Like many Island communities, Kensington has throughout its history experienced heavy losses to fire. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, there were no building codes to speak of, the majority of buildings were made of wood, and most of the heating and lighting involved burning wood or oil. All these factors added up to create a constant threat of conflagration, and practically guaranteed that-- if a fire started-- it could turn into a raging inferno almost instantaneously. There was a deep public well located in the centre of town, one of whose purposes was to act as a latter-day fire hydrant, providing a source of water in the event of fire. But without high pressure hoses or fire-fighting trucks, there was little that early residents could do besides exercise extreme caution, and in the event of an accident, try to rebuild after the fact.
Reuben Tuplin's towering general store was reduced to ashes in 1887. There was a rule against smoking in the store, but it was not strictly enforced, and the fire was started by a smouldering cigarette butt. Due to this single act of carelessness, the entire east side of Broadway street was completely wiped out. Fatefully, Tuplin's had received a cask of gunpowder only days before, and when it ignited, it blew the roof clear off the building and down the street! Undiscouraged, Tuplin rebuilt his store but it burned to the ground again in 1924, in a fire that started when a lantern was upset in the livery stable of the adjacent Commercial Hotel. This 1924 blaze almost leveled the entire business district in Kensington, leaving only PJ&C Kennedy's store unscathed. And Kennedy's only escaped the flames for four years, burning down in 1928.
Hoping to prevent such disastrous losses, the first fire hall was organized soon after the town's incorporation in 1914, and was located beside the old post office in Town Square. When the hall was being built, they placed a driveway between the two buildings to accommodate the mailman, who insisted that he needed a way to get to the back of the post office.
The original building was equipped with a bell in an elevated tower, and ropes hung down all the way to the front of the building, an area which was constantly kept well-lit and visible. In the early days, before telephones, those who saw a fire were supposed to run to the fire hall and ring the bell loudly to alert the town. The key to the fire hall was kept in a recessed box next to the door, so that anyone could gain access during an emergency. Every Kensington citizen was expected to do his or her part to avert the fires that could prove catastrophic to them all.
The first fire hall was torn down when a new facility was completed in 1962. One of the major reasons behind the construction of this building was to house three new fire trucks, complete with modern fire-fighting equipment that must have allowed Kensington residents to sleep a little easier.
These trucks included the 1956 American Marsh, 1961 La France, and the 1956 Ford Tanker, which could hold 500 gallons, 600 gallons and 1600 gallons respectively. In 1972, a three-way radio system was instituted to keep the volunteer firemen on constant alert, and it proved of particular advantage in getting quickly to fires in the outlying communities. With this volume of water ready to douse the flames, and the ability to rally firemen instantaneously, the town's fire-fighting has certainly come a long way from the central well and bell tower approach. In 1977, the fire department moved into new facilities at the Kensington Community Center.
Despite this modern equipment, the threat of fire has not really diminished, and the town's volunteer firemen still place themselves at considerable risk for the safety of their neighbours. In 1973, Gordon Kennedy lost his life while fighting a fire. The burning of the Community Gardens in 1977 was an exceptionally hard blow to the town. But despite these ever-present dangers, the losses experienced by fire have been limited as much as possible by the courageous acts of the Kensington fire department.