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The Beginnings of the West Hempstead Fire Department - 100 Years On by Yossi Azose

Updated: Sep 13, 2019

The inception of the West Hempstead Fire Dept. began years before it’s formal charter in 1919. West Hempstead resident Helen Duryea recalled that, in the early decades of the Twentieth Century, her father Edwin and uncle Frank Duryea would organize volunteer “bucket brigades” among the local farmers to address fire emergencies that occurred in the area.

A number of factors contributed to the formation of our Fire department. First, the adjacent neighborhood of Lakeview had already been served since 1909 by the Lakeview Hook & Ladder Co, and WH residents looked to emulate their neighbors to the south. Second, residential subdivisions, starting with Fairlawn Park in 1906, would begin a long process whereby West Hempstead property would be converted from farmland into rows of homes upon neatly platted streets. Thereafter, fire protection in West Hempstead became a matter of safeguarding entire town blocks from destruction rather than merely saving isolated barns and farm houses. Finally, fresh from victory in Europe in WWI, scores of young, able-bodied “doughboys” would return home in the beginning of 1919 and provide a propitious pool of volunteers to join the fire department.

At the start of 1919, the Victory Chemical Engine Co. was formed out of a series of meetings that were held to plan the way forward for the nascent department. On Friday March 21, at the third meeting of the company at the home of Ed Duryea, it was reported that 36 members had already been recruited. At that same meeting, the initial officers were installed, whose names formed a veritable who’s who of prominent citizens of WH: Foreman William S. Stringham, who owned a general store on Hempstead Turnpike in Munson, Assistant Foreman Wallace Hill, whose day job as a foreman at the NY Telephone Company no doubt served him well in his new position, Treasurer Henry Lee, a retired Norwegian shipbuilder who lived on Chestnut Street and founded Trinity Lutheran Church, among other things, President Emil Baumbach, Vice President Paul Ohrtman who had a prolific local civic career as SD27 president, Sanitation Dist. 6 commissioner, and Town of Hempstead Receiver of Taxes, and trustees E.C. and F.E. Duryea. Soon thereafter the group filed incorporation papers with the Town of Hempstead and NY Secretary of State, as the Victory Chemical Engine & Hose Co. No. 1. On July 10, it was reported in the Hempstead Sentinel that the TOH had given its consent to the charter and in the following month, the Secretary of State followed suit.

A suitable centrally-located property upon which to build a fire house was chosen along Hempstead Turnpike, on land owned by Alice Bailey. In February 1921, a Ladies Auxiliary was formed with Mrs. Paul Ohrtman, Mrs. Bruno Naumann, and Mrs. Charles Hoegle as founding officers. The Auxiliary raised the $500 purchase price by hosting barn dances, strawberry festivals and various social events to obtain the requisite funds. The well known local contractor Carl Mirschel was hired to build the fire house and groundbreaking occurred on May 15, 1921. The following year, on April 17, 1922, a vote held at the new fire house was carried for the appropriation of $5,090 for the purchase of fire apparatus and equipment, as well as a new fire alarm.

In 1927, the formation of the WH Water district had a profound effect on fire protection of the neighborhood, as water lines and hydrants were installed throughout the district. In the ensuing years, the volunteer firefighters competed in various athletic and skills competitions. The Westerners drill team went on to win the State Championship drill competition in 1937, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1951 and 2012, as well as the National Championship in 1939. In 1952, a new modern fire house was built to replace the old wooden house that had served the district for 30 years.

Many of the officers and volunteers of the WH fire department have deep roots whose families span two and sometimes even three generations of service to the district, including well known local families such as Brohm, Riesterer and Schroeher. The Schroeher family planted roots in the 1790s and the Patriarch of the family, Louis, ran what was probably the first hotel in the area in Franklin Square. Louis’ grandson Joseph was a founding member of the WH Fire Dept. and his son Keith served as fire chief for many decades as well.

The WHCSA wishes the WH Fire Dept and well deserved congratulations on this milestone. We hope to see you at the 100th anniversary parade and celebration block party on September 21.

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