The Keene Fire Department predates March 22, 1808, when a group of 42 prominent citizens were original members of the fire society, first called Subscribers for an Engine. On March 22 the title was changed to Proprietors for an Engine; seven days later an act was voted at the General Court to incorporate the proprietors under the name of Keene Engine Company. This act was approved June 13, 1808. Fire equipment as needed was purchased with money from the members' own purses.
The first meeting of the corporation was held on February 6, 1809, at the William Pierce's Tavern, site of the present Cheshire Block. Noah Cooke was chosen moderator; Albe Cady, clerk; Cady, Elijah Dunbar, and James Mann as a committee to draw up bylaws, rules, and regulations necessary for the governing of the corporation. These were accepted on February 21, 1809, and the society was incorporated under the name Keene Engine Company.
Of the 42 members, 20 were chosen to constitute the first engine company, with Josiah Willard as Captain. The first firewards were James Mann, William Wyman, John Bond, and Daniel Adams. The first president was Noah Cooke.
On June 28, 1822, an act was passed by the State Senate and House of Representatives to change the name from Keene Engine Company to Keene Fire Society.
Of several companies formed at various times, the Deluge Engine and Hose Company was the first in service and is still in existence with the name Deluge Hose Company. Another first called the Phoenix Hook and Ladder Company, is now known as the Washington Hook and Ladder Company, and dates from 1868 or 1869. In August 1883 a new company was formed called the Keene Steam Fire Engine and Hose Company and is also still in existence.
In 1847 the Board of Engineers became the official title of the fire service. Also at this time the town started to purchase from the society the fire equipment which would become town property. The Fire Department was to be governed by the selectmen. On April 12, 1856, the Board of Engineers adopted the title Keene Fire Department for the organization.
The first fire house, erected in 1808, was located on Main Street, slightly north of the old Sentinel Building. Over the years the department headquarters moved to several locations, all unsatisfactory and finally in 1884 the city purchased property on Vernon Street. Plans called for a building to accommodate three companies, Keene Steam Fire Engine and Hose Co., Deulge Hose Co., and Washington Hook and Ladder Co., with suitable stables for horses and rooms for the drivers. The new fire house was completed in 1885.
On May 28, 1892, construction of an addition to the Central Fire Station was begun, and by the end of the year all the companies were housed in one building (the present fire station) for the first time in the department's history.
The men in the companies practiced firefighting and fire procedures once a month. In the early days every able-bodied man of the community played a role in firefighting. Each household was required to hang in a conspicuous place two leather buckets painted with the owner's first initial and last name, and these were used to form a bucket brigade at a time of fire. The buckets were made locally by Daniel Watson.
Over the years the town placed a number of wells within the area for a water supply for fires. By 1845 there were eight on Main Street, connected by aqueducts from a central well at the head of the Common. Here a pump was installed to keep the other wells supplied.
Around 1868 flush hydrants were coming into use for firefighting; they were replaced in 1890 by post hydrants. By 1869 water from Goose Pond was delivered to the center of town by aqueducts made of hollowed-out logs to permit the flow of water. Many thought this would mean the disbanding of the fire department.
When the town became a city in 1874 the fire department, with a valuation of $10,000, was turned over to the city government. Virgil A Wright was the first chief under this new form of municipal government.
From the Book "Upper Ashuelot" a History of Keene New Hampshire, by the Keene History Committee. This book can be found at the Keene Public Library