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Port Washington Volunteer Fire Department:
Protection Engine Company
No. 1

During the fall of 1891 a group of concerned citizens, realizing the need for additional fire equipment in Port Washington, organized Protection Engine Company No. 1. After a few months of researching fire engines, representatives of Protection signed a contract with Rumsey & Company, Seneca Falls, New York, for a piano box hand engine with assorted equipment and a two-wheeled hose cart, both for the sum of $825.

The Rumsey

The Rumsey arrived during the first few days of April to much fanfare and celebration throughout the town. It was now that Protection could become a legal fire engine company. On April 5, 1892 the official corporate papers were signed and submitted to the Town of North Hempstead. "Port Washington Protection Fire Engine Company Number One" became a reality.

Although the days of the bucket brigade were numbered, this technique was still necessary on a number of occasions as there was not enough water available for the Rumsey to function properly. The Rumsey was capable of charging two hose lines, throwing water 140 feet, and it took approximately twenty people to operate the pumping "brakes". The Rumsey was pulled by hand to most fires by the members, and sometimes their wives, unless someone offered a team of horses or, in later years, a motorized vehicle. A reward of $15 was available to anyone rendering their services for each occasion, but few accepted.

The Rumsey served the community for at least twenty-two years, even venturing to Roslyn and Manhasset on calls for mutual aid. Its last documented use was in January of 1914 when its suction line was placed through holes chopped in the 18 inch thick ice of Manhasset Bay at the devastating fire of the Stationary and Marine Motor and Supply Company (next to the Port Washington Yacht Club).

Of course much credit is attributed to the Rumsey and rightly so - it was the company's beginning. "Outside of the water supply district, or at least beyond the reach of a fire hydrant, nothing looks as good to Port Washington firemen as Protection's engine." - (PW News, June, 1909).

Anything For A Buck

During those early years, the Company had to depend on member's dues and personal loans, donations, fairs, dinners and picnics held at Dodge's Grove (Mill Pond), O'Gorman's Island (Manhasset Isle) and Covert's Grove (lower Main Street). Even theatrical plays were held to raise money. Much of the success of these affairs must be attributed to the ladies staunch support and hard work.

building With the majority of the money earned being used to pay for the Rumsey hand engine, hose cart and fire equipment, it was eighteen years before Protection would have a home of its own. For the most part, the equipment was kept at members' homes, where meetings also were held, or in the barns of kind-hearted neighbors. At one time the Company used the barn of Atlantic Hook &Ladder Company. However on one occasion upon returning from a tournament where Protection had beaten Atlantic the Company found itself evicted. All of Protection's equipment was out in the road! Despite this course of events the two companies have remained good neighbors for more than a century.

There’s No Place Like Home

buildingIn April of 1906 a lot was purchased on South Washington Street for the sum of $600. However, it was not until 1910 that a contract was awarded to charter member Eugene E. Carpenter, Sr. for the construction of a two-story firehouse for a sum not to exceed $2,405. On June 16, 1910 Protection moved into its new building, the basic structure of which we still call home today.

Horseless Carriage

With the community growing and the advances in the fire hydrant system, most fires occurring in the populated areas did not require the Rumsey since the members worked directly from the water main pressure. Thus, in January of 1906 Protection purchased a hose wagon for the sum of $450. This, however, proved much too heavy to be pulled continually by hand. It was built for two horses, neither of which the Company had. More than ever the goodwill of anyone with a team of horses or a motor vehicle had to be relied upon. In 1915 a Garford one and a half ton truck was purchased the body of the hose wagon was transferred to the truck. It was Protection's first motorized vehicle and cost $1,950.

In 1905, with the formation of Flower Hill Hose Company No. 1, it became evident that there was a need for a formal organization to coordinate the firefighting capabilities of the three fire companies. In March of 1907 the first meeting of the Port Washington Fire Department was held.

Throughout the years a great competitive camaraderie has existed among the companies. From intra-Department tournaments starting in 1909 and continuing for several years, to softball games and various field days. There was also a non-sanctioned competition to see which company would arrive at the fire scene first. However, once arriving at the scene that competitive attitude turned to cooperation in getting the job done - together.

In 1914 the Maloney Act was approved which allowed fire companies to collect tax revenue for their services. It was also at this time that the District Court started leasing Protection's meeting hall. These revenues, with the continuation of normal fund raising activities, aided in the Company's ability to secure up to date and much needed equipment.

Major Advances

The 1920s found Protection making major advances and purchases in rapid succession. In 1922 a two ton Garford engine was purchased for $6,865. It was capable of pumping 350 gallons per minute and contained a revolutionary chemical soda and acid system. In 1925, a Larrabee hose truck was purchased. Both the 1922 Garford and especially the Larrabee were used quite successfully at drill tournament events.

During this same period the 1915 Garford was sold to the Plandome Fire Department; the 1922 Garford was used in a trade, as was the original Rumsey hose cart. The members acquired a procession of cars converting them into trucks which were used for fires and drills. There was the Cadillac, the Packard and the Pierce Arrow. These were remodeled and essentially paid for by the members. A garage was rented in the 'Hicksville" section of town (Avenue B) and served as an annex, housing one vehicle for a number of years.

Firehouse Expansions

In 1926, a one-story addition was added onto the building to house the 1927 American LaFrance "Metropolitan" 1000 gallons per minute pumper. This was an extremely powerful vehicle and the first of its kind on Long Island. It was affectionately referred to as "old number one". The fire "engine" served the Company for twenty-five years.

buildingThe 1930s brought a major building expansion. The original firehouse was getting old and belonged to the era of the horse and buggy. A monumental task was undertaken and on August 15, 1931 Protection opened the doors of a "new" era. The building had been completely remodeled and expanded at a cost of $15,000. Aside from the modern comforts of a new heating system, kitchen, recreation room and offices there was room for three fire engines.

"Old Number Two"

In 1936, a Buick truck was purchased for drills and responding to small fires. It replaced the Larrabee which was sold to the Albertson FD. The Buick proved its worth on countless occasions and was kept for twenty-four years. In 1937 an American LaFrance 500 gallons per minute pumper became "old number two". It proved to be one of the most popular and frequently used engines in Protection's history working for thirty-one years. Although small in size, it was called upon and performed more efficiently at fires than much larger engines. It also served in drill events for over fifteen years.

The '40s - A Difficult Decade

The 1940s proved to be a very formidable decade and probably the most difficult since our inception.

World War II not only depleted the ranks of the membership but created many unprecedented circumstances. The firehouse had to be manned around the clock. Guard duty caused many problems for members who were already being stretched to the limit working in war plants and on night shifts, not to mention their normal fire and Company obligations. Civilians had to be trained in first aid and other emergency procedures. We had to contend with rationing for many essentials and with the blackouts and air raid drills. The Company discontinued the annual dinner and instead bought gifts at Christmas for those members who were in the service. The Ladies Auxiliary provided invaluable assistance throughout these trying times helping at the firehouse and the farewell parties for members entering the service. Their personal sacrifices were just as great as that of the members.

1942 marked Protection's fiftieth anniversary. On April 4 the Company held a celebration with a reception at the firehouse followed by a short parade led by the Rumsey, then a dinner at the Knickerbocker Yacht Club. Three of the four living charter members were able to attend.

During the 1940s the "Rangers" drill team won many tournaments and probably would be considered the best in the Company's history. Protection's softball team was also held in high esteem in the Main Street Twilight League.

A sad note occurred in November of 1947, when James J. Doyle, Jr., died in the line of duty after suffering a fatal heart attack at a fire.

In 1948 the Company purchased a 750 gallons per minute American LaFrance pumper which was designated number fourteen. This engine was due to replace old number one but the Company decided to keep both.

"Smokey" The Dog

Although "Smokey", the Company's Dalmatian mascot, arrived on the scene in 1947 his greatest notoriety came in the early 1950s when he bit someone and the Company turned him over to the Bide-A-Wee Home. Hundreds of letters flooded the firehouse along with numerous newspaper articles. There was even an editorial about him in the New York Times. They all conveyed the same message; "how could we be so cold-hearted?"

"Smokey" came back home but his freedom was greatly curtailed. The story is told that just because you were elected a member it was really up to "Smokey" to accept you - otherwise he wouldn't let you in the building. A suitable home was finally found for him, but not until 1955.

The '50's

In 1951 a Ford, John Bean fire engine was purchased and was designated "number fifteen". It utilized a firefighting technology developed by the Navy which was called "high pressure fog". Old number one was finally sold to the West Islip FD. This was Smokey's truck. When it was being driven away he chased the new owners all the way up Main Street and forced them out of the truck when it stopped for a red light.

Two vehicles were purchased especially for the "Rangers" drill team during this period. In 1956 a Ford "speed wagon", and in 1957 a modified 1951 Ford "B" truck.

Other items of note were the improvements to the firehouse including paneling and a patio. Also, the Ladies Auxiliary celebrated its thirtieth anniversary and continued its many fund raising activities and assisted at bad fires. It was in the late ‘50s that the Company gave serious consideration to building an annex in another part of town and formed a committee to look into the matter. Also, the officer's titles of Foreman and Assistant Foreman were changed to Captain and Lieutenant.

In 1958, after years of storage in garages and the basement of the firehouse, the Rumsey was sent to the Firemen's Home Museum in Hudson, New York, where it remains to this day. It was brought back home temporarily in 1991 to help Protection celebrate its one hundredth anniversary.

The '60s - An Active Period Of Growth

The 1960s were an extremely active period of growth. We saw a succession of new vehicles starting with a 1960 Jeep truck at a cost of $6,500. It was outfitted with a John Bean high pressure pump and a 200 gallon water tank. It was designated as "Engine 8515". Unfortunately, the Jeep did not meet the expectations of the Company and it was eventually used as a utility vehicle. In 1963 a Maxim 1000 gallons per minute engine arrived at a cost of $39,000 and was designated as engine "Engine 8511". In 1966, a Ford, John Bean engine was purchased. It was equipped with a 750 gallons per minute centrifugal pump and a "high pressure" pump. It was purchased at a cost of $26,000 and was designated as "Engine 8513". It became the workhorse of the company for the next fifteen years. The 1936 Buick was sold to the East Thompson Fire Department in Connecticut.

A new "C" truck was constructed for the drill team by the members in 1965 and the 1956 Ford "speed wagon" was sold. In 1968 the old "B" truck was sold to the Bethpage Fire Department and that same year old number two (1937 American LaFrance) was sold to someone in the Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania area whose name has been lost to history.

"Annex" Constructed

buildingAlthough the basic thoughts of an annex were spawned in 1925 with the renting of the garage on Avenue B it wasn't until sixty-three years later that this dream became a reality.After considerable research, a piece of property was purchased in 1961 for $14,600 on Channel Drive to build an annex. Construction began late in the year and on December 12, 1962 the "Annex" was in operation. The building could accommodate four engines, had a complete attic for storage, an engineer's room and adequate parking. It was constructed to accommodate another truck bay when and if the need arose.

In 1967 Protection celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary.

Drill Teams Consolidated

Another noteworthy event was the demise of the "Rangers" drill team in the mid- sixties. Members received permission to race with either the Atlantic Hook & Ladder Company "Rowdys" or the Flower Hill Hose Company "Runts". In 1968 a new drill team organization was formed called the "Road Runners". The new team combined members from both Protection and Flower Hill. Other notable milestones during that era were the construction of the new headquarters building of the Port Washington Fire Department in the early ‘60s; the switch from filter canister masks to self-contained breathing apparatus; the addition of the Plectron radio alerting system; and the dissolution of the "black ball" voting system. Also, in 1967 the Company appointed a "New Building" committee.

The '70s

The 1970s continued the major changes which started in the ‘60s. More new vehicles were added. In 1970, at a cost of $48,000, a 1000 gallons per minute Maxim Motor Company fire engine with a 500 gallon water tank and built-in foam system became "Engine 8512" and responded as the first due engine from the annex. Also, a 1973 Ford Club Van, "8514", was purchased to be used as a utility and transportation vehicle. In 1971 the 1948 American LaFrance was sold to the Point Lookout-Lido Beach Fire Department, the 1951 Ford, John Bean was sold to a fire equipment company in Boston, Virginia, and the Jeep was offered for sale to anyone who would take it. It was during the 1970s that Protection had the roofs of the vehicles painted white which would be continued on all apparatus purchased in the future.

A Building For The Future

After a slow start, the "New Building" committee had a major shakeup in 1973 and, as a result, embarked with great haste on accomplishing one of the most monumental projects in the Company's history. After considering numerous building sites and strategies, the end result was to purchase the Doyle property next to the main firehouse on South Washington Street at a cost of $35,000; completely renovating the old building and adding a new structure. Despite the lengthy amount of time it took for plans, financing, zoning hearings and meetings with local civic groups, the contracts were signed in July of 1977. buildingThe Company members packed up everything and vacated the building in August and would not move back in until December of 1978. During this time the members basically operated out of the annex, although they had moved one of the engines, spent a lot of leisure time and held meetings at the Company's good neighbors Atlantic Hook & Ladder Company. The end result, at a cost of $500,000, was a truck room that would hold four engines under normal circumstances and six in an emergency; a much larger recreation room; and a meeting room to hold 250 people, just to name a few items. The members, also, have contributed a lot of time to making refinements.

The Younger Generation

One of the biggest topics of the ‘70s, and a holdover from the ‘60s, was the hair and beard rules. Many a meeting was spent on this issue with the compromise that a member's hair was, "not to exceed below the collar or the bottom of the ear." As a result some members wore wigs during parades. However beards still were prohibited until later. The Company also saw the brief life of "PECO Points", an in-house publication which looked at the lighter side of life at the firehouse; helped the Ladies Auxiliary celebrate its fiftieth anniversary; America's Bicentennial; and the return of the leather New Yorker helmets after trying plastic helmets which did nothing but crack.

Due to the energy crisis Protection's members had to contend with gas rationing. In 1975 the "Rowdys" joined the "Road Runners" making one drill team for the entire Department.

The '80s

In the 1980s, after a number of years of frustration basically due to rust problems, the decision was made to sell the two Maxim fire engines. In 1981, a Mack 1250 gallons per minute engine with a 500 gallon water tank was purchased at a cost of $127,000 and was designated "Engine 8511". The Company was so pleased with the new engine that it purchased another, almost immediately, to basically the same specifications. The 1983 Mack cost $134,000 and was designated "Engine 8515". At that point Engine 8511 became the first due unit out of the annex and Engine 8515 became first due out of the main house.

In 1984, a Chevrolet Suburban, "8510", 4WD, with snowplow, was purchased for transportation and to respond to fires with additional manpower. The 1970 Maxim was sold to Malta Ridge Fire Department (just outside of Albany, New York) in 1983, and the 1963 Maxim was sold to the Chelsea, Vermont, Fire Department in 1981. In association with this sale the Company traveled to Chelsea in the summer of 1984 and participated in their Centennial Parade and Field Day.

It was during this period that Protection commemorated its ninetieth anniversary and celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the Ladies Auxiliary.

Safety!, Safety!, Safety!

During the 1980s the Company saw major improvements in keeping up with the new federal OSHA requirements and the Department's safety procedures. These improvements included the purchase of new turnout gear including bunker pants; positive pressure and passive alarms on all self contained breathing apparatus; the standardization of self contained breathing apparatus throughout the Department; mandatory CPR training for all new members; mandated physicals; color coding for officers' gear; high-band radios; and pagers for aiding in response time.

And, after years of study, a fire and police memorial was placed at Nassau Knolls Cemetery to honor the members of both forces who have given their lives in the line of duty.

In 1983, Protection formed a one hundredth anniversary committee and started formulating plans, doing research, collecting memorabilia and constructing display cases. Also, arrangements were made to bring the "Rumsey" home from the firemen's museum in Hudson, New York.

The '90s

As the Company entered the 1990s it purchased another Mack fire engine with a 1250 gallons per minute pump. "Engine 8512" had an enclosed crew cab to meet new regulations, seated eight people and cost $170,000.

1992 - 100 Years And Counting

As the member's thoughts and energies turned more to Protection's one hundredth anniversary celebration, a special room was constructed by them inside the truck room to store the "Rumsey" upon its return in June of '91. The Company's centennial dinner, held at the North Hempstead Country Club, was a huge success. A parade and block party on June 27, 1992, and the publication of a journal closed out the one hundredth anniversary festivities.

In retrospect, Protection Engine Company has enjoyed the good and endured the troubled times. It has survived through the Spanish-American War, World Wars I & II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War and the continuing war on terrorism. Scores of its members have served in the armed services with distinction. Five made the supreme sacrifice. Every year the Grave Committee diligently places flowers and American flags at each deceased member's resting place. The Sick Committee ensures those who are ill will be looked after and the members have participated at numerous blood banks.

Protection has had fifteen members serve as Chief of the Port Washington Fire Department and a combination of sixty members serve as either Foreman or Captain of the Company. Four of its members have been elected President of the Nassau County Firemen's Association, while others have served as leaders of many regional organizations. Protection's members have served as fire police and fire inspectors and spent countless hours on ambulance duty.

2000 And Beyond

As it approached and entered into the twenty-first century Protection kept up with new technologies, equipment and firefighting practices. As older engines began to show their age new, modern equipment took their places. In 1996 a Pierce 1500 gallons per minute pumper with a ten person cab was purchased and designated as "Engine 8511" . The year 2001 was marked by the purchase of a Pierce 1750 gallons per minute pumper with a ten person cab that was designated as "Engine 8513". And a new Pierce 1750 gallons per minute pumper with an eight person cab was purchased in 2004 and designated as "Engine 8515".

Over the years the Company members have attended the New York State Firemen's Association Legislative Clearing House and taken the bus ride to the Firemen's Home in Hudson, New York each year. Names such as Dunkirk, Catskill, Geneva, Watertown, Niagara Falls, Syracuse and Rochester are associated with State parades and tournaments, just as Hempstead, Hicksville, Central Islip, Ridge and Lindenhurst remind us of the many local parades and tournaments. Protection's drill and softball teams evolved into Department teams carrying on the winning traditions and camaraderie with the Road Runners winning two, and the softball team six, New York State championships. The "Gutterbugs" kept knocking down bowling pins as well as league titles.

The Company has held picnics at the Thayer & the Hoffstot Estates in Sands Point, Tom's Point, Half-Moon and Manorhaven Beaches. In addition to the annual dinners and Christmas parties, there have been countless other social functions. And the members and their families have enjoyed the many smiling faces as Santa arrived each December.

Strong And Prepared For The Future

Since 1892 Protection Engine Company No. 1 has had the courage and foresight to change with the times so that it could meet its responsibility to provide the best possible fire protection to the community as a member company of the Port Washington Fire Department. By continuing that legacy it remains strong and is prepared to survive the challenges in the years ahead.