Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Brief History of the Fire Department in the Village of North Pelham Published in 1913

In 1913, The Pelham Sun published a report on the state of the First District Fire Department prepared by Augustine C. McGuire, President of the Board of Fire Commissioners.  The report included a little on the history of the Fire Department.  The text of the report is transcribed below.  A photograph of the fire house that accompanied the article appears immediately below.

"First District Fire Department

The First Fire District of the Pelham Fire Department consists of all that part of the Town of Pelham lying north of the boundary line of Pelham Manor, and was authorized by a Special Act of the Legislature in 1893.  In March of that year two companies were organized, the Liberty Hose and the Relief Hook and Ladder Companies.  They were each allowed thirty men, and a small hand-drawn hook and ladder truck and hose wagon were purchased.  The truck was kept in the Town Hall and the hose wagon in Barker's barn, and with this apparatus the companies successfully fought many fires for fifteen years. 

In 1894 a small fire house was built on the present site to house the apparatus.  In 1907 the taxpayers, realizing that the firemen were seriously handicapped in their efforts by the old antiquated apparatus, voted a bond issue to build the present Fire Headquarters, consisting of a large apparatus room and five stalls for horses on the first floor and a hall 40 x 70 feet above for entertainments.  The old quarters were moved to the rear of the lot and joined to the new house.  This old building is now used for company rooms upstairs and on the first floor are located the commissioners' office and the room for the fire alarm system and motors.  This bond issue also furnished a steam fire engine and team of horses and a horse-drawn hook and ladder truck.  The companies were then enlarged to fifty members each.  Two years ago a third company was formed in the Heights, limited to twenty members, and they were given a small house, hose reel and 750 of hose.

Prior to 1912 an alarm of fire was sent to the Fire House by telephone or by messenger, and some one would then ring a large bell at the Fire House and all the firemen would report a[t] headquarters to find out where the fire was and go from there to the fire.  This all took time and the fire made great headway before the men finally arrived there.  After the Rosenheimer fire the commissioners asked for a bond issue to install an up-to-date alarm system, and, on this being approved, installed the Gamewell system, which is considered the best in the world.  This system works automatically, the horn at Fire Headquarters calling off the number as the lever in the fire-box is pulled; thus informing everyone where the fire is, and enabling the firemen to go direct to the fire instead of reporting first at headquarters.

This year the department ruined two horses, due to their pulling the engine, which weighs over two tons up the steep hills.  The commissioners looked into this matter very carefully and found that by selling the horses and getting an automobile equipment, they could reduce the fire tax considerably.  They therefore in November of this year appealed to the taxpayers for a bond issue to purchase a triple combination pumping auto engine and an automobile hook and ladder truck.  The first proposition was voted upon favorably, but the automobile truck was defeated by ten votes.  The contract for the former will be given out within a week.  This year our budget has been reduced about $500.

Quite a number of the original members of the Fire Department still doing duty, joined when the company was first organized.  The firemen of this department are doing splendid work and are rated as among the best of the State.  They have been thoroughly trained and are absolutely fearless.  A few years ago there were a number of so-called jury-dodgers among the members, but this has been eliminated and now every member is a worker.  Since the organization of the department there have only been three lives lost in Pelham, one at the Lyman fire and two at the Vaughan fire.

I would like to, and hope to, see in the near future one fire department for the town, with the fire alarm system extended to Pelham Manor and an automatic bell striker placed in the Heights and another in the Manor, which will work automatically with the horn on the headquarters in North Pelham.  The main apparatus, consisting of an automobile pumping engine and hook and ladder truck, should be kept in North Pelham, as we will always have to reply upon the men in that section for a greater part of our help, their business requiring most of them to be there at all times.  In the Manor and in the Height I would like to see a small automobile hose car, large enough to carry 750 feet of hose and a chemical tank.  With a company formed in the Manor, similar to Hose Company No. 2 in the Heights, we should be able to handle any fire in the town without outside aid.  By combining the three villages we could reduce the fire tax materially, as there would then be practically no expense except in case of fire.

In conclusion I would say that too much praise cannot be given to the firemen of our department, when we realize that they give their time and services and risk their health and lives at each fire and are receiving no remuneration whatever.

Pres. Board of Fire Commissioners."

Source:  First District Fire Department, The Pelham Sun, 1913, p. 2, col. 1 (undated newspaper page in the collections of the Office of The Historian of The Town of Pelham, NY; digital copy in author's files).

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