Author: Brett Anderson

The Cumberland Hill Fire Department had it’s humble beginning on October 6, 1930. This is when the Cumberland Hill Improvement Association held a meeting and decided a fire district was needed for the community. On December 1st of that year, the first fire officer’s of the Cumberland Hill Fire Department were elected naming John Conway as Chief of the Department. On November 3, 1931 the department received its first piece of fire apparatus. A 1931 REO speed-wagon was delivered for inspection by the Cumberland Hill taxpayers. The “REO” was stored in the Conway family garage before the department built it’s permanent fire station.

Recognizing the need to keep the morale high within the department the members organized the Cumberland Hill Firefighter’s Association on September 8, 1949. This organization was responsible for various fundraising, sporting, and fire muster events. The Association still remains active today with active and honorary members meeting every other month.

By 1947 the department built it’s fire station located on Mendon Rd., to provide better coverage to the quickly developing community. On November 10, 1952, Chief Sam Angell was appointed as custodian of the fire station, making him Cumberland Hill’s first full-time firefighter. By this time the district was growing rapidly and it was determined that more full-time firefighters would be needed in the following years to handle the increase in emergency calls. This would be proven true at one of the largest blazes ever handled by the Cumberland Hill Fire Department.

On September 12, 1955 a fire broke out at Jenks Mill located adjacent the Blackstone R iver, where the Jenkswoods Senior Housing is currently located. This fire would consume the large mill and would require over 29 fire departments to aid in it’s extinguishment. The cause of the blaze is still a mystery but there are two theories on what ignited the fire. One involves a careless cigarette thrown out the window then sucked back in through a window on a lower floor, and the other from workers repairing after a major flood.

In 1973 the member’s of the Cumberland Hill firefighters purchased their original fire truck, the 1931 REO Speed-wagon, which had been sitting in a field for years. The member’s fully restored this magnificent truck to the beauty it once saw in 1931. Countless man hours and dedicated work paid off well as this truck is still in operation to this day as our parade piece.

On March 18, 1980 with an
increased number of full-time personnel, the career firefighters joined the International Association of Firefighters and chartered Local 2762. Later this year Chief Sam Angell retired with 38 years as Chief of the Department, one of the longest serving fire chiefs in Rhode Island’s history. His predecessor Kenneth Sweich would also set a record with 20 years as chief of a full-time fire department.

During Sweich’s reign as Chief, the department would continue to grow along with the district and of course the emergency call volume. The department realized the need for expansion and began a building renovation in the early 1990’s. This renovation would include improved living conditions, larger work spaces, and it was an overall morale booster. The new addition was completed and dedicated to all former Chief’s on September 22, 1991.

The department was not only growing in size during the 1990’s, but was also making technological advances as well. In January of 1994 the department bought it’s first Automatic External Defibrillator, the first of its kind in Rhode Island outside of the hospital setting. This unit was proven useful when Cumberland Hill Firefighter’s David Yacino (now Lt.) and Claude Laflamme (now Fire Marshal) were the first in the nation to record a save in the pre-hospital environment, according to the American Heart Association. The department also purchased it’s first thermal imaging device in 1998. This camera is used to locate victims of fires by using infrared technology to pick up a person’s body heat so they can be found through the thick smoke.

On December 31, 2000 Chief Richard A. Susi took over as head of the department. Chief Susi has overseen many advances since his inception as Chief. Chief Susi always has the safety of his firefighters in mind, for instance he saw the need for an exhaust removal system for the apparatus. In 2001 a ventilation system was installed to remove the cancer causing diesel exhaust the fire apparatus give off when they are started. Chief Susi also secured funding through federal grants for a turnout gear washing and drying system. The system is designed to remove hidden toxins from turnout gear making it safer for firefighters and the citizens alike. In 2002 the department also purchased it’s first rescue boat sparked from a 1998 drowning on the Blackstone River. Later in 2002 the department also upgraded to a LifePak 12 EKG monitor/defibrillator. This unit allows the firefighters, who are dually trained as Emergency Medical Technicians with manual defibrillation training, to view a patient’s heart rhythm and respond with advanced care. The department also replaced it’s thermal imaging camera this year with a new handheld unit equipped with the latest technology and transmitting capabilities so the incident commander can view what the firefighters see through a television screen in a remote location.

As you can see by now, the Cumberland Hill Fire Department has developed over the years into a well trained, well equipped fire department. We will continue to grow and expand in the upcoming years to better service our customers and the demands of our times. A special thanks is extended to Deputy Chief Ronald Dubois for his endless dedication to this department and his love of the fire service. This history page would not have been as thorough without his commitment to maintaining a detailed scrapbook collection, along with his recollections of 38 years on this department.