On July 9, in grand fashion the Milford Museum hosted the opening event for their newest exhibit, highlighting the history of the Carlisle Fire Company of Milford. Several firetrucks and members of the Carlisle Fire Department here on hand to celebrate one of Milford’s finest institutions. The museum exhibit features an extensive collection of fire helmets, uniforms and gear as well as historical accounts of major fires that have shaped Milford over the centuries.
Originally know as the Milford Fire Company, the organization was renamed The Carlisle Fire Company on November 12, 1918 in honor of Paris T. Carlisle, IV, an active member of the Milford Fire Company who fought in World War I and never returned. Carlisle was killed in action on October 6, 1918 near the Meuse River in France. The newly formed Carlisle Fire Company purchased the site of their former firehouse in 1922 on land that once was home to the Barto Shirt Factory, in operation from 1900 to 1921, before it burnt to the ground in a fire in 1921. The Carlisle Fire House was completed in 1925 and was occupied until moving to its present day location at 615 Northwest Front Street in 1978.Today, the Carlisle Fire Company has approximately 94 members and twelve pieces of equipment.
Among the members at Tuesday’s opening were the men and families of the individuals that were instrumental in integrating the Carlisle Fire Company in 1970. Carlisle Member Franklin Fountain began the process of integration when he contacted the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1970 after being rejected as a member of the fire department five times. The NAACP along with local organizations and individuals planned to protest the State Convention for firefighters that was to take place in Milford that year. With this pressure applied and the threat of national scrutiny, the department inducted Bradie Worthy, Kenneth Fountain and Reverend Joseph Tull into the department. Although he applied again Franklin was not admitted until 1972.
“Being a member of the Carlisle Fire Company has been such a rewarding time for me in my life,” commented Franklin Fountain at Tuesday’s opening. “It makes me feel so good to be able to help my community.” Now a member for over two decades, Franklin serves on the membership committee that evaluates and selects new members to the department.
Bradie Worthy, one of the three original African Americans to be accepted into the Carlisle Fire Department, was in attendance to celebrate the organization which he says gave not only himself an opportunity to serve his community but gave the African American community individuals to look up to.
“It was something no one else had done before and it meant a lot to myself, my family and the African American community,” commented Worthy. “For the African American community, it gave them someone to look up to and a connection to the city of Milford when they needed something to be done.”
The widow of Reverend Joseph Tull, Charlotte Tull, was also present at the opening and was proud to share her husband’s experiences.
“It was one of the highlights of his life,” commented Mrs. Tull refering to his induction into the Carlisle Fire Company in 1970. “He joined the company so that he could break ground for the African American community. As a wife I thought it was a dangerous job but I knew he was always a pioneer. It was a monumental time in our lives.”
The late Donnie Evans was President of Carlisle that year and the Delaware Volunteer Firefighters Association (DVFA) was preparing to celebrate their 50th Anniversary recognizing Milford as the birth place of the DVFA when the Association was formed in the winter of 1921.
“That time period was a pivotal turning point for our community with the successful integration of community African Americans in the historically established and dominated white membership of the Carlisle Fire Company of Milford.” commented Carlisle Vice President Glenn Gillespie. “That particular era is but another unique piece of our 211 year history that resonates the historical significance of the third oldest Volunteer Fire Company in the State of Delaware and highlights another the key role our organization has contributed to the overwhelming successes of the Volunteer Fire System in Delaware and throughout the nation.”
The city of Milford has been affected greatly by fires throughout its history including the most recent large fire that took place the day after Christmas in 2012, destroying the three-story building in the downtown district that housed Warren Furniture. The Carlisle Fire Company exhibit at the Milford Museum hopes to display the bravery of the men that served the organization since its earliest beginnings and the transformation of the fire company over the last two centuries.
The new exhibit is open to the public Tuesdays through Saturdays 10am to 3:30pm and on Sundays 1pm to 3:30pm. For more information about the Carlisle Fire Company exhibit or the Milford Museum visit http://www.milforddemuseum.org or call Claudia Leister, Director of the Milford Museum, at 302-424-1080.