THE HISTORY OF THE
NANUET FIRE DEPARTMENT
Early on in Nanuet’s history as a town with a permanent name, several men, in order to avoid the Civil War (or so it is reputed), formed a fire company in 1860. The Nanuet Fire Engine Company is the sixth oldest company in Rockland County.
On December 18, 1860 the original nine members of our embryonic fire company banded together to form this company. They formed the Torrent Engine Company No. 1. The original members (as of records dating to 1861) were: C.S. Ackerman, S. Blauvelt, John Brower, J.W. Demarest, D.F. Demarest, J.W. Hutton, H.V. Hutton, Charles E. Smith and N.H. Snyder. These men, in order to keep up the pretense of having a fire department and to continue to avoid military service, must have held meetings, sporadic though they may have been. There are, however, records in the possession of the department, which carry a date of March 7, 1861, proving that some semblance of order existed at these meetings.
While our department had not received any form of official recognition from the state during the year of 1861, they thought it propitious to purchase some equipment. The department was no longer a military escape route and was fast becoming a group of dedicated firefighting men. To this end, the company purchased in March of 1861 their first hand pumper. Purchased from the company of Erkes & Onderdonk, it set the tiny company back $188.85, a very handsome price in those days. To pay for this pumper, the company sold subscriptions, which brought in $135.50. The balance of the pumper’s cost was paid by a loan from the Hutton Brothers store. Although the company had expended this money for what they thought was the most up to date firefighting equipment, they soon found the pumper to be rather inadequate and themselves to poor to purchase better equipment.
Realizing that their first pumper was more of a hindrance than help, the company purchased a new pumper in March of 1862. The pumper was a hand drawn variety complete with its own wagon was purchased from an outfit in Piermont, New York. Even in those by-gone days, the engine carried a portrait; in a prominent position in the rear is a portrait of the Indian Chief, “Chief Nannewitt” (some historians claim that he was not a Chief and only part of the Kakiat Indian Tribe). Regardless if he was a Chief or not, “Chief Nannewitt” is still honored on the entire department’s fleet with a portrait on each cab door. In order to pay for this new engine, pay off the loan from the Hutton Brothers store and raise money to construct their very own firehouse (the engine was being stored in a livery stable at the time), held various fund raising activities such as lectures, suppers and “smokers”. Eventually the debts were paid off.
1862 was a monumental year for our fledgling fire department. If for nothing else than that this was the year that the company received its charter. On April 5, 1862, an act was passed in the state legislature incorporating the “Nanuet Fire Engine Company, in Nanuet, Town of Clarkston, in the County of Rockland”. Not only had the company become official, it had undergone, through a mistake at the legislature, a name change. The company was now known as the Nanuet Fire Engine Company, it had originally been called the Torrent Engine Company #1. By the time that the charter was granted, the company had grown from a small token number of nine to a firm nucleus of sixteen. As of charter time the members were: C.S. Ackerman (original), Nicholas L. Blauvelt, Samuel Blauvelt (original), John Brower (original), Abraham D. Clark (DeClark), John Cooper, Cornelius G. Demarest, Joseph G. Demarest, J.W. Demarest (original), Henry Ferdon, George Cross, Jacob Gross, Jacob Haring, George Hinton, Lucas D. Isham and John Wood. What happened to the rest of the original nine in two short years since its inception is not known. Perhaps they did not escape the military draft for the Civil War as previously hoped.
Elections that were held in the company prior to 1887 were usually conducted by either a vocal vote or a show of hands type vote. In the above-mentioned year the company’s by-laws were amended to include a secret ballot using black and white balls (this practice continued into the 1900’s in many companies). The black ball indicated a “no” vote and the white ball was a “yes” vote. This way, none of the firemen could be harassed for an unpopular vote.
The start of the new century also saw the beginning of the modernization of Nanuet. Within the first few months of 1900 electricity came to Nanuet but the firehouse did not receive it until the following year. As soon as the lines were brought in and the incandescent bulbs screwed in place, it became a social hall for the company. A pool table was bought and moved in. Many a night the men would gather here to shoot pool, swap stories and join in fraternal camaraderie. It is to be expected that their wives were not too thrilled to see this modernization of their husbands and their firehouse.
Unattached with any convention or association for fire companies since its inception, the company decided to join one. On July 4, 1904 they were accepted into the Hudson Valley Firemen’s Association. In August (officially the 30th) of the same year the Nanuet Fire Department Women’s Auxiliary was formed. Their primary function was to make coffee and supply something to eat when the firemen returned tired and hungry from fighting a fire.
In 1906 a new engine was purchased. A committee was formed and sent to Luna Park to view a new steam engine at work, the American LaFrance. They had gone strictly to view this new engine and to see how it worked, but liking what they saw very much, the committee purchased one and Nanuet had its new engine. When the new engine arrived, the firemen had better ideas of how to get it from one place to another besides fireman-power. They began to use teams of horses, sometimes rented for $5 a pair at the livery stable, but more often than not, the company used the teams of Fred Stecker and George Overmeyer, gratis. They were now able to respond quicker to a fire and have more strength and energy to combat it. By 1908, the company felt in need of a new firehouse. The other having served them well for forty years, and so they began a building fund. They also bought a new piece of property on which to situate their new building. This property was located just south of were the 1868 firehouse stood. However, when the company held its open house, they were not able to show off their pride and joy, the American LaFrance Steamer.
During a fire in West Nyack on a cold winter’s night, the owners of the property, in order to keep the men from a chill, liberally supplied spirits. The man, who was in charge of seeing that the boiler of the steam engine was kept full, neglected his duty and the engine boiled dry causing the metal plates to buckle. It was sent for repair and was not back in time for the April open house. Even after the repair it never functioned at 100% again.
After the World War I was over and the firemen who served in the military returned home, the department decided on modernization. For this purpose they bought a motorized unit from L. Covert of New City. While this was Nanuet’s first motorized automotive fire engine, it was anything but new. The engine was a rebuilt Haynes car upon which the hose engine had been fitted. Even though the department was able to get to a fire more efficiently and faster, they did not abandon the old steam engine. Instead they kept it for emergency use. This began the practice if having a backup unit on hand at all times. By 1932 the department felt in need of new equipment and ordered a four-wheel drive engine. Upon the arrival of this new engine it was found to be sub-standard for the departments needs. Along debate arose as to whether or not it should be kept or returned. It was eventually returned and in 1933 they took delivery of a brand new Peter Pirsch fire truck. They had originally wanted a Seagrave like their other one, but due to some shady business going on in the company in the early 1930’s, this company refused to deal with them and so a Peter Pirsch was purchased.
On April 1, 1945 their firehouse was hit by fire and had burned badly. When the fire was noticed, the alarm went out. The Nanuet Company responded but the blaze had a firm grip on the building, too big for one department to handle. A call was put through to the Spring Valley Fire Department. Nanuet fought the fire on and on, waiting for the approaching sirens of Spring Valley’s trucks. They never came. Another call was made to Pearl River for help. Even though they did respond, it was too late. The Nanuet Firehouse was lost. When the fight was over the Chief of Nanuet called the Chief of Spring Valley to find out why their call for assistance went unheeded. In utter shock, the Spring Valley Chief said that he thought it was a prank call and they had been getting these kinds of calls all day. Had the firehouse caught fire any other day but April Fool’s Day, it might have been a different ending.
On September 10, 1945, ground was broken for a new firehouse and construction was started. The architect for this new firehouse was Chris Bardon. This firehouse was built on Prospect Street (our current location). The old firehouse was located just south of the Nanuet Restaurant on Old Middletown Road behind Jolene Cleaners where the Wald Pavilion II is now located. During the construction of the new firehouse the fire alarm that was used to notify the men of a fire was out of service. As a stand by alarm, the Super Service Station, located on the corner of Main Street and Prospect lent the use of its air raid horn on the roof (it was installed during the war) as a way of notification. The following year the construction was completed and the building was opened for business.
1950 saw the resurrection of Nanuet’s 1868 hand pumper. Walter Beatty found the old pumper, hardly recognizable in its poor state of un-repair and lovingly spent many hours restoring it to its former beauty. When he was finished restoring the old pumper it was given to the New York City Fire College to be displayed in the New York City Fire Museum that was located in Greenwich Village in New York City. The pumper is now on display at the Rockland County Firemen’s Museum in Pomona at the Rockland County Fire Training Center.
By the time 1954 and 1955 rolled around, the department saw the need for a new pumper. So with the help with some civil defense funds two new Ward LaFrance 750 gpm pumper’s were purchased. They were known as the 8-750 and the 8-751.
June 22, 1957, a dark and sad day for the company. Peter Simpson and Thomas S. Simpson, were returning from a parade in Nyack when they were both struck by a car and killed. These men are memorialized on a plaque located on the front of the firehouse on Prospect Street.
By the time 1960 had rolled around the department was engulfed with excitement; this was the company’s centennial year. Monstrous plans were underway to celebrate this occasion in style. A huge carnival was held as well as a parade. Most of the Nanuet firemen celebrated this occasion by growing beards. Nanuet hosted the NY & NJ Volunteer Firemen’s Association Parade in June of this year. Over 100 departments marched and over 25,000 people watched and participated in this event, one of the largest NY & NJ parades ever held. But most of all, the 1868 hand pumper was brought back from it’s honored place in the New York City Fire Museum and put on display for all to see.
The 1960’s saw our small hamlet grow. Nanuet had not only gained many residences, but there was a tremendous business growth. The Nanuet Mall had opened were College Garden was (Route 59 and Middletown Road). Nanuet had now become the business hub of Rockland County. The department realized this and in 1965 took delivery of a new 1000 gpm Maxim pumper as well as a Maxim Equipment truck. They became known as the 8-1000 and the 8-EQ. The 8-EQ was the first equipment truck to carry water and be almost self-sufficient. The addition of these two trucks necessitated an addition to the firehouse. A bay capable of handling 3 trucks was added to the present building on Prospect Street.
Unfortunately February 6, 1967 turned out to be another very sad day for the company. Tempest Hunter died in the line of duty while operating at a structure fire. A plaque in the front of the firehouse also memorizes him.
1969, another addition to the firehouse and to the fleet. It was in this year that Nanuet received its first aerial platform truck. A 75-foot Snorkel truck was delivered to Nanuet. This truck, the 8-75 was made by the Young Fire Equipment Company and the Snorkel Company.
Once again though tragedy struck the company. On September 9, 1975, Assistant Chief John Foran was killed in the line of duty responding to a car fire.
Also in 1976 the department took delivery of another 1000 gpm pumper manufactured by the Young Fire Equipment Company. This pumper became known as the 8-1001. With the arrival of this pumper the 8-751 a 1955 Ward LaFrance pumper was retired. The Nanuet Fire Department now had six pieces of apparatus and continued to grow with the community. Towards the end of 1976, the company made the decision to lower the age limit from 18 years old to 16 years old to join to apply for membership. The first junior members as they were called started to join in the beginning of 1977 and turned out to be a very valuable program for the company.
1985, the company was ready to celebrate. This was the 125th anniversary year. Just as was done in 1960, huge plans were made for this milestone. Anniversary dinners, a carnival, a huge parade and just as was done in 1960, many of the men grew beards for the occasion.
In 1989 the Bardonia Men’s Club located on the corner of Bardonia road and Renee Lane, decided to donate their building and land to the company with the intent of having the company build a sub-station there. Unfortunately not all of the area residents were that appreciative of a firehouse coming into their neighborhood. After a legal debate the issue of building a sub-station was put on hold. The company however retained ownership of the land for a possible future use and the firehouse was built and opened in January 1999.
In September of 1999 Hurricane Floyd struck Rockland County. Not only did it create devastation and flooding throughout the county, it struck at the very heart of our department. The firehouse was literally underwater. The street was flooded, the bays were under 3 feet of water, and the recreation room and parking lot were all flooded. During the next three days the department responded to over 100 calls for structure fires, automatic alarms, rescues, wires down, pump outs and flooding conditions. Help was received from all over New York State. Departments from upstate in the Binghamton area and Long Island were in Nanuet to help out.
1997 also saw two more firsts for Nanuet. Along with the Pearl River Fire Department, the first Technical Rescue Team in Rockland County was formed. This team would be able to provide specialized rescue for rope, trench collapse, confined space rescue and building collapse.
Along with the rest of the world, the company was in shock when the events of September 11, 2001 unfolded. Although the department was not called directly to New York to assist, Nanuet along with every other department in the county went on standby in case we were needed. During the next few days’ money was raised throughout the county to help the families of the FDNY. During the next few months the company proudly assisted the New York City Fire Department with funeral and memorial details in Nanuet and surrounding areas. The 8-Tower went as far as Queens, New York for a flag detail.
The spring of 2002 saw another first for our department. The fire prevention committee, after a tremendous amount of fundraising was able to purchase a thirty-foot fire prevention trailer. The addition of this trailer was a fantastic addition to our fire prevention program.
The past few years have brought many changes to the fire service and our company. As we move forward into our 150th year, new apparatus are being planned for, a new firehouse is on the horizon and our training continues to progress. Today’s 100+ members continue to do what so many members have done before them, serve their community with pride.
Therefore, we would like to dedicate this history to all of our past and present members who have helped make this company what it is today.