Oceanius, in what is now Far Rockaway, and Lawrence, both had a fire department. Why not Westville? Originally called North West Point, certain members of the community of about 1000 which is now called Inwood, met together in 1887 to organize a fire company. Concerned citizens met at the Rhinehart residence and formed the Electric hook and Ladder Company on January 19, 1887. Subsequent meetings were held, by-laws adopted and they were granted a charter and were officially recognized on February 15, 1887. Meeting nights were designated as the first Monday of the month, a tradition which has lasted for the past one hundred years.
At the time, Inwood had about 1000 residents, some farmers, but mainly those who worked the clam and oyster beds in Jamicia Bay. Streets were for the most part sandy or covered by broken oyster shells. Electricity had not yet come to the area.
With many obstacles in there path, the men ran dances, parties and other affairs to accumulate funds. In April, 1887, William Wanser, a charter member located a piece of apparatus in Bayonne, New Jersey, and was authorized to purchase it. With a $20 deposit, balance of $310 to be paid at a later date, the Electric Hook and Ladder had its first piece of apparatus. The apparatus, a ladder truck, was barged from Bayonne to Westville, where it was put into service immediately. This piece of apparatus served until 1917 when it was sold to the Roxbury Fire Department. Quarters were needed to house the apparatus so a site was purchased and a building erected in late 1887 at what is now 101 Doughty Blvd. Originally, the ladder truck carried only ladders and buckets. But later hose was purchased to connect a few available methods of water supply in the area. In 1893, six Babcock extinguishers were purchased. In the early days, members were closely attached to nearby fire companies and went to each other’s fires and meetings, in fact some members belonged to Electric Hook and Ladder as well as Washington Co. in Lawrence.
In 1888 the name Inwood was selected by the residents of the area to replace the name Westville. A growing population and increasing fire hazard led to the consideration of forming another fire company. In 1902 some younger men of the area met to form the Citizen Hose and Engine Company. There was also a movement to establish Inwood as a village in order to improve the roads, obtain more fire hydrants, and to exercise greater local control. For better or worse, this plan fell through. Citizen Hose and Engine Company formally organized March 14, 1902 and was granted permission to use quarters of Electric Hook and Ladder Company for their meetings and to store their equipment. A small two wheeled hose cart was rented from Oceanius Fire Company and an order was placed for 500 feet of hose.
Both companies were now in business as partners rather than competitors. Since both companies responded to the same alarms, it was decided that one person should exercise command at a fire while each company kept it’s own identity. Charles L. Pearsall was elected to this position in 1903. That same year. Citizen Hose and Engine contracted with C. H. Lush of Freeport for a hose wagon at the cost of $300, and the rented wagon was returned to Oceanius. In 1904, John Crosby was elected chief, followed by the re-election of Charles L. Pearsall in 1905.
In 1906, Citizens Hose and Engine Company purchased on half interest in the property and some of the equipment of Hook and Ladder. In 1907, Citizen Hose and Engine Company purchased from C. Abrams on Springfield Blvd., a new hose wagon. William Chave was chief at the time. Between 1906 and 1910, Valentine Smith, C. A. Schlief and John Sandison served as chiefs. In 1910 the two companies incorporated into a new unit and was chartered as the Inwood Fire Department. Each company continued to retain its own identity and elect its own officers while serving under one Chief Officer, a practice which exists to this date. Charles Rollberg was elected first Chief of the Inwood Fire Department. A year prior to the incorporation, in 1909 boundaries between Lawrence-Cedarhurst and Inwood were formally adopted and remain virtually the same today.
Perhaps we might well pause to reflect on these early years in light of the present. There were fewer structure fires and due to the lack of modern equipment and water supply much of the efforts of men were devoted to saving possessions and preventing the spread of the fire. There were no phones at first and someone discovering a fire would have to run to the fire house to sound the alarm by means of a bell atop the bell tower. Men would have to get to the quarters by whatever means possible, mostly by foot and pull the apparatus to the fire by hand over sandy and unpaved streets. Sometime there were horses available to do this work. Frustration would set in due to the lack of pumping equipment or long distances between hydrants or other sources of water. Yet these men performed dedicated service in spite of the odds against them. One record indicates a duty time of over seven hours at the John Smith Lumber Yard on Lawrence Avenue in September of 1908. Though there was some equipment saved, it was totally destroyed for a cost of $15,000, a princely sum in those days.
All was not hard work and frustration though. Men trained, paraded in various events, held dances, picnics, and other outings. Fairs, oyster suppers, and subscription drives were held to obtain funds for equipment and supplies since no tax funds were available. Drills were held and tournaments were attended. It is worthwhile to note that Citizen Hose and Engine took first place in 1905 Southern New York Tournament, only three short years after they were organized. Inwood also holds the World’s Record, established in 1919, for horse drawn hose contest. A quick look at the numerous trophies which line the ballroom walls can readily attest to the time and efforts given by members of the drill team from the earliest days and the present in contests of hand drawn, horse drawn and motorized equipment.
The department proceeded along through the years. The large bell tower was replace by a smaller one. Plans to purchase a steam engine were formulated, then dropped, renovations were made to the truck house, and fund raising continued. The year 1917 was a notable one for it saw the first motorized piece of apparatus, a Mack Chemical and Hose Wagon which had no water tank, but was the forerunner of modern day equipment. In 1923, property was purchased on the east side of Doughty Blvd. where the present parking lot stands. A larger fire house was planned but he property was later sold. Several attempts, starting in 1909, to organize a Fire District did not materialize until 1926 when the Inwood Fire District was formed. Property was purchased on the north east corner of Wanser and Doughty Blvd. and the present fire headquarters was built. An extension was added in 1952 and an annex was built in 1984.
The year 1927 was also a notable one. The first pumper, a 1927 Seagrave 750 g.p.m. was put into service along with a 1927 Seagrave City Service Ladder Truck. On December 5th , 1927 over sixty new members were admitted. There were now three companies in the Department, Hose Hook and Ladder and Engine. Two members of that group still survive and have given sixty years of service each. Both Andrew Witze and Edwin Donald are the oldest active members, both have risen through the ranks to Chief of Department and both have served as Commissioners of the Inwood Fire District.
The first ambulance, a Buick, was put into operation in 1927. The year 1934 saw a 600 g.p.m. Mack pumper placed in service. A federal light truck was purchased in 1940, while 1952 saw acceptance of a Cadillac ambulance and an 85ft. Seagrave Aerial Ladder truck. The following year a 1953 Seagrave 1000 g.p.m. pumper was placed in service followed in 1954 by a Ford light truck which was built using the body of a 1940 light truck. A 1000 g.p.m. Mack pumper was placed in service in 1958 and another 1000 g.p.m. Mack went on line in 1963. Ambulance service was stopped for a few years but resumed with the purchase in 1963 of an Econoline ambulance. A floodlight truck was purchased in 1968 and the Mack Tower Ladder replaced the Seagrave in 1973. Also, a Chevrolet ambulance was purchased. It is now in use as a haz mat vehicle, having been replaced in 1980 with a Ford ambulance. In 1981 a flood light and rescue vehicle replaced the 1968 light truck. The present apparatus has been rounded out by two 1986 Pen Fab Emergency One 1500 g.p.m. pumpers. Two chief’s cars are presently in service with another one on order.
Any history of an organization must, by necessity, contain only highlights. The following are some of the more interesting items. Some of the major fires, but not all, would include the Adams Lumber Yard in 1930 which leveled the south of Redfern Ave. from Doughty Blvd. to the city line and destroyed several houses on the north side. March of 1960 saw one of the most spectacular fires in the history of this area. Fire broke out early one Monday morning in the block square, seven story Nautilus Hotel in Atlantic Beach. Services of every department in the 3rd Battalion plus a two alarm assignment of ten companies from New York City were needed to control the conflagration. It wasn’t until the following Friday that the last Inwood units left the scene. The El Patio Beach Club was totally destroyed in September of 1961. The night of November 17, 1971 was lit by the explosion of a fully loaded gasoline truck in the yard of the Crown Oil Company. Heroic measures saved the rest of the tank farm. Our flood light truck was called to the scene of a plane crash on Rockaway Tpke. On June 24, 1975. December 3, 1977 saw the vacant Atlantic Beach Hotel burn for over 24 hours. There have been other major fires over the past hundred years both within our boundaries or on mutual aid in which the members displayed their dedication to their duties.
It is sad to note that many members, despite there training and experience, have been injured, some quite seriously, in their efforts as firefighters. One member, Chief Robert Moloney, died on April 17th, 1946 as a result of injuries received previously in a training drill. On November 5th, 1942, William Borfitz gave his life while attempting to rescue a young boy who also died in the fire in his home on the north west corner of Mott and Doughty. These men truly served their community.
In 1936, a contract was signed to protect the West End Atlantic Beach Fire District. Since that time, Inwood had provided protection for this area which has no department of its own. During part of W.W. II. A pumper from Inwood was stationed in Atlantic Beach and was manned by auxiliary firemen. The year of 1937 saw the start of the Inwood Ladies Auxiliary. Also in 1937, the Inwood Exempt and Benevolent association was chartered. This organization renders assistance to needy fireman and their families.
A hundred years has passed and Inwood has seen many changes, having grown from a small farming and fishing area to a suburban community of over 8000 residences. Types of housing, methods of transportation, the economy, all have changed. The Inwood Fire Department has also changed. From a small group of men, with primitive training, and second hand equipment, it has grown to a modern well trained, well equipped entity.
Members now schooled in modern fire fighting techniques, some trained as medical technicians, are now operating efficient apparatus especially designed to assist them in performance of their complex duties. But one thing has not changed over the past one hundred years and that is the dedication and willingness of the members to protect, voluntarily, at any hour, under any condition, the lives and property of the community. May God grant that we will continue for the next one hundred years.
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