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The Fire Department of Hemlock NY

Hemlock Volunteer Fire Department, 1919 - 1976

By Elva and Larry Coykendall - The Livonia Gazette

9 September 1976

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Engines rest in front of the Hemlock Firehouse, dedicated in 1974.

A fire-fighting organization came into existance in 1919 through the efforts of John P. Coykendall. He realized the need for equipment and manpower to protect the homes and property in the Hemlock area.

Along with a handful of men, he formed the Hemlock Fire Company. He sent his son, Kenneth calling on people in the area for donations to begin operations of the fire company. A total of $250 was collected and used to purchase the first piece of equipment, a foam extinguisher with 40 gallon capacity. It was mounted on two wooden rubber tired wheels.

The “equipment” was housed in John Coykendall’s garage during the summer and moved to Carl Scutt’s heated garage for the winter. There were only three privately owned trucks in town at this time and each owner took turns hauling the foam tank to fires.

By 1920, real interest in a fire department had developed. The Beam Milling Company gave the fire department a Reo Speed Wagon on which the chemical tank was then mounted. As time passed, the second foam tank was purchased and the two tanks were placed on a new Chevrolet truck.

As regular meetings began to be held, the department started to develop into an organization. Plans for a firehouse were necessary. Land was leased from the Lehigh Valley Railroad and a one-car storage building was erected on Main St. in Hemlock.

These ideas came to life through dedication and donations from the citizens of Hemlock. Some of the “fore-fathers” of the department were: Olin Mathers, Glenn Holmes, Harry Rogers, Nathan Short, Charles Schneck, O. Beam, William Hoppough and Ernest Short.

In November of 1922, the Town of Livonia minutes show the first appropriation of funds for the Hemlock Fire District No. 1; this amounted to $600.

Records show that interest increased and the firehouse was remodeled and expanded in 1932.

In December, 1935 the company was re-organized with by-laws and elected officers. Othello Thurston is on record as being the first elected president with 45 volunteers as members. John Coykendall was then serving his last year as chief of the fire company after 15 active years of service. The chief’s position was then filled by Donald Rogers.

Membership to the fire company increased and functions were planned to raise funds to support the growing company. Public dances seem to have been the biggest attraction for raising funds and are still vivid in the memories of the elder citizens today. The firemen also held a two day carnival in 1938. An original ticket from the “Hemlock Firemen’s Clambake” in August of 1938 at $1.50 each, gives us an interesting view of things, the way they were.

At this time, funds were raised and used in the purchase of a new 1938 International fire truck from the Young Fire Equipment Company in Buffalo NY. An important point to make is that this same truck is still used as first line fire fighting equipment.

The fire company became incorporated in January of 1942. This matter was executed for a fee of $75.

The firemen began holding yearly horse shows as fund raising projects. Minstrel shows were also promoted which netted more amusement than actual dollars. The firemen also began to have a refreshment stand at the fair. Records show that $100 was cleared during one fair.

An 18th anniversary party was held in 1953 and the newly formed Auxiliary were honored guests. An election of officers preceeded the party. The new officers were: Chief, Hugh Drain; Assistant Chief, Alfred Harvey; Captain, Darwin Schoonover; 1st Lt., George Thurston; and 2nd Lt., Ken Scutt. Six of the 18 original volunteers were on hand to help the fire department celebrate.

At this time, Hugh Drain replaced Nathan Short as commissioner. Harold Larned, Lee Coykendall, Chester Haak and Gus Opperman were the other four commissioners then. Kenneth Coykendall began as secretary and treasuer in 1920 and continued until he retired in 1972. He was an active fireman for 52 years.

Normal progress and hard work increased as the fire company continued to expand. A second new fire truck was ordered in 1963. A 1964 Ford fire truck was purchased; an added tax burden was accepted by the taxpayers who continued to support their fire company. Albert Harey is given credit for 11 years of service as chief and a main spokesman in the updating of the fire equipment.

Also in 1963, the volunteers purchased and erected a new siren atop a 35 foot tower; the 7 1/2 horse power siren would carry the sound beyond the limits of the fire district.

With the expansion of the Hemlock Fire Department and the passing of years, came the new generation of firemen. Many are sons of the senior firemen who have dedicated many years of active service.

By 1969, dreams of a new and larger fire facility came about. The firemen began to put all their efforts into making this dream a reality. A building committee was formed to outline the details. Gary Hunter was appointed chairman. Larry Coykendall made drawings of a new building and information was gathered as to the financing and the purchase of additional property. The taxpayers of District No. 1 were invited to a public informational meeting where discussion was held on the plans for the new building. A referendum vote by the taxpayers was held in 1971 and the results were favorable.

The new structure was erected in 1971 and completed by 1972. The interior of the building was completed by the volunteers. They invested approximately $15,000 and donated many hours of their time and labor to finish off the inside. The fire department was fortunate to have many members with different skills. Carpenters such as Larry Briggs and William Hoppough, electricians Richard Westfield, and sheet metal worker James Goddard. Others too numerous to mention, “jack of all trades.” The end results were a modern and very beautiful fire hall and meeting place for community use.

Early in 1973, the commissioners purchased a 1969 Ford chasis. The firement bought a new Caustine 1750 gallon tank and put the two together for a tanker. The volunteers did the work involved in building the tanker which when completed cost approximateley $9500. A commercially built tanker would have cost approximately $28,000 to $30,000.

This endeavor saved the taxpayers a considerable amount and added a worthwhile piece of equipment for service.

Special mention must be given to the several outstanding members who have received awards from the Western New York Volunteer Firemen’s Association. They are: William Farrell, Karl Lopez, Gary Hunter and William Hoppough who each received Firemen of the Year awards.

The Hemlock Fire Department has had 18 chiefs during the past 56 years of fire protection service. The company has survived and made outstanding progress during these years due to the volunteer firemen, board of commissioners and the taxpayers of the Hemlock Fire District No. 1 who have worked together as a real organization.

The fire department as eleven “life” members at the present time. They are Hugh Drain, Albert Harvey, Charles Rolfe, Darwin Schoonover, Theo Henry, Howard Whiteman, Donald Rodgers, Kenneth Coykendall, Elmer Close, Ralph Moore and Newton Colegrove.

The public is invited to visit the Hemlock Fire Department on any Saturday at 12:00 noon. Firemen are avialable at this time to answer any questions and explain the operation of the fire equipment. The building is also open for inspection.

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