A Brief History of the St. Paul Boulevard Fire Association
The first Fire Department in Irondequoit was located in White City, and was known as the Summerville, Windsor Beach and White City Fire Association. While not incorporated until September 1914, it was actually rendering service in 1906.
The formation of this department came about through the razing of the Mackey barn in Summerville on a hot July afternoon in 1906. The local residents borrowed a hand pump from the Summerville Coast Guard Station and pumped water from a nearby swamp. Several times during the course of fighting this fire, it was necessary to unscrew the nozzle to remove frogs that were drawn up by the hand pump. Soon thereafter a two wheeled hose cart was purchased and hauled to fires by women as well as men.
After the White City fire that occurred on October 31, 1908, which destroyed 52 homes, two more pieces of apparatus were purchased, consisting of a 20 gallon chemical tank cart and another hose cart. The chemical cart and one of the hose carts are currently on display in the front foyer of the Cooper Road Firehouse.
Prior to 1924, the entire west side of the Town of Irondequoit, consisting of 9 square miles, was inadequately protected from fire. Three separate fire departments existed in this territory: The St. Paul Boulevard Fire Company No. 1, The Dakes Corners Fire and Improvement Association, and The Summerville, Windsor Beach and White City Fire Association, Inc. In 1924, the fire that destroyed the Gunson home on St. Paul Boulevard brought vivid attention to this lack of protection.
Numerous public meetings were held and taxpayers were asked to approve an appropriation of $50,000 to purchase equipment and build a fire station. This appropriation was to be amortized over 10 years. They consented to this. Fire Commissioners Charles F. Miller, Charles W. Luther, Thomas E. Broderick, John H. Anderson, George C. Hunt and Treasurer Julius J. Anderson were elected. They issued a call to men of the District between the ages of 21 to 55 to volunteer their services as active firemen. 150 men responded, 70 of whom were enrolled in the active capacity. The balance became social members and aided materially with their financial support. Such was the origin of the St. Paul Boulevard Fire Association in 1924. The Fire District was established by the State Legislature later the same year.
The first officers of the new Fire Association were: Arthur J. Tischer, President; Carl A. Popp, Vice President; Zahrt L. Augustine, Secretary; Harry W. Sabin, Treasurer; F. Phillip Fritz, Sergeant-at-Arms; Alfred L. Drake, Chief; Harold R. MacFarlin, Battalion Chief; John C. Oldenburg, Carl A. Harvey, John C. Hunt, Captains; George C. Marks, Frank C. Holtz and Harry W. Puffer, Lieutenants. The 70 active firemen were divided into 3 companies of 23 men each.
The formal dedication and opening of the Cooper Road Firehouse was held January 1, 1925. On this occasion, the Dakes Corners Fire and Improvement Association turned over their treasury of $89 to the Fire Association. It was used to purchase a sun-dial to honor these men. (The sun-dial is displayed in front of the Cooper Road Firehouse. However, it is in the shade most of the day!!)
In August of 1927 the St. Paul Fire Association marched at the fireman’s convention in Niagara Falls accompanied by their own band.
In 1931, land was purchased at the southwest corner of Washington Avenue and Eaton Road for the construction of another fire station. Ground was broken on May 19, 1931 by John H. Anderson, Chairman of the Board of Fire Commissioners, in company with Commissioners Charles W. Luther, George C. Hunt, Fredrick C. Schmidt, George C. Baist and Treasurer Julius J. Anderson. The building was completed and the dedication ceremony was held on September 1, 1931.
The St. Paul Boulevard Exempt Firemen’s Association, Inc. was incorporated by a special act of the State Legislature in 1934. Although this is a separate organization, membership is gained by serving five years as an active volunteer firefighter for the St. Paul Boulevard Fire Association. An old farm was purchased at 690 Thomas Avenue and the farmhouse was remodeled into a clubhouse in 1935. There has been some subsequent remodeling of the building, but the front part is still the original building.
Many memorable events have occurred over the last 75 years, not the least of which was the establishment of our Ambulance Service in 1947. A vehicle accident took the lives of a volunteer and one of our paid staff in 1960. Two volunteers have died from heart ailments at a fire scene, and many others have sustained injuries while serving the district. Serious fires include three at the corner of Titus Avenue and Cooper Road: The old Irondequoit High School and two business blocks on the north and south side of Titus. Perhaps the largest conflagration was the old Masonic Temple at the Northwest corner of Titus Avenue and St. Paul Boulevard on April 29. 1975. Other major fires include So-Fro Fabrics in the Irondequoit Plaza, Westage at the Harbor, our mutual aid to Sea Breeze for the carousel fire in 1994, and a large fire at an apartment complex on Miller Lane in 2008.
In 1950, an addition was made to the Cooper Road Firehouse to accommodate more and larger vehicles and to allow the old vehicle bays to be utilized for meeting rooms.
Soon thereafter, a house was purchased to the west of the Cooper Road property and in 1981 the Adolph Cort property to the south was purchased.
In 1990, construction was begun for a new Cooper Road Firehouse. The groundbreaking ceremony took place April 27, 1990, when the first sod was turned over. The building was completed and dedicated in 1991, and was widely acclaimed as one of the best designed firehouses in this area.
Over the years, there have been many memorable incidents. We can look with pride on the many rescues from fires, motor vehicle accidents, heart attacks and childbirths where our involvement made a difference. Unfortunately, there have also been sad times as we have had too many fires and accidents, some of which have resulted in deaths and in serious property losses.
In 1960, on a warm spring day, one of our pumpers, with a crew of six, was responding to a reported brush fire in the Summerville area. As the driver approached a curve in the Boulevard near Lakeshore, the vehicle suddenly rolled over killing the driver instantly and the officer in the front seat died the next day. Driver Snuffy Ovenburg and First Aid Lieutenant Paul Wischmeyer were the first two Lines of Duty Deaths experienced by our fire department.
Tragedy struck again in 1968 when Firefighter Harold Zimmer became our third Line of Duty Death when he suffered a fatal heart attack on an oven fire call.
We lost our fourth, and hopefully last, firefighter to a Line of Duty Death in 1991 when Gordon Otto Schmitt died of a heart attack. Gordy had just finished his work as a fire policeman at the scene of a motor vehicle accident.
Today our organization has almost 60 volunteer and 16 paid firefighters. This group responded to almost 1800 fire and ambulance emergencies in 2014. In addition to these alarms, our personnel spend many hours in training, honing their skills.
How can you help us serve you? Your help is imperative! If you’d like to help your community, the St. Paul Blvd. Fire Association is always looking for additional volunteer personnel. If you cannot help, perhaps you know of a neighbor, a friend, or a relative who could join us in this important work.
Finally, there are three things that each and every one of you can do to help us.
1) Do you have a working smoke detector(s) in your home?
2) Do you insist that all use proper fire prevention practices?
3) Do you offer up a short prayer when you hear a fire siren?
Please pray for the responders - that they will have the skills needed on that call and that they will return safely to their loved ones.
Pray also for the victims - that our response will be timely. Thank you very much for your support.
May God bless each of you!