A History of The Patterson Fire Department

by Robert J. Bell, Jr. (2006)

2006 marks the Eighty Fifth Anniversary of the Patterson Fire Department. Although the people and equipment have changed, the basic goal of the department remains the same: service and protection to our neighbor's life and property.

Officially the department was formed on April 7, 1921, but the idea of community involvement with fighting fire was born long before. Although there are few surviving records, concerned citizens in and around the Town of Patterson were fighting fires and holding unofficial meetings as early as April 1917.

In May of 1921, a referendum was passed by the town to purchase a then modern Buffalo Chemical Fire Appartatus to be mounted on an Oldsmobile chassis. The price was $4000 and delivery was in December of the same year, just in time for the first recorded fire call, which was at 3:53 AM on December 29, 1921 at "Ballard's Place". The log accounts indicate that two Chemical tanks were used but the structure was a total loss. Fire protection throughout the area was primitive in those early days but knew no boundaries. In November of 1924, the department was requested to fight a major forest fire in Whaley Lake.

The early organization was headed by a Captain assisted by a Lieutenant, they in turn were aided by a Treasurer and Recording Secretary. The entire company numbered 42 men. Reid F. Haviland was Captain until replaced by Henry S. Ludington. It was not until April 7, 1930, that the office of Chief was instituted and Henry S. Ludington resigned his Captaincy and was re-elected to the position of Chief on May 9, 1930. The creation of other ranks and corporate officers followed shortly thereafter.

Companies were formed based on, as today, the equipment available at the time. There was Company I - Ladders and Axes, Cornpany 2 - Hose, and Company 3 -Buckets and Chemicals. A tattered department equipment inventory dated May 22, listed the following items: 1 dozen oil skinned rain coats and hats, 2 forty foot extension ladders, 12 fire pails, the Pendleton and Townsend Chemical Truck and a Buffalo Chemical Truck. (EdItors Note: "Chemical Trucks" popular during the 20's worked on exactly the same principle as the soda-acid fire extinguisher. Acid added to a tank of soda-water mounted on a chassis furnished the pressure to force the water from the apparatus).

Fund raising was an important aspect of department life. Movies were popular for many years but the annual carnival was by far the biggest event in town and the most lucrative for the vamps. The first was held in August of 1926 along with the Community Club and earned $476. These and other funds enabled the department to purchase its first pumper. In February of 1927, a Mr. Cecil Barclay, representing the Hahn Motor Company, wrote the order for a Hahn 400 gallon pumper for $5800 and presented the department with a gift of six fire coats. Delivery of the new Hahn was delayed by an all too common mistake that has unfortunately survived to the present day; it was delivered as you probably have guessed to Paterson... New Jersey! The Hahn was in service for only a short time before a broken axle, white responding to a fire, made it necessary to tow it part of the way to the scene. Shortly thereafter the Chief, (prompted possibly by the desire of overzealous townspeople and neighbors to assist the firemen), issued an order that "no civilians" were to be permitted to ride the new fire truck to fires!

Eighty five years ago firemen were summoned by a work whistle mounted high atop the Pendleton and Townsend Furniture Factory or by "Central", which was of course, the phone system. The operator when notified of a fire would alert the Chief and firemen on down the line - She would, that is, until 5 PM, when she went home and ended service until the next day. On remembering the first fire at "Ballard's Place", it is doubtful that Captain Haviland, given all the men and modern equipment, excluding the personal fire monitors now in use, would not have done any better than he did 60 years ago. Today a modern radio alert system, 24 hour telephone service, combined with the time honored "fire whistle", can summon almost one hundred fire, medical and auxiliary personnel within seconds of a receipt of a call for help.

From its start in 1921, the Town o Patterson has increased in fire protection by quite a bit in 85 years. From on single engine bay station on Rt. 311 to two full fire departments (Patterson and Putnam Lake, which started in 1946) with one Sub-Station on Bullet Hole Rd. From a single Buffalo Chemical Truck to two 1000 GPM attack trucks, one source pumper, two tankers, two brush trucks, one ambulance and one rescue truck, under the guidance of the three chiefs in their chief's vehicles.

Article by Robert J. Bell Jr. and John Bodor, Department Historians