The Almond Volunteer Fire Department

For 125 years, men and women in the Almond Volunteer Fire Company have been committed to the protection and safety of life and property. These volunteers have formed frantic bucket brigades and raced down the streets pulling their hose cart, hoping to save a burning building. They have given up family picnics and personal time to train in the use of modern-day firefighting techniques, and have become proficient in the use of expensive, complex equipment. They have mourned with their fellow citizens at the time of property and personal loss, and they have grieved at the passing of their fellow firefighters.

Such a feeling of loss occurred in August, when former fire chief Bill Snyder died unexpectedly. He joined the fire company when he was 18, and spent the remainder of his life devoted to the fire company. Personal comments shared about Bill were these: “He believed in being the best you could be. . .he knew his business . . he would not send you into a fire if he would not go himself. . . he had forgotten more about firefighting than most of us will ever remember . . .”

A life member of the Almond Fire Company, Bill served as chief for about 10 years, taking up the reins after the longtime tenure of the chief before him, Wayne Kellogg. He became Allegany County district coordinator for Almond, Alfred Station, Alfred, and Andover, and this past January was named deputy fire coordinator for the entire county. In those capacities, he was called to the scene of fires throughout the county, assisting the chief of the host department order equipment, set up command centers, and organize the firefighting operation.

To date, around $1000 in memorial donations in Bill’s name have come into the fire company, and will be used toward the purchase of a new tanker. Fundraising for this project has been ongoing within the fire company, and recently other community organizations have stepped forward to help. The goal of $100,000 is a long way off, but the firemen are undaunted in their efforts to replace the old tanker, which leaks and needs replacing.

Most of us are more appreciative of the firemen in our towns since the tragedy of 9/11. But how many times do we stop and think about the early beginnings of these organizations when firefighting methods were much different?

Once again, the Hagadorn House archives room gives us an historical perspective of the Almond Fire Company in a full-page feature story that appeared in Evening Tribune on July 14, 1962. The headlines read: "Almond Volunteer Fire Department Notes 65th Year; Began with Buckets and Well in Center of Village." Written forty years ago, the story starts with the fact that the original fire company was organized in 1897 by a group of ten men, one of whom, Emmett Palmer, was still living in Almond at that time. That may give the nonagenarian the record for local firefighter longevity: 65 years as of that date! Some of his recollections made up the account, which reads: “At first, the only equipment available for fighting fires was a borrowed ladder and loaned buckets and pails. A large well was located at the corner of Park and Main Street, equipped with a pump, which was to supply water in time of fire.

“The well, which was about ten feet across and twelve feet deep, has since been covered up and is no longer used. Before the firemen owned a truck, all of the men in the community would rush to the fire and form a bucket brigade at the scene. One line of men would pass the buckets of water to the fire, and the other line of men would return the empty buckets to the water source for refilling,” the Tribune article explains.

In those days, a man’s fire bucket was a valuable possession, probably even a requirement. The Hagadorn House museum is the proud keeper of the leather fire bucket of Moses VanCampen, who came to this valley in 1796 with the original band of settlers. The archives reveal this local ordinance fire buckets from Cuba, NY, 1851: “Every occupant of any building in which there is a fire kept shall furnish himself with one leather fire bucket and a ladder of sufficient length to reach the housetop.” These were to be kept in a convenient place. A fine of one dollar and cost of collection was imposed for the violation of the above ordinance.

The Tribune narrative continues: “In the early days of fire fighting in Almond, there was no siren to summon the firemen to a blaze. Instead, the church bells would ring continuously sometimes for several minute to notify the people of a fire. In 1901, the group was reorganized and the men purchased a hose cart equipped with a chemical tank, paid for by contributions of business men and residents of the community. The equipment was maintained by a small tax levied on property in the community.

“On the man-drawn hose cart was a 25-gallon tank which carried the chemical used to fight fires. When traveling with the cart, the tank was in an upright position. After reaching the scene of the fire, the tank was quickly turned upside down, and a foam was formed by the mixing of the chemical and soda. This mixture was produced with quite a large amount of pressure, and many times was responsible for the saving of a building. “This tank would provide foam for fighting fires for around three-quarters of an hour, at which time water would have to be placed in the tank to produce more of the fire-extinguishing solution,” the story reads.

Notes taken from remembrances of Garland Larkin, also found in the Hagadorn House archives, confirm the hardships under which the firemen worked. Recalling the fire that destroyed the hotel owned by R. J. Bennett, located across the street from the Hagadorn Hardware Store, he stated: “It was seldom you could put out a fire. The fire truck was hand drawn and used a mixture of Arm and Hammer soda. I remember he tried to go back in and wanted to die with the hotel. It was never rebuilt.

“My dad was janitor of the schoolhouse, the Methodist Church and also the Presbyterian. When a fire broke out he would go up to the schoolhouse and ring the bell and I would go over to the church and ring that one. Had to toll that one, as I couldn’t ring it. Nearly everyone in town would be at the fires. I remember one time Jerry Marvin’s home burned down and they ran out of soda and Vern Fenner, who ran the grocery store went up and brought down all the soda he had in stock.

Newspaper articles in the archives files also describe the tragic fire that took the life of Fred VanOrman in 1917, fought bravely by firemen with primitive equipment. “A hastily formed bucket brigade did all in its power to get into the burning house to save the unforunate man, but the flames drove them back every time in spite of their heroic efforts,” the Tribune reported.

It wasn’t until 1921 that the fire company was able to replace the hand-drawn tank cart with motorized equipment, it appears. That year, the Village was incorporated, and the Village residents voted to purchase an American France 500-gallon pump on a Brockway truck, equipped with chemical tank and 200 feet of chemical hose. Also included in the purchase was enough 2 ˝ inch hose to extend from the creek to any house in the corporation limits, as well as a second hand Model T Ford , on which the chemical tank and hose from the hose cart was mounted.

The problem of where to keep the new equipment was a challenge, according to the account, as it was necessary to store it in various buildings and sheds in the Village, including the site of the Kant U Kum Inn (Muhleisen’s), Percy McIntosh’s farm equipment building (John Flint’’s) , and a shed behind Kellogg’s Store (no longer standing). The firemen held their meetings in the Old Greene Hotel, where Elbert Palmer’s store stood.

The 1962 Tribune article continues: “When Mrs. Fannie Bertram, Almond’s lady barber, died in the early 1930’s, the Village negotiated to purchase the building which housed her barber shop and living quarters for use as firehall. The building was remodeled with the large front area serving as a garage for the two fire trucks a back room used for firemen’s meetings, and the upstairs renovated as an apartment. Ernest Bird, fire chief, and his family now reside there. Also completed during 1934 was the Village water system, providing fire protection to residents by the installation of hydrants.”

Since the Village owned the fire equipment, residents of the Village were the ones for whom fire protection was provided. In the mid-40s, residents within a two-mile radius of the Fire Hall organized and petitioned for the establishment of a rural fire district. A committee, comprised of the late Clinton Gillette, Joan Hoard and Francis L. Grimes, “was appointed to do everything they could to carry out the project,”” according to the 1946 Almond Volunteer Fire Department Yearbook. The official five-year agreement, signed the first day of December, 1947, between the Village of Almond and the Fire Protection District of the Town of Almond, bound the Village to furnish fire protection to residents within two miles of the fire hall at a cost of $100 per year for the year 1948, and $150 each year thereafter. Signers were Village of Almond Mayor John Johnson, Clerk Florence Lincoln, and Clair Kellogg, Town Supervisor, representing the Almond Fire Protection District.

Over the next fifteen years, several attempts were made to increase fire protection to serve the entire township. Newspaper accounts indicate “groups of rural residents have been seeking extension of the fire protection district for some time, as there was no guarantee that the fire company would answer calls outside the two-mile limits.” In March 1963, the agreement was reached with the Town to pay $2000 per year, culminating “innumerable discussion sessions between village and town officials, officials of the fire company, and Attorney Reginald Sootheran,” the newspaper reported.

Through the years, trucks were replaced and more modern equipment was added. One of the worst fires in recent memory was the Palmer fire in 1967, when an entire business block, including Al Palmer’s Sporting Goods and M&D Auto Supply, along with the upstairs apartments, was totally consumed and destroyed.

The Flood of 1972 taxed the endurance and patience of everyone, but the firemen did a noble job in alerting residents and protecting property throughout the ordeal, which lasted several days. One good result was the construction of a new municipal building, shared both by the town and village and providing headquarters for the Almond Fire Department.

The members of the fire company continue to be dedicated to the community, and to their work as firefighters and rescue personnel. They are working hard to upgrade their skills and replace deteriorating equipment. Donations from persons interested in assisting with this endeavor can be mailed to PO box 256, Treasurer, Almond Fire Company, Almond, NY 14804. This is one way we can show our appreciation for their loyalty and diligence in guarding our property and lives.