History of the
Wayland Fire Department
Edited by Robert J. Dorey
The history of the Wayland Fire Department is directly tied to the history and development of the Town of Wayland and the village of Cochituate. In the early years Wayland (or North Wayland) was primarily a farming and residential community while Cochituate was primarily a commercial center, with as many as ten shoe factories and housing for factory workers. During the late 1800s Wayland and Cochituate suffered from many of the same growing pains experienced by surrounding communities, with one of the everyday dangers being the occurrence and spread of fire. The danger was recognized not only as a life safety issue, but also as an economic danger to the communities. One uncontrolled shoe factory fire would adversely impact not only the workers, but
also the factory owners and the local economy.
Fire protection in Wayland started as a private enterprise. The factory owners and their insurance carriers shared a common economic interest in protecting the physical plants of their factories from the dangers of fire. The need for fire protection was a special concern for factory owner James Madison Bent, who was fearful for his factory after a devastating shoe factory fire took place in neighboring Natick in 1874. Mr. Bent was instrumental in organizing townspeople and developing their interest in both fire protection and a municipal water system, the latter to be used for both fire protection and domestic use.
Two of the early fire companies that operated in Cochituate were the James M. Bent Hose Company, named after the prominent factory owner, and the Charles H. Boodey Hook and Ladder Company, named after a popular Cochituate physician. Members of the two companies took great pride in their firefighting equipment. The fire companies would compete in fire musters performing timed competitions and simulating firefighting operations for public display. In the very early years fire apparatus was pulled to a fire scene by the firemen, who upon arrival, and most likely already exhausted, had to then go to work fighting the fire. Apparatus was adapted to be pulled by horses in 1884.
The first fire station was built in 1878 on Main Street where Finnerty’s Restaurant was located. The fire station was moved in 1882 to Harrison Street, where it served the town as a fire station, polling place, and meeting place, until it was closed and then torn down in 1953. The Harrison Street firehouse was replaced by present day Fire Station 2 located at 145 Main Street, which opened for business on July 1, 1953. This location was previously the site of a horsecar barn for the Middlesex and Boston Street Railway.
On the north side of town, the Wayland Center fire company operated out of the garage at the rear of the 1878 Town Hall, located where the Heard House, home of the Wayland Historical Society, is located today at 12 Cochituate Road.
When the shoe factories started to close and the associated fire companies started to disappear around 1915, the town began to assume responsibility for community fire protection. Although five hundred dollars was appropriated much earlier for the town water works, which indirectly helped in the fire protection mission, the town did not purchase its first motorized fire apparatus until 1919. Two new Reo trucks, Auto Combination One and Two were purchased for the sum of $5,300.00. One truck was assigned to Cochituate, and the other truck was assigned to Wayland. On August 18, 1925 the town took delivery of a new American LaFrance triple combination pumper, the town’s first motorized pumping apparatus; meaning that it utilized its gasoline engine to drive it to the
fire scene and to operate the pump once it got there. This apparatus was designated as Engine 1 and placed in service at the Cochituate firehouse. This Engine 1 remained in service until 1960.
The changeover to public support for fire protection was truly completed in 1956 when the town hired four full time firefighters, with two assigned to Station 1 in Wayland Center and two assigned to Station 2 in Cochituate. The initial four permanent firefighters were Cliff Wedlock and Charlie Campbell who worked in Wayland, and brothers Richie and Phil Gladu who worked in Cochituate. The newly appointed permanent firefighters staffed the fire stations from 7:30 AM to 5:30 PM Monday through Friday. Coverage outside of these hours reverted back to “on-call” status for nights and weekends.
Unfortunately, improvements in public safety for the town were often preceded by a disaster that prompted the change. The Mansion Inn Fire in March 1956 was at least partially responsible for the mandate to staff the fire stations with full time firefighters. A fatal fire that occurred in the early morning hours of April 10, 1958, claiming the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Emmons at their home at 317 Concord Road, emphasized the need for 24 hour station coverage. A report prepared for the town by the New England Rating Association in 1959 recommended that manning should be at least ten firefighters on duty at all times. We still have not achieved that level of staffing 46 years later.
The Wayland Fire Department has grown from a staff of four firefighters in 1956 to a full time staff of twenty-five in 1970. For the past 35 years, this staffing level has remained constant as the functions of the fire department and the demands of the public have grown exponentially into areas not even dreamed of in 1956. Fire protection, emergency medical services, fire prevention, and public education are just a few of the functions that the Wayland Fire Department routinely handles. Currently the Wayland Fire Department responds to over 3000 incidents per year, with medical calls regularly accounting for 60% or more of the incidents.
The Wayland Fire Department is just one of the Wayland Public Safety departments. The Fire Department works in conjunction with the Joint Communications Center (the 911 answering point) and the Wayland Police Department on a daily basis. Partnerships have been developed with local hospitals and other organizations to help the fire department fulfill its traditional purpose of protecting lives and property. As the role of the fire department continues to expand, personnel are being asked to train for and react to new demands. With the proper support, training, and equipment, the firefighters of the Wayland Fire Department are proud to serve the people who live in, work in, and travel through the Town of Wayland and surrounding communities.
Emery, Helen Fitch, The Puritan Village Evolves, a history of Wayland, Massachusetts, 1981, Phoenix Publishing.
Lewis, George, and the Wayland Historical Society; Images of America, Wayland, 2000, Arcadia Publishing.
Washburn, Robert, History of Wayland, MA Fire Department, 1996.
Oral history passed down from retired firefighters.
The Wayland Fire Department covers an area of approximately 13 square miles and provides emergency services to approximately 13,500 residents. Our emergency services include: fire suppression, rescue, and emergency medical services. The Wayland Fire Department also participates in mutual aid coverage with neighboring communities.
The Wayland Fire Department is comprised of the fire chief, assistant fire chief, 24 career firefighters and a part time administrative assistant.
The Wayland Fire Department is ready to respond to any emergency 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In 2015, the Wayland Fire Deptartment responded to 235 fire calls, 1,033 EMS calls, 111 motor vehicle accidents with reported injuries and one search for a missing person on land.
Construction of the new Public Safety Building, located at 38 Cochituate Road, was completed in 2003 and houses the Fire/Rescue/EMS, Police, and Dispatch Departments for the Town of Wayland. Please feel free to drop by and visit the Public Safety Building.