The City of Niagara Falls, New York was once a small community concentrated in an area close to the great cataracts. However, between the end of the Civil War and the 1890s, the Niagara River was used to develop hydraulic power and later electric power. With this great power source came large industry that in turn drew people eager to find jobs.
The influx of people continued and on March 17, 1892, the villages of Niagara Falls and Suspension Bridge merged to form the City of Niagara Falls. At that time, each village was protected by three volunteer fire companies. With the merger, those six companies and four others covering areas between and around the villages were united to form the Niagara Falls Fire Department. While each company kept its own identity and area of coverage, their representatives would meet regularly and once a year they would elect an overall fire chief and assistant fire chiefs.
On June 1, 1894, at the urging of local business leaders led by David Isaacs, owner of the Prospect Hotel, the city formed a paid fire department. The first paid department consisted of ten firefighters and a Fire Chief. The ten firefighters were selected by the Fire and Water Committee of the City Council. The first Fire Chief, Thomas Walker, was elected by the volunteer fire companies. The fire companies also elected the assistants who were not part of the paid department. The paid firefighters were assigned to the ten volunteer companies as drivers or assistant drivers.
The city purchased two hose carts and equipped three hook and ladder companies for the new paid department. The stone building on the corner of Second andNiagarastreets was the home of the Cataract Hose Company and Rescue Hook and Ladder. The new department made this building their headquarters and shared the building which continued to be fire headquarters until 1966. The cornerstone of the original building rests on the front lawn of Firehouse No. 8 today.
In the early days, church bells rang to sound fire alarms and cisterns buried underground provided water to be hand pumped at fires. The ten paid firefighters earned $40.00 a month and worked a continuous shift seven days per week, 21 hours a day. Their one day off per month was assigned to them and they were allowed to leave at noon only to be required back at seven the next morning. The paid firefighters were assigned as house foremen or drivers and in the horse drawn era they were responsible for harnessing and driving teams of horses to pull the fire wagons to fire scenes.
The paid department gradually expanded until the last volunteer company was disbanded in 1904. All the volunteer firefighters in good standing were given honorable discharges. They continued to meet as exempt firefighters at the old Mayle Hose Company building at Pine and Third streets for many years.
In 1912 the Niagara Falls Fire Department purchased a motorized car for Fire Chief Otto Utz as well as a motor driven Ahrens-Fox pumper. By 1923 the department was fully motorized and the last horses were put to pasture in the Town of Niagara.
From 1898 to 1916 a Fire Commission which was appointed by the City Council made administrative decisions for the Fire Department. In 1916 the City Manager took control of the Fire Department. In 1927 when the Village of LaSalle merged with the City of Niagara Falls the Fire Department absorbed the LaSalle firefighters into its department. The Fire Department continued to grow as the city expanded. At its peak the department had nine engines and four ladder trucks with over 200 members.
Take a look at some of our historical photos