NORH SALEM, N.Y.--The Croton Falls Volunteer Fire Department has come a long way since it was founded in 1892, when the community’s first first responders answered calls with horse-drawn equipment.
“It wasn’t the department we know now,” said Ted Daros, the department’s president.
Daros is one of many long-time volunteers, joining the fire department at 16 in 1985 and following in the footsteps of his father, Harold, who signed on in 1958. And now, Daros’ 21-year-old son, Teddy, volunteers with the squad, too.
Having three generations of local families on the force at one time is not uncommon, Daros said. Other well-known North Salem families, such as the Outhouses, which own Outhouse Orchards, also have had several generations of volunteers.
Stories that have been passed down from the original members along with photos and various artifacts have given the current crew a solid understanding of the department’s history, adding to the significance of marking its 125 years anniversary.
Notable fires that Daros said his father were dispatched to include the one in 1977 which destroyed the Croton Falls Baptist Church and a 1968 plane crash that made local headlines.
But long before any of that happened, a small group of local tradespeople, farmers and businessmen assembled in 1892 was responsible for battling whatever natural or manmade blaze occurred. Back then, Daros said, they faced frequent brush fires sparked by trains along the tracks and barn fires caused by a combination of poor building standards, flammable materials and heat sources such as coal and wood.
In some years, the fire department simply did not have enough members to be maintained, Daros said. Additionally, its equipment and resources were nothing like they are now.
“A lot of [equipment] was handmade by members or the fire department; they just improvised with what they could get,” Daros explained. “There was no fire district or taxing district.”
The fire district, he said, was formed in 1938.
“Then they could tax, and get money to buy equipment,” he said. The following year, the department purchased its first fire truck, a 1939 Ward LaFrance pumper engine. Refurbished in 2010, the engine will be on display at the 125th anniversary celebration.
The department covers a district of 25 square miles, which includes North Salem and parts of Southeast and Carmel, with a fleet of 14 vehicles.
“We do about 600 to 700 calls a year which vary from fires to automatic fire alarms, EMS calls and traffic accidents,” Daros said.
Now, it’s time to celebrate the people who have contributed to the success of the department and the safety of the community. The celebration will be at Old Salem Farm on Saturday, Oct. 14, Daros said. It will be a catered affair, with a cocktail hour, live music and a display of old apparatus and photos.
“I really wanted this to be something for the members, just a nice night to celebrate and enjoy it and have a good time and let loose a little bit,” Daros said.” It can be stressful, all the calls we go to and always needing to be on call.”
Daros said he expects a turnout of about 300 members and their families. Old Salem Farm was a “perfect place” for the event, he said, because it’s where the department celebrated its 100th anniversary. Choosing a venue that was in town was important to the members as well, Daros said.
The department has 140 members, of which about 60 are active, Daros said. All of the volunteers have jobs outside the department, Daros said. Some are local business owners, farmers, bankers, police officers or professional firefighters. Daros owns Heritage Fuels Inc. in Croton Falls.
Daros recalled how his mother answered a call to one of the department’s most famous fires, the one that destroyed the 100-year-old Croton Falls Baptist Church in 1977, in the middle of the night and dispatched it herself.
Now, when someone calls 911, a dispatcher sends the appropriate fire personnel; back in the day, the number was local and a special phone and radio were installed in select members’ households.
“The local butcher, and then the firehouse, and my father had one,” Daros said. “Someone always had to be on call to answer it.”
The dispatcher, or whoever answered the phone, would take the call, push a button that blew the siren, and talk into the radio announcing the location of the fire. Daros said one or two firefighters might go to get the truck and the others would go straight to the scene, unlike now, where volunteers all meet at the firehouse and then go to the scene together. Most of the volunteers would hear the siren and just head straight to the location.
“That fire siren would blow and they wouldn’t know what it was,” he said. “It could be someone having a heart attack or someone’s house was on fire.”
With no pagers, or cell phones, he said, it “was like something out of a movie.”
The church fire resulted in the purchase of a bigger truck that could hold more water, Daros said. At the time it was the largest in Westchester County, Daros said, a point of pride for the department.
It’s hard to believe some of the advancements that have been made, Daros said, even in the last 30 years since he joined the department.
“When I joined, you could ride the back of the truck and hang on while going to the fire,” he said. “As the trucks got bigger and faster, it became more dangerous to do that.”
Faster, bigger trucks, Daros said, are among the many safety and efficiency advancements the department and the field have made. Another notable difference, he said, is the gear provided to firefighters.
Until recently, firefighters just grabbed whatever gear was available on the truck, Daros explained. Now, firefighters get their own equipment that fits them properly, for safety reasons.
“I’d have to sometimes fit into a size 10 boot or size 11 boot just to fight the fire,” said Daros, who wears a size 13 shoe.
Such hardships, however, are easy for these dedicated civil servants to overlook.
“It takes a special breed,” Daros said. “You do have to be community-oriented. A lot of times when you respond to a call it is [for] a neighbor or friend.”