The Cheney Whistle
by Doug Welch,
Town of Manchester Fire Department Historian and Retired Firefighter

Most of our older Manchester residents vividly remember the Cheney whistle blasting away at three o'clock in the morning sounding out the numbers of an alarm box. The original whistle was located at the "old boiler room" in the original Cheney Mill on the south side of Hartford Road. The number of the street box which was pulled would show up on an annunciator and the fireman in the boiler room, or the watchman on duty, would manually blast the horn to correspond to the box number. A new whistle was installed on the new boiler room on Forest Street when it was built in 1912. This whistle was equipped with an automatic sounding mechanism.

Firefighters living on the east side of town had concerns about not being to hear the Cheney whistle, so in addition to the whistle, a $400 striker mechanism was installed in August, 1904 in the bell tower of Center Congregational Church and wired into the FD alarm system to ring out the box numbers on the church bell. This was disconnected about 1964 when Fire Headquarters moved from Spruce Street to the Center.

The air horn on the Spruce Street station was installed in January, 1962 to sound the blasts, much to the dismay of Mrs. Gatty who lived next door. This was later controlled by a switch at Fire Headquarters and was only turned on for serious fires, (and immediately after, we could expect a call from Mrs. Gatty.)

The striker was eventually disconnected on the church bell and is now in the possession of the Connecticut Firemens‘ Historical Society on Pine Street as are the air horns from Headquarters. Cheney Brothers was sold in the late 1970’s and the steam boiler needed to run the whistle was no longer fired. To compensate for the loss of the whistle, the air horn was moved from Spruce Street to Fire Headquarters on Center Street. The fate of the old Cheney steam whistle is not known.

Fire Headquarters had the capability of transmitting an alarm to the whistles to summon off-duty help if the initial fire call was taken via telephone (no scanners then). In addition, Company No.1 on McKee Street was later outfitted with a switch to transmit a 2-2-2, which requested all off-duty personnel. If both Companies 1 and 2 were out of the station, another company would have to relocate to headquarters to sound the 2-2-2.

Now, with the 911 telephone system, all the street alarm boxes have been removed.

May, 2005