The complete loss of a home owned by Ray Riley, a basement fire that was put out with a few pails of water and the annual rash of brush fires that were fought by all of the neighbors with brooms, shovels and a lot of determination, were the necessary factors to start the thinking about a fire department.
In the fall of 1934, the idea of forming a fire department was discussed at the old H & H Barbecue. Otto Gabriel, Henry Mahar, John Gipp, Matthew Gipp, Stanley Roberts, Justin Tiernan, Harold Hughes, Sr., Edward Scott, Frederick Dennison, Charles Wiley and Dawson Bonitz were among the first to institute the organization proceeding along with the generous assistance of Joseph Frenzel from the Fuller Road Fire Department.
Even though they were advised that “It’s going to be a helluva lot of work before you get any kind of a fire department,” they bore on. Stanley Roberts, President; Otto Gabriel, Secretary and Frank Bectel, Treasurer were appointed as temporary officers. Firematic officers appointed were Otto Gabriel as Chief and Matthew Gipp, Assistant Chief.
A week later, the second meeting was held and the die was cast. The decision was made to write a constitution and by-laws, establish a dollar membership fee, incorporate as a volunteer fire department, have fund raising events and lay out a one-mile district. President Roberts appointed Harold Hughes, Matthew Gipp and Justin Tiernan to draw up the constitution and by-laws. Henry Mahar was named fund raising chairman who ran numerous clambakes and acquired membership. Any stranger, who bought drinks at the H & H Barbecue, was enrolled as a member for one dollar. A total of 93 charter members were enrolled.
1935 - Incorporation
In March 1935 the constitution was adopted, and a few short months later, the necessary $50.00 was spent to become incorporated. The Westmere Fire Department was now officially formed.
Meeting at the H & H Barbecue, the main discussion was the need for a firehouse; the need for firefighting apparatus and a fire siren or gong. An iron locomotive ring donated by the New York Central Railroad was hung at the east corner of the H & H Barbecue, approximately 50 feet from the proposed firehouse. With a sledgehammer to sound the alarm, this could be heard about a mile away.
Twenty-five dollars of hard earned money was spent to purchase from Averill Park Fire Department a Model T Ford, on which was mounted a 50 gallon soda & acid tank, ladders, pike pole, axe (the old fireman’s front door key) some hose and one nozzle.
Not having as yet a place to house the fire apparatus, it was parked in front of the H & H Barbecue where it drew attention and helped swell the membership roster. It was soon learned that even though it was a fire truck, the Model T was not adequate and could not extinguish fires. The need for a pumper, with several hundred gallons of water that could pump water through 2″ hose at 100-200 pounds pressure was of utmost concern. During the summer of 1935, $150.00 was spent to purchase a used Ford truck chassis, with the idea of placing a centrifugal pump on the front and a water tank on the rear. This energetic project never materialized as the needs for a firehouse, fire apparatus and money led to the formation of the Westmere Fire District.
A petition, containing over 50 of the taxpayers, stating they would support and maintain the proposed fire district was presented to the Town Board in April 1937. The map for the proposed district, one mile in size in all directions from the firehouse, was drawn by Otto Gabriel. The New York State Comptroller readily gave his approval to the plans as it was within the legal bounds and rights of the fire district to assume the debt.
While this was taking place, the firehouse was being built with everyone pitching in. The land on which the original firehouse was built was donated by Otto Gabriel (the first Chief) and his wife Margaret. Otto drew the plans and engineered the entire project. The construction and occupancy of the building, early ion 1937, was made possible through the purchase of materials with money secured by placing a mortgage on the proposed building.
1937 - Westmere Fire District Formed
On June 18, 1937, the newly formed Westmere Fire District held its first meeting. In a letter dated June 14, 1937, Otto Gabriel, John F. Gipp, Henry Meyer, Martin Mathusa and Jacob Ableman were appointed by the Guilderland Town Board to serve as Fire Commissioners of the Westmere Fire District, with Eugene Spawn being appointed as district Treasurer. The first official business of the meeting was the appointment of Otto Gabriel as Chairman of the Board of Fire Commissioners and Henry Meyer as Secretary. Many weekly meetings followed.
The following month, on July 22, 1937, a bond issue in the amount of $5000.00 was approved by the taxpayers for the purchase of a modern pumper and other necessary expenditures. The assessed valuation of the newly formed district was $109,862.00.
It took only a few weeks to decide what was wanted on the apparatus as on September 7, 1937, W.S. Darley & Co., was awarded the contract to build a 500 GPM pumper. Westmere had its first new apparatus, when on November 26, 1937 it was delivered in all its splendor, Twenty years later and after many fires, it was a rebuilt, adding side compartments to sore additional equipment. It saw a few years of service with the Knox Fire Department and then was returned to Westmere where it has been restored to its original design.
In January 1942, a Packard seven passenger touring sedan, purchased from the estate of the late Dr. James Fitzsimmons, was donated to the Westmere Fire District by the members of the fire department. Some alterations to the body was needed to convert it to a squad car. This was used to carry extra shovels, brooms, Indian fire pumps as well as firemen to brush fires. Whenever it became necessary, a 500 GPM skid pump, obtained through Civil Defense during WWII for $300.00 would be placed on the squad car as a back-up unit. This continued to serve the department for about eight years.
The first annual clambake as started in July 1942 as a fund raising event. This became very popular and continued throughout their stay in the original building. A second annual fund raiser was the turkey festival. This was begun in the mid 40’s and continued to grow in popularity even after they occupied their new and larger quarters. The first turkey festival netted a neat profit of $34.00. After a series of such fund raising affairs, the Fire Department, under President Clas, paid off the mortgage on the original building in 1949.
Post World War II Boom
After WWII, things started to happen in Westmere. The men were returning home, moving into the area, building homes and raising families. With more buildings to protect, it was realized that there was a very serious shortage of water for firefighting purposes. The one pumper carried only 300 gallons of water. By mid 1950, a used 600-gallon oil tanker was purchased for $750.00. It was fitted with a siren, red light, a 4″ valve welded to the rear of the tank and two lengths of 2″ hard suction hose. Having no space large enough to store it, it had to be parked in front of the firehouse. During the warm weather, it was kept filled; however during the winter months, it remained empty. Then the first responding firemen, after the pumper left on the alarm, would head for the nearest hydrant, either in McKownville or Guilderland, fill up and then race at 35 mph to the fire scene.
1950's - New Pumper and Firehouse
A year later in August 1951, it became apparent that something had to be done about an additional pumper and a new firehouse. The department continued to grow to meet the increasing needs of the fire district. Information was being gathered as to costs. The assessed valuation of the district had increased to $1,601,490.00. After two unsuccessful attempts to obtain taxpayers’ approval, the fire district, in 1954, was able to let contracts for a new pumper and the erection of a new firehouse. The new pumper with a 750 GPM pump and carrying 750 gallons of water was delivered in July 1955 at 3:00am. The entire department and auxiliary were waiting at the firehouse for its arrival. It was entered in a parade the same day as the newest piece of equipment but was disqualified as it had not officially been tested and accepted by the fire district.
In 1954 a second used oil tanker was donated by Ben Mulderry. This too had a 600-gallon tank mounted on a smaller truck. It was discovered that when filled it would just fit in a small garage at the rear of the firehouse. It was no speed demon on the road but it never failed to get to the fire scenes on time. This was retired three years later when a 2300 gallon oil tanker donated to the fire district by the fire department was placed in service. At the same time, abandoned underground gasoline storage tanks located at what is now Westmere Plaza and Phil’s Trailer Park were converted to water storage tanks. Each location held 3000 gallons of water. A standpipe was also installed at the pond near Magley’s Trailer Park (now Crossgates Mall).
The Fire Dept. was able to occupy the present structure in September 1956 and dedication was August 1957. The first addition to this building was completed in 1960 to meet the further needs of the ever-expanding fire district.
In 1961, the two converted oil tankers were retired from service when the Fire District purchased two modern designed 1300-gallon tank trucks. At each alarm, a pumper and tanker ran in pairs. Four years later, in 1965, the Fire District purchased a Howe 1000 GPM pumper, fully equipped with the latest firefighting equipment. After 20 years of faithful duty, it was replaced in 1986 with a new 1000 GPM Sutphen pumper.
Water District Completed - We Have Fire Hydrants!
Upon completion of the Westmere Water District in 1968, the two 1300 gallon tank trucks were sold to Tri-Village Fire Department. A van vehicle was purchased in 1969 to carry additional Scott Air Packs, portable generators, smoke ejectors, rescue equipment and other specialized firefighting equipment.
Through the years, five separate additions have been made to the present structure. In the late 60’s and early 70’s, after the Westmere Water System was installed, a building boom suddenly took off in Westmere. Apartment complexes of two, three and four stories and single family dwellings were being constructed. Word was out that there were plans for a large shopping mall to be built in the Westmere area. In order to keep abreast of this added responsibility, thoughts immediately turned toward the purchase of an additional pumper and ladder truck. The 4th addition was completed in 1975, to house a 1,500 GPM pumper, which was delivered in May 1976, and the 100-foot aerial truck which was delivered in August 1977.
The 80's and 90's
In November 1986 a new Heavy Rescue Truck was received which replaced the old “van” style truck. The new rescue truck carried various types of firefighting and rescue equipment including the Jaws of Life, airbags, air tools, special saws and other numerous tools.
1995 saw the replacement of the original aerial truck with a new model. The new aerial is a Sutphen Model 95 with an aerial platform and a 1,500-gallon per minute pump to supply the twin nozzles on the platform.
The district acquired a Thermal Imaging Camera in 1999. This is the latest technology for searching for victims of a fire. It let”s the firefighters “see” through the smoke. Our unit is helmet mounted and is manufactured by Cairns.
The 21st Century
Our first line pumper, E-95 was replaced in 2001 by E-96. Engine 96 is a Saulsbury pumper with a 1,500 gallon per minute pump, electronic pump controls, light tower, integrated foam system and other state of the art firefighting tools. E-96 is also equipped with a Hurst tool for rescue purposes.
Since the inception of the Fire Department, the Fire District population has increased from approximately 400 in 1937 to over 36,000 in 2022. The assessed evaluation amounted to $75,000.00 in 1937 and the full evaluation for 2000 was $757,576,829.00. The Westmere Fire Department protects five shopping malls, the largest of which is Crossgates, consisting of approximately 150 stores, eight apartment complexes, three schools, two churches and over 4,500 homes.
The Town of Guilderland has a central dispatching system for 911 where all emergency calls are received. Each active member is equipped with a pager that broadcasts an alarm of fire from the Town dispatcher. Daytime mutual aid is set up with neighboring fire departments of McKownville and Guilderland.
There are 60 active members who all serve without compensation. Drills held weekly, vary from actual experience with fires at the Dawson Bonitz Fire Training Center located in Northeastern Industrial Park in Guilderland Center, to driver training, pump and ladder operation, classroom orientation and rescue skills. The Department has participated in many firemanic events and parades. The trophy cases are full of the many prizes they have been awarded.
In 1984, the Westmere Fire Department had the distinct honor of having two of its members being elected officers in two separate State Firematic Organizations. Fire Commissioner and Past Chief Albert Spawn was elected President of the Association of Fire Districts of the State of New York in May 1984 and re-elected in May 1985. Fire Commissioner and Past Chief Jim Buckley was elected President of the New York State Association of Fire Chief’s in June 1984 and served one year in that capacity. This was the first time that such an event had ever occurred to any fire department in the state.
The uniforms of the Fire Department have varied over the years. The original one consisted of dark blue trousers, white shirt, black bow ties, regulation hat and black shoes. The present uniform is a navy blue full dress uniform.
Our current fire apparatus consists of Engine 96, 1,500 GPM Saulsbury, Engine 95, 1,500 GPM Hahn, Engine 98, 1,500 GPM Sutphen, Tower Ladder 99, 112 foot Sutphen Aerial Platform, Squad 93, a heavy rescue truck which carries miscellaneous fire and rescue equipment including the Jaws of Life, Pick-up Truck (M92) and two Chief cars (901 & 902).
Under the expert guidance of its officers, the Westmere Fire Department has earned a rating equal to that of fully paid professional fire departments. This has been accomplished only through the members” devotion to duty and their desire to voluntarily aid their fellow man in time of need, the same kind of dedication our founders had in 1935.