The history of the West Hempstead Fire Department

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Ten years after the Lakeview Hook and Ladder Company was founded, the citizen’s fire brigade activities of West Hempstead farmers living along Hempstead Turnpike led to the incorporation of the Victory Chemical and Hose Co. No. 1 in 1919. Local famers Frank Duryea and his brother, Edwin, were instrumental in developing this organization. Land to build a department was purchased from Alice Bailey along the turnpike for $500 by selling tickets to strawberry festivals, dances and social events held by the women’s auxiliary. Mirschel’s Lumber on Hempstead Turnpike got the contract to build the first Victorian style firehouse. The Chestnut Street School bell was used to alert the company of a fire.

The West Hempstead Fire Department was a source of safety, pride and recreation for the members of the community. The men competed as the Westerners at fire drills and skills competitions, many of which, were preceded by parades. One time, the team even marched in a parade with their mascot “Big Rosie” the elephant. The women formed an auxiliary and junior group as well. Oftentimes, firemen dressed as Santa Claus during the holidays, and sometimes, they would jump from the roof of St. Giles Hospital for the Crippled into safety nets.

The Westerners have won first place in the New York State Drill Competitions in 1937, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1951 and 2012. The Westerners also won the National Championship at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City. These competitions promoted camaraderie and skills mastery with hoses, ladders and fast moving vehicles. Today, many of West Hempstead’s firemen are second- and third-generation volunteers.

–Lesley McAvoy