A decade after the Lakeview Fire Department was founded in 1909, many of the farmers who lived along Hempstead Turnpike in West Hempstead launched the Victory Chemical and Hose Co. No. 1 in 1919. Local farmers Frank Duryea and his brother, Edwin, were instrumental in developing the organization. Land for a headquarters on the turnpike was purchased from Alice Bailey for $500, raised through the sale of tickets to strawberry festivals, dances and social events held by the women’s auxiliary.
Since its inception, the West Hempstead Fire Department has been a place of safety, pride and recreation for members of the community. Its current members hope to promote that as they prepare to celebrate 100 years with a parade and block party on Saturday at 5 p.m.
“People in communities nowadays don’t realize the significance of the early fire departments to life on Long Island,” said Lesley McAvoy, vice president of the West Hempstead Historical Society. “They created a deep connection between the members of a community for a common goal — safety and profitable farms and businesses.”
West Hempstead F.D. President Bill D’Alessandro said that many of its volunteers see their efforts as a “true calling.” “It’s the thrill of going into a fire and the joy of helping to save someone’s life,” D’Alessandro said. “They fall in love with it, and I think that’s why we’ve been around all these years.”
D’Alessandro, a member of the department since 1977, said that its success is attributable, in part, to the fact that many volunteers came from families. Many current firefighters are second- and third-generation volunteers, including D’Alessandro. He is the youngest of six children, all of whom volunteered for the fire department, along with his parents.
“Growing up, it was a big family affair for many families in this community,” he said. “It’s something that many of us were born into, and that’s what makes this place special.”
D’Alessandro added that his wife, Karen, who joined the department’s emergency medical services crew and the Ladies Auxiliary in 1991, also came from a long line of firefighters.
“I had a unique experience growing up around my grandfather, my mother and my siblings at the firehouse,” Karen recalled. “Once I became involved, I had a lot of people looking out for me, and that family mentality has kind of rubbed off on the rest of the Fire Department since then.”
The department has undergone numerous changes over the years, including the growth of the EMS crew, the use of newer fire trucks, and increasing volunteer opportunities through programs such as the Nassau County Fire Service Academy. Another change is that more firefighters are working numerous jobs.
“Being a volunteer firefighter takes up an awful lot of time,” D’Alessandro said. “It’s hard to live in Nassau County nowadays, so today’s volunteers are making a lot of sacrifices.”
The D’Alessandros agreed that reconnecting with firefighters from the past would be their favorite part of Saturday’s celebration. “Not a lot of old-timers are around anymore,” Karen said, “so it’ll be pretty cool to see everyone from multiple generations in one place. It’s a great chance to hear their stories, and for younger people to share those stories in the future.”
Saturday’s parade will start in the West Hempstead Public Library’s parking lot on Hempstead Avenue.