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CAPE COD BRUSH BREAKERS 

FIRE DEPARTMENT
Brush & Forest Fire Apparatus History
BARNSTABLE COUNTY
 

~ TOWN OF BARNSTABLE ~
FOREST FIRE DEPARTMENT
1920's - 1975
Page Updated January 17, 2022


 

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A Special Feature
CAPE COD BRUSH BREAKERS

| MAIN | HISTORY | FIRES | EARLY TRUCKS | DEPARTMENTS | YEARS |

FIRE DEPARTMENT

 ~ Barnstable Town Forest Fire Department ~
Page Updated August 21, 2020 

 
 

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THE FIRST BRUSH BREAKER
The Osterville Fire Station served as the Town of Barnstable Forest Fire Department's Headquarters.
This photo shows the first brush breaker, a 1937 Ford Brush Breaker, a 1922 Dodge fire truck which served as the town's
first patrol truck, and the 1938 Ford Patrol Truck.
 

THE STORY OF BRUSH BREAKERS
 
     The story of how the Cape Cod brush breakers came about starts with an understanding of what Cape Cod was like in the "old days."  This feature tries to document and explain how the fire departments on Cape Cod and in southeastern Massachusetts adapted vehicles to battle forest fires that burned thousands of acres of woods each year.

     As the story goes, prior to 1937 or so, grass, brush, and woods fires were battled by hand, with hose lines that could reach a fire from a road. The alternative was to use hand tools and pump cans, but this was only good for smaller fires.

     By 1937, vehicles had apparently become large enough and powerful enough to be enhanced with steel bars, sufficient size water tanks, and pumps to go off road and reach fires deeper in the woods than previously possible. By accessing fires quicker, while still small, they were able to reduce a great deal of danger and damage.

     The fire chief in Osterville, Bernard S. Ames also served as the forest fire warden (common in those days). He and some of the other men, including Carl Starck who owned the local garage, and others no doubt, got together and turned a 1937 Ford COE (Cab Over Engine) chassis into a vehicle that came to be known as a "Brush Breaker" by welding steel bars and chassis protection to a truck with a large (believed to be about 800 gallons) tank and a pump.

     The truck was not even finished according to stories, when it responded to its first fire, a large woods fire in Hyannis. The paint wasn't even dry, and surely no one had any experience driving it. The truck got caught in the fire and burned at the first fire it responded to. It was of course rebuilt and became an example from which other departments designed and built trucks for their own communities.

      There continued to be many, many wildland type fires over the years and a number of generations of brush breakers have come and gone over the years. Each generation brought new innovations and adapted to changing conditions. Teams of brush breakers working together on Cape Cod established what became a mutual aid system and helped reduce the damage done by large out of control fires.

      Brush breakers are designed to literally go off road, push over trees as needed, to enter a forest or wildland area to reach a fire and extinguish it while it is still small enough to put out. The alternative is to allow the fire to grow substantially larger as it burns and destroys until it eventually reaches homes or other populated areas. The innovation of this apparatus worked here on the Cape because of the terrain, type of forestation, and other factors somewhat unique to the area.

      Brush breakers are still in use today and while the larger fires have been less often, the potential for them continues to exist. New apparatus continues to be built in anticipation of future fires. These pages show the development and use of apparatus used in battling brush and forest fires around the Cape.

       

 

OSTERVILLE FIRE STATION
The Centerville-Osterville Fire District was established in 1926 and two fire stations were built, one in each village.
The Osterville station, at 999 Main Street, did double duty as the Town of Barnstable's Forest Fire headquarters station as well.
This photo taken around 1938 shows the Osterville station and the apparatus housed at the time.
C&O Engine 1 was a 1926 Maxim 500 gpm pumper.
TOB Forest Fire Dept patrol truck was a 1938 Ford patrol truck.
and TOB Forest Fire Department 1937 Ford COE was the first brush breaker on Cape Cod.

 

 

The "First" of Cape Cod's Brush Breakers.
Built by the Town of Barnstable Forest Fire Department in 1937 on a Ford Chassis.
It was built at Carl Starck's Garage on Main Street, Osterville.
Designed by T.O.B. Forest Warden and Centerville-Osterville Fire District Chief Bernard .S. Ames
it had all wheel drive, an 800 gallon water tank, steel bars, and a Leonard fire pump.
This unique apparatus was badly damaged by its first major fire, in Hyannis on May 5, 1937,
even before it was officially in service. It was rebuilt and served until 1952 at the
Osterville Fire Station.

 

 

Photo showing early trials or training with the new brush breaker in 1937.

 

 

 

 

 

A ROUGH START
The 1937 Ford brush breaker was called to one of its first fires before it's paint  had even dried.
This fire in the Ridgewood Avenue area of Hyannis on May 5, 1937 burned over 2000 acres into the Cummaquid area of town.
This newspaper clipping shows the raging fire as it destroyed the brand new brush breaker.
The truck was rebuilt and served until 1952.

This newspaper clipping shows the Ridgewood Ave., Hyannis fire and the new brush breaker at the May 5, 1937 fire which badly damaged the new truck. The fire burned some 2,000 acres from Hyannis into the Cummaquid area of Barnstable.

 

 

1937 Ford brush breaker in Osterville.

 

 
This 1947 Dodge Power Wagon was made into a small brush breaker which served the Town of Barnstable for more than 20 years.  The truck had approximately 300 gallons of water and was modified a few times over the years based on where it was assigned. Here it is shown with two hose reels.  In other photos, the reels had been removed in favor of a coiled hose bed.

    This truck started out in West Barnstable two years before the West Barnstable Fire District was established in 1949.  It was then reassigned and served the majority of its career at the Cotuit Fire Station until replaced in 1969 by a new Dodge Power Wagon.  The 1947 truck then spent several years at the Hyannis Fire Station, before returning to West Barnstable for a couple years.

 

 

The Town of Barnstable Forest Fire Department had several vehicles.
This brush breaker was built on a 1947 Dodge Power Wagon chassis.
It served in Cotuit as Breaker 217 until 1969. 
It later saw duty in Hyannis and finally in West Barnstable.
 
     The 1947 Dodge Power Wagon brush breaker assigned to the Cotuit Fire Station.
 
 


The Town of Barnstable breaker 217 at  Cotuit.

 

The 1947 Cotuit brush breaker 217.
 
 
 

The brush breaker is on the left in front of the Cotuit fire station.
 
 
 


Town of Barnstable Forest Fire patrolmen stand with their 1950 patrol truck.
Patrol trucks were typically the only manned apparatus in town and were often first to arrive at
incidents of any type. When not fighting fires, they maintained fire roads and equipment.

 

 

 

  The next several images of the 1937 Ford Town of Barnstable brush breaker are clipped from a  film documenting a huge three day 15,000 acre forest fire in the Bourne-Sandwich area in 1946.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This appears to be the Town of Barnstable's 1938 Ford Patrol Truck responding out of the Cotuit Fire Station in the film documenting the 1946 Bourne-Sandwich forest fire.

The Town of Barnstable's 1938 Ford Patrol Truck is shown with the Forest Fire Department's first fire truck, a 1922 Dodge in front of the Osterville Fire Station c.1938.  The 1938 truck probably replaced the 16 year old 1922 truck.

 

 

1938 FORD PATROL TRUCK

The Town of Barnstable operated this 1938 Ford pickup truck as a forest fire patrol truck.  A small water tank, perhaps 150 gallons or so, and a small fire pump would enable this truck to reach and extinguish many of the smaller accessible type brush and grass fires.  Patrol trucks were some of the first to be equipped with radios to communicate with spotters in area fire towers that would line up smokes and advise the patrol truck which would then respond to investigate or attack fires many times before larger apparatus responded.

 

The Town of Barnstable 1938 Ford Patrol Truck was assigned to the Osterville Fire Station which served as the Forest Fire Department's headquarters.

 The 1938 Ford patrol truck appears to be on the left working with engines from Hyannis including the 1926 Ahrens Fox Engine 1, 1937 GMC Engine 3, and the 1930s Maxim Engine 2.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 The Town of Barnstable converted a Dodge Power Wagon which served as the original crash truck at the Hyannis Airport into a small brush breaker which was assigned to the Centerville Fire Station.  The small truck is shown on the left in front of the old Centerville station, along with the Centerville-Osterville Fire District's 1942 Ford Engine 4 and 1950 Ford/Maxim Engine 2, and the Town's1950 Ford patrol truck.  Photo 1953.

 

 

 

The Town of Barnstable operated this 1950 Ford pickup truck as a patrol truck. This truck probably replaced the 1938 Ford patrol truck and would have been assigned to Osterville.  Town forest fire patrolmen Stanley Buckler and Robert Dottridge, both of whom would later serve as fire chiefs within the town (Buckler in Centerville-Osterville and Dottridge in Cotuit), are shown with the truck.

 

Brush breakers tended to carry more water than other fire engines. Frequently they were utilized at building fires to supply hose lines or to supplement what pumpers may have carried, or to fight fire while pumpers established a water supply. The 1952 brush breaker is shown here at a house fire in Osterville in the 1950's.

 

By 1963 the Centerville-Osterville Fire District opened a large addition to the Osterville fire station adding much needed space for apparatus. Sometime prior to that, the 1952 Ford brush breaker was rebuilt giving it a different look and functional design.  The square look reflects the replacement of the original water tank and a protected cowling area behind the cab for firemen to stand while fighting fire as the truck drives through the woods. The reel was also replaced by the coiled forestry hose lines stored above the tank. Also by this time, all apparatus had radios and this truck was known as "216" on the county radio channel.

     This truck remained in service until replaced in 1967 by a new Maxim brush breaker.  It then went on to serve the Barnstable Fire District for several years.

On top of the brush breaker are two pre-piped bays for coiled forestry hose which does not collapse like ordinary hose when the pump pressure is shut down.  This way, water is able to flow through the hose whether 20 feet or 200 feet or hose are pulled off the truck. This would have been an improvement over the hose reel on the original truck. Along with the hose, a variety of equipment including shovels, axes, helmets, and equipment used fighting fires.

     Note the number "216" is painted on the roof of the cab on this and other brush breakers.  The numbers on the roofs of apparatus enable the fire plane spotter to recognize and direct brush breakers into safe areas or to avoid obstacles.

This photo shows the new cowling area behind the cab for firemen to ride and fight fire from with some protection.

 The Town of Barnstable brush breaker 216, along with many other brush breakers from Cape Cod would often be sent on mutual aid to large fires in Plymouth County.  Here is 216 and a Plymouth breaker at a huge fire in Carver in May of 1964.

The 1952 Ford is shown here just after coming out of the woods. One of the important things to do when coming out for water or reassignment is to clear a lot of brush a debris from the truck, check the brakes, tires, and other potential vehicle damage before fueling up and going back into the woods.

  A hose line rests on the roof of the cab of the breaker indicating the truck had probably just come from some intense firefighting.  Hose lines in addition to extinguishing fire, are sometimes used to protect the truck and personnel when things get hot.

The Osterville brush breaker is shown here working a grass fire.  Grass fires have a different level of fuel load, but can still burn quickly and threaten structures or crops.  A quick drive around the fire preventing the head fire from extending can bring these fires under control.

 Firemen riding on the brush breaker as it is slowly driven around the fire line are able to knock down fire and once stopped, the fire can be mopped up by wetting down hot spots and deep seated smoldering fire. The driver and officer must judge the need to quickly reach the head fire, with the need to prevent side fires from advancing and turning into new head fires. On larger fires, several breakers would work in a line together with the first truck quickly heading for stopping forward progress of the fire, while additional trucks follow and make sure the sideline is contained.

Hose lines operating off the water tank of the brush breaker are used to fight 'pit fires" at a drill at the fire academy.

 

 

 

 

The Town of Barnstable replaced the 1950 Ford patrol truck around 1958 with another Ford.  Here it is shown in 1962 in front of the Osterville Fire Station along with the fire chief's car. The patrol truck would have had about a 150 gallon water tank.

Protecting Cape Cod from forest fires was a joint effort.  Here the Town of Barnstable's patrol truck 210 meets up at the Marstons Mills airfield with the Barnstable County Fire Patrol Plane P-18 and a Barnstable County Forest Fire Department patrol truck. Town and County departments would work with the State's forest fire towers and apparatus to quickly spot and control forest fires.

  Fires at the town dump in Marstons Mills were a common occurance. Here the patrol truck arrives to go to work on the fire.  Brush breakers would also respond carrying hundreds of gallons of water and having all wheel drive could get around these fires.

 

 

 

 

  The Town of Barnstable built a new brush breaker in 1962.  The International 6 wheel all wheel drive chassis was turned into a brush breaker by Maxim Motors in Middlebro. It was originally called brush breaker "212" and assigned to the Centerville Fire Station for many years.  It had a rear mounted pump and roll fire pump and a midship mounted Leonard gear pump for stationary pumping.  The truck carried 500 gallons of water and had a winch.

     In 1975 when the TOB Forest Fire Department dissolved this truck was purchased by the Centerville-Osterville FD and reassigned as Breaker 317, also known as Truck 17 on the fire alarm channel for sometime.

The 1962 brush breaker at a stump dump fire in the 1980's.  Design of this truck was similar in many ways from the refurbished 1952 Ford breaker with the cowling behind the cab, 500 gallon water tank, twin coiled hose lines, and rear mounted pump. Also shown are the C-O FD 1975 Mack Engine 5 and the rear of West Barnstable's 1985 Pierce Engine-Tanker 296.

 

 

The new 1967 Maxim brush breaker was tested and checked out before being painted and delivered.  Several photos from that testing show the primed truck going through the test.

     The apparatus housed at the Osterville Fire Station in 1967 included from left to right, the 1967 Town of Barnstable brush breaker 216, the 1960 International Squad Truck 302, the 1963 International/Maxim pumper 309 "Engine 4", the 1950 Ford/Maxim 307 "Engine 1", the 1966 Chevy ambulance 303, and the 1967 Ford Town of Barnstable patrol truck 210.

 In about 1975 the Town of Barnstable decided to dissolve the Forest Fire Department and four of the remaining apparatus were transferred to the fire districts which operated them.  Brush Breaker 216 became Centerville-Osterville Brush Breaker 316 and would serve for many more years.

    The 1967 Maxim brush breaker was initially assigned to Osterville, but served years at both the Marstons Mills and Centerville fire stations.

 

 

 

 

 In 1967 the Town of Barnstable Forest Fire Department had a new brush breaker built on a Maxim custom chassis.  The 10 wheel, all wheel drive truck had a 1000 gallon water tank, 250 gpm rear pump, and was of similar design to previous trucks.  This truck had a Waukesha gasoline motor and 5 speed manual transmission with all wheel drive mode.  When delivered it replaced the 1952 Ford brush breaker which was then transferred to the Barnstable Fire District for several years.

     This "third generation" Town of Barnstable brush breaker would later be transferred to the Centerville-Osterville Fire District around 1975 and would serve as Breaker 316  until about 2015 when it would be taken out of service after a total of nearly 47 years of service.

The 1967 Breaker 316 responded on mutual aid to a brush fire near Compass Lane in Mashpee on April 22, 2014. About 6 acres were scorched.  As it would turn out, this ended up being the last fire for two brush breakers which were later permanently taken out of service due to mechanical repair problems. One was Mashpee Breaker 353 and the other COMM Breaker 316 which would remain at the COMM HQ into 2016.

 

 

 

 

In 1967 the Town f Barnstable replaced the 1958 Ford patrol truck with a new 1967 Ford patrol truck.  It also had a 150 gallon  tank and pump.  The patrol truck even had a topographical map with fire tower lines mounted on the ceiling of the cab to line up smokes seen by fire towers. Patrolman Herbert "Buddy" Dupuis is shown with the truck. Dupuis later served as the Forest Fire Warden for the Town of Barnstable. This truck was replaced by another patrol truck in 1975.

 

 

  In 1969 a Dodge Power Wagon was made into a brush breaker for the Cotuit station. This truck replaced the 1947 Dodge Power Wagon brush breaker.  It had a 300 gallon tank, rear mounted pump and winch.  It was originally Town of Barnstable brush breaker 215. In 1975 when the Town of Barnstable Forest Fire Department dissolved it became Cotuit Breaker 267 "Engine 4."  This truck would continue to serve until 2001.

 

 

 

The Town had one patrol truck for many years.  In 1969, a second patrol truck was added to the roster. Also housed in Osterville, the Ford patrol truck served until the mid 1970s.

 

The 1969 Ford Patrol Truck 220 along with C-O FD Squad 302 operating at a brush fire in Marstons Mills.

     In the mid 1970's the TOB Forest Fire Department was dissolved.  The 1969 Ford pickup was taken over by the shellfish department and no longer served as a fire apparatus.

 

 

 

 

The last of the Town of Barnstable Forest Fire Department purchases was a 1975 4x4 pickup truck Patrol Truck, originally Patrol 210. Soon after it was put in service, the TOB Forest Fire Dept. dissolved and the truck was transferred to the West Barnstable Fire Department and designated as Patrol 290.  It had a 150 gallon tank and was very similar to previous patrol trucks. 

The Town of Barnstable 1975 International 4x4 Patrol 210 would soon become West Barnstable's Patrol 290.  It would serve for several years before being replaced. This represents the last of the Town of Barnstable Forest Fire Department's apparatus.

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FIRE DEPARTMENT
~ Barnstable Town Forest Fire Department ~

 

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