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Date: 01 July 2015

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Welcome to The Rouss Fire Company

The Charley Rouss Fire Company Inc. is one of four volunteer fire companies in the City of Winchester Virginia.  Rouss provides truck company operations for the city as well as vehicle extrication while Friendship, Shawnee, and South End provide engine company operations and EMS transports. 

 

 

 

Rouss is the first due truck for the entire city as well as the second due truck for the majority of Frederick County.  We operate two rear mount aerial devices owned by the volunteers and are supplemented by the city with career drivers.  We currently operate with available volunteers and are staffed with five career firefighters, one career lieutenant, and one career battalion chief, who provide twenty-four hour coverage on three shifts.  Winchester also has four other career firefighters stationed elsewhere who are qualified drivers at Rouss and are able to fill in when needed.

 

 

 

 

 

                     

The history of the Rouss Fire Company of Winchester actually involves the history of three seperate companies. First was the Union Fire Company, which later became the Charley Rouss Fire Company; the Rouss Hook and Ladder Company; and finally the Charley Rouss Fire Company, Inc. which was the combined organization of these two former groups. In a separate article we will deal at length with the history of the Rouss Hook and Ladder Company and in this article we propose to concern ourselves mainly with the old Union Fire Company and the present Charley Rouss Fire Company, which evolved from it.

   The exact date of the organization of the Union Fire Company is unknown, but it has been definitely established that the company existed prior to May 20, 1789, for it was on that date that a notice appeared in the local newspaper, THE VIRGINIA GAZETTE or THE WINCHESTER ADVERTISER as follows: "The members of the Union Fire Company are notified that their meeting stands adjourned to the last Saturday in the present month, then to assemble at the Market House". It therefore appears beyond reasonable doubt that the Union Fire Company was the first fire company in Winchester and vicinity. This fact has since been recorded in the Common Law Books of the Corporation Court of the City of Winchester thus adding legal significance to the fact that this company was organized prior to May 20, 1789.

   There are no records, however, of the early days of the Union Fire Company. We do know however that the engine house was located on the public square in Winchester. After a prolonged controversy between the Common Council and the County Court relative to their respective rights in the Public Square, a resolution was adopted by the City Council on October 28, 1848 appointing a committe to look out for sites for the engine houses. With the action taken by the City Council on December 7, 1848, the fire departments were completely divorced from the Public Square. The site chosen for the Union Fire Copmany was on the North side of Water Street between Indian Alley and Braddock Street. It was purchased by the City from the trustees of the Lutheran Church by deed of date December 6, 1848 (deed book 9, page 201 of the Corporation Court). This site is where the Lutheran Church Sunday School now stands.

   At a meeting held January 23, 1858 in the Town Hall, Mr. Henry Kinzel announced that all the books and papers of the Company had been destroyed by fire. This fact is recorded in the minutes of the company, and it can justifiably be assumed that along with this destruction of books and records were the minutes of the meetings.  (PLEASE NOTE: Contrary to news articles printed in 2008 and 2009, there is no evidence that the fire hall was destroyed by fire). 

The first written record which is available is merely a brief statement which appeared in THE WINCHESTER REPUBLICAN in 1833, February Issue. This article contained little of importance but merely mentioned the company. 

   There were long periods of time in the early days of the company after 1833 when no records were kept. For instance, there are no written minutes between April 3, 1858 and March 1, 1861. There was a meeting held in March 1861 at the "Engine House", but no significant business was transacted. Again there were no minutes from April 13, 1861 to July 29, 1865. Since these were the days immediately before and during the War between the the States it can be assumed that, if meetings were held, everyone was too busy to make any records, or perhaps they did not feel the necessity for any such records. One other possibility is that the records have long since been destroyed.

   The next significant happening was on January 4, 1889 when the name was changed to the Union Steam Fire Company No. 2. Steam had previously been istituted on September 27, 1888, but the name was not actually changed until January of the following year.

   It is interesting to note that during this period the Copmany was the sponsor of a very flourishing organization, THE UNION CORNET BAND. Actuallly the band was organized on January 10, 1882 and was a very intgral part of the fire company, especially during parades and special meetings. Ther is no record, however, of the fire company ever participating to any great financial extent in the work of the band.

    At the regular meeting held on February 1, 1894, Mr. M. T. Reed, who was then a lieutenant in the fire company, proposed that February 11 be set aside each year as a day of celebration and demonstrate in a manner which would keep alive the memory of Charles Broadway Rouss, who had been so very much interested in the fire company and who, on numerous occasions, had made substantial contributions to its work. This propsal was unanimously passed by the company and on February 11, 1894 the first celebrationwas held. According to the record the program for this occasion was as follows: MUSIC: Union Fire Company Cornet Band, ADDRESS: Captain John J. Williams, READING: Miss Kate McVicar, PRESENTATION of RESOLUTIONS: Judge William M. Atkins.

   It is interesting to note that each year since that time celebrations have been held to honor Mr. Rouss. For a number of years these celebrations have taken the form of a banquet for the members and friends of the company.

   At the meeting of the company held on January 1, 1895 a committe was appointed to begin making plans for a new home for the company. On March 1 of this same year they reported they had an option on the lot at the corner of Braddock and Water Streets, but for some unknown reason they "decided" to purchase the Union Bank property on the North side of Water Street between Main and Braddock Streets - 2 doors west of their present Engine House. Before this sale was consummated, however, the company changed their mind and on June 24, 1895 agreed to purchae the Atkinson lot on the corner of Braddock and Water Streets. This site was Officialy purchased on July 19, 1895.

   About this same time the company began thinking in terms of a new building to go on the lot which another committe was attempting to secure. Therefore, on March 22, 1895 a building committe was appointed by the Captain of the Company. The City Council appropriated $3,000 toward a new home and the old engine house was sold for $5,000. On April 9, 1895 Charles Broadway Rouss donated $5,000 toward a new home for the company. As a token of appreciation for this generous gift, the company decided that the building would be named THE ROUSS ENGINE HOUSE OF UNION STEAM FIRE COMPANY No. 2.

   The year 1895 was also the year that the company decided it would enter the field of reel racing. On March 8 of that year they agreed to purchase a racing reel from the American Fire Engine Company of Seneca Falls, New York. The reel arrived on May 13, 1895 and on July4 of the same year the reel team established a world's record of 38 and 2/3 seconds. This record was established at the Winchester Fair Grounds when the Union Steam Company team won over a number of other reel teams from Frederick and Hagerstown, Maryland, Martinsburg, West VA, and Winchester, VA. This worlds record was officially established and reported in THE FIREMEN'S STANDARD, of Boston, MA on August 1, 1895. THe members of the reel team at that time were as follows: E. E. Stone, W. B. Gibson, Herman Noakes, German Smith Jr, Edward Baker, E. C. Hottle, Charles F. Pingley, Lewis Baker, Hunter Kern, Harry Sigafoose, G. Frank Baker, William Noonan, H. L. Wood, John H. Snyder, and John O. Kern.

   Work progressed satisfactorily on the new Rouss Hall and on November 11, 1895 over 4,000 people gathered for the corner stone laying. According to an article from THE ITEM (whick was a local newspaper at that time) the program lasted from 1430 hrs until 1700 hrs. There was band music and numerous speeches; the principal speaker, however, was Hon. R. T. Barton. No where in the record can be found the exact date the Hall was completed, but it is recorded that on October 1, 1897 at the regular company meeting the building committe was dismissed with thanks for the excellent work they had done. It was also reported at that time the cost of the new Hall was $14, 953.28.

    As time went on wisdom of incorporating the company became apparent and on May 20, 1896 the company formed a corporation.

   During the succeeding years Mr. Rouss continued to make substantial financial contributions to the company and so on March 10, 1899 the company decided to honor him by changing the name to THE CHARLEY ROUSS FIRE COMPANY, INC.. Mr. Rouss died at 0600 hrs on March 3, 1902 in New York City, just on week less than three years after the company had decided to call themselves by his name. With the passing of Mr. Rouss the company lost a very loyal and devoted friend and one whose generosity had made possiable the rapid expansion of the company.

Up until June 15, 1904 Winchester had been fortunate in not having a fire which raged out of control for a long period of time. However, on that date the Virginia Woolen Mill was destroyed by fire with an estimated loss of about $60,000. So far as is known, this was the most expensive fire in the history of the city up until that time.

   It should be recorded as part of the history of this organization that on July 4, 1902 the CUMBERLAND VALLEY FIREMEN'S ASSOCIATION convened in the City Hall in Winchester. This was the organizational meeting of this group and the members of the Rouss Fire Company played an important part in this first meeting.

 The next significant happening in the company' s history was on May 3, 1907 when they decided to buy an Auto Hose Wagon at a cost not to exceed $3,500. The wagon was purchased from the Howe Manufacturing Company and arrived on December 17, 1907. It was accepted two days later and was the first triple combination auto fire truck in service in the United States. It is interesting to note that on April 5, 1909 this truck was called to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Reese B. Carter who lived nine miles from Winchester. The truck made the trip in 35 minutes which was too late to be of service. Lost in this particular fire was the infant child of Mr. and Mrs. Carter.

   During the next few years the company went along in a more or less routine fashine adding constantly to it's membership and participating in numerous civic events, parades, etc. The next outstanding happening came on September 5, 1916 when a new Seagrave Pumper was purchased at a cost of $6,500. Thiswas a325 gallon per minute pumper and was "the last word" in fire fighting equipment.

    We shall not record in this history the events leading up to the merger with the Rouss Hook and Ladder Company since that information is included in the history of the Hook and Ladder Company. We will simply mention that the late in 1916 and during the year of 1917 the details of the merger of these two companies took place which, we believe, has added much to the efficiency of the total Winchester Fire Department.

   The year 1923 was marked by two outstanding happenings. The first of these was the purchase of a Seagrave ladder truck on June 5, 1923 at a cost of $9, 450. This provided Winchester with a very modern and up-to-date piece of firefighting equipment and was a much needed addition to the city. The other significant happening of the year was a $75,000 fire on Christmas night at the National Fruit Product Company.

    The year 1926 was also a year in which new equipment was added to the Company. Although the equipment did not actually arrive until March 15, 1927, it was on September 10, 1926 that the company decided to purchase a new pumper. At that time a committee was appointed, and in December 1926 an order was placed for a 1000 gallon per minute Seagrave Pumper at a cost of $13,500.

 

   

 

 
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