On May 23rd 1898 a group of local businessmen met at Branchaud’s Hall on East Commercial Street to Organize a Fire Department. On May 29th the first official meeting was held at the Despatch Hotel, and the Despatch Fire District was formed.
Following is a list of items deemed necessary to operate:
- 1000′ of hose $300
- 3 hose nozzles $35
- 1 dozen helmets $25
- 3 axes $4.50
- 1 hose cart $55
- 1 alarm bell $3
- 1 ladder truck $250
- 1 dozen rubber coats $45
- 3 chemical carts $870
- 1 dozen pair rubber boots $33
- 3 40′ extension ladders $9.60
- 4 20′ straight ladders $4.40
- labor and poles for alarm system $108
- 5,000′ of wire for alarm system $50
The total amount of money needed to outfit the first fire department was $1,800.00. on September 2nd, 1902 the residents of Despatch voted to appropriate the sum of $8,500.00 to purchase equipment. The appropriation also included money to purchase land and construct a 2 story, 40′ by 80′ building. After considering a Commercial Street site, it was decided to purchase two lots on Main Street, Which were offered by the Vanderbilt Improvement Company for the price of $850.00. In May of 1903 William Genthner was awarded the contract to build the new hall at a winning bid of $2,393.00. The first two pieces of fire apparatus, Hoffman Chemical Carts, costing $290.00 each , were delivered at the same time.
The building was first constructed as a public hall for village activities and later turned over to the fire department. It had a stage and dressing rooms on the 2nd floor. Informal meetings were around the first floor stove and talk centered on the arrival of the first chemical engine. In 1906 a committee was formed to investigate the feasibility of excavating the basement to install a bowling alley to lease to village residents. Continuing to improve the building, a restroom was installed and the meeting room was heated. A desk and three chairs were purchased from Sears Roebuck at a cost of $31.00. These items provided a place for the president and other officers to discuss department business. A janitor was hired to keep the place clean and start the stove before meetings. The annual salary for the Janitor was $100.00.
A tower was installed in the rear of the fire hall to sound the alarm by using an old locomotive part purchased from the car shops for $1.00. This method was replaced by in 1911 when the electric box alarm system went into service. Annual masquerade balls were held in the building, along with prizefights. The local school held their plays and several graduation exercises there until 1911. Some of the first silent movies were shown from the firemen’s stage.
It was not long after the formation of the village fire department that the first fire occurred, a barn fire on April 28th, 1898. The 2nd fire was a house on Lincoln Road five months later. The house was totally destroyed and the loss was put at $1,400.00. In September 1912, The first fatality occurred at 244 W. Filbert Street.
On January 29th, 1903 membership in the 3 companies, Despatch Hose, Eyer Chemical and Ontario Hook and Ladder was opened to the general public. In 1907, a fourth company was added to the department. It was called the “Foster Armstrong Fire Company”, made up of members who worked at the newly constructed Piano Works with George Foster and William Armstrong among the original members.
A branch if the hose company called, “Despatch Hose Company #2,” was formed to serve the north side of the village. A horse was rented from Mr. Winney to pull the ladder cart. Before using “Horse power,” all equipment was moved to the fire scene using manpower. It was also at this time that a mutual aid system was set up with neighboring Pittsford. John Kane, Proprietor of the Perinton Hotel on the corner of Maple Avenue and Main Street was elected the first chief of the Despatch Fire Department and remained in that position until August of 1908. He then joined the newly formed exempt company as it’s first member.
Many activities were held at the fire hall during the early years, including the monthly village board meetings. The board paid the fire department $5.00 a month for rent until they moved to the Eyer block in 1910. In 1908 the front room was rented to a local barber for $1.50 a week. So much activity was going on in 1910 that $162.00 was spent to install a fire escape from the 2nd floor.
The village really started to expand in the years just before and after world war I. In 1913 the village installed brick pavement along the length of Main Street and a parade was held to celebrate the completion of the project. The Fire Department was 15 years old at the time and well established in it’s own building with a large compliment of members. Six members answered the countries call to arms during World War I and gave up fighting fires to fight the Central Powers.
On March 21, 1914 marked the date when a major part of the village’s prime business block “The Eyer Block” burned down. A passing trolley motorman discovered the fire in the early morning hours. He rang his bell along the entire length of Commercial Street to give the alarm. Firemen from Penfield, Pittsford, Fairport and Rochester were called in to put out the blaze. The total estimated damage was $175,000.00.
In 1923 it was decided to close the Northside Fire Hall and sell the building. In 1925 a third motorized truck was purchased, an American LaFrance 750 gallon per minute pumper. This was the first fire truck purchased by the village that was built to be a fire truck. It cost $12,500.00, which was a large sum in those days but was considered worth it as it was state of the art. The fire department retains ownership of the vehicle, which was completely restored by Jim and Skip Burlingame in 1968. The 1925 American LaFrance accompanies the department to all the local parades.
In 1936 the fire hall was completely remodeled under a WPA grant. The police station was moved to the rear of the building and a new door was installed to accommodate the American LaFrance ladder truck that was purchased in the same year. A new facade was part of the project. In 1938 the firemen refurbished toys for the needy children of the village for distribution at Christmas. Even today the kids continue to receive holiday toys through the efforts of the volunteer fire department.
The local fire department held a carnival at the Brizee airfield on Marsh Road and one of the big attractions was airplane rides. These rides were rather novel in those days, with money going toward the purchase of first aid equipment. The Exempt Firemen (members with over 5 years of service) held their own carnival at Eyer Park to raise money for uniforms.
During World War II Firefighters served as air raid wardens, assigned to different streets. They were to check for lights that mite be shining through blackout curtains.
In November 1942 one of the greatest disasters that ever took place in the village occurred. The former fireworks plant just across the creek from Eyer Park exploded shortly after 4:30 pm with the loss of 11 lives. The plant was engaged in making munitions for the war effort when a small spark ignited the loose powder and the building was instantly engulfed in flames. A woman who had reported for her first day of work had died a half hour later.
Just after World War II the exempt firemen purchased the old Lincoln homestead on Linden Avenue and turned it into a club. It was open to the public and served meals and legal beverages. Annual carnivals were held on the exempt grounds for many years. The parades would start at West Commercial Street and proceed east to Lincoln Road, then North on Lincoln to the grounds on Linden Avenue and Swan, known today as Lincoln Mills.
The firemen’s carnival was held in late May in the 40’s and 50’s to coincide with the election of the local Harvest Queen. This contest was sponsored by the firemen and was one of the highlights of the year. Local high school girls were judged by a village committee and the winner was announced on Saturday night at the carnival grounds.
In 1946 the only major fire to strike a church in East Rochester occurred around 2:30 pm in the afternoon on the 5th of March. The fire started in the rear of the sanctuary and quickly spread. The heat was so intense that the lead in all of the stain glass windows melted. Firemen under Chief Ralph Welkley extinguished the blaze after a tough battle but the water damage was extensive.
Around this same time the department started a long tradition of flooding an area of Edmund Lyon Park in the winter to form an ice skating rink for village residents. This continued until the late 1970’s.
In 1947 the firemen formed their own drum and bugle corps. It was headed by the director of the school music program. The Color guard and drill team, managed by Fred Montcrieff Jr. were members of the Brown-Millard VFW post. The corps was active for many years, claiming the state championship in 1951. It disbanded in 1957 due to lack of interest and the high cost of operation.
To Be Continued...