History of the Saranac Lake Fire Department (part 2)
The Enterprise published a special edition on June 5, 1991, as the 95th Northern New York Volunteer Firemen’s Convention was held here, also to celebrate the centennial celebration of the department, 1891-1991. The Firemen’s Convention was scheduled again in 1992 to celebrate the centennial of the village.
Following is more of the department’s history from a long story:
“In addition to the team races, the department held full-uniform, close-order drills, parades and inter-village competitions in meets with Tupper Lake, Lake Placid, Keeseville and Plattsburgh and the local boys usually took top honors.
“Judge Sheldon, a charter member of the Miller Hose Co., told of one such event held in a neighboring village for a prize of $125. ‘When our boys showed up, the opposition conceded without a contest and handed over the award money, apparently overawed by the appearance of the Saranac Lake contingent.’
“During all celebrations, parades, drills and special occasions the firemen arrayed themselves in their dress blue uniforms with brass buttons, ornate badges and white gloves. The captain carried his shiny, silver megaphone as a sign of his authority. When posed for a formal photograph, they were a handsome group indeed. Judging from those old photographs, it seems a mustache was an essential accoutrement to the uniform of the day.
“Fundraising efforts for the department were first mentioned in 1904 when $200 was appropriated for the fire department. Then a major fundraising campaign appears in the village minutes first on March 27, 1905. This was to be a special election to raise money to erect and equip a fire department building and install a fire alarm system. The resolution was placed on file for further consideration, brought back on June 20, a special election was set for July 11, 1905 but a search of the minutes never revealed the results.
“Over the next couple of years the village voted on a number of fire department purchases for alarm systems, and hose but then in 1910 a proposition was put forth to spend $15,000 for erecting and equipping a two-story fire house.
“A special election was held on March 10, 1911 and the proposition to build the fire house passed 148 to 42.
“The first two ‘fire engines’ to occupy the new quarters were hook and ladder wagons drawn by horses. Early drivers included George Bronson and Fred Manning.
“With the coming of the motor age, the faithful horses were replaced by the first pumper truck which cost $12,500. According to fire department veteran Francis Seymour, the truck is now the possession of John Hawkinson of Harrietstown.” [Francis was correct. This was in the 1960s and I was mayor at the time. The village board agreed with me to sell the truck to my friend John for $50, guessing that, at least, it would be preserved. When John died a couple of years ago, the truck was returned to the fire department.]
“Today, a century after its founding, the department still has highly dedicated personnel [as they do today, 2021, 130 years after its founding], and the latest in life-saving equipment. The fire house has been enlarged to house the new fleet of trucks. The old Adirondack Hotel, later known as the Murphy Block, was razed to make room for the expansion.
“On Thursday, March 11, the firehouse itself was threatened by fire when a storage shed at the Branch & Callanan Lumber company, located to the rear of the fire house, burst into flames. ‘The firehouse itself was on fire for several minutes near the top of the building and the chunks of stucco peeled and fell from the brick of the building,’ according to Enterprise files. ‘The nearly completed addition to the firehouse was slightly damaged in the rear and the panes of glass were broken by the heat and later smashed to the floor as the heavy spray from the hoses was moved along the building.’
“Fire — it’s a word that rings with fear and excitement. Crowds gather and watch the hoses play on the roofs or on the grass, depending on the type of fire it is. Engines, pumpers, tankers, snorkels and first responder vehicles draw to a scene, and people dressed in rubber, wearing helmets, with oxygen packs, throw up ladders and risk their lives for other people to save lives and property.”
Marc Wanner, who has created a great web page for Historic Saranac Lake, has a news clipping published in the Plattsburgh Sentinel, Dec. 8, 1887, which reads “Saranac Lake has just organized a fire department.”
Another news clipping from the Franklin Gazette, Dec. 23, 1887 — Saranac Lake — which reads “Last week a fire company was organized at this place.”
The fire department records claim the fire department was organized in 1891. So much for history …?
The Enterprise story of 1991 was written by Susan Colt — Susan Colt Doolittle. Susan, a lawyer, and her husband Bill Doolittle purchased the Enterprise from Jim Loeb and Roger Tubby in the early 1970s. They brought the Enterprise into a new age and moved from the ancient hot-type operation in the old Enterprise building at 76 Main St. to the present location at 54 Broadway, the former A&P grocery store.
It was not my first stint working in the new Enterprise building. In the 1950s, when I was employed as a printer and linotype operator at the Enterprise, I was working part-time bagging groceries at the A&P.