Written by Plainview Fire Department 1927-1974
It was in 1927 that the people of Plainview realized the need for their own fire protection. Before then, the neighboring departments of Hicksville, Syosset and Central Park (now Bethpage) had been able to offer their assistance. But now the Plainview Civic Association, the only formal organization in the town, was notified by the Board of Fire Underwriters that Hicksville, the nearest department, could no longer provide protection exceeding three miles; a ruling made in order to give better fire protection to the residents of Hicksville.
Robert Schwarzenbach, owner of a large estate, soon recognized the danger and was able to purchase an old fire truck from the Hicksville Fire Department for $250.00. This was a 1918 Model T chain-driven, 40-gallon chemical truck. Max Aubertel, superintendent of the Schwarzenbach estate and later the first chief, formed a fire brigade consisting of employees of the estate. Sunday mornings were reserved for practicing not only with chemicals, but also with water from three hydrants supplied by two wells with depths of 135 and 360 feet. Mr. Schwarzenbach also mounted a fire bell atop a 60-foot observation tower, from which the tall buildings of New York City were reportedly visible. The tower collapsed in 1938 because of a devastating hurricane which lashed the east coast.
On June 2, 1927, a special meeting of the Plainview Civic Association was held in the old two-room Manetto Hill School for the purpose of establishing fire protection for the community. William Jaegle served as chairman and Charles Fleisher, secretary, with 26 residents in attendance. Anthony Ocker moved that Plainview form its own fire company, and so the Plainview Fire Company 1 was established. The following members of the Civic Association were elected to form this new organization: Max Aubertel, Chief; Anthony Ocker, Assistant Chief; Charles Fleisher, Foreman; John Jantzen, Treasurer; and Alvin Schmitt, Secretary.
Mr. Schwarzenbach immediately donated his Model T fire truck to the new fire company, and Sand Panciroli, whose farm was on the corner of Old Country Road and Manetto Hill Road, offered one of his wagon sheds to house the truck. (Later, Panciroli was to build a large potato storage house, part of which was used for fire department headquarters.) With the assistance of two Hicksville firemen, Chief John Puvogel and a Mr. Newman, Company 01 became duly organized. July 1927 was approved unanimously as the closing date for charter membership.
This same year, the newly-formed Plainview Fire Company 01 received an invitation from the Hicksville Fire Department to participate in its annual Labor Day Parade. Since most members had never before marched in a parade, practices w re held every Sunday morning in the Panciroli farmyard.
Inasmuch as the company was without funds, it was agreed that each member purchase his own uniform, the cost to be reimbursed when moneys became available. As things turned out, members were refunded only half the cost of the $23.00 uniform; after five years' active membership, however, it became the property of the member.
Thus, Labor Day 1927 saw 30 members representing Plainview Fire Company #1 marching in the Hicksville parade. Still without funds, they were unable to hire a marching band, but they came home proudly bearing a handsome trophy presented by Nassau Center Auto electricians.
By fall of 1927, Mr. Panciroli's potato storage building and equipment barn was completed and the fire company moved into its new quarters. The company was permitted use of a space approximately 20 by 30 feet to house the truck and conduct meetings; at last the members had a home they could call their own! The furnishings consisted of two benches and several cut-down school desk chairs donated by the Hicksville School District. A wood and coal potbelly stove provided heat at the meetings, and Frank Baumeister was assigned the task of starting the stove at 7:00 P.M. in order that the place might be comfortable for the 8:00 P.M. meeting. Coffee and buns were served as refreshments, financed by passing the hat among those present.
At this time most of Plainview had no light or water service, but was fortunate in having a telephone party line to report a fire. The Panciroli's cooperated once again by receiving alarms at their farmhouse and signaling them via their dinner bell, mounted on a pole in the front yard.
One year later, in 1928, the Plainview Water District was established; until then, water had been supplied by the Jericho Water District. Now there was a constant need for fire hose, which was purchased in odd lengths from Sam Kantor of Hicksville. A Mr. Henry Gebhart of the Hicksville Fire Department showed the new firemen how to attach the couplings, which were purchased separately for reasons of economy.
Soon thereafter, a committee consisting of Tony Ocker, Ben Sattig and Al Stauber was appointed to purchase a second-hand fire truck. However, the committee was unable to find a truck at a price the Company could afford. Hearing of a truck for sale in Hamburg, Pennsylvania, the committee traveled there to inspect the vehicle. The apparatus was painted bright blue and had benches running down each side. Believing that this failed to strike the proper professional note, the committee continued its search and finally was able to purchase an old reconditioned Packard from Central Park (now Bethpage) for $150.00.
Next on the list of important projects was the purchase of an audible alarm system. Several types of sirens were hoisted to the top of a steel tower which had been erected in front of the fire house before a decision was made on a satisfactory system that would carry the sound in all directions. The siren was activated by pressing a button in the Panciroli home, where someone always was present.
Subsequent improvements required greater expense, and so a move was made to finance all future needs through contributions, card parties, dances, bazaars and tag days.
Max Aubertel died in February 1929 and Tony Ocker succeeded him as Chief.
By 1933, the old Packard had outlived its usefulness and an International truck chassis was purchased for $1483.00. The body was designed by the members themselves with the professional advice of Chief William Schwarz and constructed by the Albertson Body Works. This truck, replete with windshield, was one of the first of its kind on Long Island and created quite a sensation at the Labor Day parade in Hicksville. Indeed, some of the spectators reproved the Plainview men as "sissies" for wanting a windshield on the truck.
Plainview Fire Company #1 became incorporated in January 1934 - the same year the first Nassau Country Training School was conducted. By incorporating, the Department became eligible for New York State's two percent tax fund, which provides proceeds from out-of-state insurance underwriters.
In the winter of 1934 Chief Schwartz's house burned to the ground. The men were unable to control the fire because of deep snow and freezing cold weather. Prior to that, only two other homes in the area had been destroyed by fire.
Other fire-fighting experiences included the extinguishing of fires started by the operation of illegal stills in the area.
A five-man board of directors was organized in 1936; its first elected members were William Schwarz, Anthony Ocker, Bernhard Sattig, Charles Gordon and Richard Bergmann. Also in 1936, the department received its first payment from the two per-cent tax fund mention above.
The Ninth Battalion District was organized in 1937 and included the Fire Departments of Hicksville, Bethpage, Farmingdale, Plainview, Jericho, Carle Place and Westbury (South Farmingdale Fire District was not created until 1960). Plainview's first delegates to the Ninth Battalion were Al Stauber, Conrad Stiehler and Ben Sattig.
Then, as now, the prospect of higher taxation was extremely unpopular; consequently, it became necessary to convince residents that local fire protection would enable them to effect a savings on their fire insurance premiums. Petitions to obtain the necessary percentage of assessed valuation of the property in Plainview were circulated for months before being submitted to the Oyster Bay Town Board, which in 1938 granted the Plainview Fire Company #1 a contract for fire protection.
The Fire Company continued to hold annual card parties (Bunco, Pinochle and Bridge) at $.50 per ticket. The most popular fund-raiser proved to be the annual Barn Dance, which was always well supported. In addition, some financial aid was received from the New York State Department of Conservation for fighting forest and brush fires. The Company was paid $.35 for each man-hour, $.50 an hour per officer, and $2.00 for each vehicle used; in addition two Fire Wardens, Charles Leib and William Schwarz, were appointed. Following the creation of the Fire District in 1938, however, the income from the Department of Conservation was discontinued.
It was during the 1938-39 term of Chief Conrad Stiehler that the Plainview Fire Protection District became reality. Heretofore the company was self-supporting, but on January 10, 1938, a contract was signed with the Town Board resulting in the first proceeds from taxation. Now established on the tax rolls and receiving financial assistance, the members decided it was time to acquire a parcel of property and build their own firehouse. At a special meeting for this purpose, it was approved that a piece of land, centrally located on Old Country Road, if possible, should be sought. The Plainview Methodist Church was not in use at this time and was considered a favorable site. It was soon determined, however, that the church belonged to the National Methodist Conference and was not for sale. Undaunted, the department continued its search and was fortunate to find an ideal piece of property owned by William Harbes, a charter member, on Old Country Road just west of Central Park Road. By unanimous vote of the membership it was approved that one acre of this parcel be purchased for $1100.00. The property is that upon which Headquarters stands today.
The year 1938 saw the formation of the Benevolent Association, approved by unanimous vote, and also the First Annual Dinner Dance given by the Ladies Auxiliary, to which all active firemen were invited.
During the term of Chief Stephen Moddle (1940-42), the Fire Company moved from the Panciroli barn to its present Headquarters. As these were the early days of World War II, all fire departments came under the jurisdiction of the Civil Defense Department: all members were fingerprinted, photographed and ordered to carry Civil Defense identification cards. One of the principal tasks was to man the firehouse on a 24-hour basis in the event of an air-raid. Firemen in groups of three or four slept at night on cots in the firehouse; the Ladies Auxiliary took over the duties during the day. A tower on Woodbury Road was erected by the Civil Defense Department for the purpose of sighting aircraft: every passing plane was reported to Mitchell Field for identification. While this was not considered a standard departmental function, some firemen served part of their civic duty in this manner. Because of tire and gasoline rationing during the war years, parades and tournaments were discontinued; retreaded tires became a necessity and new vehicles were impossible to obtain.
Good deeds were not confined to the war years, for members fought fires even in unprotected area. This was based strictly on the good will of the members and entirely voluntary. One of the most tragic and unforgettable of these fires occurred one Christmas afternoon in the unprotected area of Old Bethpage. After hose had been dragged over numerous snow banks to a fiercely burning building, the flames were extinguished sufficiently to allow the firefighters entry into the home, where the badly-burned figure of an elderly woman was discovered on the kitchen floor. Valiantly, the men tried to save her, a call for the Farmingdale Fire Department ambulance. was put in, and transportation to the nearest hospital arranged. She passed away before reaching the emergency room. Unfortunately, Old Bethpage was too sparsely populated to provide its own fire protection and so had to rely on the good will of neighboring departments - namely, Bethpage, Farmingdale and Plainview. But inasmuch as this area was serviced by the Plainview Water District, steps were taken to include Old Bethpage into the Plainview Fire Protection District.
The Headquarters building was erected in 1941 and consisted of two truck bays housing a hose truck (affectionately called "Grandma") and the Packard mentioned earlier. The Packard was soon replaced by a new Dodge pick-up used for brush fires and later (about 1949) converted to a Rescue Vehicle. The building, which also contained a kitchen as well as a recreation room in the basement (now part of the boiler room), remained the same until 1952, when a three-bay apparatus room was added to the west. A substation, housing Engine Company 02, was built on Southern Parkway in 1957 and dedicated the next year. The year 1958 saw another new station, housing Engine Company #4 in Old Bethpage, begun on Round Swamp Road; the building was completed in 1959.
In 1961 additional alterations on Headquarters’ were completed, including the addition of a second story, an extension to the area, housing a recreation room, and the addition of much needed storage space. These alterations changed completely the exterior appearance of the building, converting it from a rural-type structure into a modern one.
Plainview's evolution from a rural farm community to a rapidly growing housing development area led the fire department to realize that it, too, needed to grow if increasing demands were to be met. Consequently, two additional bays were added in 1974 (again to the west) to accommodate an aerial platform truck and a heavy-duty rescue vehicle, whose purchases were anticipated.