Schoolhouse, Snowballs and the birth of the Freeport Fire Department
By Miguel Bermudez and Donald Giordano
Freeport folklore, passed through generation to generation, depicts the origination of the Freeport Fire Department can be traced back to the old wooden schoolhouse fire that occurred on January 10, 1893, on the northwest comer of Grove Street and Pine Street. At about 10:00 P.M. on this Monday night a fire was discovered in the school building and the bell rang alerting Freeport's only fire company, Excelsior Hook and Ladder Company of the conflagration. Despite the fire company's valiant efforts, they were unable to stem the flames with their antiquated equipment. As they helplessly stood-by, the fire laddies joined the onlookers in throwing snowballs in a desperate and eventually a futile effort to control the fire.
In reality, a newspaper story published three days after the fire, in the South Side Observer, reports eyewitness accounts of the blaze. The newspaper's story states that upon the arrival of the Excelsior's, equipped with their ladders and pails were hampered by the lack of water. Because, the village was without a water supply or fire apparatus capable of pumping water from neighboring wells, it was soon determined that nothing could be done to save the school. All effort was concentrated on saving adjacent buildings.
"Soon showers of sparks and cinders were falling on the house of John Holloway, a light west wind prevailing. By this time hundreds of citizens had arrived. It was perceived that should Mr. Holloway's house bum, nothing could prevent a general conflagration, as the fire must naturally spread to the Methodist Episcopal parsonage, the church and eastward to Main Street."
"Never did people fight a fire harder or more successfully. The snow was a great help. There were snow banks along the garden fences and scores of men worked hard throwing snow on the roofs. Snow on the roofs of the parsonage and church doubtless prevented much trouble, as burning cinders fell in showers and were carried hundreds of yards eastward. In less than an hour the roof of the schoolhouse fell in, and in 15 minutes a great sigh of relief and words ofthankfulness went from the assembled crowd that a great conflagration had been narrowly averted." Within eighteen months municipal water department and an engine company companies would be formed.
The Organization of the Freeport Fire DepartmentThis schoolhouse fire demonstrated to the community the deficient fire protection within the Village of Freeport. In 1893, plans were made to create a municipal water system capable of supplying water under pressure. The introduction of a water system would offer a greater potential for effective firefighting. Another fire company was needed to be formed to augment the fire protection offered in the Village by Excelsior Hook and Ladder Company. On July 24, 1893, a meeting was held at Abraham J. Goldsmith's store and Wide Awake Engine Company was formed. The Company was approved by the Village Board on September 1, 1893, and was equipped with a hand drawn Silsby steamer on May 7, 1894. Their first company quarters were situated inside of William's Livery Stable located at 54 S. Main Street.
While firefighting methods were improving, the two existing companies realized that their approach' would be enhanced with integrated authority. Application was made to the Village Board with proposed rules and regulations which would govern the fire department. On November 3, 1893, the Village Board consented to the formation of a department and called for an election to be held on December 5, 1893. At this election D. Wesley Pine was elected as the Chief Engineer and Theodore F. Corwin elected as the Assistant Chief Engineer.
Immediately following the organization of the Department a third company was added with the formation, on January 2,1894, of Ever Ready Hose Company. Three weeks later another company was added to the Department when Vigilant Hose Company was formed on January 23, 1894. The Village Board of Trustees approved on April 16, 1894, the funds to furnish a hand-drawn hose reel, 500 feet of hose and all necessary appliances for each of the hose companies. Ever Ready Hose Company was located on a parcel of property on Bedell Street, south of Smith Street and Vigilant Hose Company on North Main Street, north of Broadway.
The fifth company to join the Freeport Fire Department was Bay View Hose Company when they were organized on May 25, 1895, in order to afford additional fire protection in the southwestern section of the Village. They were similarly equipped as the other hose companies and their first firehouse was on Atlantic Avenue, east of South Bayview Avenue.
Hand-Drawn Apparatus Era 1874 - 1907From the fire department's early inception the principal form of responding to fire calls, drills and parades was made possible by the use of manpower. Members were expected to pull their hose reels, ladder wagon and steamer engine to the scene where needed. The floors of the early firehouses were pitched with an eighteen inch angle to allow the members momentum as they pulled their apparatus. Great care and coordination was required so that the apparatus would not spill over as they made the turn onto the street. When available or during severe now storms, arrangements were made to ha e horses stand-by but for the majority of the time fire response was based on the ability of the brawny, muscular firemen to drag their machinery. When former chief Walter B. Cozzens, a department member since 1894, recalled the days when the hand-drawn wagon was pulled by stalwart firemen he stated: "We used to take all the prizes, in those days, the boys didn't smoke or drink."
During the first two years of the Department's history, the members would hold drills and practice in order to be prepared when fire struck. In fact the existing documentation records only two fires during that time: a vacant house on Bay View Avenue was destroyed by fire on February 2, 1894, and an apartment in the rear of Morris Miller's Clothing Store on December 2, 1895. A drill was held on Bay View Avenue as Engine, Hose One and Hose Two tested the wells and threw a stream of water. On a drill held on May 7, 1894, six minutes after the fire was started in the boiler of the Silsby, a pressure of 33 pounds was gained and in 7 112 minutes a stream of water was thrown. Two streams were thrown through 250 feet of hose 238 feet and with 500 feet of hose about 175 feet.
During the Annual Report to the Village Board, on December 13, 1895, Chief William B. Osterhout concluded his address on the morale of the Department with thefollowing; "The excellent discipline, high state of morality and firefighting qualities of the department have been brought about by village pride and hearty co-operation of officers and members."
The newspaper The Brooklyn Eagle, reported on the earliest major fire faced by our volunteer firemen. "The first real test to which the local fire department has been subjected was a fire at 9:30 o'clock Saturday night, December 28, 1896, which started in the kitchen of the Hotel Benson on Main Street. The flames spread rapidly and, as the wind was southeast, it was feared that the entire block of buildings on Main Street would be burned to the ground. The firemen worked faithfully for a half hour when the flames were extinguished. The damage done to the Hotel Benson will not exceed $1,200.00 and the loss to the buildings of George E. Rider and Daniel Raynor, which adjourned the burning building on each side, were slightly damaged. All the buildings were insured."
By 1897 the total membership of the Department was 11 7 and at the Annual Parade and Review of the Fire Department held on May 28, 1897, at 8:00 P.M. about 80 firemen participated. William G. Miller, President of the Village, addressed the Department: "complimented for their general appearance good selection of officers and thorough organization, and his expression of appreciation of their tireless efforts in endeavoring to reach a higher standard of usefulness, we hope and trust, are the sentiments of every inhabitant of the village. The boys should receive all the encouragement from the villagers that is possible to 'give. Their work is not all fun and frolic and participation in dress parades. We have had occasion to witness several times recently their willingness to sacrifice attention to their business to brave discomfort and danger. They have rushed to the scenes of conflagration, and without the slightest reluctance, fought flames that threatened destruction to the home, and endangered the lives of the occupants. All for no personal gain, but rather at the members' expense, they paying for the privilege in the way of dues, fines, etc. Now let us cheer and encourage them whenever opportunity offers and show our appreciation of the services rendered and their eagerness to respond to the sound of alarm."
These early firemen were proud of the service they contributed to the community and they would participate in parades in order to show-off their equipment and their dress uniforms. They participated in parades in Southampton and Jamaica, in Manhattan during the inauguration of President Ulysses S. Grant's Tomb, as well in the streets of Freeport. On May 28, 1898, they marched in the annual firedepartment parade which was held in conjunction with the introduction of electric lights in the village. Inconjunction with parades, there would at times be fire tournaments and these served the purpose of demonstrating the Department's proficiency in firefighting techniques and at the same time compete with other fire departments such as the Town of Hempstead Volunteer Fireman's Association 5th Annual Parade and Tournament held in Freeport and attended by over 10,000 persons on June 25, 1901. During the tournament an exhibition of dry powder extinguisher called "Kilfyre" was performed. Twice a blaze of 20'-25' almost instantaneously extinguished.
Firefighting was not only confined to Village as when a series of houses went ablaze in the Merrick Camp Grounds, in Merrick on April 1, 1901. At nine o'clock Monday morning a call was received of a series of houses burning and Ever Ready Hose Company #1 and Wide Awake Engine Company #1responded. Even though twelve houses were ruined by fire, no additional houses were destroyed once the Freeport firemen arrived. Firemen were also heavily involved in other civic and community functions and events although the responsibilities of a fireman were always their paramount purpose. This was the case on Election Day, November 4, 1902. At about eight o'clock in the morning a fire call was received for the home of Robert Cutler on Grove Street. Inspectors of elections, clerks and watchers,many of whom are members of the Department, deserted their places of duty at the polls causing the election to be suspended for an hour or more and created much excitement at the polling places. Damage was limited to $100.
When Chief A. James Cronly gave his Annual Report to the Village Board on St. Patrick's Day, 1905, he summarized his year in office by reporting that "During the past year the Department has answered six alarms of fire. There has been hardly any damage to property due to the promptness of sending in the alarms, by the citizens and firemen responding quickly to same, the only exception being in the night of December 7, 1904, at 10:26 P.M.; an alarm was sent in from 5th District for summer residence of Mrs. L. W. Sherman, on Lena and Ocean Avenue. The alarm was not sent until fire was under full headway, and considering that the roads were covered with snow and ice, the companies arrived in quick order and did remarkably good work, and after a hard struggle got the fire under control."
The Early Fire Alarm SystemThe first fire alarm system in Freeport was a steel amalgam bell weighing five hundred pounds that the members of Excelsior Hook and Ladder Company purchased for seventy-five dollars in 1876. This remained the primary alarm system in the Village of Freeport. In a report filed on January 29, 1897, a recommendation was made that after a recent practical test of the fire alarm system demonstrated that there was a need of improvement. "First that measures be adopted at once looking toward an investigation of fire alarm systems as to their cost and adaptability to our village, for the purpose of presenting to the citizens at their next annual village election proper resolutions for their considerations; and second, that in the interim the bell at the Hook and Ladder house known as the 'general alarm bell' be placed in a structure in the rear of said building to the height of 50 or 60 feet, a clapper of considerable more weight be placed in it, and that a rope be arranged so that the bell may be rung without entering the building."
Ironically on May 10, 1898, the new steam whistle fire alarm system was used for the first time for a fire that destroyed a barn on the property of D. Wesley Pine, who was the first Fire Chief of the Freeport Fire Department. This barn was located on the corner of Ocean Avenue and Pine Street. This new fire alarm steam whistle could be heard for a distance of four miles and was installed at the electric light power house.
With these improvements to the fire alarm system, made the Department still had difficulties. On January 24, 1901, a chimney fire at J. G. Sproull's home on Long Beach Avenue again demonstrated the need for a more reliable and accurate fire alarm system. When the fire signal was given, only Hose Two was able to find the location of the fire call.
On May 13, 1903, the fire alarm system was enhanced when telephones were placed in all firehouses after an arrangement was made with the South Shore Telephone Company. However, these improvements did not fully satisfy all of the needs of the Department and in the Annual Report of 1905 the following recommendations were made: "Our alarm system, especially in the day time is very poor,as the bells are hung too low, and cannot be heard more than a couple of streets against the wind. I would recommend that the bells be raised at least fifteen or twenty feet higher, or an electric alarm system with about 24 call boxes be put in."
Problems continued with the alarm system such as on January 20, 1909, when a fire at the residence of George Wintjen of Columbus Avenue. After "telephone central" was notified, it was eleven minutes before the power house answered the phone. This was due to the fact that the fireman on duty at the power house was out of the building getting coal and he could not hear the telephone bell. An exhibition of the Gamewell Fire Alarm System was held in Freeport and on February 16, 1910, the Fire Council adopted the Gamewell System. The fire alarm system would continue to have problems and flaws into the 1920s.
Horse-Drawn Apparatus Era 1907 - 1915As the wagons became heavier due to extra equipment that was needed to be carried and a greater distance that required traveling to an alarm, because of the expansion of the Village, it was inevitable that manpower would be replaced by horsepower. As with all change there was some resistance, however, shortly after the change it was widely accepted. Former Chief Cozzens commented on the inception of the fire horses was "After about ten days the horses got so use to it that when they heard the alarm they would run over to the fire house and back right into the staves."
Many of the merchants of Freeport had their horses trained so that when a fire whistle blew, the animals would stand to be unharnessed from a delivery truck and rushed to the firehouse. Excelsior would use a team of white horses owned by Henry S. Schulter; Wide Awake used horses owned by former Fire Chief William Cameron; Ever Ready had a choice of two horses, one owned by Nelson Ashdown, an electrician or a horse owned by Clarence Williams whichever horse was first at the firehouse; Vigilant was pulled to the fire by horses owned by Frank Johns who owned the bowling alley and Bay View used horses owned by Clarence and Arthur Lewis.
The horses were subject to risk and danger as were the firemen. A case in point was the early morning of May 21, 1907, at about half past four in the morning. Tony Elar's hotel on East Merrick Road was on fire and due to the inability to get a connection with the power house by telephone and the distance from the firehouses the building was fully involved. The westerly adjacent building was also smoking by the time the firemen arrived. When Hose 2 arrived, their wagon was badly scorched and its horseinjured when it ran too close to the fire uncontrolled.
Horses were at time the focus of the emergency call, as the time when a horse walked out onto the roof of Silas Williams Livery Stable, on May 21, 1908. The stable had two floors and the horses were kept on the second floor. At the end of the floor was a door that opened onto the roof of an adjoining shed. This door was normally kept open for ventilation purposes, but bars were usually in place to keep the horses from wandering. On this day the bars were down and the large gray horse strolled onto the roof of the shed. The fire department responded and placed four large planks under the horse and hay was strewn thick on the ground. The planks were then lifted and the horse slid down onto the hay unhurt.
On Saturday, October 3, 1908, the first daylight drill in the history of the department was held at the Imperial Hotel, 99 Rose Street. Department members were informed of the following conditions: No members or horses were allowed in the firehouse prior to the drill. Upon receipt of the alarm the location will be ascertained by telephone. Upon arriving at the alarm the foremen of the ladder and engine company were responsible to form the fire lines and keep back those not entitled therein. They were reminded to be courteous, but firm. The Engine Company was instructed not to make steam prior to arrival, nor attach to a hydrant, instead use the Jumper and throw a stream through the spray nozzle.
The Hook and Ladder Company was commanded to be prepared to use its various ladders at the fire, including the extension and scaling ladders; fill, carry and empty buckets on the fire, rescue persons from burning building, etc. The Hose Companies were charged with the responsibility of laying sufficient hose to reach the fire and be prepared to replace any burst lengths. All members were ordered to wear the Department shields. The day of the drill the alarm went forward and the various fire companies responded as follows: Excelsior in 4 minutes, Bay View in 4 1/2 minutes, Ever Ready in 4 3/4 minutes, Wide Awake in 6 minutes and Vigilant in 6 1/4 minutes. The drill was considered a success.
One of the most prestigious events of this era occurred when Freeport was chosen to host the 15th Annual Convention and Parade of the Southern New York Volunteer Firemen's Association on October 3 - 8, 1910. Through great care, planning and work the event was a tremendous success and it netted the Department a profit of $2,046.17.
The Southern New York Volunteer Firemen's Association held its 15th Annual Convention and Parade in Freeport from October 3rd through October 8th, 1910. At the time of this convention, Freeport, which had a population of 5,000 persons, hosted the largest parade of firemen ever held on Long Island with over 2,500 firemen attending and over 25,000 spectators. A moving picture of the parade and tournament was filmed by the Vitagraph Company of America.
More than 500 delegates attended the opening session of the convention; the meeting was called presided over by Archer B. Wallace 2nd Vice- President of the Southern New York Volunteer Firemen's Association and former fire chief in the Freeport Fire Department.
An automobile with a delegation (consisting of J, Huyler Ellison, John K. Eldridge, Ernest Randall and Roland M. Lamb) was sent to Sagamore Hill, the home of former President Theodore Roosevelt. As the procession arrived, hundreds of people lined the sidewalks and roadway. President Roosevelt entered the convention hall, Sigmond Opera House, 70 S. Main Street where he gave an address to the delegates on the topic of "Good Citizenship." During the speech he gave a tribute to firemen where he said that among the fire companies where nerve to face dangers and risk their lives is developed, the model of a decent, courageous and thoroughly trustworthy American citizen is formed.
"The man in a fire company has got to have the nerve to endure fatigue and hardship, and he has got to have the nerve to face risks, to face danger, or else he had better choose some other walk of life in which to show his skill."
Roosevelt then spoke of the quality of citizenship developed in fire companies is also the kind the country needs. Also of the important contributions and sacrifices made by soldiers during the Civil War and that fireman also have all those qualities of a soldier. "I cannot say this of some men in other professions, but I can say it of the occupation that you here follow."
Congressman William W. Cocks addressed the delegation next and stated "the one thing that impresses me about firemen is that they are a bunch of people that will do something for nothing. In these days, when anyone is asked to do something, the first question asked is, 'What is there in it for me?"
The year 1911 exhibited a year of great change and modernization in the Freeport Fire Department.First an American LaFrance hook and ladder truck was ordered, followed by three heavy hose wagons manufactured by A.F. and S. C. Stewart Company for each of the hose companies and a total of 1,000 feet of hose. The total expenditure for these apparatus was $6,000.00. Then on November 15, 1911, the newest fire company was founded when Patriot Hose Company #4 was established and placed in service in the westerly portion of the village.
On March 6, 1914, the Department was tested as never before when the Realty Building also known as the Otten Building was ablaze. The building located on Main Street and Railroad Avenue was one of the largest building in the village, measuring three stories and of brick construction. The fire companies were hampered by bad roads and a raging snow storm. Upon arrival the fire was blowing out of the roof and the windows were bursting further endangering the firemen. Every foot of hose owned by the Department was used and they fought the stubborn blaze for three hours. Several firemen were treated for injuries ranging from smoke inhalation to lacerations caused by the falling glass.
The horse drawn era was soon to pass and the case for motorized for apparatus was plainly demonstrated at two fires that were five days apart. On December 26, 1915, there was a fire at the Boulevard Stables on Grand Avenue near Weberfield Avenue in which two horses perished in the fire. Due to snow and ice no horse drawn apparatus reached the fire. Hose 4, Hose 2 and Truck Company, all motor driven experienced no difficulty, demonstrating the "practicality of automobile apparatus."Then on December 31, 1915, during a large fire in Hempstead's business district, the Freeport Fire Department responded to assist. Chief Pearsall, in his chief's car with Hose 2, Hose 4 and Truck Company responded to the scene in 12 minutes. The steamer, which was horse drawn, required 24 minutes to arrive to the fire.
Early Motorized Era 1914 - 1940The motorized era in the Freeport Fire Department commenced on January 28, 1914, when the Fire Council gave authorization to the newest company in the Department, Hose Four, to keep a Selden automobile in their quarters to pull the hose wagon, instead of byhorses, to fire calls. The introduction ofthe first motorized apparatus in Freeport began when the oldest company in the Department, Truck One, had their American LaFrance ladder truck powered with a 50-horsepower Mack tractor in August 1914.
The following year the Chief of the department was issued a Chevrolet Chief’s car for his use and on October 23, 1915, Hose Two's new motor hose wagon arrived. The old 1911 wooden wagon body was mounted on a worm drive chassis driven by a 38 horsepower Mack engine. Then in August 1916, Hose One received a Mack Motor Chemical and Hose Wagon. This same year Engine Company's Nott Steamer was motorized when an American LaFrance tractor was mounted onto the apparatus.
On September 19, 1916, a new company was formed in the Freeport Fire Department, Patrol Company No.1. Their main function was to perform police duties at fire scenes. This history of this Company was brief and on February 1, 1921, the Company was disbanded.
In April 1917, red was approved as the authorized color for new apparatus and old apparatus when painted would also be red. Up to that time most of the Department fleet was of a cream color. Also in 1917, the Freeport Fire Department hosted The Southern New York Volunteer Firemen's Association convention, parade and tournament on June 12 and 13 In Freeport.
During World War I, one-fifth of the membership of the Department served in either the Army or the Navy. Henry Theodore Mohr, a member of the Department, Patrol Company No.1, was killed in action while serving in France as a private in the Machine Gun Battalion on September 27, 1918. Each member of the Department donated 50 cents for an elm tree that was planted in his honor on North Ocean Avenue and Brooklyn Avenue. A memorial tablet dedicated to Mohr's memory is located on the grounds of the Freeport Memorial Library.
On January 27, 1919, Hose Three also became motorized with the purchase of a Brockway combination wagon. And finally at the end of the year Hose 4 became the last company to become motorized with the purchase of a White Combination Chemical Engine and Hose Car, thus completing the transformation from the horse-drawn era to the mechanical era.
The largest convention and parade ever held in Freeport took place in August 1922, when the Department hosted the 50th Annual Convention of the Firemen's Association State of N. Y.
The idea of hosting the Firemen's Association of the State of New York's (F.A.S.N.Y.) annual convention was proposed locally by Ex-Chief Clarence B. Williams. He chaired the General Committee and developed the plan on which Freeport ultimately received the winning bid. Through the efforts of Ex-Chief Archer B. Wallace who was President of FA.S.N.Y., and who was assigned the task of getting this approved at a statewide level, engineered a triumphant coup by getting the right to host the Associations prestigious and much sought after "Golden Jubilee," its 50th Anniversary celebration by beating out larger cities in upstate New York.
Freeport, with a population of 14,000 persons, hosted a convention like no other in its day. For the first time ever, it assured the delegates that all entertainment will be furnished at no cost to them or to the Association. As the largest village on Long Island, Freeport boasted that it had 3 banks, 52 trains each day that serve more than 1,500 commuters, 60 miles of roadways, 2 trolley lines, 2 newspapers, 10 churches and 4 school houses and that this convention would be a community wide event involving local government, merchants, fraternal societies, civic associations and the residents of the village.
Once the promise was made the committee had to deliver putting on such a celebration that the Flatbush Volunteer Firemen's Association wrote "not in the memory of any of our association can it be recalled where any city, town or village ever displayed such interest, effort or expense, as the Freeport Fire Department and its Citizens' Committee, to make this convention week long to be remembered.”
The festivities opened on Monday August 14, 1922, with a Boxing Exhibition held at The Auditorium which was located where Main Street, Bedell Street and Smith Street meet. This building also served as the host site for the convention meeting. The Convention Headquarters was located inside the Spartan Masonic Lodge on South Grove Street. Every afternoon and evening the "Great Bernardi Shows and Carnival" were held on Olive Boulevard (Sunrise Highway) east of South Main Street.
On Tuesday the Convention was officially opened with addresses and music. At 4:00 P.M. a special train, for delegates and members, left Freeport with its destination the Massapequa Inn where they were treated to the famous Long Island Clam Bake followed by a baseball game and cabaret. The delegates would return to Freeport on another special train at 9:15 P.M.
Wednesday and Thursday brought more entertainment to the delegates with a Vaudeville Show at the Auditorium, sailing in the bays and the ocean followed by the great parade of volunteer firemen. The parade route began at Smith Street and South Long Beach Avenue and continued for five miles ending on Olive Boulevard west of South Bay View Avenue. The parade was comprised of ten divisions with Ex-Chief Clarence M. Van Riper serving as the Grand Marshal. After the parade a "Water Fight" was staged in front of the grand stand on Olive Boulevard, between the Nyack Fire Department and the Union Engine Company from Hempstead.
On Friday the Firemen's Tournament was held on Olive Boulevard west of Bergen Place starting at 10:25 A.M. Grand Stand seats were sold at $1.00 each and teams competed in the following contests:
As the Village of Freeport expanded its border in 1923, annexing the former Russell Park from Roosevelt, the Fire Department also enlarged. The former Russell Hose Company No. Two of Roosevelt was transformed into Freeport Hose Company No. Five.
The Department was tested as never before during an early morning inferno that threatened the central business section on January 31, 1924. The American Theatre located at 70 South Main Street, formerly known as the Sigmond Opera House, was ablaze and the sky was illuminated from this spectacular conflagration. The Freeport Fire Department demonstrated expert skill in confining most of the damages to this theatre. The estimated loss was placed at $65,000.
On December 9, 1928, a fire, labeled as the worst fire in Freeport history struck causing $200,000 worth of damages and destroying four buildings. The four buildings were: The 5 and 10 cent store, H and K Millinery, Weber's Men Shop and Providence Silk and Woolen. Tragedy of a different nature struck the Village on December 27, 1928. Two brothers Arthur (age 14) and Wilson (age 10) Grgurevich were ice skating on Milburn Pond where they broke through the ice and drowned. Arthur Strassle, of Truck Company, recovered the two children's bodies and later would receive the first medal awarded by the Department In recognition for his actions.
In 1929, Freeport was again the host for a major parade when the Nassau County Fireman's Association parade and tournament was held in Freeport on June 26. Freeport boasted about its modern fleet of fire trucks, its 100 Gamewell Fire Alarm boxes and its 515 fire hydrants. These fire hydrants would be color coded the following year so that size of supplying water main could be determined.
On June 28, 1931, a film titled "The Story of Freeport" was made in which the entire Fire Department assisted with the production. In one scene smoke billowed out of a window on Maple Street and Mill Road while the actress, played by Mitzi Hallosy, was trapped on the sill of the second story window. As the firemen prepared the life net, for her to jump to safety, the fire alarm signal sounded for a real fire. The firemen dropped the net, leaving the actress trapped on the sill and responded to Playland Park, Freeport's miniature Coney Island, which was the scene of the fire. Upon their arrival they found the pavilion fully ablaze and despite their best effort the dance pavilion, valued at $30,000 was fully destroyed. Ironically the motion picture company that was filming the movie, a subsidiary of Fox Film Corporation, stored their equipment in that building and they sustained a $100,000 loss. The smoke from the fire could be seen as far as Mitchel Field and this caused a crowd of 2,500 persons gathered. It is unknown how Miss Hallosy escaped her predicament and if the movie was ever completed.
The decade of the 1930’s tested the ability of the Department to fight numerous spectacular commercial building fires; the row of four stores on West Merrick Road and South Main Street on June 15, 1932, which damaged the Paradise Hat Shop, Mayfair Jewelry Shop, Caramel Crispy Candy Shop and Fanny Farmer Candy Shop. On January 13, 1933, the stores on West Merrick Road and Church Street, sustained $ 5 5 ,000 in damages and the fire gutted eight stores, including Fulton Funeral Home and Bohack grocery store and several apartments. The four story brick landmark Olive Building, located on the comer of East Sunrise Highway and South Main Street, on March 17, 1935, which incurred $125,000 worth of damages. The Williams Furniture store and several other stores were on fire on South Main Street on January 30, 1938. In this fire "Jumbo" was placed back into service, in order to pump out the basement, and its boiler eventually blew, never to be able to pump again. The decade culminated with the dramatic L.I.G.H.T.S. Club fire on February 9, 1939. This waterfront club, located at Fairview Avenue and Branch Avenue, was the headquarters of Freeport's actors' colony where vaudeville stars would gather for the summer. It was completely destroyed by fire. A fitting and magnificent finale to the old club occurred when a supply of fireworks that was stored in the basement shot up into the air and exploded causing a pyrotechnical show and simultaneously the intense heat of the fire caused the water main to burst sending a fifty-foot fountain into the air.
In 1935, the Department conducted its first fire school that continued for five weeks. With an average attendance of 125 firemen, of which 103 would successfully pass the course. In 1936 the Department made it mandatory for drivers to have physicals. Each company was allowed to have a chief driver and 5 assistant drivers, except Truck Company which were permitted to have seven assistant drivers.
The sixty five volunteer fire departments comprising the fire service in Nassau County agreed to organize a Central County Fire Commission. On January 1, 1938, these departments were divided into nine fire districts which were allocated according to population, number of firemen, apparatus and geographically, to avoid crossing main highways or bodies of water. Freeport, which was the second largest fire department in the county, was placed in the Second District along with Baldwin, Island Park, Lido, Long Beach, Oceanside and Point Lookout.
An impressive firefighting exhibition was held at Freeport Stadium on September 11, 1940, when the Freeport Fire Department staged the spectacular show, "Midnight Alarm." This type of exhibition was never attempted by a volunteer department and only by the paid departments of New York City, Chicago and Baltimore. At a cost of $ 3,000 this was a demonstration of firefighting from the hand drawn era to the horse drawn age to the motorized period with appropriate scenery, dress costumes of the period and equipment.
The show began with the members of the Department parading into the stadium led by Chief Joseph Miller and accompanied by the Department Band under the direction of William Dayton. Next there was a street scene depicting the days of the hand-drawn apparatus, with firemen wearing red shirts and the foremen with silver trumpets to shout out orders through. These firemen staged an old time parade and tournament. Former chiefs John Mauersberger and William Dunker were the opposing captains during the competition. Subsequently a similar parade and tournament in the days of the horse-drawn apparatus, with former Chief Walter B. Cozzens in charge, followed. Much of the old-time apparatus and horses were furnished by Arthur Hadley of South Hempstead a collector of horse drawn vehicles.
Next there was a demonstration of how modern fires are fought and tournaments are conducted. A "drunk" stepped out of a saloon and threw a cigarette under the stairwell of a four story drill tower which then went on fire. Trapped "victims" would then jump into life nets or be rescued using scaling ladders. This was the first time scaling ladders were seen on Long Island. In addition the Department also demonstrated parade formations, calisthenics and other maneuvers learned at modem school for firemen. Over 2,000 spectators witnessed this exhibition.
The Freeport Fire Department During World War II 1941-1945 As the storm clouds of World War II could be seen in the horizon, the Freeport Fire Department began to prepare. Training was conducted on the use of gas masks in 1 941 and firemen went door to door enrolling every resident, over the age of sixteen, as ordered by the county's Defense Council to harness all available civil talents in the case of a national emergency. On December 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor, a special Fire Council meeting was held to prepare for the protection of the Fire Department during the war. In 1942, a new truck for Hose 1 arrived after serious delays due to the war effort. When Hose 2 and Truck Company apparatus were also being held-up by the War Industries Board, a meeting was held with former Congressman Maury Maverick, who was in charge of priorities. It was explained to him that two vehicles were involved in an accident and that the Department was using obsolete equipment borrowed from a neighboring village. As a result of this conference, immediate steps were taken to permit delivery of the trucks. When Hose Two received their new truck, which had been slated to be shipped overseas, it was painted an army olive drab and slits covers were mounted on the headlights. This truck was subsequently painted red.
In 1942, the Department had 388 members and property and apparatus worth approximately $250,000. The operating budget was $36,000 and was the largest volunteer organization in the State of NewYork.Chief of Department Edward Kohout in an address to the community in April of that year stated "We ask you to co-operate with us under these present emergencies. During this emergency, we know that if and when the time comes that there is an actual bombing; you people of the Village of Freeport will have to help us. We of the fire department can't possibly take care of each incendiary bomb that drops. It can't be done. Over in London it was proved that many of the people could take care of small fires. We are asking you to do the same."
There were discussions held over problems involving firemen going to fires during air raid tests or black outs and being stopped by civilians defense and other emergency workers. Theyalso discussed putting men on fire watch on building roofs in case of air raids and the age limit for membership in the Department was raised from 35 to 40 years old. By the end of the year "Blue Lights" were authorized for volunteer firemen's vehicles in order to identify them and red lights given to the Department to use during emergencies.
A ceremony was held in front of Fire Headquarters on March 13, 1943, where a service flag was dedicated commemorating the seventy-six members of the Freeport Fire Department who were in the U.S. armed services. Twenty-six of these men were from Engine Company. Also in 1943 the Department held its 1st Annual Blood Drive.
On February 28, 1945, three war manufacturing plants, Surries Supply Company, Frisby Machine Company and Joseph H. Gray, Inc. located at 89 - 91 Henry Street were destroyed by fire. Their equipment and finished products, as well as the building sustained damages that were estimated at $250,000. Quick action by the firemen prevented the fire from spreading to Smith Motors yard that was adjacent.
The Modern Era (Part 1) 1945 - 1970An extremely stubborn fire was fought by the Department on February 21, 1947, at the Columbian Bronze plant, 216 N. Main Street. The firemen worked for eight hours in containing the blaze while at the same time being wary of the large buckets containing molten metal above them. This fire caused an estimated $150,000 in damages and was considered one of the worst fires in the history of the Department.
Another large fire was to strike Freeport on February 24, 1948, at the Freeport Lumber Yard. A two story timber warehouse, located at 35-65 Russell Place, was destroyed during the fire and caused $ 7 5 ,000 in damages. The firemen, hampered by the temperature which was eight degrees and the frozen fire hydrants, nevertheless were able to control the conflagration and limited it to the warehouse and preventing the flames from spreading to the stacks of lumber adjoining the building.
Beginning in 1948, the Department revamped the Board of Instructors. Each company would choose an instructor to serve and they would formulate plans and rules for training of new members who would be on probation until completing their training. The Fire Council also approved a set of physical standards as presented by the Department Surgeon for both drivers and new members. To go along with this new emphasis on standards and training the Village Board adopted a resolution conveying Memorial Field, located at Buffalo Avenue and Sunrise Highway, to the Fire Department for recreational and fire training programs.
One of the most horrifying accidents ever seen on Long Island occurred on the evening of February 17, 1950, when two Long Island Rail Road commuter trains crashed head-on into each other. This transpired one block west of the Rockville Centre train station at 10:43 PM and which would eventually left thirty two persons dead and injured more than one hundred passengers. The force of the collisionwas so great that it ripped one car apart and passengers were on a mound five deep on one another, spread out amid broken glass and smashed seats. Amid this wreckage the Freeport Fire Department responded and assisted with this calamity by deploying acetylene torches, floodlights, inhalators andtools in order to cut into the train and gain access to the injured. They then provided first aid care and transported these aided to local hospitals throughout the night and into the next morning.
In September 1950, the first "Donation Drive" mailing was conducted and at the end of the year the statistics for the Department showed that they responded to 3 15 alarms including 145 general alarms,149 still alarms, 9 first aid calls, 3 mutual aids calls and 5 calls to rescue cats caught in trees. In all, 12,628 men responded to the alarms, an average of 87 men per call. The fire loss for the year totaled $61,000. In an attempt to reduce false alarms and apprehend person who pulled fire alarm boxes maliciously, a black lamp and luminous powder was purchased to identify those individuals. In order to promote fire safety, the Department conducted a fire drill at all Freeport schools. The average time to clear a school was 1 minute and 30 seconds
Leroy Conn, a member of Truck Company, constructed a portable telephone set in 1951,which was carried on the aerial and made available to the fire chief during large fires. In July a two-way radio was purchased for the First Deputy Chief's car and two "walkie-talkie" radios.
On October 19, 1952, a "Firemen's Memorial Window" was dedicated inside the Transfiguration Episcopal Church. This stained glass window has a representation of Moses with tablets containing the Ten Commandments beneath him. In the lower left hand comer is a fire hydrant and in the right a helmet. The inscription reads "In memory of the Departed Comrades of the Freeport Fire Department."
Smoky, the firehouse Dalmatian was dismissed from the Department in January 1953, for taking his work too seriously and not being able to resist sinking his teeth into his work. What happened was that Smoky had a habit of biting any civilian who came too close to Truck Companpies apparatus. When the fire alarm sounded earlier that month, a man, who in Smoky's opinion stood near the truck, was bitten. This made him the eighth person he had nipped as he aggressively protected the apparatus. Smoky was later adopted by a Valley Stream family.
The first line of duty death to strike the Department occurred on June 10, 1953, when Ex-Chief William F. Briggs, of Hose Four: acting as a fire policeman, was killed at N. Main Street and Lena Avenue while directing traffic. Briggs was struck by a vehicle operated by Ex-Captain Frank D. Smith, of Hose Two,who was responding to a fire at 70 N. Main Street. Strangely enough this address was the office of the late Hilbert Johnson, an Ex-Captain of Hose Four, and Mrs. Johnson had been ordered by the Fire Department to clean-up the debris in the lot. Workmen had been burning the rubbish and had left the scene thinking that the fire was out but apparently a stray spark ignited the barn which started the fire.
The decade of the 1950’s witnessed a number of memorable and unforgettable fires in Freeport. On February 28, 1 95 2, a $ 100,000 fire destroyed a woman's apparel shop, a sporting goods store and a jewelry shop at 94 - 96 S. Main Street. After these stores were renovated they would again be the victim of fire in June 1953 which caused an additional $ 75,000 In damages.
Another terrible conflagration took place on October 17, 1953; when six storage sheds at the C. Milton Foreman Lumberyard, on N. Main Street and Broadway, went on fire causing, $75,000 in damages. During this dramatic blaze, flames were leaping sixty feet into the air. Approximately 2,000 feet of hose lines, which were 50 to 75 feet away from the fire, were scorched and would burst. The inferno became so hot that the firemen's rubber coats melted on their backs and sixteen firemen were reported injured. One of the buildings destroyed was the original Freeport railroad station that was constructed in about 1868. Two boys ages 9 and 10 were arrested at the scene and admitted setting the blaze. The following year an intense fire would transpire on November 9, 1954, when Sharmac's Toyland Store and B & S Lumber, located at 11 - 13 West Merrick Road burned, and experienced $100,000 in damages.
The sprawling old Shorecrest Hotel, formerly known as the Crystal Lake Hotel, located on S. Grove Street and Archer Street was destroyed by a dramatic $200,000 blaze. This hotel which was built in 1900 and was once a famous show business resort was destroyed in what the Chief of Department Donald Mitthauer described as "one of the most spectacular fires we've ever had in Freeport" Fifty years later Honorary Chief Fred Florenzie would recall how on that memorable evening of January 14,1958, he witnessed "smoke coming out of the neon sign and up the walls" and in no time the building was completely ablaze.
During the 1940s and 1950s the Fire Department would be assisted by the Civil Defense Auxiliary Firemen. Boys under eighteen years of age were assigned as couriers and those older could ride on the apparatus for training purposes.
In 1958, in order to improve response times, 200 electronically operated home radio fire alarm system were distributed to members. This was the first home radio system in Nassau County and was purchased at a cost of $10,000. The following year the fire alarm system was added onto and improved. In 1960, a reciprocal agreement was signed between the Baldwin Fire District and the Village for use of fire hydrants within 500 feet of the respective boundaries in case of fire.
The newest Company to join the Freeport Fire Department occurred on February 17, 1959, with the transformation of the Emergency Relief Squad into Fire Company No. 9. The number 9 was chosen to designate the newly established Company because when it was a squad nine blasts of the air whistle alerted the members to respond. The Company was given the directive to render first-aid to the firemen of all companies in the Freeport Fire Department at all fires, practices and drills; respond to all emergency calls and render necessary first-aid and such disaster relief as its resources permit; and at all alarms of fire if not needed as first aid men, to perform any and all duties of regular firemen where ordered to do so by the chiefs.
The Fire Department would again witness a line of duty death on January 31, 1960, when Engine Company while responding to a car fire on Rutland Road and Commercial was involved in a horrible accident. Edward A. Johnson, who was riding next to the driver, was thrown into the street as the truck mounted a curb. He was caught under the rear wheel and dragged several feet until the truck hit a telephone pole at Broadway and N. Main Street. Also injured in the accident were firefighters Ronald Bell, George Nelson, William Finley and John Jeffers.
The decade of the 1960s exhibited an escalation in fire load as had never been seen before in Freeport. This was also a national trend of an increased fire problem that, by 1966, fire leaders were meeting to discuss the problems and possible solutions. This would eventually lead to a presidentially appointed National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control which would publish “America Burning" its landmark report on the nation' problem.
The Sonic Recording Corporation located at 56 Mill Road sustained $ 200,000 in damages from a fire on August 22, 1960. In October of that year the Freeport Lumber Company would again be struck by fire and sustained $150,000 of damages. On August 10, 1961, Woodply Lumber Corporation, 100 Bennington Avenue, experienced a $100,000 loss due to fire. The intense blaze travelled within twenty feet from the pipeline vents of a nearby service station. Firemen feared that this would cause the 9,000 gallons of fuel to ignite and directed their initial resources to this location to prevent this from happening.
In 1962, a spectacular fire occurred on February 6, when six stores on E. Sunrise Highway, next to the Freeport Theater, were gutted with damages estimated at $300,000. In the following year, yet again, a terrible blaze would take place on September 28 when a fire at 30-42 N. Main Street caused $ 500,000 in destruction. The business district would again be the victim of a major fire on September 18, 1965, when three stores on S. Main Street: B & M Discount Store, The Glove Shop and Rapoport & Eller were damaged by a $300,000 fire.
In 1965, the Department was the focus of a fifteen minute length movie being filmed in Freeport titled "Ladders Up." This motion picture portrayed the life of a volunteer fireman and was seen in theaters around the country. Also in that year a new Fire Headquarters was built and dedicated as well as a new firehouse for Hose One financed by a one million dollar bond. In 1968, a contract was signed with the Viking Radio Corporation for 200 home alert radios at a cost of $23,954.65.
Modern Era (Part 2) 1970 - 2013 The decade of the 1970s continued the growth witnessed in the sixties of impressive and extraordinary fires. They were infernos that destroy historically significant landmark buildings and substantially test the Fire Department's ability to combat this increased fire burden. In the early morning hours of August 13, 1970, Guy Lombardo's former restaurant, the East Point House, located at the foot of Grove Street would be one such example. Once a major draw for patrons seeking delightful music, dancing,picturesque views and fine dining had become a vacant building that was slated for demolition would be razed by fire. Upon the arrival of the first fire apparatus at 12: 15 A.M. the building was fully ablaze.The firemen were hampered by the lack of fire hydrants and their option for a water supply would come from drafting water from the bay. This solution was impeded by the low tide before the fire was finally extinguished.
In a blaze, that the newspaper headlines dubbed "Freeport's Worst Fire," the Brucar Equipment and Supply Company and the South Shore Restaurant Supply Company, on East Merrick Road and Henry Street, would be obliterated by fire. On January 25, 1973 at 8:55 A.M. eleven fire departments with forty pieces of apparatus would be required to douse this tenacious inferno that would cause $750,000 in property damage.
In February 1973, the Department agreed to sponsor a Boy Scouts of America Explorer Program with the purpose of giving youths, between the ages of 14 and 17, the opportunity to learn the duties of a volunteer fireman. This was done in the hopes that when they turned 18 they would seek membership in the Department. Over half of the thirty-four charter members would eventually join the Freeport Fire Department.
Another demanding conflagration that would test the Department's resources would occur at a fire at Wes Carman's Marina, on Hudson Avenue on March 25, 1975. This fire would damage fifty boats at a cost of $175,000. Ironically this fire would cause a one hour delay to the Department's memorial service for forty- seven year member Wesley C. Carman, the boatyard's owner father.
Three significant fires would transpire in 1 977, two of which were across the street from each other on South Grove Street and West Sunrise Highway. On the night of June 2, the former Tropicana Restaurant and the recently vacant and boarded up building that housed the Nassau County Social Services were gutted by fire. The following month the Spartan Masonic Lodge, a 102 year old building, once known as the Freeport Club, would also be demolished by fire. This fire began only 2 ½ hours after the famed Annual Fourth of July Fireworks Show at the Freeport Stadium that was hosted by the Department. In the final month of 1977, there were nineteen working fires in Freeport some of which destroyed sections of the business district. This busy season was capped with a stubborn blaze at the Romanesque style brick structure that was the Brooklyn Water Works on North Brookside Avenue and West Sunrise Highway.
The first month of 1978 would be a heartbreaking start as the Department would suffer the loss of a fireman while battling a blaze on South Main Street. On January 14 during a fire at Shane's Circus of Values Discount Store and Siegel's Paint Store Jerry Cotignola, while searching the apartments above the stores for inhabitants believed still inside, became separated from other firemen and his air pack ran out. Cotignola was able to reach a window however he was overcome by the intense heat and smoke, lost consciousness and would not recover from the injuries sustained. Cotignola passed away on January 27 at Lydia Hall Hospital.
The Department would be transformed in 1978 with two significant changes brought about by the increase in fire calls. In April the Department would elect John E. Combs, Jr. the first 3rd Assistant Chief of the Department and in July recommended the removal of all of the 193 fire alarm boxes on residential streets. The following year the department continued evolving by placing in service Scott 4.5 self-contained breathing apparatus, Motorola pagers were distributed and a computer committee established.
An appropriate training facility where firemen could participate in hands on training with actual live burn evolutions was lacking within the Village. There was a "Firemen's Memorial Field" on Buffalo Avenue and East Sunrise Highway where training and hose tests could be conducted but drills with actual fires would only occur when an abandoned building could be obtained or at the Nassau County Fire Service Academy in Bethpage. On November 18, 1980, this was to change when the Fire Council approved the Village's plan for building a Firemen's Training Center in Municipal Parking Field # 23, on HanseAvenue. A construction bond of $200,000 was authorized and by the end of 1982 the site was opened.
A considerably difficult blaze that tested the Department occurred on December 22, 1980, during a tire fire at the Atlantic Tire Company on E. Sunrise Highway. A pile of tires measuring twenty feet high by fifty feet wide and two hundred feet deep burned for ten hours. The Department's supply of foam was exhausted during this difficult fire and additional foam was supplied by neighboring fire departments.
In 1984, the Department approved the wearing of award ribbons on "Class A" uniforms. Award medals recognizing acts of valor and for administrative award were authorized. The award system chosen was based on the Nassau County Fire Commissions award criteria.
During the 1980s the Department would sadly experience two more line of duty deaths. On March 3, 1985, during the Department's Annual Volleyball Tournament held at the Freeport Recreation Center Fireman E.M.T. Frank Di Sorlo of Emergency Rescue Company No. 9 would suffer a heart attack. Frank had just completed attending to an injured member when he was fatally stricken. Then on January 4, 1989, Thomas A. Razzano of Excelsior Hook and Ladder Company No.1 would die due to a heart attack he experienced as he was responding to an alarm of fire. Both members were posthumously designated an Honorary Chief.
A Safety Officer Division was formed in 1992 in order to assist at fires and other alarms and also with the objective of assisting the Chiefs office in addressing unsafe actions or conditions. In order to comply with OSHA regulations and with an eye on safety, the Department approved three types of classifications for members: firefighter, fire medic, and administrative firefighter. In addition, members were required to undergo medical physical exams beginning in1994. Those members over forty would undergo annual physicals and those under would have a physical performed every three years. Also in 1992, the Department expanded its response to hazardous material incidents by developing a foam unit which was assigned and manned by the members of Hose Company No.4.
A major event occurred in December of 1992 that would have a long lasting impact on fire department operations during floods. The Perfect Storm as it was called resulted in several days of heavy flooding in South Freeport which damaged 100’s of vehicles and did considerable damage to homes. The fire department soon realized that they lacked the proper equipment for this type on an event and needed improved resources. Mayor Arthur Thompson set up a committee in 1993 to review the event and write a Plan for the Village of Freeport. Chief Donald Rowan and Ex Chief Richard Holdener, members of that committee, transformed it into the Freeport Emergency Management Team. Emergency Management purchased 3 Army 6x6 Trucks for high water operations and assigned one to Hose Co 1, another to Hose Co 3, the 3rd unit was assigned to the Freeport Police. Also purchased were Avon Rafts and cold water exposure suits for all companies. A Village Emergency Operations Center was also established to better coordinate responses during any large scale events and warning systems were put in place to better inform the residents of these dangerous events.
Another addition to the Department operations would transpire in 1996 when the initiative of a "Fly Car" a vehicle equipped with advance life support equipment and staffed by a New York State certified Emergency Medical Technician who would respond directly to the scene of a medical aided case.
The worst ground fires in Long Island history occurred from August 24 - 27, 2005, during the wildfires in the Pine Barrens in Westhampton, Suffolk County. Flames would reach heights of forty feet and eventually scorch twelve square miles of pineland and destroy homes and businesses. Hose One and Hose Four would respond to this natural disaster and joined over 2,000 other volunteer firemen from 174 fire companies in fighting this blaze.
Three programs were instituted beginning in 1996 and 1997. The first was LOSAP (Length of Service Award Program) which was approved by a public referendum as a rewards program created to retain and recruit members into the fire service. Then in November 18, 1997, the establishment of a HELP (Hospital Emergency Personnel) team to assist firefighters that have been transported to a hospital. Lastly in December F-A-S- T (Firefighter Assist and Search Team) team concepts were adopted. This policy was worked out within the Second Battalion and our neighbors in both the Sixth and Seventh Battalions. This is a reciprocal agreement that these departments will provide companies, when requested to respond to the scene of working fires, and provide a team to stand by in the event that a firefighter was in immediate need of assistance in a fire or other emergency scene.
The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and its subsequent fire and building collapse would kill more persons on U.S. soil than any other day since the Civil War. To this catastrophe New York City firefighters rushed to the scene and helped evacuate the Twin Towers and nearby buildings and saved thousands of lives. Five present and former Freeport firefighters heroically responded to this disaster and would tragically lose their lives: Richard T. Muldowney, Jr., a member of Engine Company, David Weiss and Michael Keifer both former members of Engine Company, Timothy Higgins former member of Hose Two and Andre Fletcher a former member of Hose Five. These five brave firefighters would be recognized for their bravery and bestowed the title of Honorary Chief of the Freeport Fire Department. In further recognition for his valor and service to the Freeport community, Broadway in front of Fire Headquarters was renamed Richard T. Muldowney, Jr. Plaza.
December 5, 2003 the department suffered the unexpected death of 3rd Assistant Chief Daniel Rodriquez of Hose Company No 2. Chief Rodriquez was very active with the Board of Instructors working on the training of new Probationary Firefighters.
After the devastation from Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, that pounded Gulf Coast communities with catastrophic and devastating results, each company contributed $500 to the hurricane relief effort for a total donation of $4,000. Also the Bay St Louis, Mississippi Fire Department was presented with the Department's former 1992 International ambulance as a gift to that community.
In 2007 the department fully computerized all records into one database on a web based system and installed computer terminals in all apparatus. These apparatus computers have access to detailed emergency response information on all residences and businesses in Freeport. Fire calls also started being texted to member cell phones as a backup to radio pagers. Utilizing the Firetracker software database members were able to access all their own personal records from any computer with an Internet connection.
On January 5, 2009 the department suffered the tragic loss of 1st Assistant Chief Richard Layton of Hose Company No.1, the second line Chief the department lost within 5 years. The Chief had just finished cleaning up from a working fire the night before and was undergoing a scheduled routine hip surgery when he passed away in the operating room. Chief Layton was a very active Chief serving for many years as a Chief Instructor with the Board of Instructors and Rescue Diver with the Underwater Search and Rescue Team. Ex-Chief Jerry Cardoso from Hose Company No 1 was elected to finish out Layton’s term and became the department’s first and only member to be elected twice to serve as Chief of Department.
A daring rescue was performed by the department on February 14, 2010 at 217 Lena Ave. First arriving units reported very heavy fire on arrival and a report of a person trapped on the second floor. Ex Captain Walsh driving the aerial ladder raised the ladder to the second floor window. While other members of Truck and Engine were trying to reach the victim from inside the house, Walsh and Firefighter Andy Peralta ascended the ladder and entered the fire from above. In very high heat conditions they located the victim and removed her through the window. For their actions they were both awarded Class III awards.
January 2011 brought another change in how Firefighters received their annual OSHA training. An online web based program provided by the department’s insurance carrier called E-Learning was put in to service. Members now have the flexibility to complete their mandated OSHA training and testing at their leisure on any computer.
Hurricane Irene caused wide spread flooding in Freeport in late August 2011 and resulted in a mandated evacuation of all residents living South of Atlantic Ave. The Fire Department responded to 48 calls in a 24 hour period. It was some of the worst flooding Freeport has seen since Hurricane Gloria in 1985.
A spectacular Boat yard Fire occurred on February 1, 2012 at 11 Hudson Ave. Large expensive yachts were in winter storage and parked tightly together. First arriving units reported heavy fire on arrival with 2 burn victims. Mutual Aid was called in from 7 departments to battle the stubborn fire with Foam. A total of 14 boats burned with a value of 6 million dollars.
For Chief David Baer’s Installation Dinner in April 2012, a video was put together by Ex-Captain Nick Laborne of Engine Company called “Who are these Men and Women of the Freeport Fire Department”. The 10 minute video goes through the entire history of the Freeport Fire Department and won a Telley Award in 2013.
Freeport was devastated on October 29, 2012 by Hurricane Sandy. Although not a very powerful storm it struck at the worst possible angle of approach to long Island out of the South East. It resulted in record breaking flooding in Freeport with over 2800 homes inundated in flood waters, some with a much as 5 feet in the houses at ground level. The Fire Department under the command of Chief David Baer responded to over 500 calls for help in a one week period while over 100 of our own members had severe flooding in their own homes. During the week the department battled 14 working fires, most of them in flooded streets with apparatus sitting in 1 to 3 feet of water. 15 Fire Departments from upstate New York responded on a Mutual Aid to Freeport for a week long deployment, living in the firehouses. With the mutual aid units in Freeport our members could have stepped down for a rest but they refused to leave their stations and continued responding throughout the event. Most members were standing by in their stations, responding to calls for 8 straight days 24/7! Hose Co 1 on Southside Ave was flooded and we experienced damage to much of the departments equipment. Hose Co 1’s Army 6x6 broke down in flood waters and the members themselves needed to be rescued, leaving the vehicle destroyed in water over its cab. All dispatching for the week was taken away from FireCom and done in the Villages Emergency Operation Center under the watchful eye of Chief Baer. With 75% of the Village with no power the Fire Department assisted the Freeport Electric Utility going door to door with flyers dealing with the reenergizing of circuits and the Fire Department pumped 2 million gallons of seawater out of power plant 2 saving the Freeport Utility.
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