The Ronkonkoma Fire Departments Beginning
For many years Lake Ronkonkoma had no fire department. Often houses and barns just burned down if they caught fire. Neighbors would help form a bucket brigade if a pond was nearby. In a bucket brigade a line of people stood shoulder to shoulder from the pond or cistern to the building that was on fire. A pail was dipped into the pond and passed from hand to hand to the head of the line where the water was tossed on the fire. Then the person who emptied the pail ran to the pond and filled the pail again, rejoining the end of the line the bucket was passed forward once more. All pails or large pots available were used. In 1903 there was a tragic fire at a section of a resort complex called the Lake Front Hotel. One woman crawled under the bed and was burned to death. Fourteen guests were injured, some from jumping from second story windows. This incident shocked the town into action, and a volunteer group was formed to fight fires. The First official notation of the existence of some form of fire fighting group was on September 11, 1903 when twenty-four men from the Ronkonkoma, Lake Grove area came together to set the machinery in motion for its formation. Martin A. Metzner was its first president. Other officers included John Campion, vice president; Samuel N. Hawkins, treasurer; and Daniel J. O'Connor, secretary. The geographical boundaries of the Ronkonkoma Hook and Ladder Company as it was to become known, were described as Nesconset, Centereach, Lakeland, Ronkonkoma, Lake Ronkonkoma, Lake Grove, Holbrook, Holtsville, and Farmingville.
On June 15, 1904, Ronkonkoma Hook and Ladder Company #1 was officially organized with John W. Cleary as its first Chief, assisted by John Campion, with Thomas Fish as foreman and Fred H. Wilkinson as secretary. The Fire district, unincorporated protected a territory of five square miles. Included were what is now known as school district #5 of Brookhaven Town, and district #11 of Islip Town, with an estimated property value of $369,500. Membership Dues of 15 cents per month helped support the company.
The money for the first truck was raised by the people of the town. It was a horse-drawn vehicle which carried one hundred feet of hose.
There were no fire wells or hydrants. A locomotive tire which resembled a huge iron ring was hit by a hammer as an alarm. It had a distinctive sound which carried for miles and people responded by getting to the point of the fire alarm any way they could. The hammer was chained to the rim so that no one could carry it away. The ring is now on display at the fire house on Portion Road. Originally it hung between two locust trees on the corner of Portion Road and Hawkins Avenue.
Regular meeting of the newly formed volunteer group were held the first Saturday of each month with the annual meeting held in October. The uniforms consisted of a bright red blouse, khaki pants, belt and buckle and blue fatigue caps. In February, 1906, the hook and ladder company was incorporated. Thomas Fish succeeded Chief J.W. Cleary in April 1906. The title for the position was 'Foreman' of the department until June 18, 1928 when Joseph Kirk made a motion to change the constitution and by laws to read 'Fire Chief' instead of 'Foreman'. This motion was seconded and carried. Chief Fish remained in office until May 16, 1938 when he was succeeded by Joseph Kirk. The minutes of an official meeting of the Ronkonkoma Hook and Ladder Company #1, dated March 19, 1906, states that the annual meeting was held in Goebells Hall. The meeting was called to order by Foreman Fish with 11 members present. Funds to operate the self support Fire Department from its beginning until the formation of the Fire District came from dues paid by the firefighters, donations and social functions run by the fire department. In addition income was derived from renting the firehouse to various groups who showed movies or held dances. Local church organizations rented the facilities for their funtions. Local history was even made through the use of the building for one of the first radio broadcasts heard in the area. But the most successful form of fund raising came from the firemen's fair which were very popular with the local residents who flocked to them in droves.
On August 4, 1924, the Ronkonkoma Fire Department moved into its new building on Portion Road. In the succeeding ten years, two wings had been added to the original building to keep pace with the speedy growth of the community.
On July 17, 1933 a special meeting of the Ronkonkoma Hook and Ladder Company was held with Chief Tom Fish, presiding. A motion was made and carried that the name be changed to Ronkonkoma Fire Department. Harold Sorenson was appointed to act as attorney for the newly named department.
On May 17, 1937, it was decided to have a special meeting to form a fire district. A committee was formed to research the matter. After many months of work, the committee reported that all was ready to form a district. All the information was forwarded to the town board, who, on July 17, 1939 appointed five members of the department to act as Commissioners until elections were held in December. The appointed members were Tom Fish, Leo Steidel, David Terry, George Robins, and George Fehring. Richard Newton was secretary, treasurer of the Board of Fire Commissioners. L. Hellman was instructed to provide an official map of the entire district and send it to the town board.
The department, at the present time (1978), boasts a roster of 135 officers and men, more than 75 of them fully active.
Trucks of the time
Since 1932, a truck equipped with a front mounted centrifugal pump with a capacity of 250 gallons of water has been keeping pace with modern equipment purchased years later. Prior to the installation of the front mounted centrifugal pump, the method used to obtain pressure for the hoses was by the addition of bicarbonate of soda and acid to form a chemical reaction producing water under pressure. Another truck purchased in 1938 is also providing excellent service with a volume pump and a 350 gallon booster tank. In 1947, the department purchased the first of three high-pressure piston pumps. It could deliver 60 gallons per minute at 800 pounds pressure at the pump for two booster nozzles. In 1951, a second special pump was added and mounted on an international chassis, equipped with flood lights, and emergency equipment and carrying a 500-gallon booster tank Considered the best piece of equipment in the department is a GMC chassis carrying a 750-gallon booster tank and two pumps. One is a high pressure piston pump, and the other is a 750 gallon-per-minute centrifugal volume pump. This apparatus is considered the best "two-fisted" fire fighter in the area. Both pumps can be operated simultaneously and give as many as seven 11/2 inch line to combat fires.
The districts first fire hydrant was installed in 1947. It was connected to the Long Island water storage tank located near the east side of Ronkonkoma railroad station. The water from the tank was also used to fill the steam locomotives used on the railroad during that era. Over the years that one fire hydrant has increased to many throughout the district, keeping fire insurance rates at the lowest New York State level.
Through the years equipment has been brought up to date or added as the need arose. Itemized below are a list of the 41 pieces of equipment which the district has acquired over the years from the first horse drawn truck to the most recent high pressure truck
1904 Hook and Ladder (Horse Drawn)
1906 Buick- Donated by Martin Metzner
1924 Reo Chemical Truck
1926 Dodge Chemical Truck (old milk truck)
1928 Reo Chemical Truck with trailer (portable pump)
1932 Ford Pumper (front)
1941 GMC 500 gpm Pumper
1947 International H.P.
1952 International H.P.
1955 GMC 750 gpm Pumper
1960 GMC 750 gpm Pumper
1965 GMC High Pressure
1965 GMC Rescue Van
1966 White Tanker 4400 Gal (used 1952)
1967 GMC Light Truck
1969 John Bean Pumper 1000 gpm & H.P.
1971 Ford H.P.
1973 Ford Fire Police Van
1973 Mack 1500 gpm Pumper
1974 Mack 1500 gpm Pumper
1976 GMC Pickup
1977 GMC H.P. Truck
1977 GMC H.P. Truck
The Medical Unit
During 1940 it became evident that the area residents could no longer depend on the local hospitals for transportation of sick and disabled. A series of meetings were held to discuss ways of forming a Medical Unit and obtaining the services of a qualified individual to train personnel. Basic to the idea was the need for an ambulance. On January 10, 1941, a special meeting of the Fire Department was held. At that meeting a motion was made to form a medical unit and buy and ambulance. The money needed to purchase the ambulance was to be raised by running Bingos. The sum of $150.00 was earned to purchase and equip the ambualance. The medical service began operations with a 1934 Nash ambulance. Francis Pfeifer was the first president. Dr. Walter Roettinger was of the greatest help in planning proceduresand training unit members in enough first aid necessary to handle the sick or injured who would use ambulance services. Charter members of the Ronkonkoma Medical Unit were Wallace Jay, Ivar Okvist, Dr. Walter Roettinger, Francis Pfeiffer, Cad Duffield, Frances Hugelmeyer, Sherman Jay, Leo Steidel, William Okvist, Louis Davis, W. Beyer, and Adam Metzler.
The unit was self supporting and money was raised through donations and fund raising events. In 1948 the medical unit was absorbed into the Ronkonkoma Fire District and was then funded by it. In addition to serving the people of the Ronkonkoma Fire District, the medical unit, during its eight years on its own, aided people in Holbrook, Lakeland, Lake Grove, Centereach, Holtsville and Farmingville. In 1947, the Nash was given to the Lakeland Fire Department and a new cadillac was purchased at a cost of $13,000. Training and equipment for the medical unit of the Ronkonkoma Fire District has advanced a great deal from its humble beginnings in 1941. Manning the District Ambulance today are men trained in paramedic courses offered by local hospitals and Suffolk colleges.
The Rescue Squad
As the rural atmosphere of the area changed, it became evident that a different type of vehicle was needed. The calls for aid in an increasing number of automobile accidents created a need for different equipment and additional training for medical unit personnel. At the end of 1947, the Ronkonkoma Fire Commissioners were sought out by a committee from the ambulance unit seeking district support for more advanced equipment. In less than a year, approval was given, money was appropriated and a fully equipped vehicle was purchased at a cost of $5,610. Again in 1968 the need for more sophisticated equipment was evident. By September 6, 1969, the Rescue Squad, as it had become known was driving a truck with the latest rescue equipment on it. It was at this time that paramedic training became part of the Rescue Squad training curriculum.
1977 Ford Van
1967 Chev Wagon
1975 Chev Wagon
1977 Chev Wagon
1974 Chev Wagon
1977 Chev Sedan
With the 1977 construction of the new fire headquarters, comes on of the most modern and sophisticated control room consoles in suffolk county. This console will enable better use and control of the siren system, incorporates the Bell Telephone Group Home Alert, and the control for the new "Beep" individual fireman pocket pager radio alert. The pocket pager radio alert will enable the console operator to "Beep" alert the firemen, who are anywhere within a 12-15 mile radius of the Ronkonkoma Fire House, that a fire or emergency exists. Firemen could then put the "Beep" on monitor of the fire frequency, while they are responding to the scene of the emergency. Out of 110 fire departments in Suffolk County, over the past few years Ronkonkoma has ranked second in the highest number alarms. It is very obvious that fire communications and alarm systems must rank very high in the overall picture of good fire service. This system will continue to grow and be constantly updated to meet the present and future needs of the Ronkonkoma Fire Dept.
*** ALL INFORMATION ON THIS PAGE IS TAKEN DIRECTLY FROM "SPANNING THE YEARS 1904-1978 THE RONKONKOMA FIRE DEPARTMENT" ***PRINTED BY THE REVIEW NEWSPAPERS, RONKONKOMA, NY
This work is respectfully dedicated to those brave fellows, who, without thought of reward or favor, except the knowledge that they have helped their fellowman, risk life and limb to prevent loss of lives and property through fire.
The Board of Fire Commissioners of the Ronkonkoma Fire District extends sincere thanks to the following men, whose efforts and dedication made this book possible.....
Leo Steidel, Chairman
Board of Fire commissioners (at that time)
Raymond Baldelli, Chairman
Joseph Mallins, Sec'y
Joseph Barnickel, Sec'y/ret.
James Cleary, Treas.
William Wickers, Treas/ret.
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