HARFORD — For Pete Barber, firefighting in the town wasn’t just something he did but something he helped establish, and he recently recalled the days of starting the volunteer fire department back when it relied on an old milk truck repurposed into a water tanker.
In 1953, 27-year-old Barber went before the Town Board with 15 others, raising the idea of starting their own volunteer fire department, he recalled in a recent interview.
The town agreed after much debate. From there, a two-bay firehouse was built, which Barber helped construct, he said.
Salvador “Pete” Barber, 90, had grown up in Harford, where he attended school until eighth grade and then went on to high school in Marathon. At 17, he became the main supporter of his family when his father died.
“When he passed away, I had to get a job,” Barber said.
In 1944, when he was 18, the U.S. was in the middle of World War II and Barber enlisted in the Army. He was sent to France, then Germany and was assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division. Barber was on a train headed to the front lines when news was received that the war in Europe had ended, he said.
Ultimately, he landed back in Harford.
Barber’s nickname, Pete, he said, came from his step-grandfather who always called him that instead of Salvador.
Before 1953, Harford was covered by Dryden’s fire service, Barber said. One problem the town faced from Dryden coverage was the 6-mile distance between the two towns, he said. “If you’re going 6 to 8 miles to fight a fire, it can get quite big in a hurry,” Barber said.
This prompted him and the 15 other people to rally around the idea of Harford having its own volunteer fire department.
The original firehouse has since been expanded and five trucks are now housed there.
Barber also assisted in placing the siren atop the building that is still there and still sounds whenever there is a call.
Over the years Barber served as second chief twice, in 1954 and again in 1955.
Daryl Cross, Harford fire chief, credited Barber with being a central founder of the department. “If it wasn’t for hard work from Pete and the other charter members, we wouldn’t have a fire department here in Harford.”
One thing Barber noted that has changed over the years is the training. Charter members who started the department took one training class, he said. “Now there is more than that,” Barber said.
One memory of Barber’s time at the department still stands out to him.
When he was in his 50s, he was on a call for a structure fire, he said. During the fire, a member of the department was on a ladder leaning against a wall of the burning building when it fell outward, crushing and killing him, Barber said. “It was a long time ago,” Barber said. “Everything I did was a long time ago.”
Barber’s wife of 67 years, Lois, was also a member of the fire department’s auxiliary. The two had met at a town baseball game and from there things clicked. “It was love at first sight,” Barber said.
His wife died in March at 85 years old, Barber said.
It’s been 30 years since Barber has been an active member of the department and now he is an honorary member, he said.