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From the Feb. 2, 1957, Eagle

Eagle Archives, Feb. 2, 1957: Lanesboro will dance Feb. 22 to finance private fire dept.

The town of Lanesboro doesn't even own a garden hose for fire protection, although there's a station containing three fire trucks right on Main Street.

The explanation for this paradox is that the Lanesboro Volunteer Fire Department is owned lock, stock and barrel by the members of the department and is in no way connected, officially, with the town. The company even owns the land under the station house.

Organized in 1923, the department was chartered as a corporation in 1934 and has remained free of town control ever since. Every year the town appropriates a sum for fire protection which is given to the independent department. Last year the amount was $1,500, the year before, $1,000. This year the firemen are requesting $2,000. The appropriation is in no way mandatory, however, and town officials have no voice in the operation of the fire department — unless they happen to be members.

The town's annual gift represents only a part of the department's annual operating budget, which runs between $4,000 and $5,000. The rest must be raised by the approximately 40 members, who receive no pay, unlike members of most volunteer departments who are paid for each response to a fire call.

Annual dues of $1 per man accounts for only an insignificant fraction of the needed funds. So the members stage two big money-raising events: a carnival during the summer and the annual ball, which will be held on Feb. 22, Washington's Birthday, at the Town Hall. This will be the 33rd annual ball.

The birth of the Lanesboro Volunteer Firemen's Assn., Inc., the official name of the corporation, makes an interesting story. One of the parents was Archie K. Sloper, Pittsfield real estate and insurance man, who then lived in Lanesboro. The other was Harry R. Fowler of Lanesboro, still an active member. Mr. Sloper retains his membership though he now lives in Pittsfield.

On Dec. 23, 1922, Mr. Sloper's big barn on Partridge Road burned to the ground. Although the town at that time owned two hand-drawn chemical carts (oversized soda and acid fire extinguishers on wheels), neither one could be gotten to the scene of the fire. One was kept in the Berkshire Village Post Office, which was locked, and no one wanted to break in for fear of being charged with a federal offense. The other was kept in the cellar of the home of the late Robert Gardner. It couldn't be moved because a cord of wood was piled in front of the cellar door.

The loss of his barn without a fight was hard to take for insurance man Sloper, especially since a neighbor's uninsured car, stored inside, was also destroyed. So he and Mr. Fowler began stirring up interest in a fire department. A meeting was held in the schoolhouse, now the Grange Hall, and by the middle of the next year the ancestor of today's top-grade organization had been born, with Mr. Fowler as chief.

This Story in History is selected from the archives by Jeannie Maschino, The Berkshire Eagle.

Community News Editor / Librarian

Jeannie Maschino is community news editor and librarian for The Berkshire Eagle. She has worked for the newspaper in various capacities since 1982 and joined the newsroom in 1989.

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