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Still Burning Bright

Bristol’s Hydraulion Engine & Hose Company No. 1 continues a legacy of service

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Vintage event ribbons, decorative leather belts, and a helmet from the 1800s on display in a glass case; black-and-white photographs, original charter, and newspaper clippings framed on the walls; antique fire extinguisher and hose nozzles restored to former gleaming glory. These are just a few of the prized objects collected over the years to commemorate Bristol’s fire department, and one company in particular.

The Hydraulion Engine & Hose Company No. 1, fondly referred to as the Hydes, was officially chartered in 1843, though it had existed informally since 1836. The original members were selected by the people of Bristol to protect their lives and property, and according to Captain Barry Carinha, “To this day, we protect the residents and visitors of the town of Bristol and Bristol’s historic property and traditions with the same honor and respect that they did 175 years ago.”

While there are two other engine companies, plus one comprised of members from all departments known as the Squad, the Hydes are set apart by their original engine. “The Hydraulions were the first to have a hand tub that was able to draft its own water with the use of a hard-suction hose line,” Captain Carinha explains. “Bristol, being surrounded by water on three sides, created a perfect environment for this style of hand tub.”

The historic engine, revolutionary at its time, was finally retired in 1896; in 1977, it was reclaimed from the New Bedford Historical Society and returned to Bristol. Today, the refurbished, gleaming wood-and-metal engine is on display at the station, and after its hubs and wheels are replaced, will be used again in parades.

The Hydes continue to be a special fixture in Bristol, according to Battalion Chief Jim Vieira, who is in charge of maintaining the nineteenth century fire truck and more than willing to give a tour of the company’s collection of memorabilia. They regularly participate in food drives, charity events, sponsor a team in the King Phillip Little League, donate to RI Special Signal that provides relief to house fires, and purchase and deliver Christmas gifts to families in need with a Santa Claus manning the fire engine. “There are countless times we interact with the community on a personal level, making this company very special,” says Captain Carinha. “The spirit of volunteerism is alive and well in our department.”