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Port Washington Volunteer Fire Department
Notable Fires and Emergencies

During the period from April, 1906 to March, 1907 there were 11 fires reported in Port Washington. The official program for the "Fifth Annual Firemen's Day and Tournament" held on August 2, 1913, indicated that from the inception of the Port Washington Fire Department (March of 1907) until the date of the program, approximately seven years, there had only been 69 recorded fires! In 2006 the Port Washington Fire Department responded to over 2,700 fire and EMS calls.

The Years 1902 ‑ 1919

The first memorable fire of record in Port Washington occurred on May 10, 1902 at the Bayles Building located on the northwest corner of Main Street and Shore Road. The fire eventually consumed the entire block. The building where the fire originated was owned by Dr. A.C. Bayles and the street intersection is still referred today by longtime residents as "Bayles' Corner". Were it not for the valiant efforts of the volunteer firefighters and citizens working together the entire business district would have been destroyed.
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On June 3, 1905 the Port Washington News had the following account of a "Decoration Day" fire that occurred on May 30, 1905 at the Plankard residence on Bayview Avenue. At that fire a stable and barn were destroyed but the surrounding houses saved.

"The stable was situated less then seventy-five feet from the residences and with the wind blowing directly toward the buildings it was no easy matter to keep them from being destroyed. Fortunately, there was a hydrant close by and a hose line was attached, but the pressure was not sufficiently strong enough to throw a stream of water higher than the piazza roof. Had there been pressure of any account the fire could have been extinguished when it first started. Men clambered to the roofs of both houses and a bucket brigade was formed and did great service. Of course, the fact that there was water at hand was decidedly encouraging, but the water company was denounced on all sides for not having a pressure in keeping with its contract. As it was, the firemen and helpers gave all their attention to the saving of the houses and allowed the barn to burn."

A month later the Department responded to Manhasset and its first mutual aid response. On June 29, 1905, there was a major fire in multiple buildings at the Linkletter Estate located at present day Plandome Road and South Drive in Plandome. The July 1, 1905 edition of the Port Washington News reported:

"Fire destroyed two barns…and came near doing even more serious damage. Two other buildings were on fire several times…but the fire laddies present did good work and saved both buildings and likewise the old homestead, which would have burned had not the firemen been present. …The Manhassets were the first on the scene, followed by the Flower Hill Hose Company, of Port Washington, who made quick time, considering the distance. Atlantic and Protection, also responded as did the Great Neck Alerts and Vigilants."

May 19, 1906

"FIREMEN FIGHT FLAMES AT MOTT'S OLD PLACE-Save Residence of Val Fraser and Large Barn-Companies at Last Saturday's Fire Showed Their Valor and Are Rewarded For Same-Mr. Fraser Sends Checks as a Token of His Appreciation - The prompt response to an alarm of fire and heroic work after reaching the scene by the fire companies of this village last Saturday at the home of Mr. Val Fraser, on the Hempstead Harbor shore, prevented the loss of considerable property - probably the total destruction of all the buildings at what is known as 'Mott's old place.'

The fire broke out in the hennery about 11 o'clock a.m., and started, it is thought, in one of the brooders. Miss Fraser from her home west of her brother's house telephoned to the operator in the Central office, on Main Street, who gave the alarm to the companies. Foreman Charles F. Lawrence, of Atlantic Hook and Ladder and Hose Co., was the first to reach the fire, making the journey on his bike. Flower Hill Hose Company was the first fire company at the fire, followed by Atlantic H. and L. and Hose Co. No. 1, which in turn was followed by Protection Engine Company No. 1. Atlantic was handicapped in reaching the fire in its usual prompt manner owing to the difficulty in getting a team of horses. Protection experienced a set back too, by going toward Plandome, where it was first reported the fire was.

Flower Hill Hose worked like Trojans and kept the flames in check until the other companies arrived. When Protection with its engine and hose wagon got there they were sorely needed. There was hardly enough water in the reservoir to extinguish the flames, and the company stretched its hose to the harbor. The engine worked splendidly, as it did nobly and through their splendid work the house and large barn were saved from the flames. Two small barns were burned, but one was not entirely destroyed.

Mr. A. Fraser this week sent each of the companies a check for $25 and Thomas Mott gave $10. This evidence of appreciation is pleasing to the firemen. (Port Washington News, May 26, 1906)

October, 1907

"A fire started in the laundry building at the Hastings place, owned by W. Bourke Cockran (present day Harbor Acres, Sands Point)… and the building was totally destroyed. The fire companies were called out and Flower Hill Hose Company first reaching the scene of the fire, where the boys did excellent work with buckets. When Protection arrived with the hand engine water was pumped from Hempstead Harbor through the hose of Flower Hill and one length of Nassau's. Atlantic was on the job, too, making four companies in all that responded. The fire laddies did wonderful work or the big residence and barns would have burned. (Port Washington News, October 26, 1907)

April, 1907

"Thursday forenoon fire destroyed a combination barn and dwelling on James Marino's property (Neulist and Marino Avenues), Middle Neck Road. The fire started on the second floor. Three families were able to evacuate the building. Flower Hill, Atlantic and Protection arrived in the order named, the latter with their hand engine, on account there being no hydrants in that section. Atlantic for the same reason took their truck. Flower Hill stretched about 600 feet of hose to a small pond and was ready for Protection to connect when they arrived. A bucket brigade was also put busy and assisted greatly in saving surrounding buildings, some within twenty feet of the blaze. (Port News, April 6, 1907)

June, 1909

"Plandome Mill Ablaze - The Old Landmark Saved by the Port Washington Firemen - … although the boys were pretty tired when they had made the mile and one half run, they worked like Trojans with the buckets and kept the fire in check… Hundreds of people visited the fire, in fact, it was the largest crowd that ever witnessed a fire in this vicinity." (Port News, June 12, 1909)

October, 1909

"CATTLE BURNED - Big Fire on Wenner Farm Destroys Large Barn - A big fire on Middle Neck Road (area of Salem Lane) last Saturday morning, when a large barn and its contents on the farm occupied by Henry Wenner was burned to the ground, brought out the village fire department and attracted a crowd of people. Four horses, three cows, one calf, a lot of harness, potatoes, hay, straw and numerous other property was burned.

The alarm was sounded about 5 o'clock, at least an hour after the fire started. The fire had gained a good headway before the Flower Hill Hose Co., the nearest to the scene, arrived. A line of hose was run from the nearest hydrant but the distance was too far to be of much service, as it was Chief Snow's desire to save Mr. Wenner's dwelling and two other nearby buildings. …It was utterly impossible to save the barn as the fire was entirely beyond control when the firemen arrived. Someone was very much at fault for not giving the alarm promptly.

Several firemen complained about the water pressure and claim that they had to reduce the nozzles from a two inch to three-eights. (Port News, October 30, 1909) [Read more ... ]

June, 1910

"KILLED AND INJURED - Workmen at the McGirr Sand Bank Meet Death and Terrible Injury When Big Structure Falls - A very bad accident occurred at the McGirr Sand Bank of the Phoenix Towing and Transportation Co. (Roslyn West Shore Road) on Thursday afternoon when one of the large washer collapsed, killing two men and badly injuring nine others.

The fire alarm of the Port Washington Fire Department was sounded and when the members arrived at their respective quarters…Chief Snow and the men hustled to the bank where they found the most deplorable scene they had ever witnessed in this vicinity. A large sand washing machine 100 feet high…in a mass of wreckage with injured workers all around. Two men were killed and nine others badly injured. (Port News, June 25, 1910)

October, 1911

"FIRE AT SANDS POINT - William Guggenheim's Stables Burned to the Ground - A barn, stables and cow sheds on millionaire William Guggenheim's place at Sands Point was destroyed by fire at 2-3 o'clock Sunday morning. … The four fire companies responded but could do nothing except to protect surrounding buildings. The fire was beyond control before any of the fire companies were half way there a distance of from the village of about two miles. (Port News, October 1, 1911)

January, 1914

Port Washington's most destructive fire, to this point, occurred at 8 o'clock in the morning on January 25, 1914 and completely destroyed a ship building plant, over thirty yachts and caused damage of over $300,000. The plant was located adjacent to the Port Washington Yacht Club in the area of Bayview Colony.

"30 YACHTS BURNED IN $300,000 BLAZE - Fire, yesterday morning, completely destroyed the plant of the Stationary Marine and Motorboat Supply Company, on Manhasset Bay.

The fire, it is believed, was caused by an overheated stove. Over thirty motorboats and launches, which were stored in the building, were destroyed. The volunteer firemen managed to save several adjoining buildings, where thirty-five boats were stored. The firemen deserve great credit for their work. The nearest hydrant to the fire was over 2,000 feet away, and the firemen were obliged to break through the ice on Manhasset Bay and put an old hand engine in operation to provide a bucket brigade to save the adjoining buildings." (The Brooklyn Dailey Eagle, January 26, 1914)

"Within twenty minutes the entire building was in flames and in a little over an hour, with the assistance of a strong northwest wind, everything combustible had disappeared in smoke, leaving a worthless wreakage. … Nearly the whole fleet of the Port Washington Yacht Club was burned up. …The only equipment that could be used was the old hand pump, which kept a stream playing on the yardful of boats to the north of the burning building. The pump was manned by mechanic and millionaire, and employer passed the bucket to employee … standing shoulder to shoulder against the common enemy. … This suggests the idea that some of the auto-trucks should be equipped with a pump… so that water could be pumped from a well or cistern in case of fire in isolated areas." (Plain Talk, January 31, 1914)

January, 1919

"LOCAL FIREMEN FIGHT A MIDNIGHT BLAZE - Early Morning Fire Destroys Two Buildings - 14 Automobiles Burned - A fire which at one time threatened to wipe out several stores and dwellings in the business section opposite the railroad station early last Saturday morning destroyed a large two story frame store and dwelling at 9 Herbert Avenue and a barn in the rear of it. The barn was stored full of automobiles and parts. … The fire started in the barn and it was no time at all before the flames reached the store and dwelling. Both buildings were burning furiously when the fire companies arrived, there having been considerable delay in sounding the alarm. Once again it was proven to the satisfaction of the firemen that they are seriously handicapped by the present system of calling out the fire department. Saturday morning they responded promptly after the alarm was sounded, and the work they did in saving surrounding property from the flames was wonderful, despite a very low water pressure at the start and a strong wind blowing from the northwest. The smoke from the fire was dense and worked its way into nearby homes houses even with the windows and doors closed and large sparks were flying in the gusty wind. When the water pressure came up the vamps literally drowned out the flames fighting it from all sides. The high wind and freezing temperature hampered operations a good deal. The Great Neck Vigilants arrived and added support. It would be several hours before the scene was declared safe. (Port News, January 31, 1919)

Decade of the 1920s

January 23, 1922

On January 23, 1922, two lives were lost in the worst fire in the history of Port Washington to that time. This was a catastrophe of such overwhelming proportions it consumed a whole block of buildings from on Main Street from Herbert Avenue to North Bayles Avenue, including the power station, and jumped across Main Street to buildings next to the train station.

Columns of flame raced through the buildings and smoke choked the lungs of the firemen who struggled in vain to release water pressure from fire hydrants that were frozen solid in the sub-zero weather. Passengers arriving at the railroad station across the street from the scene were shocked by the sight that met their eyes.

The first unit to reach the scene of the fire was from Flower Hill Hose Company. A period of almost thirty minutes elapsed before either of the other three companies arrived. (Note: during this era there was a fourth fire company in Port Washington known as Nassau Hose Company. It was disbanded after 1922 with many of its members being absorbed into the other fire companies). The wind was blowing a gale from the northwest and the people in the lower part of town did not hear the alarm. This fire created lasting effects: A more defined effort in winterizing fire hydrants; the need for a town-wide fire alarm system; and the need for modernized fire trucks that could pump water.
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Decade of the 1930s

September 22, 1938:

The 1938 hurricane that hit Long Island did substantial damage to Port Washington. The fire department was called upon to render assistance.
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May 18, 1939:

Foreman Estate, Middleneck Road, Sands Point
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Decade of the 1940s

May 3, 1940:

An explosion and fire at the Berg Oil Company on Manhasset Isle literally rocked the town. It took the lives of three men and left another seriously burned. The tanks exploded at about 10:35 a.m., blew the roof from the building and knocked the sheathing from the walls. Merchandise bounced off of the shelves of stores on Main Street.
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August 20, 1942:

Emerson Estate, Cedar Knoll, Sands Point
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February 1, 1948:

On this date a major fire saddened the town, as well as the volunteers. It was a house fire at 10 North Maryland Avenue. Four lives were lost in that fire, a mother, her son, and two other small children. It happened in the early morning hours, around 4 a.m., and by the time it was spotted by a passing motorist it was already out of control. The smoke and flames could be seen for blocks around the area by the firemen who responded to the alarm. A small stove located in a little room off the kitchen may have caused the fire. The temperature was around the zero mark and we had twenty-five inches of snow on the ground when that tragedy took place. It was believed the owner of the home may have over-banked the stove, it overheated, burned through the rood of the small extension, and set fire to the main part of the house.
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Decade of the 1950s

May 3, 1950:

A blast that shattered neighboring windows and completely demolished a house, again shook the residents of Port Washington. This accident was the result of a gas explosion at 9 Orchard Place in the North Salem housing development. The superintendent of the development was discussing some repairs with a new owner when they both heard a hissing sound. He identified the sound as a gas leak and instructed the owner and her daughter to leave the building. About five minutes later the house blew up; fortunately the mother and her daughter escaped unharmed. Port's firemen responded to that alarm under the direction of Chief John Whaley.

February 8, 1951:

Plycraft Products, 174 Main Street
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March 31, 1951:

Manhattan Food Store, Main Street
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December 26, 1951:

Plaza Bowling Alley, Main Street & Haven Avenue
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January 30, 1954:

On this day a rash of private club fires kept the Port Washington Fire Department busy. It started at 6:20 a.m. at the Port Washington Yacht Club. Although firefighters battled the blaze for over four hours, the club was a total loss. Before the last smoldering embers of that fire had disappeared, another alarm was received for a fire at the North Hempstead Country Club. However, the main club house was not involved but damage was extensive to an outer building close by.

September, 1955:

The Port Washington Fire Department received honorable mention in the New York Daily News for their rescue work in connection with hurricane Diane. The whole department worked some forty hours without rest when the heavy rain from Diane flooded cellars and weakened the foundations of a number of buildings. In addition, they also supplied emergency power for six hours to St. Francis Convent, keeping an oxygen pump going for a critically ill nun.

November 22, 1956 (Thanksgiving Day):

A general alarm was sounded at 6:10 p.m. for a fire at St. Francis Hospital. The Port Washington Fire Department, assisted by the Roslyn and Manhasset-Lakeville Fire Departments, fought the fire for five and a half hours. During the fire the ladies auxiliary along with the other volunteers helped the men by making coffee and bringing it to the scene of the fire. Some trucks were put on standby duty until midnight. A couple of months later, on January 5, 1957, another fire was reported at St. Francis. This was the second fire at the home in two months and was considered suspicious by the Chief who called for an investigation. The Nassau County Fire Marshal later apprehended a young girl who admitted setting both fires.

February 3, 1958:

A fire of suspicious origin, later assumed to be set by vandals, also gutted the Monfort Mansion. The old homestead at the head of Main Street was owned by the parents of Ex-Chief Burt Monfort. The residents of Port Washington were distressed by the damage done to the 180 year old landmark. It was eventually torn down.
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December 27, 1958:

An unusual fire which had firefighters ducking for cover occurred on this date at 44 Orchard Beach Boulevard. While fighting the fire the men had an additional problem to contend with and that was LIVE AMMUNITION! The home owner was a member of a gun club and had ammunition locked in a den off the living room. The heat of the fire caused the ammunition to explode and a volley of 30-30 caliber bullets went flying in all directions.

December 30, 1958:

Plandome Country Club, Stonytown Road
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August 22, 1959:

Anderson Fire, Cornwell Lane, Sands Point
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Decade of the 1960s

November 24, 1960:

Fatal house fire, Reni Road, Flower Hill
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February 19, 1962:

Another old Port Washington landmark, Bradley's Restaurant, was gutted by fire. The general alarm sounded at 3:23 a.m. It was a long and stubborn fire and the volunteers did not leave the scene until just before noon. The outside temperature was down around the twenty degree mark and fighting the fire became hazardous since the water began to freeze as it hit the ground. The firemen were slipping and sliding as they moved about with the hoses and equipment. The ladies auxiliary did their best to keep the men supplied with hot soup and coffee during their long ordeal.
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January 22, 1966:

Fatal house fire, 9 North Court
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February 20, 1967:

Renga Brothers Upholsterers, Haven Avenue
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February,1969:

Village Tavern, Main Street
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August, 1969:

Love Inn, Shore Road opposite the Mill Pond
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Decade of the 1970s

April, 1970:

Sands Point Golf Club, Middle Neck Road
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April, 1970:

Manhattan Food Store, Main Street
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April 28, 1970:

Protection Engine Company Annex, Channel Drive
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June 3, 1970:

Wildwood Garden Apartments
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January 9, 1974:

Riviera Restaurant, Orchard Beach Boulevard
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1974 - 1975:

Arson at numerous boat yards
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February, 1976:

Port Washington Lumber Company, South Bayles Avenue
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January 1, 1977:

House fire, 92 Highland Avenue
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December 2, 1977:

Fatal house fire, 102 Fairview Avenue
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Decade of the 1980s

March, 1986:

Sands Point Bath & Raquet Club, Plum Beach Point Road
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November 26, 1988:

LODD, Captain Robert Dayton, 165 Main Street
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Decade of the 1990s

January 25, 1990:

Avianca Airplane Crash, Oyster Bay Cove
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January 30, 1990:

Shields Hardware, Main Street
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February 19, 1990:

LODD, Fire Medic Ingrid Sowle, Roslyn West Shore Drive
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August 12, 1990:

Fatal house fire, 60 Edgewood Road
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November 19, 1991:

Sands Point Nursing Home, Middleneck Road
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November 4, 1992:

Fatal house fire, Pequot Avenue
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February 2, 1996:

Fatal house fire, 11 Bernard Street
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August, 1996:

Wildfires, Eastern Long Island
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January, 1999:

Fatal house fire, Kirkwood Road
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