Old Address: 99 Broadway
Year built: Before 1916
The Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department was founded in 1891. The present fire house was built before 1916.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, December 13, 2003
Evolution of the Fire Department
By Howard Riley
The first Saranac Lake Fire Department was organized by Eugene Woodruff in 1891, called Woodruff Hose Company No. 1. and consisted of about 30 men. I am in possession of a typed copy of a history of the fire department given to me by Betty Brainerd which must have been written some time in the late 1940s, but there is no author and no date on the document. The value of this piece of Saranac Lake history lies in the fact that even in 1950 there could have been a number of men still around who had been in the that original hose company, and I am hoping that fact contributes to the accuracy of this copy.
Bells and hoses
Through donations, the firemen built up their treasury and the officers of the newly-formed hose company. In addition to Mr. Woodruff were John Hogan, Frank Sheldon, Fred Lamy, Lee Gary and George L. Starks. They purchased a two-wheel, hand-drawn hose cart which was kept in a building on Depot Street where the playground is now located. 1 Only two years later "some of the men became dissatisfied and organized a second hose company which was named the M. B. Miller Hose Company No. 2 after Milo Miller, one of the original members. They also bought a two-wheel hose cart in Malone and stored it in the municipal building (the pump house) on Main Street. The department was then moved to River Street near where "Kerr's Tire Service is now situated," which I believe was later the Main Line Garage, and Kerr's was moved to where Greg Mace and Adirondack Tire is now located on Broadway.
Another history note
When one is looking for history it pops up in front of him or her like weird ads on the Internet. In Saturday's Enterprise (Dec. 6) on the Pages from the Past page, my former colleague at the Enterprise, Jerome Ripley Allen, had written a piece, probably part of a series, about the 75th anniversary of the newspaper. He touched on the history of the fire department: "There is a bell in the steeple-like tower of the town hall that serves as the village alarm system. Sometimes at night, you may hear someone running down the street, and moments later, the bell would sound and chances are it is a fire. There are two fire companies here, the Woodruff Hose Company and the Miller Hose Company, and there is great rivalry between them. The hose carts are man-drawn, of course, and especially in the winter, since the streets are not plowed, the two of them present quite a show struggling through the snow trying to outdo each other on the way to a fire."
Shortly after 1900, the village of Saranac Lake purchased its first piece of fire apparatus, a four-wheel cart, which was later converted to a horse-drawn rig. Then two more horse-drawn pieces were added as the village grew, a hose and chemical wagon and a ladder wagon. The horses were owned by the village and used for street work, and then they had to be harnessed and hitched up to the fire wagons when the alarm sounded. There are stories from the old timers about former fire horses bought and used in other lines of work that would begin snorting and prancing whenever they would hear a bell ring. When the original building of the present fire house was built sometime in the 1920s, the horses were stabled below where the present basement is located, and entered from the ground level in the rear.
A quote from the document reads: "By 1920, the village had expanded to the extent that the run for the horses was too far and not practical, thus the first motorized fire truck was purchased. Five years later, the ladder truck was purchased." Now that is another story. That ladder truck is a 1926 American-LaFrance that was sold by the village when I was mayor in the mid-1960s to John Hawkinson and fire driver. Rick Yorkey tells me that John still has that truck and it is in good running order.
By 1941 a new "closed cab" fire truck was ordered. It was a 1942 GMC pumper which the village still owns. I remember tire driver Bill Disco, who had kind of a big belly, driving that truck, and wondering how much longer he was going to fit behind the wheel. He worked there with Donnie (Mrs. Wally) Gay's father, Leo Maple, who was head fire driver. In the summer of 1947, a Cadillac emergency truck was added and, according to this history I have... "it was built by the firemen on their own time and took 600 hours of labor. It carries a boat, lighting equipment, a resuscitator and all kinds of emergency equipment to use in case of a drowning or other emergency."
That is where the history of this document ends except for saying that there were about 60 men in the department and that the National Board of Fire Underwriters had given the village a class B rating. That is the best rating that can be attained with a volunteer fire department, a rating the department still has today.
Plattsburg Sentinel, November 23, 1900
Dec. 1.—D. L. F. Bullis, Chief Engineer of the Saranac Lake Fire Department, accidentally shot himself while hunting foxes below Lake Colby. The contents of one barrel entered the abdomen on the left side, passing upward toward the right side. His death occurred that night.
Lake Placid News, June 11, 1915
The Saranac Lake fire department on the Fourth of July will celebrate with a parade, an afternoon of sports and a dance in the evening. It is expected that firemen from Lake Placid, Plattsburgh, Tupper Lake, Bloomingdale and other points will participate in the fun.
Lake Placid News, April 21, 1916
Nominations of officers made by the Saranac Lake Fire Department for the coming year and submitted to the village board of trustees for election on Tuesday evening, were accepted by the village trustees as follows: Chief Engineer, Timothy Hazelton; first assistant chief engineer, James J. Duquette; second assistant chief engineer, Jasper Avery. Woodruff Hose Company, No. 1, Captain, J. Andrew Baker; assistant captain, Harry H. Danforth. Miller Hose Company Company, No. 2, Captain, W. H. Stringham; assistant captain, D. Disco.
Lake Placid News, May 10, 1946
Was a bit surprised, on re-reading the inscription on the stone at the base of the Fire House on Broadway, to realize that it was twenty-one years ago on the 14th of May that AuSable had its disastrous conflagration that practically wiped out the business center of the town. Some of us went down the next day, and it was a desolate scene. But, as is the case with fires that destructive, AuSable Forks has built up with considerable improvement.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, April 7, 1948
Fire Companies Name Officers at Annual Meetings
Officers for the 1947-48 years for the Woodruff Hose company are as follows: Vernon Wamsganz, captain; Thomas A. Daley, first assistant captain; Gordon Vosburgh, Jr.., second assistant captain; Louis D'Onofrio, secretary and Andrew J. Fortune, treasurer.
Donald Thompson, first pipeman; William Dupree, second pipeman; Donald Dupree, first assistant pipeman; Charles Barbata, second assistant pipeman and Henry Baker, hydrantman. Leon Thompson and Carl H. Smith were elected as wardens. The wardens plus the fire chiefs make up the fire council which is the governing body for the department. Trustees for the company are Richard Harrington, Wilbur Whitman and Dean Myers while Gordon Vosburgh, Sr., was named custodian.
Elected as fire police were Gordon Vosburgh, Sr., Leon Thompson, Andrew Fortune and Dean Myers. Thomas Daley was named delegate to the state and northern New York conventions with Mr. Vosburgh, Jr., as alternate.
Officers for the Miller Hose company for the 1947-48 year are Monroe Flagg, captain; Gilbert Pratt, first assistant captain; Arthur Dukett, second assistant captain; Mortimer Fear, secretary and Erwin Myatt, treasurer.
Maurice McPherson and Peter Willette were elected as wardens and fire police include Arthur Dukett, Monroe Flagg, Mortimer Fear and Peter Willette. Gilbert Pratt was named as delegate to the state convention with Peter Willette as alternate. Mr. Dukett was named delegate to the northern New York convention with Charles Pandolph as alternate.
At 8 o'clock Thursday evening the annual meeting of the fire department will be held at the fire house. At this time the fire chief will be elected and annual business discussed.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, October 11, 1948
FIREMEN PLAN ANNUAL DANCE ON NOV. 24TH
The 58th annual Thanksgiving Ball of the Woodruff Hose company, Saranac Lake Fire Department, will be held Wednesday, Nov. 24, at Hotel Saranac.
Plans for the affair are now being prepared by the company. Vernon Wamsganz chairman in charge and will be assisted by Carl H. Smith, A. J. Fortune, William and Robert Dupree, Louis D'Onofrio, Donald Ross, Gordon Vosburgh, Jr., and Charles Barbara.
The dance will be from 9 until 1 a. m. Arrangements are being made for a special orchestra and the ballroom will be decorated in cabaret style.
Funds from the dance are used for uniforms for the members and for preparations for the Northern New York Firemen's Convention next June in this village.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, November 17, 1952
By EDDIE VOGT …
I was talking to Vern Wamsganz the other evening and I learned a lot of interesting facts about the Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department that I thought would interest you, too. Each member of the department gives of his time freely every time the alarm sounds. No member receives any pay whatsoever for fire fighting or rescue work, whether it's getting somebody's cat down who has stranded itself on the top of a tree or freeing wild, ducks frozen in the thin ice of Moody Pond— (as happened last Thursday). The members of the department attend a ten-week fire school program every summer, where they gain the latest fire-protection methods. They also sponsor a racing team so that this village is represented whenever there is a racing tournament in Northern New York. And they have always taken an active part in community affairs. Last Christmas they decorated the front of the fire house as their share in making the village attractive during the holiday season, and in February entered a prize-winning float in the Carnival parade.
On Wednesday evening, Nov. 26th, the Annual Thanksgiving Ball and floor show sponsored by the department will be given at Durgan's. This is the oldest consecutive activity, and the only event sponsored by the Fire Department in which the public is called upon for financial support each year. In the past, the public has very generously supported this request for funds which are used to defray department expenses and replace department equipment, but this year the laddies are asking the public to support the dance by attending in person, as well as giving their financial support. Personally I think it would be a nice gesture on our part if we'd drop in that night and let the boys know that we appreciate what they are doing.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, April 8, 1953
Fireman Bill Disco Marks Anniversary
Thirty-two years service with the Saranac Lake Fire Department have just whizzed by for William J. Disco, who likes his work. Twenty-five years ago today, "Bill" became a paid driver for the department, which he first joined as a volunteer on April 11, 1921.
He is the oldest active member among the departments nearly 60 volunteers and four paid drivers.
Practically a native, Bill came to Saranac Lake when he was two years old. Like so many people from all walks of life, he grew up liking the excitement that accompanied his work.
There have been a few changes in the department, though, since he volunteered his services.
There was but one truck at the fire house during Bill's first days. In fact, the truck is still around and used in case of emergencies. To the boys at the station it is known as Old Cymanthy. It is a 750 gallon pumper-American La- France model, purchased in 1920.
In 1925 a hook and ladder truck was purchased. In 1950 it was replaced by a new hook and ladder truck.
Bill recalls that years ago soda and acid was the standby remedy for blazes, such as furniture. "It would ruin furniture so badly", he said, "that we might just as well have let it bum." "We had only a small amount of 2 1/2 inch hose then. Water poured through it would drown a place. But we sure had a flock of volunteers in those days."
The Fire House No 1 Company was located where the Drutz store now stands. The building now serving as the playhouse at the William Morris playground was the station. That building was moved to the park area from its Bloomingdale avenue site. The No. 2 station was located behind Mike and Sandy's store on Main street.
The present station went under construction in 1910 and was completed in 1911.
Today at the fire house there are three pumpers, an emergency truck and a racing truck. Firemen even use the village flusher when needed.
Upstairs in the firemen's quarters there are a recreation hall, meeting room and kitchen combined and a four-bed bunk room. There are four paid drivers, who work on 24 hour shifts.
"Residents should be proud of their fire house and volunteers," Bill says.
When the veteran fireman was asked about fires in Saranac Lake, he recalled the Branch and Callanan mill fire to be the biggest.
It occurred in 1930. Volunteers were called out about 10:15 p. m. one evening and pumped water from the river continually until 6 p. m. the next day. "The coldest day I've ever put in," remembers Bill, "was the day fire broke out at Doug Martin's farm at Gabriels. It was 22 below zero and I was driving Old Cymanthy. She has no enclosed cab."
And while reminiscing Bill chuckled over a phone call he received after the alarm had sounded one day. "Where's the fire?" asked a feminine voice. 'It's over at the Meagher ice house," Bill replied. 'You think you're dammed smart, don't you?" came the retort. Well, the next day after reading about the fire in the Enterprise, the phone rang again at the fire house. 'I apologize," said a feminine voice.
In April 1949, the men at the Fire Station acquired something new. It was a Dalmatian dog. Her name is Lady, but the boys call her Smoky. And sure, she likes to go along for the ride, too.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, October 10, 1955
'Open House' Turnout Gratifying to Firemen
Most of the children were accompanied. by their parents, so an estimated crowd of well over 400 was on hand for the first look at their Fire Station.
Some old-timers averred that this was the first time they had ever had an opportunity to look around inside of the station. Many persons expressed their surprise in the size of the facilities and many others remarked about the neatness of the station.
But the most popular question of the day was "where is the brass pole the firemen slide down?" And unfortunately for look-seers that pole was removed years ago when a mechanized unit replaced the horse drawn vehicles. The Firemen's Parade, designed to inaugurate Fire Prevention Week, was led by drummers of the Saranac Lake Boy Scout Drum and Bugle Crops. The marching unit of the Fire Department followed in line. Next came the village officials and four young lads, Vernon Wamsganz, Jr., Roger Hockey, Dan Slattery and Jack Knight, who pulled an old horse reel, the beginning of the fire fighting equipment in this village.
The old 1920 pumper, the first motorized piece of equipment in the village was close behind and was followed by the GMC, the hook and ladder truck, the emergency truck, the racing truck used for rural fires and the new rural truck which is being" constructed by volunteers, and which was on display for the first time.
The line of march started at the Veteran's Club and proceeded to the Paul Smith's building at the corner of Riverside drive and Main Street, where volunteers gave a water demonstration. Water was taken from the river and lake and relayed from one truck to another, with a grand finale of five streams of water in a curtain display. Parts of the emergency truck were laid on the ground and their use was explained to all those interested.
All in all it was five o'clock before the last visitor had left the Fire House. Most of the children had an opportunity to try out the trucks for size and the adults had the alarm system explained to them. To the children's delight the alarm was rung several times indoors.
Fire Chief Wamsganz reports that the whole day was very gratifying.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, January 19, 2013
You Know What...?
By Howard Riley
"Enterprise history, 1906-1918," quoting E.K. Goldthwaite, who wrote a story about his father, Kenneth W. Goldthwaite, and the Adirondack Enterprise, which he published, for the paper's 75th anniversary in 1969:
"Sometime around 1914, the faithful Saranac Lake fire horses were replaced by American-LaFrance fire trucks and the instant harness rigs were cut from the ceiling at the fire house on Broadway. There was still a use for the horses as they replaced the tired old dobbins that had been hauling the street-watering wagons. The arrangement was fine until the first afire alarm, when the horses took off like the hammers of Hades, dragging the sprinkling cart and decking the driver. This happened several times, and once on Helen Hill, a cart was wrecked and the driver went to the hospital with a broken leg."
See also: Fires
1. See Woodruff Hose Company for a photograph of this building.