The Baldwin Volunteer Fire Department celebrated its 125th anniversary Aug. 12 by hosting a drill and New York state old-fashioned tournament, as well as a parade, that started at Milburn Avenue and ended at Baldwin Fire Department headquarters on Merrick Avenue.
Firefighters from across Long Island competed in the drills, scored for speed and accuracy. The Bellmore Ballbreakers became the 2021 New York State Old Fashioned Champions.
The parade started at Millburn Avenue and Eastern Boulevard, traveled north to Merrick Road, west to Grand Avenue and then north to the headquarters. A block party followed afterward. Chief Joseph Sotira and the officers and members of the Freeport Fire Department took first place in the 2nd Battalion Parade, as well as first place overall for the day.
The parade featured antique and modern fire apparatuses, including Baldwin’s 1951 Ahrens-Fox pumper, which led the parade with the procession’s grand marshal, Ex-Chief Thomas FitzSimons, a 56-year veteran of the fire service. FitzSimons said, “To me, it’s an honor to be the one chosen for it…We are there [for our community]; if they need help, we are there 24/7.”
Baldwinites Kameron Roy, 12, and Ryan Healey, 13, attended the parade with their parents and friends for the first time. Both friends said they would attend a parade like this next year. “There’s a lot of fire engines,” Healey said. “The music is nice, and I like the rain because it cools everyone off.”
Not only were the departments of the 2nd Battalion Fire Districts present, including Baldwin, Freeport, Island Park, Long Beach, Oceanside, and Point Lookout-Lido, but also local departments, drill teams, junior organizations and elected officials from across Long Island, including County Executive Laura Curran, Town Supervisor Don Clavin, Councilman Anthony D’Esposito, Town Clerk Kate Murray, Councilman Bruce Blakeman and Senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby.
County Legislator Debra Mulé, of Freeport, said, "I was delighted to see the Baldwin community come out to celebrate the spirit of volunteerism that has inspired generation after generation of residents to step up and serve as volunteer firefighters."
According to Glenn F. Sitterly’s “The Illustrated Story of Baldwin, Long Island, NY,” on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 1896, the Baldwin General Store at the corner of Merrick Road and Grand Avenue, just blocks from the current fire department headquarters, caught fire when a kerosene lantern accidentally fell on the floor.
Volunteer firefighters from Freeport arrived and extinguished the blaze, as Baldwin didn’t have its own fire department. This prompted a concerned group of Baldwin residents to hold a meeting in the post office just two days later to discuss forming their own fire department.
On Feb. 8, 1986, Charles Smith was elected president and John Carl, vice president, and the Fire Department was officially created. The first two companies of the Baldwin Fire Department — Hose Co. 1 and Hook & Ladder Co. 1 — were formed a month later, on March 5. Then, in the fall of 1897, the first firehouse was built on Prospect and Grand avenues.
The Baldwin Fire Department is not only composed of Hose Co. 1 and Hook & Ladder Co. 1. In 1913, Hose Co. 2 was formed, at Church Street and Verity Lane, to attend to the south of the community. In 1922, Hose Co. 3 was created to serve a rapidly growing north end by the Long Island Rail Road on Baldwin Avenue, just west of Grand Avenue.
In 1938, the First Aid Company, located at Baldwin Fire Department headquarters on Grand Avenue, was precipitated by an urgent need of medical service in the community. Owing to an increase in housing developments, on Aug. 15, 1951, the board of fire commissioners authorized the formation of Hose Co. 2 and Hook & Ladder Co. 2, whose new quarters on Grand Avenue and Rose Boulevard were completed in August 1952.
Baldwin Fire Department members were on site in 1919 when a U.S. Navy Star Shell Plant building exploded, killing two. They also were present during the most disastrous event in Baldwin's history, the Sunrise Highway explosion of 1926, when gas used for interior illumination accidentally exploded, killing two people and injuring 12.