History of the Larchmont Fire Department

The Early Years of the Department

The late 1880's saw a summer time vacation colony, turn into a community of 959 residents, complete with water mains, hydrants, horse trolley and several vacation hotels. Large cottages and homes were being erected for full time residence and a business area was starting near the Boston post Road. Fire protection was started in 1889, by a group of 25 citizens led by Charles Singer (Singer Sewing Machine Family and Palmer Singer Auto-Car Company) who was elected 1st Chief. Hose, reel and rudimentary equipment were kept in a shed on Ocean Avenue and they called themselves "The Larchmont Manor Fire Company" of which Hose Company No. 1. was its prime unit.

However, in early 1890, they realized the inadequacy of their equipment and the rapid growth and development of the community. A larger department with better equipment and a permanent station was needed. Subscription funds were started; fairs, teas, socials were used to raise funds to equip and house a modern fire department. These efforts, all by the men of Larchmont Manor Fire Department without the help of any government entity, because there was no Village Government formed at this time. The Larchmont Manor Company, deeded a 30 foot by 70 foot plot of land on the corner of Circle and Maple Avenues to William Campbell, who was superintendent of the Larchmont Manor Company, and would later become the 2nd Chief of the Fire Department, and to George Wight, who was also an officer in the Manor Fire Department to hold title to the property.

On December 11, 1890, 18 men met at the home of Charles Singer, and created with monies raised, the Larchmont Fire Fund. Some of the men present and some later to join were: Mayhew Bronson, Augustin Monroe, Carsten Wendt, Thompson Flint, Julius Gerlach. If the names sound familiar, they should, our early fire department organizers, were very prominent citizens who later had streets named for them. Three committees were formed, to organize, erect a fire house, and to purchase equipment for all fire fighting. Initial funds allocated:

Firehouse $1,700.20
Ladder Truck, (Hand Drawn) 392.00
Hose Jumper (Reel) 120.00
Hand Drawn, Hand Pumping Engine included with bell for Firehouse 575.00
Fire House 305.00
In the spring of 1891 a firehouse 28 feet wide by 50 feet deep, with a bell in a cupola was erected on the corner of Circle and Maple Avenues. All the hand drawn equipment was placed in the firehouse, and training programs and drills started. In early September, 1891, the Village was incorporated and at the 3rd meeting of the Village Trustees October 16, 1891, Messrs Wight and Campbell asked that the property be deeded to the Village, and all the equipment therein and the department be reorganized under Village law, with an Engine Company, Hook and Ladder Company, and a Hose Company. On October 23, 1891 as per a resolution of incorporation adopted by the Board of Trustees, "The Larchmont Fire Department" was incorporated with Charles E. Little as the First Chief.

Hand drawn equipment was adapted to be horse drawn and also sometimes would be hooked on the back of the trolley. In 1896, the Village obtained its first steam, driven pumping engine, (horse drawn) it was a Silsby 1/4 size, 2 horse pull which was assigned to the Engine Company. A year later the Hose Company secured a hose wagon with 700 feet of hose to support the steamer which only carried suction hose.

How The Steamer Worked

To put it simply, the steamer was a large tea kettle, in which the exhausting steam forced pistons to turn a pump which increased the water pressure and propelled it out the hose to the nozzle. While in the firehouse, the water in the boiler was kept just below the boiling point by a gas jet on an arm which could be swung away. The fire box under the boiler held coal, kindling, and wood shavings. An acid-filled bottle controlled by a series of chain and pulleys went to the drivers seat.

The stalls in the firehouse did not have doors. The horses were so well trained that they just stood in their stalls. Harness for the horses was suspended over the hitches in front of the apparatus. When an alarm would come in, the engineer would ring a bell (now outside the present alarm room). The horses would leave their stalls and go to their proper places. When the horses were in place, the engineer would pull a rip and the harness would fall into place on the horses back. It would be quickly buckled. The driver would swing the gas jet clear of the boiler jump in the seat and pull the chain which would spill the acid on the wood shavings starting a fire in the fire box that ignited the coal. As the rig was being driven to the fire a draft would be created and the boiler would have enough pumping steam pressure in 3-4 minutes. At the fire, the steamer would be hooked to the hydrant "steamer fitting" with suction hose. The pump would start pumping, and the horses led away to a safe secure area. A disciplinary note was given to one of the early Professionals because of his failure to lead the horses away. It seems that either a spark from the steamer or from the fire landed on the horses rump, the horse skittered and pulled the steamer off the hydrant.

Ordinance Drafted

In 1899, the fire department was requested to submit a proposed ordinance specifying the material, size and dimensions of fire escapes to be placed on buildings exceeding three stories in height or intended to be occupied by more than two families.

In July, 1902 Chief Mayhew W. Bronson reported that the Engine truck was unsafe and asked that it be repaired at a cost of $800. The Board approved, but informed him to notify the company making the repairs, "that it might be necessary for them to wait sometime for payment." Chief Bronson reported he found the hotel fire escapes satisfactory, but advised placing additional escapes on the Alexander Building. The disastrous Kuhnast Building fire which occurred that year was the subject of much attention. A resolution, expressing to the mayor, fire commissioners, chiefs and members of the New rochelle Fire Department "deep gratitude for prompt response and efficient aid," was adopted.

The Board of Trustees held an adjourned meeting November 5, 1902 to consider more fire matters. It was voted to insure all fire apparatus and other property belonging to the Village under a blanket policy for $18,000. Chief Bronson was authorized to contact James McKeand to erect a new auxiliary fire house at $175 and to purchase 500 feet of hose and three shut-off nozzles.

Kuhnast-Quigley Fire

November 2, 1902 "A milkman rang the alarm at headquarters at about 5 a.m. Sunday morning. The horses used to pull the apparatus were in the livery stable on my property at Cherry and Monroe Avenues. I brought the horses to headquarters where we hitched them to the apparatus and drove to the fire, which was on Larchmont Avenue, a block west of Boston Post Road. There was a slight mixup because the regular truck was being repaired and we couldn't find the reducer for the hose on the reserve truck. As a result we were delayed for about half an hour," Mr. Hickley, who was the Foreman of the Engine Company at the time, recalled.

Although the Kuhnast building, William Murray's Casino and several stables were destroyed by the flames no one was injured. The fire, however, resulted in the erection of a new auxiliary station, a new fire alarm system and the prohibition of the erection of wooden buildings.

The Ambulance Protective Company was incorporated in 1903. Dr. William E. Bullard was made the First Captain, a position he held until 1923. Each of the charter members had either been a member of the Hose or Hook and Ladder Companies, but resigned in order to form the fourth company. In addition to Dr. Bullard, the Captain, other original Ambulance Protective Company officers were Dr. John A. Fordyce, First Lieutenant, Dr. William Stump, Second Lieutenant, and William B. Dean, Secretary. The other members were Edward C. Griffen, Lancaster Morgan, George E. Ide, David Rait, Jr., Robert E. Robinson and John Neilson.

In 1904, a two story $4800 addition was put on the rear of the Circle Avenue firehouse. The first floor housed stables for 6 horses purchased by the Village. The second floor held a meeting room and offices. The new addition was built over the objection of Ms. May Watkins who lived on the corner of Maple and Prospect. Legal briefs went back and forth and finally an emergency meeting of the Village Board was held at the Yacht Club in August, and the decision of the Village Counsel was that the Village was within its right to build the addition.

Mitchell House Burns

In 1905, the Mitchell House, where many prominent people spent their summers, was destroyed by fire and resulted in a hurried order for a new engine for which $5,000 in bonds were sold. The auxiliary fire station was removed from the Post road to the lot P.H. Collins on Addison Avenue.

In 1906, a new fire district was established, the voters authorized the purchase of the Maddock property on Chatworth Avenue for a firehouse and reorganized the Hose Company, Block 52, bounded on the north by Post Road, east by Monroe Avenue, south by lots 3 and 7, and west by Larchmont Avenue had been rapidly built up with frame houses. On March 4 the Board declared it to be a serious fire menace and designated it as a new fire district in which further building of frame structures was prohibited. The new steamer was a 1/2 size Metropolitan 3 horse hitch. It was put in the Circle Avenue firehouse and used by the Hose Co. The Engine Co. moved to the Chatsworth Avenue firehouse with their steamer.

Towle Elected Chief

Consent was given the active members of Hose Company No. 1 to organize and incorporate as Larchmont Fire Company No. 2. The new company was formally approved by the Trustees January 7, 1908 and 56 members appointed. The year 1908 was also the first that George S. Towle served as chief of the department. He held that office for one year, was succeeded by Julius Gerlach for two years, and then returned to head the department for 21 more years.

Whether the failure to secure winter uniforms precipitated their action or not, the minutes do not tell, but all the fire commissioners resigned in a body on February 10, 1912. They were Charles A. Singer, R.C. Seymour, and Max B. Kaeshe. The Trustees accepted their resignations immediately with regret and expressed appreciation for past services. At the same time a resolution called for the filing of all their records so that an audit could be made and certified. Edward C. Griffin was sworn in for the unexpired term of Mr. Singer and served as a one man commission.

At a special election on August 21, 1912, only 37 taxpayers voted on the question of purchasing a combination chemical and hose motor car at $5,500. The proposition carried by seven votes. Chief Towle was requested to reorganize the fire department with a fire council in which each company would be represented. The following wardens were approved: William Kelleher and Chester Hayes, Engine Company No. 1; R.C. Heather and H.C.T. Benjamin, Engine Company No. 2; Dr. Otto Ernst and W. Strich, Hook and Ladder Company; and Dr. William E. Bullard and Dr. Ellsworth Smith, Ambulance Corps.

New Trucks

The new truck for the Hook and Ladder Company arrived in 1915, was tested and found to be in good condition. The old truck (horse drawn) was sold for $1.00 to Weaver Street Fire Company. An extra radiator was installed in headquarters to prevent the motor from freezing.

In 1921, rubber boots and coats were ordered for the firemen at a cost of $175. With the aid of Second Assistant Chief Lawrence C. Dalley, a Brockway truck chassis was purchased for $1,000. It was fitted to the Chemical Hose wagon. The appearance of the truck marked the end of horses, which had been used up until that time to pull the apparatus. A forth fire district was created in 1921, embracing the railroad station area and extending from Roosevelt and Woodland avenues on the east to the westerly boundary line of the Village.

The companies drew for separate meeting rooms in the new Municipal Building, which was opened in 1923. Hook and Ladder Company drew room No. 1, Hose Company received the No. 2 room and Engine Company was awarded the No. 3 room. The companies meet in the same rooms today.. The drawing took place in 1922, the same year that second Assistant Chief Dalley was deputized by the Hose Company to present a Ford car to Chief Towle as a fitting recognition of long and faithful service rendered by him. The same year at a special election the taxpayers voted by a 56-2 margin to issue $10,000 in bonds to purchase combination pump, chemical and hose motor apparatus.

Fire Patrol Formed

The Fire Parol was organized in 1923, but was not incorporated until 1925. Ralph A. Gamble, who was this district's congressman, served as the first Captain of the Patrol Company. J.J. Peugnet was the First Assistant and George E. Bruce, Second Assistant under Captain Gamble.

In 1924 T.A. Comerford, secretary of engine Company No. 1 wrote to the Board stating that as the Fire Council had not reinstated the members expelled or transferred because they refused to be transferred to the Patrol Company by Chief Towle, the Company, by a vote of 21 yes and one silent, had voted to disband on March 11. A letter from Harry R. Mooney, secretary of the fire council, stated that on March 20 Assistant Capt. Louis P. Miller was directed to assume command of Engine No. 1 and to at once "reorganize and recruit Engine Company No. 1 so that it would take its place as a fighting unit of the department." In 1925 two more fire districts were established. By that time the department was well organized with five companies, a fire council and departmental officers.

Fiftieth Anniversary: The Golden Jubilee

The Golden Jubilee Committee which was headed by First deputy Chief John T. Breunich, had expressed its appreciation for assistance rendered by Miss Pearl Day, chief librarian, Village Clerk Edward I. Graff, John J. Hickey and the paid firemen. All helped to unearth facts concerning the department since its incorporation.

The Golden Jubilee celebration started at 8 p.m. Friday night, October 16, 1941, in front of Fire Headquarters in the Municipal Building. After the outdoor program, which included three short addresses and an exhibition drill which news annalist John B. Kennedy described, a dance, buffet dinner and entertainment was held in the St. Augustine's school auditorium starting at 9:45 p.m. Town and Village officials attended the event. It was one of the most important events in the history of Larchmont Fire Department to date.

The War Years 1941-1946

Larchmont Fire Department became in integral part of the areas Civilian Defense, and the village was divided into dispersal areas in case of attack. The Federal Government through its Civil Defense organization supplemented our three pumpers and City Service ladder with several portable trailer hitched pumpers. All the windows in the firehouse were taped to prevent shattering and were also blacked out in the event of a night air raid. All station wagons and small trucks were registered as emergency ambulances in case of disaster. The Department's ranks were greatly diminished by the draft and enlistments. Two of the Deputy chiefs, hugh Collins and James Brennan were called away to service. The position of 4th Deputy was created to have a daytime Chief Officer available. The remainder of the department, trained with Civil Defense, learned about extinguishment of war related fires and had air raid drill practice with the Civil Defense Corps.

1946, saw all but three of our firemen return, John Thompson, Engine Co. No. 1 and Charles Boyle and William Farrington of Hose Co. 2 lost their lives in services of their Country. Returning veterans picked up where they left off in their respective companies and Larchmont Fire Department continued to grow and become a leader in Westchester Fire Chiefs Emergency Plan. A new American Lafrance Pumper was ordered to replace the engine Company's 25 year old, 1922 Lafrance. Three years later Hook and Ladder Co. accepted delivery on its first Aerial, a 1950 American Lafrance 100 foot one man ladder truck. L.F.D. had reached the modern era.

In order to properly house the new ladder truck, and a rescue to be delivered in 1952, the rear court yard was roofed over to become an extension of the apparatus floor, a work shop was also added to the rear of the apparatus floor. The old work shop was converted into a kitchen-lounge area for the uniformed force.

The Modern Era

During the late fifties, members of the Engine Co. participated in "on the job training" with the 11th Battalion of the F.D.N.Y. on weekends. Working tours would be spent in the various houses of the Battalion. Members of the uniformed force took courses with the Mt. Vernon Fire Departments higher education program. Training was emphasized in all areas, Essentials, Ladder Co. Operations, Arson Investigation, Salvage Training by New York City's Fire Salvage Unit. The U.S. Red Cross was changing its methods of resuscitation it seemed almost weekly, and courses were being given to keep up.

In early 1963, Mayor Ryan was looking for areas in which to enlarge the municipal buildings office space. Engine Company's room was slated to be taken away for the expansion. Public sentiment and the Fire Departments senior members convinced the Board of Trustees that an extension to the rear of the building would be more suitable to the Villages need for office space. The extension was built and the Engine Company kept their room. The 1960's and 1970's saw the Larchmont Fire Department assisting our neighboring departments in several major fires. New Rochelle had the High School fire, in which the Engine Company's 1947 American Lafrance Pumper drafted from the causeway between the lakes for over eight hours supplying water to our own Aerial. 1971 also saw Larchmont responding directly to the scene of the Crabtree explosion where three people were killed and four Larchmont firemen were injured. We also responded to the Chatworth Gardens and Winged Foot Club fires to assist the Town of Mamaroneck. Larchmont covered for the village of Mamaroneck during the Mamaroneck Beach and Cabana fire for almost fourteen hours, during which we responded to a roof fire on the Mamaroneck Post Office. Training intensified, due to State and Federal mandates, also because of new hazards in construction materials and house furnishings.

A volunteer ambulance corp. serving both the town of Mamaroneck and the Village was formed, its membership included fire fighters from both Town and Village. Local youths up to the age of eighteen became members of a Fire Department Explorer Group learning fire fighting principals and assisting fire fighters at fires and community functions. Many Explorers joined the volunteer ranks. Also, several went on to become professional fire fighters on Larchmont's Uniformed Force, as well as our neighboring communities.

The 1980's, had shown a continuous up-grade of equipment, with repowering and modernization, also the purchase of a new rescue truck. The words "Life and Property" were now supplemented with "Education and Prevention." 1990's Chief's report lists over 450 calls, and alarms, tours by local schools, and community participation in fire prevention programs.

To paraphrase a recent advertising campaign "We've Come A Long Way" from Charles Little to James Sweeney. One Hundred years of service to our neighbors and community. Full alarms, Standby's, Wires down, five mile runs, 4th of July, 3 a.m.- wake-ups, have all been a part of dedication and loyalty to our community and fellow fire fighters. We are proud of our 100 years and hope that the memory of our predecessors will not be forgotten.

Compiled and Written By:
Paul Andersen, Chief 1971-1972

With thanks to Tom Connell, Chief 1978-1979 and his Assistants