|Original WH Fire House, circa 1925.|
The inception of the West Hempstead Fire Department began years before the adoption of it’s formal charter in 1919. Life-long West Hempstead resident Helen Duryea recalled that, in the early decades of the Twentieth Century, her father and uncle, Edwin and Frank Duryea, would organize volunteer “bucket brigades” among the local farmers to confront fire emergencies that occurred in the area.
By the end of the second decade of the Twentieth Century, a confluence 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 Company, and West Hempstead residents looked to emulate the successes of 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 Company 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 of the Company were installed, their names comprising a veritable Who’s Who of prominent citizens of West Hempstead: Foreman William S. Stringham, who owned a general store on Hempstead Turnpike in Munson (at the current corner of Nassau Blvd.); 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 local achievements; President Emil Baumbach, a machinist who lived with his family on Railroad Ave (Hempstead Gardens Drive); Vice President Paul Ohrtman who had a prolific local civic career as School District 27 president, Sanitation District 6 commissioner, and Town of Hempstead Receiver of Taxes; and trustees Ed and Frank Duryea, well known farmers and builders in the area. Soon thereafter the group filed incorporation papers with the Town of Hempstead and the New York Secretary of State, as the Victory Chemical Engine & Hose Co. No. 1. On July 10, 1919, it was reported in the Hempstead Sentinel that the Town of Hempstead had given its consent to the charter; 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. Sadie Ohrtman, Mrs. Lillian Naumann, and Mrs. Barbara Baumbach as founding officers. The Auxiliary hosted barn dances, strawberry festivals, and various social events to obtain the requisite funds for the new firehouse, while their inaugural event held in April 1921, a barn dance on the grounds of Charles Botsch, brought in $700 for the cause. Groundbreaking for the firehouse occurred soon after on May 15, 1921 and the well known local contractor Carl Mirschel was hired to build the edifice. Another barn dance, held the following year on February 7, 1922, typified the kinds of prizes that were awarded at such events: a ton of coal, a barrel of flour, a pig, and a barrel of potatoes. The following year, on April 17, 1922, a vote held at the brand 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 West Hempstead 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 numerous State Championship drill competitions, including an unprecedented "threepeat" in 1939, 1940, and 1941, as well as the National Championship in 1939. In 1952, a new modern, brick 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 West Hempstead 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 here in the 1790s. 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 West Hempstead Fire Dept. and his son, Keith, served as fire chief for many decades as well.
The WHCSA wishes the West Hempstead Fire Department and well deserved congratulations on this milestone. The 100th anniversary parade and celebration block party will take place on September 21, starting at the Fire House.