175 YEARS OF SERVICE: THE HISTORY OF THE VALATIE FIRE DEPARTMENT
By Anthony Buono
The Valatie Fire Department is the second oldest fire department in Columbia County. Only the Hudson Fire Department is older. The area that now is the Village of Valatie had been settled for more than 100 years before residents of this hamlet known as "Millville" began to organize fire protection of their closely clustered homes and large textile mills. On May 2, 1837, the New York State legislature passed an act incorporating the Valatie Fire Company.
Later in 1856 the Village of Valatie was incorporated. The property of the Fire Company was transferred to the Village trustees. The Fire Company was disbanded in August 1857 and a new fire company was formed. It appears that at this time the Fire Company operated an older "gooseneck" style hand-pumper that dated back to 1837.
In 1860 the Valatie Fire Department experienced its first and only line of duty death. Fireman Charles Osborn died four days after collapsing at a large fire on Main Street. Osborn's name was added to the New York State Fallen Firefighters' Memorial in 1999. Around the time of Osborn's death, the Fire Company took delivery of a new Button & Blake hand-pumper and two-wheel hose cart.
At some point in the 1870's the Valatie Fire Company split into two different companies. These were the Lafayette Hose Company No. 1 and the Lafayette Engine Company No. 2. The Engine Company had its firehouse on the south side of Main Street, near the Chatham Street Bridge. The Lafayette Hose Company had its firehouse on Main Street too, next to the Valatie Theater. Both buildings have been torn down.
Records from the Insurance Underwriters indicated that in 1880 the Village was protected by one hand engine and one hose cart as well as one hydrant and one cistern.
In 1894 the James Purcell Hose Company was organized. It was named after James Purcell who was the largest financial contributor to the new fire company. During this period the three companies selected a Chief Engineer of the Fire Department who was approved by the Village Board.
In 1894 a new firehouse was built on Main Street for the Purcell Hose Company. This firehouse stood for the next 86 years.
Around this time the Village started to build its water system. Records from the Insurance Underwriters indicated that in 1897 the Village was protected by two hand engines, two hose carts and two chemical "engines", all hand-drawn. In 1915 a new hand-drawn chemical engine was purchased. At some point a steamer was added. The exact date is unknown, but photos of the 1916 Main Street fire show Valatie's steam fire engine in action.
By 1920 the Purcell Hose Company was suffering from a lack of members. The Company was disbanded and the Purcell Hose firehouse was purchased by the Village in 1920. The Lafayette Hose and Engine Companies both relocated to this firehouse. Village offices also were moved upstairs.
In 1923 the Lafayette Hose and Engine Companies both purchased their first motorized fire apparatus. The Engine Company bought a Foamite-Childs Combination Chemical and Hose Wagon built on an REO chassis. The Engine Company also formally changed its name to the Lafayette Chemical Company that year. The 1915 chemical apparatus was sold to the newly formed Ghent Fire Company. The Hose Company purchased a hose wagon on a Larabee Truck chassis.
Apparently, the lack of a pumping engine soon was noticed. So in 1925 the Chemical Company sold the 1923 Foamite-Childs. In April 1925 it was replaced with a new 1925 Foamite-Childs "Thoroughbred" Triple Combination Pumper with a 500 pgm pump. It also appears that the Thoroughbred was faster than the REO because in September two pairs of goggle were purchased for use by the driver and passenger.
Members of the Valatie Fire Department joined the Columbia County Volunteer Fireman's Association when it was founded. Then in 1928 Valatie had the honor of hosting the Third Convention of the Association.
In March 1933 the Lafayette Chemical Company purchased a first aid kit to help injured firemen. Eventually, an old hearse was purchased for use as an ambulance and the Valatie Rescue Squad was born. The Rescue Squad would become a separate entity in 1977.
Also in 1933 the Ladies Auxiliary of the Valatie Fire Department was formed.
In 1937 Valatie hosted the Twelfth County Convention to celebrate the Centennial of the Valatie Fire Department. Two years later in 1939 the Hose Company purchased a new triple combination pumper built on a Ford commercial chassis. It had a front mounted pump.
Over 40 members of the Valatie Fire Department served in World War II. Three members of the Lafayette Chemical Company were killed. They were Clarence Johnson, George Dunham and Fred VanZandt. Three streets in the Village now are named in their honor.
Also, during World War II, Valatie hosted the Nineteenth County Fireman's Convention in 1944. This apparently was attended poorly since many fire companies throughout Columbia County had large contingents of their members in the service. In 1946 Valatie had the honor of hosting the "Victory" Convention of the County Fireman's Association.
The next new engine came in 1952 when the Chemical Company purchased a new Ford a 500 gpm triple combination pumper from Ribley and Harppinger in Schenectady.
In April 1958 the Lafayette Hose Company was disbanded because of declining membership. Only the Lafayette Chemical Company remained.
In 1965 the Village built a new four-bay fire station on Mechanic Street. One bay was used for the Village Hall. That same year the Village purchased a 750 gpm triple combination pumper from Oren Fire Apparatus built on a Ford C chassis.
In 1975 the Valatie Fire Department purchased its first aerial ladder truck. This was a 1959 Seagrave Tractor Drawn Aerial Ladder purchased from the Valley Stream Fire Department on Long Island. This truck had a three section 100 foot steel aerial ladder. To accommodate the aerial truck an addition was built on the firehouse in January of 1977.
The Insurance Underwriters had suggested the Village obtain a ladder truck as early as the 1920's. A ladder truck was needed because of the number of mutli-story multiple dwellings on Main Street, not just because of the high-rise tower at the Barnwell Nursing Home.
In 1977 Valatie purchased a 1958 Mack Model B95 pumper with a 1000 gpm pump that formerly served in Bay Shore on Long Island. This replaced the 1939 Ford pumper.
In 1980 the old Purcell firehouse burned down. Fortunately, the bell from the tower had been removed sometime before the fire. It now is mounted on the memorial next to the Valatie Fire Station.
In 2001 the site of the Purcell firehouse was dedicated by the Village as a park.
In 1989 the Village purchased a 1989 Quality/Ford 1000 gpm pumper. This is Engine 55-3. This was the first new truck in 24 years and it replaced the venerable 1952 Ford/ Ribley & Harppinger pumper.
In 1993, a 1978 Pirsch 100 foot rear mount aerial ladder truck was purchased from the Ulster Hose Co. in Kingston, New York. This replaced the 1959 Seagrave Ladder truck.
In 1997 Joseph H. Loeffler became Chief of the Department, replacing his Father, Joseph F. Loeffler, who served as a chief officer for more than forty years.
In January of 2000 the 1959 Mack and 1965 Ford both were replaced with a new 2000 KME/International 1500 gpm pumper. This is now Engine 55-2.
In 2003, the Department took delivery on its first mini-pumper purchased from VRS Sales on a Ford Chassis. This is Engine 55-1. It has a 350 gpm pump.
In 2008 the Department purchased its latest piece of apparatus; a KME 100 foot rear mount aerial ladder truck. This replaced the Pirsch aerial that was sold to the Red Rock Fire Department, where it serves as Ladder 76-5.
On January 23, 2011, the Valatie Fire Department was presented with the Spirit of Valatie Award by the Valatie Village Board. Today the Department runs extensive mutual aid with neighboring fire departments protecting a larger community than ever. The members of the Valatie Fire Department proudly continue a tradition of 176 years of volunteer service.