On Sunday, Sept. 23, residents of Port Washington and vicinity turned out in large numbers to witness a parade and block party commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the Port Washington Fire Department. The parade marched northbound on Port Washington Boulevard, turned a left on Main Street and ended at Haven Avenue, where a host of rides, food delicacies and the block party reception awaited.
Chief John J. Walters, III, who led the contingent to the patriotic marches of the New York City Police Department's Marching Band, led the parade. After the long ranks of Port Washington firefighters passed in review, they were followed by a large contingent of fire and emergency medical services vehicles. After Port Washington there were numerous bands, and contingents from the many fire departments in Nassau County. The parade passed a reviewing stand opposite the train station on Main Street and turned left onto Haven Avenue. The volunteers set up refreshments for parade participants in the general public who turned out on a warm sunny day to see the parade. The portion of the train station parking lot bordering Haven Avenue was closed to traffic and used to accommodate rides and games for the kids as well as snacks for the many visitors.
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 the 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.
One of the earlier attempts to facilitate cooperation among the newly-formed fire services was the appointment of the chief to command the two existing fire services at fire scenes. In 1894, Protection and Atlantic agreed to appoint a Protection member, Eugene E. Carpenter, as chief for the purpose of commanding both companies at fire scenes. As a result, Carpenter is regarded as the first fire chief of the Port Washington community.
The history of the century-old Port Washington Fire Department has been marked with a consistent, gradual and evolving growth in the varied disciplines of firefighting. The department's evolution never stalled but evolved and adapted to the latest techniques in firefighting and fire prevention.
The decades of the 1970s and 1980s brought about advances in technology and increased government regulations. The fire service became more aware of hazardous materials and personal safety. Federal and state regulations required improved equipment, more accountability at emergency incidents, increased training and better physical fitness of firefighters. These substantial changes occurred in a relatively short period of time.
Along with the increased regulations came more record keeping, reporting and a public demanding more fiscal accountability as well. This burden severely stressed both the administrative and line officers, all of whom had to devote as much time to paperwork as they did to firefighting. In the 1990s, the department altered its structure to include an administrative board of directors and a paid office manager. This was soon followed by the hiring of several personnel to handle the varied maintenance tasks that were previously performed by the volunteer members. This allowed the firefighters to devote their volunteer hours to training, fighting fires and responding to EMS incidents.
The department bears little resemblance to the department and companies of the early years. One common ingredient, however, that has been consistent throughout the past century is the high quality and caliber of the personnel of the department. Many men and women have made substantial efforts to bring the department to what it is today. While it is often the sight of the fire engine and the roar of the sirens that hold our attention, we cannot and should not underestimate the caliber of the men and women who voluntarily serve and provide the backbone that makes the department work.