First published November 3, 1983: Just a little late for Fire Prevention Week this year I came upon a clipping from an old paper dated Sept. 10, 1885. I found it to be full of information concerning the beginning of our fine Westfield Fire Department. It started with the statement that no consecutive history of the Westfield Fire Department had ever been written nor were the records preserved which might furnish materials for a historian. Then it went on to relate a pretty good history of the department, probably from the reporter's memory. "The first fire company in this town was in the fall of 1872. The burning of the Presbyterian Church, a few months previous, was a lesson not soon to be forgotten. Not until then did the citizens realize the danger to which they were exposed, without any protection against fire. From that time on the question was agitated until the hook and ladder company was organized by B.F. Rynd, then president of the village. Herman Sixby was the first foreman. In the spring of 1873 the department was reinforced by the organization of the Cascade company." It soon became necessary to provide permanent headquarters for the engine and trucks, which up to this time had been kept in some barn or shop. On Sept. 10, 1873, the date of the first annual parade of the fire department, the corner stone of Fireman's Hall on North Portage Street was laid with appropriate ceremonies by the Masonic fraternity. W.S. Gleason acted as deputy grand master. H.C. Kingsbury in his speech that day said, "Hitherto we have been behind our neighbors. But we are proud of what we have, and probably feel very much like a boy with his first pair of boots, and yet, in observing our movements, will likely regard us in about the same way that a man does a boy with his new boots. "A little over one year ago a fire broke out in a small building nearly opposite the Presbyterian Church, in the broad light of day, when discovered, and after ample time for assistance to arrive, a well organized company of men under an efficient leader, could have almost stamped it out; and yet for want of ladders, organization and concentrated effort, that fire soon threatened our whole village, and it was not arrested until public and private property to the value of many thousands of dollars was destroyed." Present at the laying of the corner stone were 494 invited guests: Dunkirk Independent Hose Co. No. 3, with 30 members and Fredonia Band, 13. Fredonia Fire Co. No. 1, 41 members, Kehr's Band, 18 members Deluge Fire Co. of Jamestown, 31 members, Jamestown Band, 18 members. The Masonic Fraternity, 250 strong, and the Mayville Band of eight members. The Westfield Fire Department numbered 123. "Looking at it through the different phases of its history and growth from 1872 down to the present (1885) an unbiased opinion must be that the department has been a success and a blessing. The seven large fires it has been called to combat have been: The Presbyterian Church, Judge Campbell's house, Fire Corner of Market and Main, Brick Block South Portage Street, E.H. Dickerman's residence, The Westfield House and block, and The Brewer Block." Apparently this article was written at about the time of a firemen's celebration as the last paragraph had this to say, "They have done their work in each case bravely and successfully, and stand to-day second to none in the county in point of efficiency. During the last year the men have earned this day's holiday and every citizen should do something to show them the respect they deserve." And now, almost a hundred years later, the community still feels that it owes our faithful firemen not only an occasional day's holiday and our respect but also a debt of gratitude for serving us so well these many years. Marybelle Beigh is the current Public Historian for the Town and Village of Westfield. Her office is located at 3 East Main Street in Westfield, N.Y, 14787 - inside Parkview Ice Cream Parlor. Her scheduled office hours are Monday through Friday 9 to 11 a.m.; other hours by appointment. Beigh can be reached at email@example.com or by calling 326-2457 (office), 326-6171 (home) or 397-9254 (cell).
Photo courtesy Patterson Library
Westfield firemen in front of Old Fire Hall on North Portage Street in May of 1898. Someone had attempted to identify the men as (row 1, l to r) Miller, Madigan, Beckman, McLake, Charley Hill, Mosher, unknown, Pfeffer, Kolpien; (row 2) Ed Votley, Henry Miller, Charlie Groat, Grover, William Groth, Beckman, Baker, Bill Ford, unknown, Bill Keopka. The North Portage Street Fire Hall was in use until it [was damaged by fire] in 1923. In 1924 headquarters were located on Elm Street until the present fire hall at the corner of Clinton and Market streets was built in recent years.