(Editor's Note: This year marks the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Port Washington Fire Department. This article and attendant photos draw upon the extensive history of the department as recorded on the department's website pwfdhistory.com/ primarily as a result of the efforts of former Chief of Department Peter J. Zwerlein. Future articles will touch on many aspects of the Port Washington Fire Department. Port Washington News hopes that this series of articles brings to light the great efforts of those in our voluntary fire department for the services performed for the Port Washington community).
To understand the present Port Washington Fire Department, it is necessary to examine the original three companies that would be unified in 1907 and the Fire Medic Company formalized in 1979 to form the department we know today. The three original fire companies in Port Washington, Atlantic Hook & Ladder, Protection Engine and Flower Hill Hose were organized years before the Port Washington Fire Department was formed. The three companies operated independently of a central command until 1907 when they consolidated to form the Port Washington Fire Department. The names of the original companies have been retained and serve to identify the units in the department.
The claim to be the first fire company in Port Washington goes to the Atlantic Hook and Ladder Company No. 1, which was organized by Charles Ephraim Baxter and a group of 26 citizens in 1886. Two years later in 1888, the first firetruck at a cost of $407 was delivered to Atlantic and in 1890 Atlantic was incorporated.
In 1891, Atlantic purchased a lot on Carleton Avenue which, to this day, is where its quarters are maintained. The two-story house, at a cost of $3,700, was built on the property and uses a combination public hall and firehouse. The Long Island Railroad came to Port Washington in 1898 and, since it was located inland away from the old village, centered around the present location of the town dock, resulted in the great expansion in population in the center of the Manhasset Peninsula. Atlantic proposed and instituted a bell alarm system which gave each locality seeking fire services a distinct number of rings. In addition, Atlantic arranged for the use of the Long Island Railroad steam train whistles to sound the alarm.
In 1891, a group of citizens realized the need for additional fire service services and equipment in Port Washington and organized Protection Engine. Their representatives signed a contract with Rumsey & Co. of Seneca Falls, NY, for a hand fire engine mounted on a two-wheeled cart for the sum of $825. The acquisition of this equipment, nicknamed the Rumsey, now afforded the support for Protection Engine to become a legitimate engine company. In 1892, the official papers were approved by the Town of North Hempstead and Protection Engine became a reality.
In 1905, another group of citizens saw the need for additional fire protection in a growing Port Washington community. Under the guidance and leadership of Frederick J. Snow, a retired battalion chief of the Brooklyn Fire Department who had recently moved to Port Washington, a new fire company was organized. The newly formed fire company took its name from the Flower Hill section of town, which was located in the area of the train station on Middle Neck Road (Port Washington Boulevard) and Flower Hill Avenue, which in later years would become Main Street.
Flower Hill was partially organized with the assistance of some former members of Atlantic and Protection. Flower Hill joined the other two existing fire companies and immediately started working and cooperating with each other. At a company meeting two committees were appointed - one for building and one for hose and other necessary equipment. The committee immediately secured the use of a piece of property at the southwest corner of Middle Neck Road and Flower Hill Avenue (currently the location of North Fork Bank) for the newly formed company. The members built a small one-story firehouse in June 1905.
On December 27, 1905, a lot was purchased on Railroad Avenue (now known as Haven Avenue) for the sum of $400. This would now make it possible for the company to own its land and have its firehouse in the center of the thriving community that was in need of greater fire protection and closer to the members' homes. Flower Hill remains on Haven Avenue to the present day.
Fire Medic did not exist prior to the consolidation in 1907. In 1927, the members of the Port Washington Fire Department first saw the need for an ambulance in the community and purchased a 1917 army surplus ambulance for $50. The PWFD members successfully performed this function along with their firefighting duties for the next 51 years before Fire Medic was formed.
Prior to 1907, fire department fire companies operated independently of any central command and fighting fires was a cooperative effort. In 1894, Protection Engine and Atlantic Hook and Ladder agreed to appoint a Protection member, Eugene E. Carpenter, as chief for the purpose of commanding both companies at a fire scene. Although the fire department wasn't yet consolidated, Carpenter was the first fire chief of the Port Washington community.
(Next article: The Three Companies Consolidate to Form a Department)