Perhaps one of the most cohesive forces in the community has been the Fire Department. A group of men met at the Rock Hill Methodist Church on Saturday, July 28, i956 with John Behrens presiding. The temporary fire committee was: Richard Benson as President, John Behrens as Vice-President, Richard Bailey as Secretary and William Foss as Treasurer. Gilbert Foss was the first Fire Chief and Edwin Case was Assistant Chief. At about the same time, the Women’s Auxiliary was organized. The first officers were Mrs. Richard Bailey as President, Mrs. Richard Benson as Vice-President, Mrs. John Barton as Secretary and Mrs. Rudolph Finke as Treasurer. Committees were formed to raise the funds to buy land and equipment. The community spirit prevailed through auctions, dinners, dances and distribution of handbills asking for contributions from the local residents and businesses.
On June 12, 1957, the first fire truck was bought from the Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey Fire Department. It was a 1934 Seagraves 500 GPM Pumper costing $300. It was stored in a barn on the Crawford property until the Tubell property on Glen Wild Road was purchased for $2,500 in October, 1957. Ground was broken immediately for the 32′ x 52′ firehouse, which cost $13,000. A year and a half later, on January 28, 1958, a bill was introduced to the New York State Legislature by the Honorable Hyman F. Mintz, Assemblyman, Sullivan County. This bill authorized the Town Board of the Town of Thompson, Sullivan County, to establish the Rock Hill Fire District within such town. The bill was passed by the Assembly on March 12, 1958 and signed by Governor Harriman on April 18,1958.
At a public meeting on Tuesday, December 2,1958, the following first Fire Commissioners were elected David Jaffe – 5 years: Vincent Dollard 4 years: Arnold Sheeley – 3 years; Andrew Gordon – 2 years: and Martin Gottlieb – 1 year. John Behrens was elected Treasurer and Secretary for 3 years. Twenty-two ballots were cast.
On July 1, 1959, the Department officially became active and began answering alarms with the first fire call on July 11,1959. Additional trucks were bought in 1959,1960,1962,1965, 1974. Additions to the fire house were built in October 1960, May 1972 and 1973. The grounds were improved with a baseball field and basketball court and fenced. The Department also sponsors Cub Scouts and Brownies, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Little League and Softball teams.
None of these things could have been accomplished without the willing spirit of the community at large. Funds are still raised by mail campaign each year, by the annual chicken barbecue and the annual clambake. The Women’s Auxiliary conducts penny socials, raffles, rummage sales and occasional dances. Their efforts have enabled the purchase of a front-end pump for the emergency truck and a resuscitator.
The volunteer men have kept pace with the growth of the firehouse and number of pieces of equipment. They have been trained and equipped in SCUBA diving for underwater recovery operations Recently, they have assisted water plant operators in our own and nearby communities in operating their plants at maximum efficiency by checking and cleaning underwater intakes and screens. The Department was also a leader in forming the Sullivan County Fire Chiefs’ Association and the Sullivan County Fire Police Association. The men have started the only Junior Firemen’s Program in this County in which young men, starting at the age of 16, are accepted into the Department and work side by side with the firemen in all fireman’s and social functions.
Since its inception, the Department has been a forward-looking and innovative organization in our community and county. The men and women of the Rock Hill Fire Department have worked to make Rock Hill a better and safer place in which to live and conduct business.
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