During the early settlement of Salem the only means of fighting fires was the bucket brigade. In 1848 the tin shop of Abraham Hupp, a manufacturer of metal wares, was severely damaged by a fire.
Six years later in 1854 Mr. Hupp presented to the Town of Salem its first piece of fire apparatus. A crew of six to eight husky men powered the hand operated pump, which worked much like a railroad handcar. The pump on a wheeled wagon was set in a trough into which water was poured from buckets. It could throw a stream of water more than 50 feet.
In 1883, Salem Town council, on the recommendation of the fire chief, decided to pay the well deserving fireman a yearly salary. The firemen received $ 5 per year if they went on the majority of fire alarms and drills.
The hand operated pump was kept in service until 1889. By this time water mains with hydrants began "popping up" all over town. Two hose reels and 500 feet of leather hose were purchased and put into service, and a fire department of 19 men was organized. The first Fire House was located on Calhoun Street next to the DuVall house.
On February 7, 1906, the Town of Salem purchased a horse and 1,000 feet of 2 ½ inch hose. Two months later, another horse was added, making a two-horse wagon. On April 19, 1906, James P. Bryant was employed as the first "fire truck" driver. He worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and was given time off daily to eat one meal. He worked for 16 years, and in 1922 a second driver was employed, which reduced his hours to 12 per day, seven days a week.
In 1916 a new truck was put into service. It was a "Republic" model. This was Salem's first piece of motorized equipment. In 1924 a new 750-gallon-per-minute Seagrave pumper was purchased. These two pieces of motorized apparatus served until 1932 at which time a third pumper was purchased.
Today the City's Fire Department includes some of the most modern equipment available. Salem has three fire stations and 56 paid firefighters and firefighter/paramedics and six staff positions, including the Fire Chief. The department protects approximately 15 square miles.
The Salem Fire and Emergency Medical Services department is proud of its past.
History of the Salem Fire Bell
By C. E. "Ted" Webber
The official records of the Town of Salem show that the fire bell was purchased on December 6, 1883, from John Chalmers, a predominant hardware merchant of Roanoke and Salem. It cost $148.38.
The bell was mounted on heavy timbers in the tower of the frame firehouse on Calhoun Street.
The bell hung there from 1883 until approximately 1921 when it was moved to the Fire Station on North College Avenue next to the Old Courthouse.
The bell remained in a tower on College Avenue until 1986 when it was taken down and sent to Henry McShane Bell Foundry in Glen Burnie, Maryland. There it was reconditioned and a clapper was placed inside. The reconditioning cost $ 4,000. The bell is solid brass and weighs 800 pounds. McShane Bell Foundry is the same company that originally cast the bell.
The Commission of the Bicentennial of the Constitution planned a "ringing tribute to the Constitution" on Thursday September 17, 1987, at 4 p.m. The commission requested that all bells be sounded for 200 seconds, beginning at 4 p.m. EDT, the time of the actual signing of the Constitution 200 years prior.
The City of Salem participated in the National Ceremony of "Bells Across America." The first strokes were by Councilman Alexander M. Brown, representing the Council of the City of Salem; followed by Forest G. Jones, Assistant City Manager; Dr. Richard H. Fisher; C. E. Webber; Harry T. Haskins, Jr., Chief of Police; and Ronald T. Hartman, Chief of the Salem Fire Department. Mr. Webber officially dedicated the bell.
The City of Salem Street Department deserves a great deal of credit and appreciation for mounting the bell on the trailer, and placing the city seal in blue just above the bell.
The trailer on which the bell is mounted, as well as the gong, is kept at the Salem Fire Department, under the charge of the Fire Chief.