History of the Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department
Wolcott, Wayne County, NY
Written and Contributed by Marvin Tryon, Secretary, Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department
Before 1884 there was no organized fire department. The village did have one hand Remington fire engine. Before the fire house was built the engines were stored in the Presbyterian Church's horse stable where Bob's super market stands today. When the alarm bell was rung, (a church bell) men and women would run with buckets to get water from where ever possible to fill the fire engine and "man" the pump handles.
In April of 1884, after a number of devastating fires, the village voted to organize a proper fire department. A tax of $2,500.00 was set, and a second pumper was purchased. A 20 X 36 foot engine house was built where the present Northup Park is today at about the site of the World War one and two monument. The land was owned by the Presbyterian and Baptist churches. A fire bell was purchased from a foundry in Cincinnati Ohio and was installed in 1888. The bell was cast of iron, and cost $245.00, and weighed about 2500 pounds. It was shipped by rail to the Wolcott station, and placed in the engine house's 67 foot tower which seconded as a hose drying tower. The village then dug cisterns, eight in all for a better and more reliable water supply. They were located a "hose length" apart starting from the mill pond. At that time, besides the hose cart, the department would store hose in strategic places around the village such as Olney and Carpenter's canning factory, Northup's lumber yard, the rail road depot, and one across the mill pond. The engine company would set up at the cistern nearest the fire and prepare to pump. The Wolcott hose company (established 1894) would stretch hose from the engine to the fire, which by that time, in many instances was already extinguished by the Independent Chemical Fire Engine Company (formed in 1911 when this company was formed a hand chemical cart was purchased, it looked like a huge fire extinguisher on wooden wheels and was hand drawn) and the Independent Hook and Ladder Company (formed in 1886 they had a horse or hand drawn ladder wagon).
Two other companies were also established, the Citizen's hose company no 1&2. Each company was independent of the other they each had their own "Forman" and executive officers and handled their own social and financial affairs. Each company met in a different place. The engine company in the engine house, one met in the hotel, one in the office of one of their officers. At least the hook and ladder company had a separate "house" to call their own and store equipment it was on East Main Street three lots east of what is now Gallo's. After the new engine house was built in 1910 the hooks moved in with the engine company (picture in Grip's chronicles of old Wolcott 1905). The village used the building for a jail until it was sold to the G.A.R. for $400.00. Each year the different companies would have a caucus they would each send four appointed delegates to meet and elect the department's chief and assistants for the next year. Each company had their own dress uniform. The engine company had grey uniforms with long coats. The hose company had red uniforms with bright red umbrellas. Other firemen used to pick on the umbrellas until one day during a parade there was a bad down pour everyone else was drenched accept the hose company. The hook and ladder company had bright blue uniforms to start then changed to cream colored. When the men were going to a parade they would muster at the engine house, form in rank and file, and march to the train station on Orchard street to board the train. It is said to be a common sight to have 85 men in line.
When the fire bell rang it was said to be a sight to see. There would be a horse race down Main Street to see which team would get to the fire engine first to draw it. The first team would get paid $5.00 the second three dollars (a lot of money back then) when the engine arrived at the fire, the horses were used to turn large out riggers that powered the newer pump.
In 1909 the engine company found they were cramped for space as other organizations often met in the upstairs room, and the village was also in need of better office space. The churches also wanted the land cleared of buildings so they could make room for a park area. So bids were put out for $7,000.00, and land purchased where the village hall stands in 2014. The engine company moved in and shared office space with the village. The bell was moved, and placed in the copula on top of the new building. The tower was removed from the old building, and the building sold and moved to the west side of Leavenworth Avenue, and re modeled into a home which still is there today. The deed to the land was transferred to the village with stipulation the land remain perpetually a park.
In 1912 when the new municipal water system was installed the cisterns were drained, and filled in. In 1918 on Armistice Day, the end of World War 1, the bell was rung so hard that it cracked. In 1919 the village purchased a used air whistle From Newark for $2.75 this whistle was tested every day at noon thus the term noon whistle was born. This whistle was used until it gave out in the mid 1930's. Then the present fire siren was purchased.
Until the addition of telephones, a person would have to run to the Presbyterian Church or later engine house and ring the bell. After phones were installed a person would call "central" an operator was on duty to manually connect calls. When a fire was reported the operator would call a chief or the first fireman she could get a hold of then they would go to the engine house to ring the bell, of course back then the fire houses were never locked so a citizen could still sound the alarm themselves. After phones were up graded to dial about 1941, the operators were phased out. When this happened, a fire phone (LX4-6171) was installed in the Coffee Cup restaurant, Blake's Texaco, with an extension in the fire house and in the chief's and two assistants' homes. When an alarm would come in, a person at the restaurant would blow the siren by an alarm button then wait on the line for the first fireman to get to the engine house to pick up the phone and find out where the fire was. When the Coffee Cup stopped being open around the clock, in the mid 1970's, the fire phone was moved to WAVAC where it was answered until the late 1980's. After that the phone line was re directed to the Lyons fire house where it was answered by county dispatchers. In about 1995 the 911 system took over all fire dispatching. The dispatchers were moved to a central location near the county jail. The fire phones were removed from the fire house and chiefs homes.
A central radio system was installed by the county in the Lyons fire house in about 1959. Base radios were then installed in all the fire houses. Before this if you needed mutual aide help, you had to call by telephone or telegraph. Before this from about 1940 some fire trucks had radios but it was spotty at best. Until about 1964 the only way to know there was a fire was to hear the siren, then the department bought "buzz boxes" that the firemen could put in their homes these worked off a signal from the fire house. When the alarm went off, these boxes would vibrate. You still had to come to or call the fire house to find out where to go, but they did at least wake you up in the middle of the night. In about 1969 Monitors came out they were great they were like a very large pager accept they required either 110 or 12 volts (no batteries). Pagers started coming around about the 1980's.
During the First World War 1914 to 1918, there were so many men drafted for the military that boys age 16 or older were allowed to join the fire department. The school was so cooperative that when there was an alarm the boys were allowed to leave school to answer alarms. When the soldiers returned from WW 1 and 2, they were all considered war heroes. They were all made honorary members of the fire department in some cases whether they wanted to be or not.
The department did a variety of fund raisers such as barn dances, base ball, basket ball games, socials, they used the Leavenworth school nearly monthly for banquets, dances, suppers, etc. they even catered a few Lady's night banquets there. The first mention of a turkey raffle was about 1961. There are two articles where farmers donated use of their barns for dances from 1940 they even sponsored their own concert band.
In 1925 it was decided with the modern times that the old hand engines were terribly in adequate as it was almost impossible to put out a fire outside the village. The village purchased their first motorized apparatus. It was an American LaFrance chemical truck on a Brockway chassis for $3,550.00. Not to be out done the hook and ladder company purchased another truck almost exactly the same except this one was set up as a ladder truck and had a 350 GPM water pump. This truck was sold to the Sennett fire dept. For one thousand dollars when the Buffalo was put in service.
By 1932 it was found that the chemical truck was quite in effective on large fires so the department decided to replace the chemical truck with an engine. A 750 g p m engine for $8,200.00 with a 100 gallon tank was purchased from the Buffalo fire equipment company this truck had a 6 cylinder Waukesha engine with a 5 inch bore and 5 inch stroke, Dick Moyer from Clyde who eventually ended up with the truck still has that engine. Surely this new truck will be more than adequate to handle any fire we may have. In 1937 two new Bangor ladders were purchased a 35 and a 55 foot they were mounted on top of the buffalo in a rack above the cab and hose bed. When the Buffalo was removed from service in 1962, the rack was moved to the GMC. Chief Watson Tyrell told the story of how we were called to Clyde to a block fire when this truck was nearly new. Men rode in the open cab, or hanging on for life on the beaver tail, the lucky ones got a place on the hose bed (remember, there was no route 104, and ridge road and 414 were not what they are today) at one time the chief looked down at the speedometer, and they were doing nearly 90 miles an hour. Needless to say that man did not drive the truck home. They were set up on the bridge, and put the suction hose over into the canal, a drop so far the suction barely reached the water. The pump was so powerful when it took draft it rocked the truck nearly up on two wheels.
By 1937 the frequency of alarms outside the village limits had village officials concerned. What if the engine was needed in the village when it was out of the village? So the village purchased a "Squad car" It Was a 1937 Packard chassis with an open cab and body also built by the Buffalo Fire equipment company, it had a 20 gallon a minute high pressure pump it also carried extra helmets coats, and equipment. Surely this should be adequate for any country fire as long as the water supply bucket for the pump can be kept full.
By 1942 it was obvious that this squad car was dreadfully in adequate. So another engine (E33) was purchased for about $5,000.00 it was a 1942 GMC with a 6 cylinder 54 hp engine and a 500 g p m pump, and 100 gallon tank this truck was sold in 1975 to Dowd's island in Fair Haven. In 1949 a used box van was purchased to replace the squad car. In 1950 it was obvious that they still did not carry enough water to fight a country fire. So a 1950 Chevrolet chassis was purchased from Worden's Chevrolet, and a 1000 gallon tank was put on. By 1946 it was decided that having now two different companies was quite inconvenient so on February 14, 1946 the two combined under one roof to form one unit. At this time the monthly meetings were set for the same time as the engine company had always met the second Thursday of the month at 8:00 PM. At some point in time before this the apparatus was centralized in the main fire house and the chemical company and hose company had been dissolved. Most meetings were dinner meetings each month had its own food, Clam chowder, Oyster stew, Bullheads, Roast beef, etc.
In 1948 the department undertook a plan to change all of the hose, engine, and hydrant connections to the new national standard threads. Before this each department would order engines, hydrants etc. with their own thread pattern. This made it difficult to hook up with other departments when running mutual aide. So the federal government stepped in and standardized many things.
When Sabin's garage where Dobbin's insurance is today, was still in operation, in the winter time the fire department used to take their big flood lights down and illuminate the mill pond on Friday and Saturday evenings so people could ice skate.
By 1956 the Department had out grown the 1946 squad truck (which had replaced the Packard), so a larger 1956 Ford box van M14) was purchased this truck was sold to Lester Verslys to use in his laundry business.
The first two Scott air packs were purchased about 1958 they had 15 minute tanks with steel bottles they were only used in extreme situations, because if used, someone would have to drive all the way to Lyons to have the four tanks filled. Breathing systems were invented around 1900 the first ones looked like a night's armor helmet with a hose that ran to a bellows outside, and depended on a person working the bellows to keep pumping to supply fresh air.
By 1962 the 1932 Buffalo was getting old and unreliable. So the village bought a 1962 International Engine (E34) from Young's Fire Equipment Company in Buffalo for the price of $10,244.00. The truck had a 549 cid V8 engine,750 gallon tank, and a 750 g p m pump in 1998 this truck was sold to James Hoyt. Shortly after this the department ordered a newer and larger tanker, a 1963 Ford chassis (TA11) from Pat Haughey Ford, with a 1500 gallon tank made by Salisbury Fire equipment in Syracuse for $7,500.00. In a queer coincidence both trucks were delivered within a week of each other due to construction times.
In the early 1960's the firemen were being called upon more and more to transport people to the hospital in the squad truck when Robertson's funeral home "ambulance" was unavailable. So in 1966 the department purchased an "Emergency truck" with related equipment the community helped out with donations also, it was a 1966 Ford van (M26). In late 1971 it was replaced with a larger and more powerful GMC van. Ironically shortly after this purchase, Robertson decided, due to rising insurance costs and demands on his time, he would go out of the ambulance business. The fire department did not want to go into the ambulance business full time. So an advertisement was put out, a public meeting called, and in late 1971 WAVAC was formed, and went into business on May 15, 1972 this van was used for a second rig until WAVAC purchased a second ambulance in 1978 the emergency van was sold to Jack Palmer for his appliance business.
In 1968 the firemen's wives got together and formed an Auxiliary, and have been very generous, and helpful to the department every since, helping out whenever possible.
Since about the beginning, the dept. members were competing in many fire tournaments and water ball competitions. So in 1964 the dept. authorized the purchase of an old 1954 Chevrolet Champion engine to be set up as a tournament truck. The dept. even purchased uniforms for the team. They were very good winning most of the time. When the auxiliary was formed they even had a team to go along with the men.
In 1969 a used 1964 Ford four wheel drive pickup truck (BR36) was purchased from Bill Senior for $500.00, and was made into a grass, brush truck this truck was sold to Eric Donsaleer. In 1976 this truck was replaced with a G M C from Hadcock's. In 1990 this truck was taken to Long Island and fitted with a compressed air class A foam system one of the first in the area. This truck was replaced in 1996 with the present Chevrolet truck From Govener's (Attack 2).
In 1971 the squad truck was replaced with an International box van $6913.00. The interior work was done by Salisbury fire equipment co. of Tully NY. The work was found to be unsatisfactory; so much of the work was re done by VanVleck brothers, (Hayes and Vic) this truck would be purchased by the Macedon fire dept.
By 1973 the GMC was getting old so it was decided to replace it. A new 1974 Ford chassis was ordered from Russ Cook Ford. The body was built by Sanford fire equipment of East Syracuse for about $44,000.00 (this truck turned out to be such a lemon in 1994 it was taken to the county auction and sold). After the truck was specked out, it was realized that the new truck was not going to fit in the fire house, because even now trucks were so tight that if you did not get them backed in perfectly, you did not get them in. Then a fund drive campaign was begun, and with what money could be mustered, and what the village could afford to chip in, at the corner of West Port Bay Road and Orchard Street on property that the village already owned, a new fire house project was begun. It was decided that due to the limited funds, most of the construction would be done by the firemen. In late February 1973, construction was begun. Much time, equipment, and labor was graciously donated by many local contractors for no more than a hot lunch from the auxiliary. After many hours away from home at night, on Saturdays and even some Sundays (and a very lot of patience from wives), the new fire house was completed It seemed like a palace, we even had a kitchen, and separate bathrooms. In March of 1974 all equipment was moved to the new fire house. Shortly after we moved in, the new engine was delivered. In 1975 the bell was removed from the old fire house and moved to the new fire hall, and mounted out front in its own structure as a monument to deceased fire fighters and auxiliary. The structure was built by time donated by FF Arthur Burnett, and FF Robert Youngs who was a mason by trade, and a few other firefighter helpers.
In about 1978 the chamber of commerce wanted to get out of sponsoring the annual "Apple harvest festival" in late September most of the time it was rainy and cold. The fire department now had land enough to hold such an event with a little understanding of our neighbors who provided land for parking. We built a building to house our concessions near where the barn is today. The department took the "Summer Fest" over and moved it to the first week after the 4th of July. The carnival was held almost every year up until the early 2000's and was very success full thanks to all the hard work of the fire fighters and auxiliary, and leadership of President Richard Lasher then the time requirements and all the work got to be too much then the carnival was discontinued.
When the new route 104 was built we saw a dramatic increase in serious auto accidents. As a result it was much harder to extricate victims. In the early 1970's NASCAR had about the same problems with race cars. So a parts supplier named Hurst saw the problem, and invented a new hydraulic tool, and dubbed it the "Jaws of Life". When Hurst saw that the tool worked so well for NASCAR, they decided to open up the sale of the tool to fire departments. When the tool became available on the market Sodus Fire Department bought the first one in this area. After this we had a few serious accidents, and called them for help. When we saw how good the tool worked we decided to buy one, so in 1978 the fire department and WAVAC went in half and half and purchased the tool for Wolcott for a cost of about $4,400.00. In 1982 we purchased a set of Maxi Force low rise 34 ton air rescue bags for $2,600.
In 1978 a second tanker was added to the fleet, a 1978 Chevrolet from Govener's (TA31). The tank was built by Caustine tank. In about 1990 a third tanker was bid on a used 1970 Ford with a Salisbury 1500 gallon tank from Sodus (TA3).
In 1981 the squad truck was replaced with a new box van also a Chevrolet from Goveners. The fitting out was done by Sanford fire equipment, Much of the shelving was done by Bill Gilbert construction.
About 1985 an addition was added on to the back of the hall to make an entrance way and store room. Again in about 1990 another addition was put on to make place for an office, bigger kitchen and storage area most of this work was done by Bill Gilbert, and Jack Palmer. In about 1995 an addition was put on the north end of the building to make space for a new aerial platform that was too long to fit in the engine bay.
In about 1980 a ladder truck was for sale from Egypt fire department in Monroe County. A bid was placed, and we got the bid, the truck was a 1948 Mack twelve cylinder gas engine (T4). The truck had no power areal, but a 1000 gallon pump and lots of ground ladders this truck was sold to Dowd's Island in Fair Haven. In about 1985 a ladder truck from Newark fire dept., with a hydraulic 75 foot aerial was for sale again we got the bid. The truck was a 1958 Seagrave this truck was sold to Richard Colacino Chief of Newark Fire Dept. In about 1996 this truck failed to pass inspection. At this time an aerial platform was bid on from Bay Village, Ohio fire dept(AP3). Again we got the bid this truck was about a 1982 - 85 foot Maxim chassis with a Detroit Diesel engine. In about 2008 this truck was in ill repair, and broken down so, so we got lucky this time, and found a like new 1992 75 foot Pierce Quint with a 1500 G P M pump, and equipped with class A foam, and a Detroit diesel engine, from Cocoa Beach, Florida fire dept(Q4). This truck was obtained and is still in service.
In 1993 the Ford engine was in severe disrepair it was decided to replace it. A new truck was specked, and bid out the new truck would be a 1994 3D body on a Freightliner chassis with a Cummins diesel engine and 1250 g p m pump and 1000 gallon tank (E32), this would be the first in the area to be equipped with class A foam this truck still serves us today.
In 1998 it was decided to replace the International so specks were written, bids were let out and another Freightliner from 3D was purchased this truck would be a multipurpose heavy rescue and fire engine with a 1250 G P M pump and 750 gallon tank, and Cummins diesel engine(E34).
In 2005 a 1998 Freightliner chassis with a delivery box became available from Penske leasing at the same time a tanker from east Williamson fire dept. became available with a 2000 gallon stainless steel tank nearly new on an old Ford chassis. The chassis and tanker were purchased, and taken to Fulton spring works where the newer chassis was modified, and tank transferred. The old truck and truck box were sold. This tanker is still in service (TA11) we have since sold the other two tankers, and are back down to one. In about 2005 the department was able to purchase a UTV (uneven terrain vehicle) equipped with a small pump and 70 gallon water tank to go off road and help fight fires where the heavier attack 2 could not reach. The vehicle is also equipped with a place to secure a Stokes basket for off road rescue.
In 2009 the fire house meeting room, and rest rooms were in need of a face lift so bids were put out, and a remodel done with the addition of a firefighter's recreation room.
In 2011 it was decided to have a barn built out behind the fire house to give us more room to store our pump trailers, ice rescue trailer, UTV and trailer, and rescue boat. The space also houses room for general storage as well as an area for more advanced firefighter training, and work out gym, because there just was not enough room in the fire house. Now we are adding on to the barn again because it is too small.
In 2012 the squad truck needed to be replaced. Walworth had a used rescue truck for sale. We won the bid on this it is a 1989 Ford with a diesel engine (R14). With a little dolling up this truck will serve us for a few years.
I have tried to look up, and remember all I can. If anyone has something to add or correct, feel free to let me know.
Acknowledgements: President Richard Lasher, Chief Watson Tyrell, Chief Ralph Mason, Various "old time" firemen, The Lake Shore News, the Grips' History of Wolcott 1905, Book of Wolcott history by Minnie Wadsworth, Wolcott Old and New, The Wolcott Historical Society.
For information about today's Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department, check out the dept.'s website!
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