American Optical Company
(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
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
Company No. 1
Fred A. Shaw, Lieut. E. Malta
Harvey Dragon Drury Lariviere
Charlie Carpenter Joseph White
Pat. Tallas Wilson St. Martin
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
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 -
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
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
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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