They would sometimes list every doggone expenditure. So, I can say OK, the original truck had this,’ or ‘they paid so much for that. So and so did this.’ It’s pretty interesting,” he said.

When the Shelburne Fire Department was officially chartered in 1941, the town built a building behind the town hall to serve as a dedicated fire station and town garage that housed the fire truck, town plow and cost a total of $3,833.13 to build.

According to Dorothea Penar, a member of the Shelburne Historical Society, this older frame station was later demolished and rebuilt in 1983 on Shelburne Road where the department operates to this day.

Also in 1941, a new fire truck — a 500-gallon-per-minute pumper made by the Buffalo Fire Equipment Corporation on a GMC chassis — was bought. Due to government wartime priorities, it wasn’t delivered until early in 1942 when the town paid $3,152.20 for it.

The fire truck’s GMC chassis was purchased from “FitzPatrick Garage” for $707.70. A total of $2,444.50 was then paid to the Buffalo Fire Appliance Corporation for the conversion and outfitting of it.

“We were one of the earlier departments from the area to have gotten that first fire apparatus,” Tompkins said.

That first year as a chartered department, members responded to 10 fire calls monitored by a phone at the Shelburne Farms Inn front desk and a siren mounted on the schoolhouse roof served as the fire signal. The total number of alarm cycles gave these early firemen an idea of where to respond: three cycles indicated the emergency was in the village or toward Burlington; six that it was south of the village; nine that it was in Shelburne Falls or points east; and 12 that it was on Shelburne Point.

Shelburne’s original fire truck was finally sold on Aug. 9, 1943, for $50. Tompkins explained in his report that no one knows exactly who purchased it or where it ended up, but by then “it was presumably rather the worse for wear and certainly obsolete after almost 20 years of service to the town,” he wrote.

Since its inception in 1923, this department has been entirely volunteer-run with a small stipend allocated in the town budget for the firemen each year — this 30-member squad still diligently responds to nearly 300 emergencies each year.

“In my opinion, it’s an amazing institution,” new member Mark Healey said. “I grew up in New Hampshire that had all paid careers and full-time fire departments. So, when I moved here and found out that it was volunteer and then learned over the course of the year that it’s 100 percent volunteer and so professional and dedicated. It’s really an amazing asset to the town and the people of Shelburne.”

“It’s 100 years since the moment on that Town Meeting Day and here we are coming up to another town meeting,” he added.

To read the full history written by Tompkins visit

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