The Nyack Fire Department’s 150th Anniversary

This month will see a large parade in Nyack as our volunteer firefighters from the Nyack Fire Dept. celebrate their 150th anniversary.

I can’t fit all the history of our fire department in the space allotted for my column; the last written history was 191 pages long.  I’m confident you’ll read other accounts of the history, from its formation in 1863, with Orangetown Fire Engine Co. No. 1, Mazeppa Fire Engine Co. No. 2 and Empire Hook & Ladder Co. No. 1.

I would like to take a slightly different look back on those 150 years.  If we estimate calls for fires or other emergencies were logged in an average of 3 times a week, then the NFD would have answered 18,250 alarms—a great deal of time spent away from their jobs or families.

Of those alarms our firefighters have battled some very serious conflagrations, probably thousands, and unfortunately I also estimate more than fifty lives have been lost in Nyack fires.  Actual fire department records are unavailable to me, so from just what I can learn from reading old newspapers, I’ve put together a partial list of your neighbors who lost their lives.

In June, 1875 Mrs. Archer was fatally burned in a fire at the St. Nicholas Hotel stables on Burd St.  Three year-old Ruth Griswold burned to death when a kerosene lamp exploded in her South Nyack home in March 1880.  Homeless Civil War veteran John Harrington asked for permission to sleep in the Nyack lockup on June 5, 1881. He perished when a flash fire swept the jail at 3am.  The South Nyack home of Rev. Ross Taylor was destroyed by fire on October 22, 1894, killing his four children: Arthur 11, Harriet 9, Ada 7 and Bert 5.  In July 1919, the Aniline Dye works on Cedar Hill Avenue exploded, killing three workers.  John “Boomer” Barnes died from suffocation in the Up-To-Date Laundry fire, where he lived, in December 1950.  Four small Harris children burned to death in a locked apartment fire at 129 Burd Street on September 5, 1958. Their mother left to do an errand.  Dead were Maker Jr. 4, Betty Lou 2, Darsia 1 and their baby sister Robin. The Graycourt apartment house burned in a horrific fire on January 20, 1959 killing Gladys Caine, Alice Freedman and Mary Narrido.

George Williams Sr., his wife and daughter were overcome in a smoky fire in their Prospect Street home on November 5, 1962.  Dr. Thornton Clark died from the effects of a fire in his dental office over the A&P on Broadway on April 27, 1968.  Two year-old Collin Dugger and his sister, Gail, 4, lost their lives on April 24, 1964, in a smoky fire on the corner of Piermont Avenue & Burd Street despite a valiant rescue attempt by Donald Price of Fire Patrol.  On a cold New Year’s Day 1970, a fire at Steve’s Bar & Grill on Main Street left 5 men dead.  Seven month-old Steven Moise died in a horrible fire at 6 South Broadway on March 2, 1971.  Charles Johnson was convicted of murdering his wife, Ella and children Charlene and Charles, after he set fire to their apartment at 83 Main Street on March 24, 1972.  Young David Nolan died in a fire at his home on South Midland Avenue on December 13, 1974.  Fire claimed the life of Nai W. Chin in 1986 as he tried removing a burning mattress from an apartment above his laundry at 84 South Broadway.   On April 20, 1986, 22 year-old Steven Starett plunged to his death on Hook Mountain. Climbers from NFD’s High-Angle Rescue team spent hours recovering his remains.

Alice Jones, an elderly resident of the Nyack Senior Apartments, died from smoke on December 13, 1988.  Paula Miller died in a horrendous explosion and fire at the Mobil Station on 9W on March 30, 1996.

Dr. Milton Salkin drowned when a water-taxi overturned in the Hudson River off Nyack on August 28, 1998.   Of course I can’t forget to mention four Nyack Firemen who lost their lives helping their neighbors. Gomer E. Morgan was killed in a boat fire on August 10, 1926.  Peter Sinnot died of injuries he received in a horrible accident in February 1980, and both Welles Crowther and Harry Wanamaker Jr. gave their lives helping others in connection with the tragedy at the World Trade Center 2011.

These are but a few of your neighbors who perished in fires or accidents despite the valiant efforts of the volunteers of the NFD.

Congratulations on 150 years of service to all my fellow firefighters and THANK YOU for your service!

The Nyack Villager thanks Jim Leiner for helping us all ‘Remember the Days .’

The Nyack Villager thanks Mr. Leiner for many of the photographs from the Fire Dept. archives.