In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s it was becoming very clear that the rapid growth of the Town of Fishkill would soon pose serious fire protection problems, particularly in Fishkill Fire Protection District No. 1, a land area representing over one half of the town. The change from a rural, farming community to a commercial, and notably more suburban, atmosphere was putting a strain on the existing fire protection capabilities. The town board, recognizing this problem and sensitive political issues, was mindful of the changing character of the town and, on January 18, 1971 conducted a public hearing “ on the establishment of a fire corporation to be known as the Rombout Fire Company, Inc.” and “on the matter of dissolving Fishkill Fire Protection District No. 1 and establishing the Rombout Fire District.” The Rombout Fire Company became fully established and legally incorporated on January 22, 1971.
March and April, 1971 saw the formation of the Rombout Fire District and, on May 6, 1971, a special election in the new Fire District authorized the expenditure of $90,000 for two pumper tankers, fire fighting equipment, and a radio alerting system. Soon thereafter, Engine No. 2 was purchased, a 1957 American LaFrance pumper-tanker (1000gpm/1000gal) that was completely repainted by the Rombout volunteers in the distinctive cream color adopted by the Fire Department. On August 14, 1971, Engine No. 1, a new Ward LaFrance pumper-tanker (1250gpm/1000gal), was delivered and on September 14, 1971, the company assumed full responsibility for fire protection of the district. Thus, in less than nine months, the Fire Company and the Fire District were organized, a bond issue approved for the purchase of fire fighting equipment, and a former town garage converted into a temporary fire station. The Fire Company thus became an operating unit consisting of firefighters, apparatus and equipment thoroughly tested and fully operational - following a tradition initiated by Ben Franklin who founded the first volunteer fire department in 1736.
Utility Vehicle No. 1, was formally commissioned during 1973. This fire engine, a 1938 Chevrolet, with body work by Sealand, was acquired from the Beekman Fire District for the price of one dollar, compliments of Muriel Reynolds. Reconditioning of the engine and complete re-painting required much work, spearheaded by a dedicated group of our volunteers. The utility, went on to serve us ten years after which it was sold back to the Beekman Fire District for the sum of two dollars.
Visitors to the temporary fire station on Wood Place had been impressed by its well equipped fire engines and by the transformation of a former highway department garage into a functional fire headquarters. However, it was obvious that this fire station would be inadequate for the town’s most populous fire district and the rapidly expanding responsibilities of the Rombout Fire Company. The meeting room was not nearly large enough to accommodate a membership of over 70 men, and the apparatus room was too crowded to properly maintain and service the fire fighting equipment. Parking space was available for only about a dozen cars and storage facilities within the building were practically non-existent.
Compounding these space problems, it was not uncommon for the District Commissioner’s, a fire training class, and an apparatus work detail to attempt, respectively, to conduct District business, learn new fire fighting techniques, and repair equipment, all at the same time. The confusion, the distraction, and sometimes, the tensions of maintaining a volunteer service to the community under such hardships became intolerable. Thus, the Rombout Commissioners found it increasingly urgent to fulfill the District’s material needs for fire protection and, equally important, to maintain the personal incentives that make a volunteer service possible in the first place.
Adding urgency to the need for a permanent and larger fire station and District headquarters was the accelerating growth of the Town of Fishkill. Under existing zoning regulations potential development within the Rombout District could range between 5,000 and 12,000 dwelling units with 15,000 to 40,000 people.
Growth patterns, road networks, railroad crossings, accessibility to present/future volunteer firefighters, and highway crossings of the Conrail lines were factors vital to the selection of a site for a new fire station. To obtain competent advice on these questions, the Commissioners called on a number of qualified experts, the Town of Fishkill Planning Board, and it’s planning consultants, the Insurance Service Organization, the New York State Department of Transportation, the Dutchess County Planning Board and Highway Departments. From these sources, two recommendations emerged: 1) to construct a main fire station in the general vicinity of the intersection of Route 52 and Interstate 84 in the western portion of the Fire District, and 2) to erect a satellite fire station at a later date in the Brinckerhoff or eastern portion of the district.
To implement these recommendation’s, a fire station committee developed building requirements. From discussions with Commissioners and Departmental Officers from other Fire Districts, our attorney, a prospective architect, building contractors, and other professionals, it became abundantly clear that construction costs were rising steeply. It was also apparent that any delay in voter approval to construct the headquarters station would result in accelerating cost increases, hence an unwelcome future tax burden. And finally, it seemed inevitable that a construction program that planned for two or three stages over a 10 or 15 year period would ultimately result in a three or four fold cost increase over a single stage construction program. Accordingly, there was no question that the fire station design should be such that future additions to the main station would never be necessary.
The board of Fire commissioners placed a proposition before voters on March 11, 1974 and approval, by a wide margin, was given to spend a sum not exceeding $50,000 for land and $625,000 for the construction of a headquarters fire station. Bids were solicited and contracts awarded, and ground breaking commenced on July 26, 1974. In the following months the firemen and Districts residents watched with keen interest the erection of this beautiful, two-story brick structure. The firemen however would undertake responsibility for the finish work including all painting, landscaping, installation of the septic system, the kitchen electrical hook-up, the purchase and installation of kitchen appliances, the installation of the fire alarm system, and design and construction of the trophy cabinet, It is estimated that these efforts by our firefighters reduced the overall building costs by nearly $100,000. June 28, 1975, represented a highlight in our Fire Company’s history, the dedication of the Rombout Fire Department Headquarters, - our new home.
It is natural that old pieces of equipment yield to the pressures of heavy usage. Such was the case with the power plant in Engine No. 2. The 1957 American LaFrance, In August 1977, it’s gasoline engine practically blew up, throwing parts all over the highway. Since the pump and chassis were still in excellent condition, and since the cost of a new pumper at the time was in excess of $85,000, it was decided to re-power this pumper with a diesel engine and replace the manual transmission with an automatic. At a cost of $25,000 and exceptional performance the result, it is expected that 10 years of additional front-line service will be achieved with this 1957 vehicle. The wisdom of this decision was manifested at recent evaluations by the Insurance Service Organization. Engine No. 2 went on to provide an additional 7 years beyond the 10 and was replaced in 1994.
A major concern of all fire officers is the trend toward increased losses to life and property due to fire. Rombout shares this concern and, in fact provided the leadership in promoting a well designed fire prevention code for the Town of Fishkill. The Chelsea, Dutchess Junction and Glenham Fire Districts, joining forces with Rombout, provided the necessary town wide support leading to the adoption of a Town of Fishkill Fire Prevention Code by the Town Board on October 28, 1977.
With three heavily traveled highways crossing our fire district, it is not surprising that we respond to a high number of serious automobile accidents. Increasingly, however it was frustrating to find conventional rescue tools and power saws were largely ineffective in extracting accident victims from wrecked cars. An appeal was made to District residents for funds to purchase a Hurst tool the, “Jaws of Life”. The “Jaws” was fully subscribed and placed into active service in November, 1977. In the weeks following delivery, numerous junk cars were worked over to train our volunteers to be certified “Jaws” technicians. To date the use of the Hurst tool has permitted us to save countless lives of accident victims.
Increasingly, we found that there simply was not enough space on our pumpers to carry the necessary fire and rescue equipment, particularly following the acquisition of the Hurst tool and it’s attachments. To solve this problem, voter approval was obtained, bids for a van were solicited and a stripped GMC van was purchased for $12,800. Our firefighters converted this van into an effective emergency vehicle, commissioned in August, 1978, by installing radios, lighting,siren, constructing storage shelves and cabinets and providing fire department lettering, - a very professional undertaking. Emergency 1 has proven to be invaluable to the department, not only for rescue service but also for innumerable other firematic and community service functions. To complement our rescue activities a boat and trailer was revamped and painted and a rowboat donated by the Cortland Engine Company, Montrose, was fitted to the trailer. Although now the boat is long gone having been donated to Dutchess Junction and the Emergency’s roles have been shortened with the addition of a new Heavy Rescue. In 2001, the Emergency van was sold and replaced with a 2001 Ford Quick Attack/Utility Truck. A Haz-Mat Trailer was also purchased to carry the Haz-Mat equipment that was previously stored on the Emergency van.
Fire response time to Brinckerhoff, or eastern portion of the Fire District was approaching unacceptable levels, nearly six minutes on average and was caused, primarily by traffic congestion in the Village and at the intersection of Routes 9 and 52. Reports from the Town of Fishkill and County Planning Boards offered projections of continued residential and commercial growth, particularly east of Route 9. Furthermore, the New York State Department of Transportation predicted that traffic volume, already heavy, would continue to increase at two percent annually. Based upon this information, together with evaluations by the Insurance Service Organization, the Board of Fire commissioners concluded that it was appropriate to construct a two bay satellite fire station on the property on Cedar Hill Road donated by Seymour Arkway, and purchase a pumper-tanker. A special election was held on August 14, 1980 authorizing the construction of the Brinckerhoff fire station at a maximum cost of $160,000 and the purchase of a fully equipped pumper-tanker at a maximum cost of $120,000. Voter approval was overwhelming, 9 to 1 favoring each proposition. Construction contracts were awarded, and construction of the Brinckerhoff substation began. In the meantime, bids were submitted and awarded for the new pumper-tanker.
On November 14, 1981, the Brinckerhoff fire station was dedicated and an open house held to present the new building and Rombout Engine No. 3, a 1981 Pierce Arrow pumper-tanker (1500gpm/1000Gal), which had arrived months before. Those in attendance got a chance to see their firefighters in action when, during the festivities, a fire alarm came in, sending the firefighters off to do their duty. The sub station proved to be a much needed resource. Response times to the eastern portion of the Fire District improved beyond expectation and the presence of a new engine further increased the quality of Rombout’s service to it’s community.
The professional quality of service provided to the residents of the Fire District is a result of the countless hours that the firefighters spend training. Whether through classroom sessions or drill exercises, the skills and techniques of firefighting must be practiced regularly and new skills learned to effectively and safely serve the community. Firefighting is a dangerous job and can put the lives of even well trained firefighters in danger. In 1984, this fact became all to evident when Epifanio Gonzalez died tragically from injuries sustained while conducting training exercises. An active member of the company, “Ed” Gonzalez held a number of line officers positions and, at the time of his passing, was an Assistant Chief. In 1986 a new Pierce Arrow pumper-tanker (1500gpm/1000gal), was commissioned as Engine No. 1, replacing the 71’ Ward LaFrance, and dedicated in Epifanio Gonzalez’s memory.
In April 1987, the Rombout Fire Company experienced another great loss. William Russel VanPelt passed away. As the fire departments first chief, he held a special place in the hearts of every firefighter.
The eighties continued to see the growth of Fishkill from a small, sleepy rural community to a bustling suburban hub. The growth of a commercial and business zone at the intersection of Routes 9 and 84 brought a number of fire safety issues and made obvious the need for special equipment to properly protect that area. When developers proposed a large commercial development project on Route 9 it included a number of multistory buildings, including office buildings and large hotels. These hotels, with their many floors and high occupancies, posed a serious fire safety concern. The tallest ladders on the fire engines, though fine for one and two story houses, could not reach the upper floors of these high-rise hotels and offices. It was apparent to the members of the Fire Department that an aerial tower truck would be needed to safely evacuate people from such tall buildings and support fire suppression activities. Since the aerial tower would only be needed to protect these big buildings in the commercial area, the Fire Commissioners established a special Ladder District to finance the aerial tower truck and associated equipment. After months of heated debate with one of the land developers, the formation of the Rombout Ladder District was approved by the Board of Fire Commissioners on January 11, 1989, after public hearing. With the special zone established, the voters approved the purchase of the new aerial equipment.
In the meantime, the fire company was fast outgrowing Emergency One. In service for almost ten years, the little van was beginning to show the signs of heavy usage and overburdening. The amount of equipment carried in the van was fast exceeding it’s capacity. It was dangerously overweight as it was and future tool purchases would only worsen matters. A larger vehicle, capable of carrying the equipment safely and accommodating future growth was needed. A committee was formed and specifications were written for a new Resue Truck. After a district vote showed community approval, a contract was awarded for delivery of a new heavy rescue truck.
Nineteen ninety was a big year for Rombout. Within months, two new vehicles were delivered! The Sutphen aerial tower (1500gpm/250Gal) with it’s 100 ft boom and basket was placed in service as Aerial Tower No. 1 and the new rescue truck, built by International Harvester and Marion Body Works, was assigned as Rescue No. 1 Shortly after these deliveries the “Jaws of Life” and most of the equipment on Emergency One were placed on Rescue No. 1, the emergency van was relegated to auxiliary duties and training began on the aerial. Since then, these vehicles have been serving the department well. In 1993, the aging Engine No. 2 was evidently in need of replacement due to growing maintenance expenses and serious safety issues posed by using a 35 year old vehicle. Community approval brought the purchase of a 1994 Sutphen pumper (2000gpm/750gal) to replace the venerable fire engine. Suddenly the fire station that was large at first was full.
The hard work and devotion that the Rombout firefighters exhibit is most evident when tragedy calls them to perform their duties, but the commitment they make goes beyond this. Rombout’s role in protecting it’s community has always gone beyond assisting when tragedy strikes. Disaster preparedness and fire prevention are high priorities to the Fire Company and Fire District. Educational material, special programs, and fire house tours are available through out the year for community groups and visits to the local elementary schools during Fire Prevention Week bring the important message of fire safety to our community’s children. The Rombout Fire Company and Fire District have been and always will be committed to the prevention of accidents of all kinds…” An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
The Rombout Fire Company is a not for profit social organization that acts as the personnel source for the Rombout Fire District. It is headed by Company officers and receives no funding from District Tax money. Given this fact, the many social activities and community services that the fire company provides beyond fire department duties are done so using money obtained by the Company’s numerous fund raising activities. These fund-raisers have included the annual fund drive, coin drops, and 50/50 raffles. Many long time residents may remember the company hosted pancake breakfasts at the headquarters station. These events and more recently the activities of the Rombout Catering Service. (The fire house hall may be rented with food prepared and served by company members for any occasion) have provided the company with the funds needed to remain a positive community force.
Being an active member of the Rombout Fire Company means more than being a firefighter. Members of the company are active members of the community with diverse backgrounds who strive to serve beyond the sound of the alarm. As a fraternal social organization, the Fire Company pools it’s resources to support local activities. Besides actively participating in local and state-wide fire service organizations such as the Firefighters Burn Fund, The Fireman’s Home in Hudson, and Dutchess County Volunteer Firefighters Association, the Fire Company sponsors a town little league team, supports the Town DARE program, and offers a scholarship to local high school students to name a few community activities. Perhaps the most visible community activities that the District and Company participate in are the local parades. Since it’s first triumphant showing in the Hudson Valley Firefighters Association Parade in Beacon on June 19, 1971 the Rombout Fire Company has marched in countless parades throughout the Mid-Hudson Valley, winning a staggering number of awards and trophies. A quick browsing of the trophy cabinet at the fire station is proof of this. The men and women of the Fire Company take great pride in their organization and their equipment. This pride shows in the carefully polished diamond plate of the fire trucks and the impressive showings in parades. Indeed, the residents of Fishkill are represented well by the Fire Company wherever they march.
Rombout has always taken pride in being a genderless and color blind organization. Membership is open to every district resident who is at least 16 years old. While many volunteer companies subscribed to the “Black Ball” membership system (where only a single vote against the applicant meant denial of membership.) during the 1970’s, the Rombout Fire Company relied and still relies on simple majority vote. The challenge of serving as a volunteer firefighter is a rewarding experience that should be open to everybody regardless of race, age, gender, creed, or religion.
In the 27 years since their inception, the Rombout Fire District and Rombout Fire Company have served the community in times of need in a most professional and enthusiastic manner. In only a quarter century, the fire department has gone from a mere idea to an impressive organization with two beautiful buildings, eleven pieces of state of the art fire apparatus, and 50 professional volunteer firefighters. This progress is a result of the commitment of many unsung hero’s in the Company and the community that supports it. The present Fire Department serves as a living memorial to every one of those individuals.
(©) 1996 History Compiled by Marc Breimer from the previous work of William Partridge