History of the

American Optical Company

Fire Department

(Document provided to Jacob Edwards library by Chester Szydlik 12/00)

Today marks the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the American Optical Company Fire department. In order to better acquaint you with the department, we offer the following information:

On November 8, 1912, a group of twenty men under the direction of Chief C. Phipps met for the first official act of the American Optical Fire Department. Two companies were formed; namely:

Company No. 1

Fred A. Shaw, Lieut. E. Malta

Harvey Dragon Drury Lariviere

Charlie Carpenter Joseph White

Pat. Tallas Wilson St. Martin

Louis Gravel

Company No. 2

Tom McGrath Capt. M. A. Fryler

Blake Stephenson, Lieut. Dolph Blair

Tony Troy John Duquette

Jack Mannix John Brown

John Chapple D.J. Russell

The first order of business was the nomination and election of officers. D.J. Russell as clerk and Chief Phipps as acting treasurer. Also, at this meeting, members were told they would be remunerated for their time at practices and meetings at 28 cents per hour. It was also made know that the members would pay for their uniforms.

Regular monthly meetings were set for the second Friday of each month at 7:15 p.m.

At the second meeting, it was decided to divert all money earned from practices and meetings to pay for the uniforms. However, this did not solve the matter entirely - result, the first Fund Raising Committee was appointed.

So on Friday night, January 22, 1913, the first AOCO. Fire Department Ball and Concert was held at the Southbridge Town Hall. Though the affair was a highly successful event, it did not realize the hopeful funds needed. In January, 1914, after the 2nd Annual Ball was held, these necessary returns, plus the previous year's funds, were sufficient to accomplish the department's first project. Like all new organizations, so too did this one develop "Growing Pains". Through the ensuing years, many, many changes have taken place, together with the replacement of men, equipment, rules and regulations.

The first By-laws committee of three men was formed February 14, 1913. Among the early approved rules was one whereby any member being absent form meetings or practices would be assessed the same amount he would have earned were he present. These fines went into a special pool for the members and, form time to time, they were divided equally among themselves.

On many occasions after meetings, the department would arrange a smoker, card tournaments, a supper or some other form of amusement which is still enjoyed today.

Perusing through the records, we learned that the entire proceeds of 1918 A.O.F.D. Concert & Ball were donated to the American Red Cross. In the early days of the ball, a gentleman could take two lady friends to the affair for only $1.00. Refreshments, ice cream and lady-fingers were served during intermission.

Those desiring only to ear the concert paid $.35 for admission. Also included in the program were dance recitals by Worcester County Schools of Dancing.

Clambakes have played a happy part in the department. The first was held Sunday, July 18, 1915 at Charlton Reservoir. The day's program included: ball Game between Co. 1 and Co.2 in the day, baked clams, lobsters and chicken were served. The bake ended at 7:00 pm.

On July 7, 1919, the department voted to have lemonade served as the "beverage of the day" at their annual clambake. Yes, that was 1919. The results must have been disastrous for it has not happened again.

When a ball game was scheduled, the department would parade to the field in uniform, and the ball teams would also parade in their colorful uniforms led by the Southbridge Brass Band. Many of you here tonight must have pleasant memories of that Brass Band, Parades, Concerts in the summer time in different parts of town, and so forth. I dare say that many of you may have romanced under the magic tunes of that band.

On December 13, 1920, a very well-known man among you was elected to the AO Fire Department. Through the years, he became an officer and eventually the ever-popular Chief - Charley Normandin.

George Wells was elected a member on March 16, 1924. In 1926, the department became a stockholder when it purchased one share of Preferred Stock.

On April 6, 1929, Mr. J. C. Wells presented our department with thirty-six pewter mugs on behalf of Mr. A. B. Wells, who was a true and staunch supporter of the department. So. If any of the old-timers has his pewter mug with him tonight, I am sure the beverage committee will be very glad to oblige.

On August 20, 1921, the AO Firemen were asked to act as Policemen at the W.A.A. Old Home Carnival.

In recent years, the police duties of the department members have been limited tot he W.A.A. Children's Christmas party. At this time, we would like to mention a thing or two about the AO F.D. Ball and Concerts.

Preparations for the annual ball were primarily one hard week's work for a l l m e m b e r s of the department. On Sunday morning, before the ball was held, all hands would gather at the Town Hall for its annual cleanup. The removing and piling of chairs from the floor was the initial assault. Then a quick sweep-down. Soon the sounds of hammering could be heard, together with the scratching and sometimes high pitch of a power saw. Electric wiring was usually one of the very first things to be done. You would hear the dragging of ladders across the floor constantly. By the end of Wednesday, the great crystal ball was in its proper place and all felt that a good four days' work was done. Painting, setting lights and seemingly forever changing something kept all hands busy. Came Friday afternoon and the Hall got its annual floor wash. Many times, waxing was finished just about 8:30 p.m. Surely an awful lot of hard work for such a short time's use, but worthy of the Department's pride.

Much can be written about the wonderful AO F.D. Balls, but, commencing with the "Great Glenn Miller in 1939, "the department can well be proud of the high caliber music and artists it introduced to this town. For many years, the social event of this area was represented by the AO F.D. Ball. The listings of bands from 1939 to 1951 will show that these bands were favorites of "Broadway" and the best rated of the dance world. Matching the highest quality of music were the magnificent results of the decorating committee's time. Oftentimes, these committees came up with some of the finest and most beautiful decorations that could be planned. Many of you can recall the splendor of those evenings. That tremendous Acorn Ball that threw off thousands of many-colored spots, was the talk of the night.

Do any of you recall choosing a certain colored spot on the floor and following it closely; then all of a sudden, it climbed the wall clear up to the ceiling and started down the other side, only to be lost in the maze of other colored spots? I'll bet you did. So did many others. And, for many people at the ball, we have heard it said that they still saw spots the next day. It was hard work, but it was fun for most of us, because there was a great satisfaction in presenting something nice to the people of our town. Some of the pictures of these events can recall more than we can write about. In 1946, WTAG broadcast our AO ball music from 11 to 12. Many AO people looked forward to the Ball and so did many of our local business establishments. Their interest was more than casual; it was mighty keen. The tremendous interest in the Miss AO contests speaks for itself.

We have mentioned clambakes and the AO Ball and Concerts. Lest you be misled, these are not the only activities of the department. All year long, there are drills and meetings especially scheduled for summer and winter. These men must know the locations of buildings by their proper numbers. Locations of all hydrants, indicator posts, shut-off valves, both inside and outside these buildings. Many of these controls cover split sections of a certain area and these men are looked upon for the proper protection of these areas. There are 12 official fire calls which cover about 40 buildings of the AO plant. Some of these calls cover from one to seven buildings. These men know which area they will respond to in case of fire. Also included in the duties of these men are five special outside boxes which can call them into action. At this time, we wish to list some of the other equipment these men are familiar with and can locate in a very short time:

3 fire pumps

5 private boxes, as mentioned above

5 hose reels

7,350 feet 2 ½ " hose

3,000 feet 1 ½" hose

4,000 feet 1 1/8" hose

18 40-gallon soda-acid extinguishers

195 2 ½-gallon soda-acid extinguishers

125 2 ½-gallon foam extinguishers

75 C.O. 2's

32 hydrants

59 inside valves

53 outside valves

50 indicator posts

The leadership of the department must come in for its just dues. In the 50 years of service, it has had exactly four Chiefs and 6 Clerks.


C. Phipps 1912 - 1934, (12 years) 26 men

R. Cross 1934 - 1941 ( 7 years) 32 men

C. Normandin 1941 - 1957 (16 years) 44 men

B. Beauregard 1957 - over 50 men

Has already tucked away 6 years of leadership


J. D. Russell 1912 - 1914 (2 years)

The Following was provided by Dave Butler from a Commemorative 75 Anniversary booklet from 1987:

AO Fire Brigade Events / History

Download Booklet (5mb pdf)

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