Special Ceremony Honors
Northfield’s Fallen Firefighter
By Chris Harris
On Christmas Day evening of 1931, the Northfield Fire Department responded to a Hinsdale house fire with its new truck, The Buffalo. James Dale picked up the truck from the old firehouse next to Town Hall and proceeded up Main Street, stopping near the Mountain View Hotel to pick up Donald Williams, a member of the company who happened to be in that vicinity at the time and who left his own automobile and mounted the truck.
Turning down Moody Street, the Buffalo gained momentum after heading north on Route 10. Rounding the long curve at Wanamaker Pond, the truck careened to the left and, striking the white fence, carried away a section of fifteen to twenty feet and plunged down the bank just to the left of the concrete bridge over the brook leading from Wanamaker Lake.
“Back in those days,” says life member Ted Powell, “fire trucks were very narrow and top-heavy, unlike the fire trucks today, so you slid easily going around corners.”
Both men were seriously injured, and Donald Williams died of his injuries that night at 11:30 at the Franklin County Public Hospital, where he had been transported by Kidder Ambulance.
“He did the same thing the rest of us do,” says David Quinn, Jr. “The call went out, he dropped whatever he was doing, he jumped on the fire truck and headed to a fire. Thank the good Lord above, he is the only line-of-duty death we’ve ever had, and hopefully he’ll be the only one we’ll ever have in Northfield. And we just felt that we needed to do something to honor that.”
So on Sunday morning, August 15th, at 11 o’clock, the Northfield Fire Department will dedicate a new granite monument in front of the flag pole at the Fire Station at 93 Main Street. It reads, “In memory of those lost in the line of duty: Donald L. Williams, 1931.”
David Byron, a minister from Camp Northfield, will preside over the ceremony. “When we asked him to do it,” says Quinn, Jr., “it almost brought him to tears. He was very honored.”
Donald Williams was 27 and married to Esther (Morgan) Williams, who was carrying their first child at the time. Many Northfield residents remember her as the wife of school superintendent George Leonard.
Ethel (Miller) Carpenter, wife of life member Paul Carpenter, remembers Donald Williams. “He was just a real nice young man,” said Ethel recently. “He went to the same church as I did, the Unitarian Church. He was quite a few years older than me. He used to take us kids to some of the parties, the Sunday School picnics, because we didn’t have transportation. I must have been not even a teenager at the time he was killed.”
“Sometimes, when I’d be going to a fire by Wanamaker Pond,” says Ted Powell, “I’d think about Donald Williams a little bit, thinking ‘This poor guy never made it.’ Not every time, but every once in a while I’d think, ‘This poor guy never made it; how sad.’”