Written by: The Great Neck Alert Fire Company
At the dawn of the twentieth century, New York City’s population watched with all consuming interest the antics of what the city newspapers called “Great Neck’s Millionaire Firemen.” The Alert Engine, Hook & Ladder & Hose Co. #1 Inc. got more than its share of publicity in those days, for it was one of the few fire companies in the world that could boast the names of a dozen or more universally known tycoons on its roster.
It was through these millionaires who lived in the colony of Great Neck that the Alerts were able to raise funds to maintain the Fire Company which was organized in December of 1901 with fifteen (15) charter members and five (5) trustees. During the two or three years following the organization date, the coffers of the Alerts were not what one would call bulging, so the firemen began a fund raising drive directed primarily at the wealthy residents.
Every Wednesday evening during the summer months, the Company, attired in their natty uniforms and accompanied by the Great Neck Band, would visit the homes of several of the millionaires in the area. After the rendition of several popular numbers by the band, the Company’s first Foreman (forerunner of today’s Fire Chief) Egbert E. LeCluse, would introduce the members, explaining what they had done and what they proposed to do, providing they could raise enough money toward construction of a building. The Wednesday evening tradition begun in those early years continues to the present day. The Alerts still hold training drills on weekday nights at headquarters.
The men who helped foot the bill for the Alert Fire Company, each of whom was several times a millionaire, were pictured in newspaper cartoons as socialite “fire laddies” that ran with the apparatus and horses of the Alert Fire Company. Usually pictured at the head of the smoke-breathing horses was J. Pierpont Morgan, king of the American financiers and William R. Grace, merchant prince of the seas. Following these leaders were other “moneybag” firemen, including such notables as Cord Mayer, William C. Brokaw, Joseph F. Grace, Roswell Eldridge, J. B. Webb, R. P. Booth, J. A. Jones and George P. Dodge.
While the Alerts were conducting their fund raising campaign they shifted their headquarters from one site to another. Their one piece of apparatus, a hose reel, was housed for a time on Arrandale Avenue and then moved to the Great Neck League House on Middle Neck Road.
After collecting enough funds to buy a piece of property and commence construction of a building, the Alerts held the formal opening of the new firehouse on July 25, 1904. With their new house, and a hose reel and pumper, to say nothing of three hundred (300) feet of light hose, the Alerts were a rip-roaring crew! How they got to fires was sometimes an anxious question since they did not have their own team of horses. When the fire bell tolled, it did more than announce a fire, it was the starting gun for some heated competition among all those in town who owned a team of horses. The man who could get to the firehouse first and hook his team of steeds to the waiting equipment was paid for the task of hauling the men and apparatus to the fire!
When the Town of North Hempstead and the villages in the area began contracting for fire protection with the passage of the Maloney Act in 1913, most of the financial worries of the Company came to a halt. Community interest and involvement with the Alerts, however, did not abate. Millionaire auto maker Walter P. Chrysler, of Kings Point, became one of the first honorary members of the Company, having donated to them a one-of-a-king Chrysler fire truck! In the years following, the Alerts increased their membership until today, when the rolls are limited to one hundred-fifty (150) volunteers.
The Alert Engine, Hook & Ladder &Hose Co. #1, Inc. is a not-for-profit corporation. Each of the one hundred-fifty (150) members has a single share in the equipment, property and assets of the Company situated at 555 Middle Neck Road, as well as in the Company’s Annex firehouse at 142 Steamboat Road.
Governed by a board of trustees, whom its members elect to three year terms of office, the Company maintains seven (7) paid fire housemen, one of whom is on duty at fire headquarters at all times. The Company elects its own Chief, President and other officers.
The Alert Fire Company serves the Villages of Great Neck, Kings Point and Saddle Rock and some of the unincorporated area of Town of North Hempstead. Today, the bulk of the funds used to operate the Fire Company are raised through these Villages and the Town. All the money received from the different governments is just enough to meet the annual budget.
In 1928, the firehouse underwent a remodeling when the main section, which was a dance hall created for social activities to help defray the expanse of the Company, was made into a truck house; thus trucks that previously stayed in a garage attached to the side of the hall were housed in the main hall.
The firehouse retained this appearance until 1953 when the hall was reconstructed. The Annex firehouse on Steamboat Road was complete and dedicated in March of 1960, replacing the old two truck garage that was in use for over forty years.
Work on the present firehouse was begun in 1989 with the appointment of a committee. After seemingly endless meetings, consultations with the Village Consortium created to work with the Alerts on the firehouse and sessions with architects and construction people, the old firehouse was demolished and construction was begun. The new building allows more space for housing fire apparatus, more office room, an enhanced communications and dispatching area, as well as improved social amenities for the members.
About one third of the Company’s members served their country during the First and Second World Wars and many are veterans of service in Korea and Viet Nam Wars.
Through nearly one hundred-eight (108) years of history and progress, the Alert Fire Company has grown from a dedicated band of twenty (20) men with a two wheel, hand drawn hose reel, to a conscientious company of one hundred-fifty (150) men, thoroughly trained in the skill and science of fire fighting and fire prevention with five modern pumpers, an aerial ladder, and a heavy duty rescue truck. Today we also have a number of female firefighters in our ranks.
None of this would have been possible were it not for the founders and all the men who were and are now, the members of the Alert Fire Company.