West Nyack Fire Department History

Below you can find the forward to the history of the West Nyack Fire Engine Company #1.
There is also the full history journal link below from our original starting date in 1910 – 2010,
100 years
of rich, exciting, & interesting history.

West Nyack Fire Dept History


CLANG, CLANG, repeating over and over. Then I heard another two clangs much
farther away, maybe down past the mill by Richards’ Corner. What was it? A few minutes had
gone by and now I heard still another one but farther away in the opposite direction toward
Greenbush. Pa! Pa! Do you hear that? Listen…. Now the whole family gathered around on the
front porch listening to the reverberating of metal like a small army of angry blacksmiths about
to march into town from all directions. Another started up by the quarry and then another by
the railroad station. This continued about ten minutes, and then it stopped! Not another sound.
Looking around and at each other in amazement, we all wondered silently if it was a good idea
moving to West Nyack. Sure the city was crowded and noisy; that was expected. This was the
country. I think we saw five automobiles in the three weeks we had lived here.
As we headed back into the house to start the day, we were startled by a mob of men
running toward the center of town. I could not believe the amount of dust they all threw up
scurrying by. Some were yelling, “Fire!” “Fire!” Right then it hit me! Those sounds must
have been some type of fire signal. I turned around and ran out the door, not touching one of
the porch step let alone thirteen. I hopped the hedge and before I knew it I was in the middle of
this pack of men running in the same direction, past Jones’ General Store, down the highway
toward the railroad station. Right behind me, a team of the huge horses rounded the bend and
nearly ran me down. They stopped at Haerles Blacksmith Shop and Repository and were led
carefully backwards into the open shop. As I caught my breath and crept up to the big doors, I
heard “HAH, HAH” and the horses bolted out right in front of me pulling the finest wagon I
have even seen. Big red ornate wheels and a giant metal tank gleaming in the morning sun, and
perched high up on a seat next to the man driving the team was a dog, a Dalmatian, sitting
proudly as could be and he stared right at me. I couldn’t see a thing as it headed down the road
toward the great swamp trailing a monstrous cloud of dust.
I cleaned myself off and peered back inside the repository. Tools of all shapes and sizes
were hanging everywhere. There was a small fire burning in an open hearth filled with glowing
coals. In the corner to the left of the hearth was a small dog bed and a good size water dish with
the name “Sparky” painted in red. “Is this a firehouse?” I thought to myself. Looking around I
saw nothing indicating anything other than a blacksmith shop. Then I spotted a couple of coils

of fire hose by the doors. I remembered having seen them in the city in a firehouse when the
doors were open. I soon noticed a stairway in the back and I cautiously headed for it. “Can I
help you?,” came a voice that thundered from inside the repository. I jumped so high I was
surprised that I didn’t hit the ceiling. “Ahh, no thank you,” I stuttered. “I saw the fire wagon
leave here and being new to the area I was wondering if this is a firehouse?” “Is it?” “Well
who the hell are you?” came the response. Oh excuse me sir, my name is Winslow, Winslow
Mallery. My family just moved up from New York City; we bought the old Obelnis House on
the Straw Town Road.” “Hello Winslow, my name is Elmer Brown and I’m,” he hesitated, “the
chairman of the West Nyack Fire Engine Co. #1,” he said rather proudly. We shook hands as
Mr. Brown’s imposing demeanor dissipated into a warm and friendly greeting. “You know,” he
said, “We are always looking for able bodies for fighting fires! You seem interested! How
about joining up? I’m guessing you’re 18?” “Yes sir, just turned 18 last month,” I replied,
perhaps a little too exuberantly. “Well good then. We meet on the 1st Tuesday of the month,
every month, right here at 8 o’clock. I will drop an application off at your house. Fill it out and
give it back to me along with a $2 initiation fee. And just to make sure you know what you’re
getting into, you have to pay dues of twenty five cents per month AND there are various fees or
fines for missing fires and meetings. I’ll present your application at the meeting and as long as
you don’t have any enemies, you’ll be a member by June.” “That’s great Mr. Brown,” I said,
“and by the way… what’s a chairman?” Hmmm… “Well,” he said, “A chairman is someone
who keeps things going. In a fire company like this one, you have a foreman; that would be Mr.
Haerle. He gives directions at a fire, sort of tells everybody what to do, where to put the hose,
where to get the water from, things like that. He is in charge! When we have a meeting, like the
one coming up and hopefully you will get voted in, I give direction, sort of keep things and
everyone in order. At a meeting, I’m in charge. That’s the chairman’s job. But you have plenty of time for that.”
Just then I could hear the clip-clopping of horses outside the shop. “Whoa girls,” came
an authoritative command and in ran the Dalmatian, ignoring us and heading right to his bowl
of water. “Hello EW, how’ bout getting ole Sparky a fresh bowl of water? “Sure Charlie,
sure,” Mr. Brown replied, and he reached for the bowl and then handed it over to me and, while
pointing, directed me to the hand-pump for some ice cold fresh water for Sparky. Charlie
methodically backed in the fire pumper and unhooked the team of horses. “So what did I miss?”
asked Mr. E.W. Brown to Charlie as they both take the team to the hitching post outside the repository.

“Oh just a little grass burning along the railroad tracks down past the station. We
ended up stamping it out and dumped a few buckets on it from the trough at the station.
“Nothing exciting, but it sure had potential,” replied Charlie, “Who’s your friend?” he said
looking at me. “This here is Winslow Mallery, just moved to town and maybe wants to join.”
explained E.W. “Well, well, we are always looking for able bodies. Where you from? asked
Charlie. “Well, my father ran the ice steamer for the American Ice Company; you know, it
used to be Knickerbocker, over in Rockland Lake,” I said, continuing, “up and down the
Hudson every day and got to talking to some of those icemen about Rockland County, then he
heard about good farm land in West Nyack and affordable prices; well with talk about so call
refrigerators being in everyone’s home in a few years, he feels that the ice business is gonna be
short lived and here we are.” “Manhattan is just so crowded; this is like heaven-on-earth.”
“Say, those clanging sounds I heard earlier, what was that?” “Yes, the clanging sounds,”
started E.W. “Charlie, would you mind explaining those clanging sounds?” “Sure, exclaimed
Charlie,” “The clanging sounds are like a notification system that we installed alerting us, the
firemen, of a fire and the approximate location. There are seven gongs located throughout West
Nyack. You know, they are actually locomotive wheels that we purchased for $1.50 each and
had them delivered down at the railroad station. There is this one here at the firehouse, another
at the railroad station, and five more spread out around town. So, if you hear a gong sounding,
listen for the number of times, then get to the nearest gong and hit it the number of times you
heard. For instance, the firehouse is 2 hits, the railroad station is 3, and so on. The instructions
and a big mallet are also located at each gong. By the way, if you have a telephone, ring up the
pumping station which is Nyack 65-R where the steam whistle is. Tell, if possible, the number
of the gong hits that you heard then get down here to the firehouse and make sure this pumper
gets out. Hopefully whoever reports the fire stays at the gong until we all get there so we don’t waste any time looking around.
“Wow that’s quite a system; say, do you mind if I look around?” I asked. “Don’t mind
at all,” Charlie replied, “and here, if you arer going upstairs, you’ll need this,” and he handed
me a key. I climbed the stairs and there was a locked door at the top with the words “West
Nyack Fire Engine Company # 1. Inc., March 10, 1910”. I unlocked and opened the door and I
don’t know what I was expecting but all there was, was a table at the opposite end of a huge

room, lots of chairs, a piano, an American flag, and otherwise it was an empty room. I entered
and started looking around. There were some papers on the table and a ledger-type book. I
opened it and on the very first page found the word “History” scrolled on the top, with the
following listed below: The West Nyack Fire Engine Co. No. 1 was incorporated, under the
laws of the State of New York, in March, 1910, the Charter members being:

F.G. Grunhold Emil Klein
Charles Hearle William Kaufman
Clarence Campbell Alfred L. Biltz
Orville N. Phillips Walter G. Ottignon
Joseph Marsico August Fuchs
Harold Smith John A. Merlino
William W. Smith George Green
Alfred Locke William Schek, Jr.
William H. Sheridan William Schek, Sr.
Thomas B. Storms Conrad Kaufman


There was an old man who said, “Why
Can’t I look in my ear with my eye?”
If you put your mind to it,
You surely can do it:
You never can tell, till you try.

“Since its organization, with the assistance of its Ladies Auxiliary, it has succeeded in
becoming the owner of a Waterous Gasoline Fire Engine of excellent pumping capacity; of a
hose cart; of 1,000 feet of fire hose; of a piano; of 100 chairs, and of a large quantity of dishes and cooking utensils.
It has also erected seven fire gongs. It is purely a volunteer company and no member
receives any compensation for his services. On the contrary, each member pays a $2 initiation fee and
25 cents dues monthly, besides suitable fines for non-attendance, or non-performance of
duty. The object of the company is to protect the people and property in its fire district, in time
of trouble, and it therefore deserves the support of every resident in the district it serves.”

Well who is to say that the above accounting didn’t happen exactly as described. These
were actual names and places. This historic perspective is gleaned from the many pages of the
handful of ledgers and notebooks somehow preserved over the course of 100 years.
Unfortunately, many, many pages are missing therefore resulting in cracks where our history
spilled off the pages and disappeared into voids that most likely will never be recovered. Yet
on the other hand, much has been preserved and these cherished words have been anxiously
waiting to spring forth and breathe again, to give life to those who have passed, for anyone
who will listen. Now was needed someone to stitch it all together, someone with a desire or
perhaps a disorder to formulate a sense of purpose out of drivel, someone who, for reasons
known only to God, can sit down and read page after page, line after line of mundane, grueling,
cryptic chatter for days on ends, someone with no other life. That’s where I come in. The West
Nyack Fire Department has been a major part of my life since 1972. I had a great grandfather
who as a captain in FDNY, died in the line of duty at the turn of the century, but no other ties to
the fire service and none to West Nyack, until I went out (briefly) with an ex-chief’s daughter
and here I am 38 years later. I have a passion for history (local history). I recall finding a huge
pile of letters and stuff dumped in the corner of the attic of the firehouse back in the 70’s. Some
had been rained on or eaten by whatever crawls around up there and most just faded with time. I
went through and read each paper and methodically placed each of them in yearly folders
starting with 1910, never realizing all these years later how crucial that gesture of preservation
would become. What may be a good thing is that many of the records were not there in the attic.
They were entrusted to someone along the way and thereby as fate would have it, were
preserved. Some of the original books, the original ledger that young Winslow Mallery read in
the room of the repository was one of those. They was entrusted to the second chief of the
department, Benedict “Barney” Matero, whom I had the privilege and pleasure of knowing
(Hey Goose….). He in turn passed them on to his son Kenneth, who, as an ex-chief gave the
ultimate sacrifice and tragically died in the line-of-duty while serving the West Nyack Fire
Engine Co. #1, in 1974. His son Frank (a former member) now became the sentinel. He heard
of my efforts to formulate a 100th Anniversary historical record and sought me out.
Now you know the rest of the story.

So with that said, this is the result. This is the culmination of reading through the
ledgers and papers, of reconstructing the memories of previous conversations with now
departed “old timers” such as Barney Matero and Jerry Trachtenberg; of filling in bits and
pieces with living “old timers” Frank Rudden, Gene Cicero, Sr. and Dominic Prestano; of
chatting with those not associated with the fire company but who are icons of historical West
Nyack such as Edna Wright and Bert Dahm. I also wish to thank the many friends, without
whom a few informational pieces would be missing, as well as the members of West Nyack
Fire Engine Co. # 1, who had to deal with my incessant trivia ranting’s for days on end, the
Company President Dan Ulrich and Anniversary Journal chairman George Wamsley for giving
me the extra time and Bobby Carlyle for keeping George away from me. Thanks also to Chief
Diercksen who allowed me to work on his time, to Steve Brancetelli, Matt Carlyle, Brian
Cicero and John DeNicola for assisting in the research and data entry and most of all my wife
Paula who dealt well with the fact that, nothing was going to get done around the house for a
long while and lastly to Catherine Nowicki, my high-school English teacher and good friend
graciously “proofed” this document and gave me a passing grade.
The bottom line is it’s “a” history, not “the” history. There are probably a slew of missspelled
names and omissions. One secretary might have spelled a name one way and another
all together differently. Some secretaries took incredible minutes and others… well? They had
no business being in that position. If there is no mention of actions in the minutes, then unless
you are now here to recall… it doesn’t exist! So, much is not recorded. Hardly any mention of
fires were put to pen unless they were spectacular and caught someone’s attention, or the Chief
or Foreman thanked guys who busted their ass for a job well done, or as mentioned before, the
records perished. But enough! To add more would undoubtedly put the reader into some type
of catatonic state.


John P. Tobin
Historian (self proclaimed)