LACONIA – The Laconia Fire Department’s history is the subject of a new book, titled Fire! A Dreaded Cry: A History of the Laconia Fire Department, by Dr. Gerald P. Bourgeois. The book chronicles the development of the city’s fire protection beginning in 1814 when some Meredith Bridge residents formed a fire company and continues its evolution to the present day.
The establishment of the first fire companies in Meredith Bridge and later in Lake Village marked the beginnings of a department that would grow from volunteer status to full-time firefighter/EMTs who now answer more than 7,000 calls annually. Dr. Bourgeois recounts how fires destroy property but also result in the loss of life. Many major fires are described, including the Avery Mill in 1823; downtown conflagrations in 1846 and 1860; the Laconia Car Company blazes of 1881 and 1894; the Masonic Temple explosion in 1902; the Lakeport disaster of 1903; the Weirs conflagration of 1924; and many more. The department’s history has been meticulously researched by Dr. B, who used original documents, newspaper reports, first-person accounts, fire company minutes, and books, to tell the story of Laconia’s fire history.
Detailed firefighter rescue attempts are described, as well as those of courageous family members and on-the-scene police officers and citizens. Even some of the political fire department-related controversies are described. As in any organization, times change in how things are done, where they are done, by whom, and with what – buckets, hand pumpers, steam engines, motorized trucks. All of these factors are described in this 333-page book with over 150 pictures.
Dr. Bourgeois was an educator for more than 40 years, serving as a teacher, school principal, superintendent of schools, and department of education administrator, but he also is a life-long fire historian, beginning as a young boy who lived almost next door to a fire station in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and then becoming a volunteer fireman in Westerly, Rhode Island, and a fire commissioner in Attleboro, Massachusetts. In the 1990’s he compiled five New England publications titled the Red Pages of Firefighting (N.H., Mass., Vt.,, R.I., Maine). The Leather Helmet Society of New Hampshire awarded him an Outstanding Achievement Award in 1995. In 2015, he published Wherever Flames May Rage: A History of the Concord, NH Fire Department and received a Concord Fire Department Helping Hand Award for this work He is a board member of the Laconia Historical and Museum Society and has been a Box 52 Association (Boston) member since 1971.
Book signings are scheduled at Annie’s Book Shop on September 22nd from 10 a.m. to noon and at the Laconia Public Library on October 3rd from 2-3 p.m. Books can be ordered directly from the author by sending $24.95 plus $3 S/H to Gerald Bourgeois, 4 Kinsman Drive, Laconia, NH 03246.