Yorktown Heights Engine Co. No. 1 Celebrates
By Christine An
"If the '80s were the Age of Avarice, then the '90s are shaping up as the Age of Altruism," Newsweek magazine recently observed.
President George Bush speaks of "the thousand points of light...of people and institutions working together to solve problems in their own backyard." First Lady Barbara bush, with a series of community activities to her credit, is described as a symbol of the new spirit of volunteerism. Participation in volunteer groups is increasing and new volunteer organizations are springing up nationwide.
One earnest team effort at contributing time and energy to aid others was born in the early years of Yorktown. This year, Yorktown heights Engine Company No. 1, a volunteer fire department, is celebrating its 80th year of work in "the preservation of the life and property" of Yorktown.
In the early 1900s, Yorktown was an agricultural community with 3.000 residents. Smoke over the hillside immediately brought willing farmers and merchants with brooms to stamp out the fire. Such co-operative spirit and toil, unaccompanied by any proper equipment, however, was fruitless against large building fires. Neighboring towns" "fire trucks," drawn by horses over dirt roads, would often arrive only to see ashes.
Thus, on March 8, 1909, the first planning meeting to establish a fire department was held. Soon, Yorktown Heights Engine Co. NO. 1ewas born and equipped with a hand pumper and hose cart purchased from funds raised by subscriptions and the Village Improvement Association.
The group was challenged with its first fire in August of that year when the church bell sounded an alarm. Although the town baker lost his barn, the new group of firefighters was proud they were able to save Mr. Ryder's livery. Henceforth, funds were raised through subscriptions, dances and other social events. The water system with fire hydrants was installed and additional equipment added and updated.
Today, Yorktown Heights Engine Co. No. 1 houses two locations: Hanover and Locksley roads. There is approximately 70 active volunteers who respond to some 300 fire alarms annually. Because of their commitment, Charles Moseman, president of the company, estimate that the group saves the town's taxpayers several million dollars each year.
Contrary to the national trend of increasing volunteerism, the group is undergoing a continual loss of members, which is the foremost concern of the group.
"Twenty years ago, people needed to wait five to seven years to join the company. Today, we need more members to keep the department going," Moseman stressed.
Moseman's statistical study reveals that during the period from 1967 to 1977, the organization had a net loss of two members; during the last decade, the rate of decrease of young men has accelerated.
Chief James Rooney explains that the younger population of Yorktown is relocating because of the lack of affordable housing in the area. Those who stay are forced to hold more than one job to meet high living costs, he said. Although there are 140 members on the role, the percentage of life members (25 or more years of service and associate members (those no longer active) is increasing, leaving fewer actual firefighters.
The entire crew of active members is alerted at every report of a fire, and the firefighters are committed to respond to as many alarms as possible. Thus, within two or three minutes after the alarm sounds, the necessary fire apparatus is able to leave the station. Rooney reports that 25 to 30 firefighters serve at the scene of each fire.
Rooney does not recall any major casualties of firefighters during his 26 years of service. (Five years ago, there was a fatality when a sleeping woman was unable to escape her burning house.) Rooney attributes the excellent record to the department's stress of safety and the weekly drills that are held to rehearse different phases of firefighting. The members are also required to take state-run courses on fire fighting and rescue techniques.
With a well-trained crew and a department equipped with nine fire apparatuses-a hook and ladder truck, rescue truck, mini-attack and six pumpers-Rooney does not feel there are any significant disadvantages due to voluntary manpower. In preparation for major fires the town is part of a mutual aid plan implemented through the county-controlled dispatch that will send necessary aid.
The fire station is not manned around the clock; instead, calls reporting fires are received by the police department. Firefighters are reached via a portable radio paging/alerting system and the audible alarm system located throughout the town (still necessary because only 709 percent of the firefighters possess the radio).
The fire department is operated thought revenue raised by an annual carnival and raffle, and through Yorktown Fire district which rents space for the nine apparatuses it owns. (Recently, the Locksley Road building was bought by the district; however, the town pays rent to the fire company for use of the Hanover Road station.) Purchases of equipment and materials are also made though the town.
The Women's Auxiliary of Yorktown heights Engine Company - a group of wives and mothers of the members formed in 1947 - supports the firefighters with refreshments at the scene of fires and also with contributions during the carnival season and at open houses.
According to Rooney, members generally spend approximately 10 hours per week with the company. Members are eligible for the low-income housing program of Yorktown; however, other benefits are not currently available.
What motivates the firefighters to persevere during the sometime long might hours and respond to untimely alarms that shriek at mealtimes?
"It's a commitment of service to the community," Rooney responds. "It is also a great learning experience, because you are presented with responsibilities plus opportunities to work with the public on the importance of fire prevention."
Members of the fire department also donate time conducting fire prevention programs for schools and various health groups.
Rooney observed that given the right external circumstances, membership is long term; and the sense of family unity and friendship fosters fulfillment with the group.
"We'd like to keep it this way. It has been this way for 80 years," said Charles Moseman who comes from a family of firefighters. His grandfather, James Moseman, served as one of the founders and the first treasurer of the company.
Captain Eric DiBartolo enjoys the challenges for the fire. "It (firefighting) is something that I love to do...something that I would not give up. And because of the training, I don't worry about the dangers. We are really proud of the Yorktown Fire Department."
Men and women interested becoming a firefighter should call 962-2148.
Source: North County News, August 16 - August 22, 1989
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