By Dr. Mary E. (Wini) Warren
April 26, 1938- February 11, 2013
Since its inception in September 1889, the Northport Fire Department has operated from a number of different locations. In 1890, a barn donated by founding member James Cockcroft was moved to Woodbine Avenue, opposite the Thompson Law Book Company. A floor was installed to house the two hand-pulled pieces of equipment, a hook and ladder wagon, and a pumper truck, and the men began to practice firefighting. In June 1891, eleven volunteer Northport Hook and Ladder Company firefighters responded to their first recorded fire. The soon to be renamed Northport Volunteer Fire Department was up and running.
Running was a mainstay of firefighting in the 1890's running to the truck house, running the trucks to the fire, running victims out of harm's way, and running bucket brigades from a water source to the flames. Alarms were spread by word of mouth, until a bell atop the firehouse helped spread the call. The bell would be replaced by steam whistles, sirens, telephone systems, two-way radios, and an electronic telephone system. Horse teams, when available, made pulling equipment easier. Later, hoses that connected to fire hydrants, or to pumping equipment that drafted water from local ponds, replaced bucket brigades. Steam-powered equipment replaced horses, and was in turn replaced by gasoline-powered engines. Pumper trucks that carried their own water supply augmented the hydrant and drafting systems, until dependable, high-pressure water supplies were within hose range of most homes and businesses.
As Northport's population grew, so too did the number of fires. A series of pictures record the changes that were made in the barn/firehouse. A second story was added, and additions were built on each side. The need for more and better equipment rose along with the population. A crucial component in ending fires expeditiously and safely was, and is, getting to the scene as quickly as possible, with all the equipment operating effectively. These and other factors contributed to the need for a larger, better-equipped firehouse.
In 1905, construction began on a new combination firehouse and village hall on Main Street where the Village Hall and Police Station are now. The Department was then responding to calls from Northport Village, and the unincorporated areas of Northport, Asharoken, Eaton's Neck, Fort Salonga, Waterside, and Crab Meadow. By 1923, an Engine Company and a Hook and Ladder Company had been set up to facilitate firefighting. Answering emergency calls would soon become as important a feature of the Department as firefighting.
In 1927, the Department responded to its first call involving an auto accident. Advances in medical treatment increased the chance that serious injuries, if treated promptly and properly, could be survivable. In 1936, Northport firefighters first used an inhalator to administer life-saving oxygen to the injured and the ill. In 1939, as emergency calls increased, the Department set up a Rescue Squad. The firehouse on Main Street, which was shared with Village offices and the Police Department, became overcrowded.
Between April 1940 and April 1941, Northport volunteer firefighters responded to 57 fire calls, 4 emergency calls, and ran a series of fund raisers to buy an ambulance for the Rescue Squad. By then, a medical advance had begun to make blood for transfusions more widely available. Between April 1941 and April 1942, firefighters responded to 68 fires and 52 ambulance calls. Modern technological marvels were working to extend the lives of the ill and injured, if they could be transported to hospitals quickly enough.
By the end of World War II, the combination firehouse and village hall was full to the rafters. It was time to build a newer, larger firehouse, but too much else was on the public agenda. Meanwhile, restrictive Workman's Compensation regulations forced the Department to respond only to calls within Northport Village limits. People in outlying districts would have to establish a fire protection district, and do it quickly. Residents from Crab Meadow Beach, Waterside, Makamah, and Fort Salonga, met and formed an ad hoc group, circulated petitions, and got the Huntington Town Board to establish Fire Protection District #1 (FPD- 1), which could then contract for protection with the Northport Fire Department, an agreement still in effect.
Meanwhile, all our equipment could not fit into the firehouse. Depending upon situational requirements, firefighters often had to jockey vehicles around to get to the needed equipment. The overcrowding had reached a crisis, and might prove disastrous to both residents and firefighters during an emergency. Voters, however, seemed more concerned with the post-war lack of parking in the Village, and referendums that pitted parking lots against a new firehouse left matters unsettled. Then, in 1953, in the wake of the 1952 forest fire that had killed three Brentwood Fire Department firefighters, Northport voters gave the okay for a new firehouse. Located on Main Street, next to Village Hall, the Department's third firehouse was completed in 1955.
Until this time, all the Department's firehouses have been within the boundaries of the Incorporated Village of Northport. The opening of Fire Station Number One marked a significant change. It was the first Department facility located on Waterside Road, outside the Incorporated Village. Fire Station Number One will enhance the Northport Fire Department's firefighting and emergency-response abilities. In 125 years of the Department's existence, however, nothing has replaced the firefighters themselves. Northport firefighters have fought fires with sand and shovels, with water delivered by buckets and hoses, and with chemicals. From its inception, Northport's volunteer firefighters have adapted to technological and social change. In the 1890's firefighters entered burning buildings with little protection other than wet blankets. Today's firefighters can enter burning buildings wearing Scott air packs and high temperature proximity protective clothing. In the 1890's firefighters were exposed to smoke and flames. Today's firefighters must be wary of a dizzying array of hazardous materials. Firefighters are the vital link between the public, rescue methods, equipment and safety.
Visitors since 2/17/2013