Browse The Gjenvick-Gjønvik Archives Home Page

Camp Devens - The Camp Fire Department - WW1 Cantonment 1918

When the camp was being built, the authorities realized the great danger from fire in the hundreds of wooden buildings and made provisions for a camp fire department. By the time the draft men had arrived, the several fire stations were finished, and a number of Ford trucks, the property of the Quartermaster's Corps, completely equipped and ready for any contingency which might arise.

Those draft men who had previously had experience as firemen were attached to the fire department and supplemented by men from the Quartermaster's Corps. Lieutenant George H. Whitney, a Harvard man from Boston, who had previously attained much notoriety as a "fire fiend," was appointed chief of the department.

He organized his men, formulated elaborate schemes for fire prevention and planned carefully to cope with any possible conflagration. A numerical system of fire alarms, similar to that employed in the cities, was adopted, and a loud whistle which can be heard for several miles, installed in one of the power-houses.

There was little need of the department until the cold spell of October came on. All the barracks and officers' quarters were then heated by small oil stoves, which proved to be of the high-explosive variety. For no apparent reasons these stoves exploded regularly and with lamentable results. A number of the buildings caught fire, and several burned to the ground ; it was due to the efficiency of the department alone that a general conflagration was averted.

The responsibility for putting out fires is not limited to the fire department, but extends to every soldier in camp. When the fire-alarm sounds, all the companies in the vicinity come to the rescue and aid the firemen. In order that the hydrants may give the greatest possible pressure, the water supply is turned off in the buildings until recall blows. The authorities have drawn up a set of drastic rules for fire prevention, particularly adapted to the existent conditions at camp; these are strictly enforced.

Fire Station No. 1 - Fire Headquarters at Camp Devens

Photo: Fire Station No. 1 - Fire Headquarters at Camp Devens with Fire Truck

Return to Top of Page