Written by Peter T. Cavallaro Friday, 16 July 2010 00:00
Something about the story sounds oddly familiar: on an ordinary July day, a dedicated group of founding fathers assembled together with a bold idea in mind. The year, however, was 1910, not 1776; and the plan of these eleven men was to organize a fire company that would serve the potato-farming hamlet which some still called Frog Hollow. Now, a full century later, the Carle Place Fire Department (CPFD) has emerged as a paragon of true professionalism and a beloved fixture of the small community it was originally created to serve. Earlier this month, the grateful residents of Carle Place joined their department in commemorating this important hundred-year milestone and in paying homage to its rich legacy.
Between Thursday, July 1, and Saturday, July 3, as part of its centennial celebrations, the CPFD hosted a carnival on the grounds of Carle Place High School. Attractions included rides, games, food, music, two fireworks displays and even a makeshift beer garden set up along Cherry Lane. The festivities culminated Saturday evening with a parade down Westbury Avenue to the school grounds which also saw participation from nine neighboring departments: Albertson, Bethpage, Deer Park, Farmingdale, Garden City Park, Hicksville, Oceanside, Uniondale and Westbury.
According to former Captain Daniel Iglesias, Sr., a 40-year veteran of the Department, the anniversary celebration was “really the first of its kind.” Although the CPFD had also commemorated its 75th anniversary in 1985, the sheer magnitude and level of excitement surrounding the recent centennial event were truly unparalleled in department history. Charlie Giblin, the department’s current head chief, explained that the organization purposely wanted the celebration to be something of unprecedented scope which would involve and energize the entire community. “We wanted to do something special and share our celebration with the Carle Place residents themselves. After all, without this community we wouldn’t have a reason to exist,” said Giblin.
Indeed, for the last hundred years, the CPFD has had a visible and crucial presence in the Carle Place community. Officially known since 1916 as the Carle Place Hook, Ladder & Hose Company #1, the fledging fire company initially fought fires with buckets of water and wooden ladders, which it conveyed to the scenes of emergencies using a single horse-drawn wagon. In order to summon the volunteers, the company warden would strike a piece of steel with a hammer to unleash a resonating gong throughout the hamlet. According to the Department website, it was not until 1920 that the company received its first apparatus, a used motor truck, which was donated by Mrs. R. Bacon of Old Westbury (the namesake of Bacon Road) out of gratitude for fighting a fire on her estate.
As times changed, however, so did the Carle Place Fire Department. Amidst the rush of the post-war suburban migration, the department – and Carle Place itself – underwent a period of significant expansion. Long Island was no longer a region of agriculture, and it quickly became necessary for the CPFD to adapt to meet the unique challenges of the new residential landscape. In 1952, prompted by a skyrocketing membership, the department moved its headquarters to its current location at 460 Broadway. During the ensuing decades, as the department’s operations continued to expand, the firehouse underwent additional enlargements in 1965 and again 1978.
Today, the CPFD boasts over 80 members and is led by Head Chief Giblin and President William Weingarten. The department also currently possesses six vehicle apparatuses, including two engines, a rescue truck, two ambulances and a ladder tower. “I’ve watched us get a lot of new and advanced equipment over the years, and we take good care of it!” laughed Fire Inspector Donald Tempone, who has been active since 1967 and has witnessed major changes to the department. Yet, as he was also quick to add, “one thing has remained constant: we always want to make sure we are in the best condition to serve.”
Serving the community seems to be exactly what the Carle Place Fire Department has done relentlessly since its inception in 1910: last year alone, the CPFD responded to an astonishing 800 calls – a considerable amount for a comparatively small department. According to Chief Giblin, “Although we are considered one of the smaller departments on Long Island, proportionately we are actually one of the busiest because of the number of calls we respond to.” The CPFD’s official zone of operation includes all of Carle Place, as well as parts of Westbury up to Ellison Avenue. Beyond this jurisdiction, however, the department often supplies mutual aid assistance to nearby localities whenever necessary. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, the full range of this mutual aid assistance was pushed to the unthinkable extreme when the CPFD was initially summoned into Queens and had by nightfall deployed to the site of the World Trade Center itself.
Yet the Department’s community role has come to transcend its primary task of fighting fires: the organization also helps to welcome home returning troops and sends medical personnel to assist at Special Olympics events. In addition, the department maintains a high community profile through its perennial participation in the Family Fun Run and its role in organizing Carle Place’s annual Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony. Alex Kruk, a lifelong Carle Place resident who has been a CPFD member for 12 years, described part of the Department’s appeal as stemming from its role as a medium for service. “When you live in a small town like this, where everybody knows each other, you feel a need to give something back. The fire department definitely provides that opportunity,” said Kruk.
For those who have been involved with the organization, the CPFD also commands a distinct social appeal. Among other things, the department holds an internal social event approximately every two months, including most recently a Hawaiian-themed luau at the firehouse. Prospective members are eligible to join at any age between 18 and 50, but the CPFD also runs a Junior Department and an Explorer Program for kids of high school age who are interested in getting involved. Moreover, the Carle Place Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary has existed since 1939 and plays a pivotal role in fundraising and administrative activities.
The CPFD always solicits new membership and encourages anyone interested in firefighting or rescue to consider joining its ranks. Before initiation, however, prospective members will be required to complete several training courses. “It can be very tough for young people to stay involved nowadays,” said Iglesias, acknowledging the pressures of educational and other social commitments. “But I would still encourage them to give it a shot.” In fact, most longtime members seem to agree that their participation in the CPFD has been one of the most worthwhile endeavors of their lives. “The Fire Department is something that [as a member] you either love or you hate . . . and I fell in love with it. Anyone in the community who’s interested should come down and talk to us. . . . For me, it’s been a truly wonderful experience,” said Giblin.
One hundred years ago this month, in July 1910, a ragtag fire company was formed by 11 intrepid men who sought to make a difference in the community they adored. Now, a century later, the venerable successors of those firefighters continue to keep the flame of that spirit alive (pun intended). The farms and the frogs have long since vanished from this area, but the Carle Place Fire Department is most certainly here to stay – and it indeed plays a more critical role now than ever. The department can now, at long last, gaze contentedly back with pride on an entire century of illustrious past, but in so doing it will no doubt also wish to set its sights on anticipating the challenges of its future as it enters its second century of life.