First Loss of Life in Fire
by Doug Welch,
Town of Manchester Fire Department Historian and Retired Firefighter

The first loss of life in a fire following the formation of the South Manchester Fire Department occurred on Saturday night, June 29, 1907. At that time, there was a hall, known as the German Hall, located on the upper end of Oak Street. On the night in question, there was a dance in progress in the hall when one of the large kerosene lights that hung from the ceiling fell and broke. There was a fire!

The dancers in attendance made their escape, but Oscar Zacherney of Hilliard Street, who had been in the hall when the fire started, decided he wanted to go back inside and get his coat. He was caught in a sudden burst of flames and staggered out from the building with his clothing on fire and suffering from severe burns.

It was raining and the injured Mr. Zacherney was laid on the ground under a tree. He was treated by Dr. W. S. Gillam and Dr. Tinker who had responded to the alarm. The victim was eventually placed in Company No. 2's empty hose wagon and brought to Dr. Tinker's office where he was further treated. He was then sent by "hack" to Hartford Hospital, where he died the following morning.

At the time of the fire, there were no pumping engines in the South Manchester department. Each company had a hose wagon carrying 500' of hose. They relied on hydrant pressure to fight fires. The nearest hydrant to the fire was 1,500 feet away, thus three companies were required to join their 500 feet of hose together to reach the fire.

The need for a chemical engine in South Manchester had been apparent for some time. Following the fire, Company No. 1, which had been buying its own equipment since its formation, appropriated $2,000 to purchase a combination chemical and hose wagon. This would allow fire fighting operations to begin using a " rubber hose while lines were being laid and hydrant connections were being made.

The 1907 chemical engine and hose wagon purchased by Company No. 1 was intact and in excellent condition in a small fire museum located on the grounds of the old Edaville Railroad in South Carver, Mass. (now Edaville, USA) until the railroad attraction was closed in 1991. The trains from the railroad were moved to Maine in 1993, but the fate of our old hose wagon is as yet unknown.

November, 2006