Almost 100 years ago, a group of interested citizens from the hamlet of Hughsonville became enraged when the life of a small girl was snuffed out by a raging fire in the Van De Water house on Route 9D. Since this was the latest in a series of costly blazes in this community, they decided that the time for action had arrived.
On October 11, 1912, the first meeting of "The Citizens of Hughsonville" was called to order in the YMCA rooms to discuss the purchase of a chemical engine. This organization was the forerunner of the Hughsonville Fire Company. Ezra Weyant was appointed as temporary president of the group, with Fred Cornell, who was later to become the first chief of the company, was elected secretary pro-tem.
Mr. Cornell reported that a double 35-gallon tank chemical engine could be purchased from the Seagrave Company in Columbus, Ohio for $350.00. Through the combined efforts of Jake Hasbrouck, Frank Kelly and Mr. Cornell, the amount of $300 already had been subscribed.
Another meeting was held two weeks later with the engine fund having grown to $435. William Reese, a member of the committee to investigate the purchase of a chemical engine, reported that the Seagrave Co. had informed him that no such engine existed. The committee was instructed to look elsewhere for an engine. On December 6, 1912, after many meetings, the committee authorized Mr. Cornell to order a “No. 5 Deluxe Chemical Engine” from the Prospect Manufacturing Co., of Prospect, Ohio, at a delivered cost of $350. 00. The engine -was a two-cylinder type with a 30-gallon tank mounted over two wheels. A rope was used to pull the engine to fires. The engine was an acid-soda combination with the acid combination carried in a dishpan. It was to be delivered to Hughsonville for inspection and a trial run.
On January 20, 1913, the engine arrived and was stored temporarily in James Brouthers’ barn. An additional purchase of two hundred pounds of bicarbonate of soda, a carboy of sulphuric acid, six pairs of rubber gloves and two rubber coats was also authorized.
A building belonging to Mrs. Dean on Dean Avenue was procured for the first firehouse. Since local citizens fixed up the building for their use, the first three months' rent was free. Thereafter, Mrs. Dean was paid $2.00 a month for its use.
On March 13, 1913, a meeting was held with the main purpose of forming a fire company. J. J. Hasbrouck was elected President; Fred Cornell was appointed Secretary-Treasurer and nominated for the position of Chief Engineer. Other nominations were: James Brouthers as First Assistant Engineer, Ronald Hasbrouck as Second Assistant Engineer, and Alex Laub as Foreman.
The first fire occurred before the actual formation of the Fire Company and was in the James Curlew Blacksmith shop. Mr. Curlew donated $5.00 to the Company for their outstanding work at the fire. The engine performed perfectly.
The Hughsonville Fire Company became a reality on April 7, 1913. It had been unanimously approved that an independent fire company be formed. The newly formed fire company was to be known as the HUGHSONVILLE FIRE COMPANY. There were 32 charter members of the company dedicated to serving their community. Minutes of that meeting, and of subsequent meetings, were recorded in a minute book purchased by the Secretary at the J.H. Fitchett Stationery Store in Poughkeepsie. The minute book still exists today. The history of the company has been glorious and has been devoted to service in the community, which still is uppermost in the minds of all members.
Mr. Cornell was the first Chief, followed by John Burnett and Mr. Brouthers. Willis Phillips was elected to the position of Chief in 1924 and served until 1951. William T. Brady was elected Chief in 1952 and served until 1967.
The first fires that the Company responded to were in barns owned by Horner & Irving and both buildings were saved from complete destruction. The engine once again performed as expected.
On October 1, 1915, the company voted to move into larger quarters in a building owned by Abram Meyers, which was located on the northeast corner of Dean Avenue and Route 9D. The rental was $3.00 per month. The building still stands today, and is owned by Katherine Abbot.
About this time, the members decided to remodel their engine. They added two additional wheels, plus a handle with a long rope to pull it. Unfortunately, the very first time that they used it, the rope wasn't tied tightly enough and it loosened, leaving the firemen running down the street pulling the rope---while the engine remained in its original position.
Mr. Crouse, who owned property near Wheeler Hill Road, donated the first bell used by the company. He had used the bell to call his servants. When his property burned down, he donated the bell to the company.
As time went by, the first rig was towed behind a pickup truck to fires. One Saturday morning when a fire broke out on Ketchamtown Road, the rig was hooked up to a produce truck owned by Irv Johnson and driven that day by Ollie Husted. The truck raced to the fire with the rig in tow. There was no doubt as to where the fire was—the route from the firehouse to the scene of the fire was littered with fruits and vegetables that had been thrown from the truck as it raced to the fire.
The first fire district lines extended from the Village of Wappingers Falls line over to Route 9, up to Middlebush Road and down Route 9D. The present fire district encompasses a three-mile radius—almost 9.5 square miles. It includes Route 9 south from the Village of Wappingers Falls line, south to the Town of Fishkill line, then west from the Hudson River to the New Hackensack fire district line at Losee Road and Eck Road.
The first motorized fire truck that the company owned was purchased from Ray Laffin of Wappingers Falls. It was a 1928 Chevrolet, with a 500-gallon-per-minute Jaguar pump. It contained two chemical tanks with hose. Henry M. Dodge did all the canvassing for the funds to purchase this engine. He personally went around and solicited the funds needed to purchase this truck.
New Hamburg, at this time, did not have a fire department, and Hughsonville used to answer calls in their area. On one return trip from a fire in New Hamburg, the truck had to be pushed up over Wheeler Hill Road because it was so overloaded with equipment. In fact, because it was so overloaded it used to go very slowly to fires and kids on bicycles passed the truck on its way to fires.
In 1941, the fire company acquired the building that formerly housed Hughsonville School District No. 5. The school was declared surplus when the Wappingers Central School District was formed. On Labor Day weekend in 1946, the building was engulfed in flames and was a total loss, including the truck housed inside. To this day, it remains entombed under the floor of the meeting room of the current building.
A Stuts Fire Engine with a two hundred gallon tank and booster line, as well as a portable pump and several lengths of hose were purchased to replace the truck lost in the fire. The truck was housed in Burnett’s barn during the summer and in Reese’s garage during the winter to keep it from freezing up. Monthly meetings were held in the basement of the Hughsonville Presbyterian Church and the church bell was once again pressed into service to sound the alarm of fire. The Ladies Auxiliary was formed in July 1942, with 29 charter members. They were very active during World War II when they wrote and sent gifts to their men in the service. This program still exists today. The ladies have provided the firemen with many of the items in use in the firehouse, as well as support when the company is at major fires.
In 1947, the first annual Company Bazaar was held to raise funds needed to re-build the firehouse on the present site. In less than a year, the building was constructed and ready for service. This in large measure reflects on the high esteem in which the community holds the fire company. After the firehouse was built in 1948, the company purchased four acres of land adjoining it and turned it over to the fire district. The fire company has purchased additional land that was turned over to the fire district to be used as the Board of Fire Commissioners deems fit.
In 1948, a Ford fire engine with a five hundred gallon tank and a five hundred gallon-per-minute pump was purchased by the fire district for use by the fire company as Engine 1.
In the early 1950s, an oil tanker was purchased by the company, converted into a water tanker and was turned over to the district for its use.
In 1957, the districts purchased a 1958 Ford Engine carrying 1,200 gallons in a booster tank and with a front mounted pump capable of pumping five hundred gallons per minute. This piece of equipment replaced the converted tanker and was designated Tank 1. The two trucks comprised the total of the fire district’s equipment through 1962.
Some old timers recall that the coldest fire they ever fought was in 1914 when the temperature dropped to thirty-eight degrees below zero. They also recall that, before the use of radios to communicate on the fire ground, whenever a hose was charged, the engine’s siren was sounded to alert the nozzle man that water was on the way. They also recall a time when fire companies answered virtually any alarm, anywhere, any time—if they knew where it was. Once, the Hughsonville Fire Company responded to an alarm of fire and charged west toward the Hudson River. When they got to the shore, they realized that the fire was at the Ralston Brick Yard—on the other side of the river!
A little known fact is that the Dutchess County Mutual Aid system had its beginnings right here in Hughsonville. Garner Engine of Wappingers Falls, New Hamburg and Hughsonville developed an arrangement where they automatically responded to an alarm of fire in each other’s district to provide additional manpower and equipment.
After the receipt of 20 Plectron home receivers in December 1967, the Board of Fire Commissioners approved the introduction of Hughsonville into the first-alarm system of home alerting through the Dutchess County Bureau of Fire. This allowed all alarm reception, dispatching, fire control, and communications to be handled by a central professional dispatching office. Before this system, the Sloper-Willen Ambulance Service received all alarms.
In March 1967, under the leadership of President William Speedling, the Fire Company sponsored a Senior Little League team. The team was nicknamed "The Firemen." The team won the league championship in 1967 and 1968.
The first dance in the new firehouse occurred on a day that no fireman in the area would ever forget--the Imperial Towers fire. This was the day of our St. Patrick's Day Dance in the winter of 1969. The day started early with Hughsonville on standby. Wappingers Falls requested our response with all equipment to Imperial Towers, a six-story complex off Route 9 in the Village. Engine 2, Tank 1, and Utility 1 spent the entire day there. Engine 2 served as a base pumper, providing water to the fire scene from the large swimming pool at the apartment complex. Fifteen fire companies used 24 engines, three aerial ladders, and four tankers to combat the fire for more than six hours. We were glad that we could help. After our release from the fire scene, the firemen completed the task of putting all of our equipment back in service in time for all to go home and change for the dance. As tired as they were, everyone had a good time, and will never forget the dance and the circumstances surrounding the day!
Engine 2 was outfitted with the latest in fire-fighting equipment, including 2, 000 feet of 3-inch hose, a K-12 rescue saw, and many other pieces of equipment. An air horn was specified in the contract, and proved quite a distinguishing feature of Engine 2. Firemen from all over repeatedly tested the horn, much to the chagrin of the local residents. The apparatus performed admirably at two major fires in Wappingers Falls in early 1969: the spectacular Imperial Towers fire and the Bleachery fire. These fires proved beyond a doubt that Hughsonville had itself one of the finest pieces of fire apparatus in the county.
In February 1969, Allen Cooke suggested that a brush truck be purchased. The Fire Company allocated $2,200 to purchase a 1965 4-wheel-drive Chevrolet pickup from Uhl Brothers Garage in Fishkill. The rationale was to be better able to combat grass and brush fires, and to relieve some of the burden placed on the larger apparatus. A 150-gallon tank was constructed and a pump was installed on the vehicle through the untiring efforts of 1st Lieutenant Howard T. Bischoff and Joseph Fulton Jr. They gave much of their time and talents to transform this truck into a unique piece of fire apparatus. At the completion of about 300 volunteer man-hours from many members and officers of the Company, the apparatus was placed into full service and was designated Utility 1.
In February 1967, authorization was given to Chief Brady to form a fire truck committee to prepare specifications for an engine to replace Engine 1, the 1948 Howe pumper. Members of this committee, in addition to Chief Brady, were Assistant Chief Herbert Macy, Captain Erwin Kitzweger, 2nd Lieutenant Albert Sarno, Herbert Winters, John Brady, and Charles Albertson. A contract was awarded to the Excelsior-Beacon Corporation in October 1967, for a 1,000 gallon-per-minute pumper-tanker with a 1,000-gallon booster tank. It was designated Engine 2, and arrived in May 1968
In September of 1969, the new addition to the fire station was dedicated in ceremonies that started at 11:00 A.M., and ended with a Buffet Dinner-Dance that lasted into the early hours of the next morning. Included at the ceremonies was the dedication of our homemade Utility No. 1 to the Fire District. At this time, Congressman Hamilton, Fish Jr. presented to President Robert D. English Sr., an American Flag that had been flown over the Capitol.
During the early 70's, the Board of Fire Commissioners continued to replace and add new equipment to make the task of the volunteer easier and safer. An automatic hose washer and a gas dryer were purchased, which greatly increased the usefulness and life of our fire hose and made the task of cleaning the hose much simpler.
In an effort to reduce costs and increase the effectiveness of the fire department, a breathing air cascade system was installed in early 1972. Previously, a breathing air vendor had to be contacted and dispatched to the scene. In many cases, it might take over a half hour for the vendor to arrive and begin replenishing empty bottles. Now the bottles could be filled and be back to the fire scene in ten minutes.
It was no sooner installed than it was used twice to fill over fifty air bottles for fire calls, saving us quite a considerable amount of money and time.
The Board also approved the concept of contracting with a paid district mechanic to handle repairs and preventive maintenance for district equipment. Allen Cooke, a former Chief, was appointed to this position.
Over the next fifteen year stretch, Hughsonville took steps to upgrade and increase its firefighting and emergency response capabilities:
In 1972, Chief Art Waddle, truck committee chairman Lawrence Cauda and committee members Charles W. Albertson, Allen Cooke, Bruce Sims, John Shepard and Jason Morse wrote specs for a new pumper-tanker. An order was placed for an Oren engine with a 1250-gallon-per-minute pump, with a 2,000- gallon booster tank. In 1973, Engine 3 was placed in service. Everyone who saw the new Engine 3 called her, "Big Mother".
In 1975, Chief Lawrence Cauda, truck committee chairman Art Waddle and committee members Walter Hall, Peter Muro and Jason Morse wrote specs for an attack apparatus. This apparatus was placed in service in 1976 as Attack 1.
In 1978, Chief Art Waddle and truck committee members Walter Hall, Peter Muro, Alfred Sutton, and Jason Morse wrote specs for a new engine to replace old Engine2. In 1979, a Pierce Engine with a 1,250-gallon-per-minute pump and a 1,000-gallon booster tank was placed in service. The Company now had a new Engine 2.
In 1982, Chief Peter Muro and the truck committee purchased a 1982 GMC 4-wheel-drive vehicle with a slide-on skid with 150 gallons of water to replace the old Utility 1, which had been donated by the Company to the fire district in 1968. This was also known as Utility 1.
In 1987, Chief Edward Dominello and truck committee members Arthur Waddle, R. James Brooker, Arthur Eichler, Sr., Mike Stanulewich, Peter Muro, Robert Padworski, and Jason Morse wrote specs for a new tanker. It was placed in service in April of 1988. The addition to the Hughsonville Fire Company was Tank 1, a 1988 tanker, built by E.E.I. of Raleigh, N. C. It had a capacity of 2,500 gallons of water, and was equipped with a 1,250 gallon-per- minute pump, a 2,500-gallon Port-a-Tank, and top-mounted pump panel.
Also in 1987, Hughsonville faced the largest, most costly fire it has fought to date--the N & S Plumbing fire on Wednesday, May 6, 1987.
Initially coming in to the state police as the activation of motion sensors within the N & S facility, the first police vehicle on the scene immediately realized the "motion" setting off the alarm was widespread fire.
Dozens of fire and emergency apparatus and scores of first responders from mutual aid departments responded to the massive blaze. The unavailability of a major water supply was a major problem at the outset. Tanker shuttles provided the initial supply while a large-diameter supply line was established, drawing water from the Green Fly swamp south of the fireground. Traffic on Route 9 was effectively completely shut down.
Throughout the night, the booms of exploding twenty-pound propane tanks kept many residents awake and fearful. In one instance that was captured on videotape, a flaming propane tank lifted out of the flames and literally flew like a rocket over the pump panel of Engine 2 as it was operating in the parking lot.
Because of the suspicious nature and magnitude of the fire, ATF agents were called in to conduct extensive investigations of the scene. Resulting from the need to retain control of the property, the scene remained "under control" with fire apparatus and manpower on the scene until mid-afternoon Sunday, May 10th when the fire was officially declared, "out".
In 1999, the district purchased 45-31, a Pierce Dash tanker. This acquisition gave Hughsonville increased response capability with 2,500 gallons of water, a 1,500 gallon-per-minute pump and a six-man cab.
With the turn of the century, the district and department went on a major growth spurt. Over a nine year period starting in 2003, the department added:
Engine 45-11, a Pierce Enforcer carrying 1,000 gallons of water, a 1,500 gpm pump, a CAFS foam system with 30 gallons of foam cell capable of producing 30,000 gallons of firefighting foam.
Tanker 45-32 or "Big Mother II", carrying 3,000 gallons of water and a 1,500 gpm pump.
Heavy Rescue 45-55--The Beast"--carrying everything but the "kitchen sink" only because it wasn't speced.
Tower 45-46, a refurbished 1988, 95' Sutphen Tower ladder that gives Hughsonville heretofore only dreamed-of capability.
Marine 45-99, a 26' Rescue Boat with a Vortec 8.1 L V-8 inboard engine and landing craft bow that facilitates department dive team and rescue operations.
To house the additional apparatus, the BOFC authorized the construction of a stand-alone four-bay building adjacent to the main building, at no additional expense to the district's taxpayers.
As the department approaches its Centennial--and well into the near future--the fire district's residents can rest comfortably in the knowledge that their safety and the protection of their property is in the very capable, highly-trained hands of their 100% Volunteer fire department, a tradition kept alive for a century.