Written by: Roslyn Highlands Fire Department
At the beginning of the 20th century small towns and cities alike were noticing a need for rapid-fire protection in their areas. Big cities were changing from volunteer departments to the paid ones they have today. Roslyn Heights was no different in this ever-changing world. Roslyn Heights, which was known as the Highlands, was a small community located just south of the village of Roslyn. A small group of citizens decided it was time the people living "up the hill" had its own fire protection. Roslyn Highlands was being developed and growing into a community of its own. The principal credit that was given for initiating the movement belonged to Henry L. Atwood, Frank Cody, Station Agent, and Monroe S. Wood the Town Clerk.
On the evening of October 9, 1905, this group of citizens met at Atwoods Hall to organize a Fire Company. The proposition to establish the new Company did not meet with universal encouragement, however these men, along with 20 others completed the formalities of incorporation and became; "The Roslyn Highlands Hook and Ladder, Engine and Hose Company".
The new Company had an organization, however they had to provide it with apparatus and a firehouse. The only funds available were contributions by the members and their friends, there were no regular monies allotted to the Company in forms fire taxes, as there is today. Also the only water supply came from wells or cisterns. For the first few months’ weekly meetings were held, and the membership grew rapidly. The meeting place was designated at Atwoods Hall, which was on the now non existing southern end of Railroad Ave. This area is now operated by the Town of North Hempstead, and is used as a parking lot on the west side of Roslyn’s Long Island Railroad Station.
Committees were formed and the members began alleviating the countless problems that lay ahead. Obtaining apparatus, equipment, uniforms, creating a treasury and locating property for a firehouse were on the top of the list. Money was raised by the membership in many ways for these ventures. An initiation fee of $2 was required with each application; monthly dues of 25 cents per member and fines for missing meetings were imposed.
The subscription committee started raising donations from the community. The Company held dinners, picnics, dances, card parties and other forms of profitable entertainment. Soon they had raised over $700 to begin the treasury. Membership was also growing rapidly, at the December 1905 meeting, 33 new members were accepted. The apparatus committee visited several fire companies in the New York area to purchase a used fire pump. The committee finally agreed to purchase a horse drawn chemical engine for $1000 from Chemical Engine Company No. 6 of West Brighton Staten Island. The Treasurer, Theodore S. Valentine, gave his personal check to purchase the apparatus pending the formal action of the Company. The Company decided to house this engine under Atwoods Hall.
The Company realized that they were fighting fires without a firehouse for long enough. In May of 1906, 3 lots on the northwest corner of Garden Street and St. Marks Place were being considered for purchase. The members had difficulty acquiring this land because the owners would not sell to the Fire Company. Finally one of the members, Mr. Lambert, purchased the property, sold it to Mr. Birdsall, another member, and he in turn sold it to the Fire Company for $605.
Fighting fires and responding to alarms have come a long way since the early days of the Company. Upon receipt of a fire alarm the first arriving member to the firehouse was to strike a suspended piece of rounded railroad rail with a hammer for ten minutes to alert the remaining membership. The next group of firemen commandeered the first team of horses they could find and subsequently hitched them to the fire engine and respond to the fire. The owner of the horses was paid $5 for the Company’s use of the team. In 1909, the railroad rail was replaced with a bell purchased from the Woodhouse Co. This bell now hangs in the tower of the present firehouse. Finally the current siren replaced the bell in 1923 to alert members.
The Roslyn Water District was founded in 1910, and a water supply for fire fighting soon followed. In 1913, the Town of North Hempstead contracted with the Company to provide fire protection for $700 a year. A motorized Garford engine was purchased in 1916; followed by a Stutz in 1925 and a Seagrave in 1929.
The Fire Company tried for years to expand the building but WWI and WWII made expansion difficult. The original firehouse was demolished and a new building was constructed in 1951. It contained 2 bays and a larger meeting room. Then in 1958 two more bays were added. Additional property was acquired in East Hills 1964 for the addition of a substation. During this time, the apparatus were upgraded and new, state of the art, equipment was added.
The 1980’s brought more changes, the Company initiated steps to acquire new or additional property for its headquarters. Property was purchased from Urban Renewal on the east side of St. Marks Place between Warner Ave. and Garden St., directly adjacent to the Company’s original location. On May 17, 1986 a new much larger headquarters was dedicated. The designers of the new building received Architectural awards for this design of the Company’s current Headquarters. Other developments soon followed, the second floor was expanded, and a fifth truck bay was added. Substation 2 was also extended to allow for larger pieces of equipment.
During the 1970’s the Fire Company felt a need to provide Emergency Medical Services to the community. The Highlands along with Roslyn Rescue have since been offering pre-hospital care to citizens of the Roslyn Fire District.
During its existence the Fire Company has responded to numerous major fires in the district as well as assisting other communities. The Avianca plane crash, the Bayville Northeaster, the wild fires in West Hampton and the World Trade Center on 9/11/01have been just some of the alarms the Company has assisted with in search and rescue efforts. Numerous unit citations, individual awards, as well as parade and drill trophies have been awarded to the Company over the years.
Today The Roslyn Highlands Hook and Ladder, Engine and Hose Company have an active, all volunteer, membership of 115 members. These men and women spend countless hours in training and drills to provide the community with the best in fire and emergency services.
The Roslyn Highlands have come a long way since those men incorporated the Fire Company in 1905. With the skill and determination of these volunteer firefighters it is assured that the same high quality of protection will be constant for years to come.