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Saranac Lake Fire Department (1891-2021)

Photo from 1960 firemen’s convention program. Back row from left: Ed Duso, Ray Noble, ?, Jack Sweeney, Vern Wamsganz, Bill Davis, Dick Burman, Carl Smith, Harrison Kent, ?, Jim Kilroy. Front row from left: Preston Burl, ?, Chuck Pandolph, ?, Chief Francis Gladd, Chet Fobare, Dick Yorkey, Bob Finn. Standing by the trucks in the rear are full-time drivers Leo Maple on the left, Francis Seymour on the right. (Firemen identified by Rick Yorkey and Kent Robinson.)

We are all proud of the men and women who make up the Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department and the first responders.

As we thank them for their service, please recognize that they are the people who continue to maintain the respect and reputation of the department’s great 130-year heritage. The department was created on March 26, 1891.

The Adirondack Daily Enterprise published a special edition on June 5, 1991, to celebrate the centennial of the Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department. Also, in honor of the centennial, the Northern New York Firemen’s Association scheduled its convention here.

There is a great piece on the department’s history in the lead story by Susan Colt, who did an incredible amount of research for the story. The convention was scheduled here two years in a row because the next year, 1992, was the centennial of the incorporated village of Saranac Lake.

Growing up in Saranac Lake, it was always a grand time when the hundreds of firemen from all over northern New York, not just the North Country, came to town.

Also from 1960 firemen’s convention program

Their fancy race cars would go screaming down a special piece of paved track. (Lake Placid had its own strip on the department’s property with hot rod Jerry Strack always at the wheel.) The racer would come to a screeching stop; the firemen on the car’s running boards would immediately tilt a ladder off the car onto a high platform, built for the races, and race up the ladder to the top. Maybe it sounds too tepid in writing, but let me tell you, it was anything but tepid … the roar of the engine, the smell of gas and oil and burnt rubber — man, what a thrill.

Following are excerpts from the Enterprise story:

Rival companies organized

Photo from 1913. The building next door where antiques and collectibles were sold was later taken down for the department’s expansion. The fire wagons were horse drawn at that time. The four horse stalls were underneath the building and entered from ground level in the rear. The harnesses for the horses were attached to the ceiling so they could quickly be dropped onto the horse. I will explain more about horse harnessing for you city slickers sometime in the future.

“The department had its roots in two rival hose organizations, Woodruff Hose Company #1 and Miller Hose Company #2.

“The Woodruff Hose Company was named for R. Eugene Woodruff (1841-1914). As early as 1888 Woodruff saw the need for a fire company. His obituary states that he was the ‘organizer of the first fire department and the first fire chief, for whom the Woodruff Hose Company was named.’ The Woodruff Hose Company was incorporated on January 15, 1892. However, according to fire department records, the company was created on March 26, 1891. That is the year the fire department counts its history from. On that date, Seaver A. Miller, Secretary of the Woodruff Hose Company No. 1 in the Village of Saranac Lake, ‘respectfully submitted the following report for the year ending the first Tuesday, in December 1891.’

“On the 26th of March, 1891 the Saranac Lake Fire Department called a meeting in the election room of the town hall. The subject of the meeting was organizing a hose company.

“The incorporation lasts for a period of 50 years, and it may be renewed.

“According to the Office of the Secretary of State the corporation was dissolved by resolution on Oct. 15, 1952, but the vote must have been a mere formality as the membership of Woodruff and Miller Hose Companies apparently voted to consolidate at their annual meetings in 1951.

“Woodruff was a contractor/carpenter in Saranac Lake and built the original town hall which burnt to the ground in 1927. Woodruff Street is named for him, and he is buried in Morrisonville Cemetery (near Plattsburgh) where he is still memorialized.

“Woodruff was active in community affairs, had served one term as supervisor of the Town of Harrietstown (in 1883) and was at one time the owner of the Berkeley House. He was married to Anna Eliza Rice.

“The rival hose company was founded on January 5, 1893 and named in honor of Milo B. Miller (1844-1917). He was a substantial land owner in Saranac Lake and surrounding area.

“According to Cutter’s Genealogy and Family History of Northern New York, he enlisted in August of 1864 in the New York Volunteers and served under General Philip H. Sheridan during the Civil War.

“He returned to the area in 1865 and began a series of real estate deals. He ran a grist mill in Bloomingdale for eight years. He purchased about 1,000 acres of land on the south side of Lake Flower and the Saranac River. He bought 84 acres of farm land in the village and divided into 371 building lots in 1883.

“He was a village trustee in 1892 on the newly created village board, and when Dr. Edward L. Trudeau resigned as first President [the title is now mayor] on May 5, 1893 Miller was appointed to replace him. [Dr. Trudeau was the driving force to have the village incorporated and served as president for one year, apparently to help get things organized.]

“Miller also served as town clerk, highway commissioner, and postmaster and it was during his term as President that the water and sewage system was installed.

“The two companies named for these illustrious pioneers brought their fighting spirit not only to the fires, but also to team competitions similar to those taking place this weekend during the firemen’s convention. When firemen meet in convention now as then, the races and competitions are based on skills needed for fire-fighting.

“In the early years the companies’ equipment was quite different than today. Each company had a two-wheel hand cart containing 500 feet of 2 1/2 inch hose, which was drawn by the best runners on each team.

“The fire house for the Woodruff Company was located on Depot Street. The Miller headquarters was between Main and St. Bernard streets to the rear of the present Waterhole No. 3.

“Since the water lines only covered the Main street area, bucket brigades would form. Today pumpers will line up connected by hoses if necessary to bring water from a distance.”

Hose companies merge

“By the year 1906, the companies had joined to form the Saranac Lake Fire Department. Officers for that year were: Chief, Clifton D. Havens; First Assistant Chief, John R. Hogan; Second Assistant Chief, Frank Sheldon; Secretary, Frank L. LaBounty and Treasurer, Frank Sheldon.”

(Continued next week.)

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