Volunteers dedicated to preserving a firefighting legacy
It’s been said that time is the fire in which we burn. Visiting the Greenwood Volunteer Fire Company and Museum is like taking a step through time; it’s the definitive place to explore the history of Warwick’s fires, firefighters, and the tools they used to save lives.
Before Warwick converted to a fully paid, permanent firefighter system, fire protection was provided by seven volunteer fire companies throughout Warwick: Apponaug, Bayside, Conimicut, Oakland Beach, Lakewood, Norwood, and Greenwood.
The Greenwood Volunteer Fire Company, tucked in the corner of Main Avenue and Post Road on Kernick Street, closed in 1975 but kept their charter and uses the former station as a museum to educate visitors and preserve the long history of the city’s fire departments.
The museum, which offers fully guided, interactive tours by appointment, houses a trove of more than 100 years worth of Warwick artifacts – from alarms, fire extinguishers, trophies, pictures, uniforms, and helmets, to wooden water main pipes dug up from under the streets of Apponaug in the 1960s and antique fire trucks.
For the past four-plus years, volunteers have worked to restore a 1940 Mack Fire Truck, a special vehicle with a long and distinct career.
“This truck was purchased by the Greenwood Volunteer Fire Company in 1940 and used extensively. It was then sold to the city in 1954 for $1, as was the fire station. In 1975, the city sold the station back to the Greenwood Volunteers, along with the heavily-used truck, again for $1,” said retired Chief Kenneth Smith, who helps operate the station.
While the truck no longer fought fires, it was being used as a mobile, historic learning tool, visiting different communities throughout the state and beyond.
“We’re very involved in parades … Gaspee Day, Memorial Day, St. Patrick’s – we go to Newport, West Warwick, Pawtucket and sometimes out of state to Massachusetts and Connecticut,” said retired Battalion Chief Raymond Bartlett, who serves as the company’s secretary.
It was during one of their return trips home from a parade when the company’s 1954 Maxim fire truck, the first truck the city of Warwick purchased as a fully paid department and now also under the company’s care, lost its brakes and crashed into the rear of the 1940 Mack Truck. That damage prompted the current restoration effort.
The project has entailed sanding the entire truck down to bare metal, removing rotted fenders and tires, an entire rebuild of the truck’s 250-gallon water tank, and complete priming and repainting of the truck, amongst many others. Every piece of chrome on the truck has to be re-dipped, “So far, we’ve spent over $6,000 on chrome, with another $3,000 to go. The paint alone for this truck costs about $500 per gallon,” said Chief Smith.
“This is all done with donated time, and the materials are bought by the Company through the various fundraisers we hold. This is a moving piece of local history, it’s a labor of love,” continued the Chief.
Chief Smith and the company have a complete historic catalogue and photographic record of the truck, and stories to accompany each one. The chief’s family also has a long history with the station; his grandfather was on the purchasing committee for the truck, and his father, who was also a Warwick firefighter, was involved with the truck since childhood. His son Nathan is now a Warwick firefighter as well.
“I have a picture of my dad at 7 years old on the truck’s running board. Fifty years later, I took a picture of my 7-year-old daughter on the same running board. I made a promise to my dad to finish the truck,” said Chief Smith.
The project still has much work to do before completion, and the Volunteers are hoping for the community’s assistance.
The Company plans to hold a steak fry on June 1 at 2 p.m. at the station as a fundraiser for their restoration project and to operate the museum. There will be door prizes, raffles and entertainment. The event is open to the public; donations are also welcome.
“We usually have the ladder truck come, along with Special Services, and we cut up a car with various chainsaws and the Jaws of Life. We’ll cut the top and the doors of the car right off as a demonstration,” said Battalion Chief Bartlett.
“This steak fry helps keep us afloat,” underscored Chief Smith. “We’re trying to keep the history of the Warwick Fire Department alive.”
Tickets for the steak fry are $20 and are available by calling 736-8412. Museum tours are available by appointment with Chief Smith at the same phone number. Additional information may be found on their website, www.greenwoodfirecompany.webs.com.