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History of the Department
Fire District Demographics
The Skaneateles Fire District consists of two municipalities: the Village of Skaneateles and the Town of Skaneateles, both named after the Finger Lake and located in the Syracuse metropolitan area. The community name derives from Iroquoian for "Long Lake" and is the highest and the fourth largest of the Finger Lakes. Skaneateles Lake is 16 miles long and 1 mile at its widest point, with a maximum depth of 350 feet. It flows through the counties of Cayuga, Cortland, and Onondaga.
The Village is 1.43 square miles, with a population of 2,450 (2010 Census). It was incorporated in 1833 and then again under a new state law in 1855. The Town is approximately 43 square miles, with a population of 7,209 (2010 Census). It was established in 1830 by an act of the State Legislature.
The first fire department in Skaneateles was made up of individual homeowners. Each person was required to keep leather fire buckets about 16 inches deep and eight inches wide, marked with his name and number.
Torrent Hose Co. No. 1
Community fire protection did not start until 1822, with the formation of "Torrent Engine Company #1." The company operated a small hand pumper, built in New York City by James Smith. The By-Laws of the Company stated that "the first man to reach the engine house shall have possession of the pipe (nozzle) during the fire." In 1824, the grist mill of Gibbs and Teneuer was the site of the first major fire in the Village. It was partially full of wheat for shipment to Albany via the Erie Canal. Finally rebuilt of stone after a second disastrous fire, the building exists today as the Old Stone Mill on Fennell Street.
On April 19, 1833, the Skaneateles Fire Department was formally authorized by the Village Board of Trustees. A second pumper was purchased from Cowin & Company of Seneca Falls and designated "Torrent Engine Company #2." A two-wheeled hose cart was also purchased for the newly organized department. Each "engine" company had 24 men. On May 28, 1888, Torrent Hook and Ladder Company #2 was organized. The early apparatus was a cylinder goose-neck machine with a swivel pipe projecting above the deck. This was attached to a discharge nozzle about five feet long that could be aimed by the firefighter in any direction. The machine also had some 50 foot lengths of leather hose with one section wound on a reel located in front of the bulbous air chamber.
The first fire house was a small wooden structure perched on stilts on the east end of the outlet bridge, behind the buildings on the northwest corner of Genesee and Jordan Streets. Inside, there were ladders hung on the walls, many "fire hooks," and leather fire hats (which were obsolete, even in those days). The Village owned a piece of land on the shore of the lake that used to be the site of the Packwood Carriage Shop, and a new fire house was suggested for this location. There was considerable objection from the public to this idea as many felt it would spoil the view of the lake, so in May of 1888, John Barrow donated land at the intersection of Jordan and Railroad Streets (now Fennell Street) for a new fire station. Built in 1892, the large two-story red brick building with a bell tower used to toll out the alarms, and served the citizens of Skaneateles for 72 years.
The fire helmet weather vane is presently located atop the meeting/office 2-story structure at our present Station 1. The bell adorns the new station at the northwest corner, Kane Ave. side of the building)
The department continued to grow with the organization of Torrent Hose Company #3 on September 16, 1893. The department sponsored a week-long fund raising bazaar in December, which netted $721. This money was used to buy uniforms which were worn on Inspection Days, held in September. The entire department turned out for a grand parade, and the public was invited to an open house at the fire station. This was the forerunner of the present Labor Day celebrations.
In 1899, Skaneateles was the host to the first Onondaga County Volunteer Firemen's Association Convention. The meeting was held in Legg Hall, where the By-Laws were formulated. At that time there were 23 departments in the County; presently, there are 57. The (Skaneateles) Citizens Band provided music for the event. The first President of the Association was R. B. Clemments of Solvay. Part of the two day event was a boat excursion aboard the Glen Haven steamer. A banquet was held that September evening at Legg Hall, lasting well past midnight. The second day, September 21, was the day of the grand parade, hose race, baseball game, and bike races on the unpaved streets of the Village. It had rained, so the bike races had to be cancelled. Some of the other events were pie eating contests, greased pole climbing with a five dollar gold piece at the top for the prize, a running race for "persons under 35," a hose race and a hook and ladder race. A formal dance ended the day. The Skaneateles Free Press said, "Some years will probably elapse before Skaneateles has such a big firemen's demonstration as the Village witnessed .. ." Left over food that was donated by "the good people of Skaneateles" was distributed to "worthy needy families in the Town."
Fire Districts outside the Village were officially formed in 1959. Two small combination trucks were ordered from Sanford Fire Apparatus of East Syracuse in 1960, and stations were built on Coon Hill Road (Station 2) off East Lake Road (State Route 41), and in the hamlet of Mandana (Station 3) on State Route 359 off of West Lake Road (State Route 41A). Both district stations continue to serve the Skaneateles Fire District with each housing 1 engine.
(1938 Dodge - photo courtesy of the Spearing family)
In 1962, plans were drawn for a new engine house on Fennell Street. The current station at the time could hold the 1955 Pirsch ladder truck only by poking the end of the ladder out the rear window of the station. The truck was kept in a storage barn behind an automotive repair shop, and a tanker truck was kept with the snow plows in the Town highway garage.
(1955 Ladder Truck - Photo courtesy of Dave Wilcox)
In 1964, the station on Fennell Street was opened, and all the Village fire trucks were finally stored under one roof. The dispatch center was located in the fire station and manned 24 hours a day dispatching information to the fire, ambulance, police, highway, light and water crews. The last time the tower bell on the red brick fire station rung was October 4, 1964 signaling that the Fire Department had moved down Fennell Street into its new quarters.
In 1984, members of the Department felt they were missing on an important piece of fundraising in that a person who wished to donate money for the Department's use could not, under NY State law, do so and claim a deduction. Therefore, the members voted to establish the Skaneateles Volunteer Fire Department, Inc., a corporate arm of the fire department. The sole purpose of this institution is to accept charitable contributions as a tax-exempt organization and distribute these funds to the Department as needed. The SVFD, Inc. has its own slate of officers (President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer, as well as a Board of Directors) as well as its own set of bylaws. This organization is also in charge of all fundraising duties, including the annual Labor Day festivities, as well as distributing money from a "Truck Fund" to the Department to purchase new pieces of apparatus.
Over time, the fire station at Fennell Street saw its share of mechanical and structural problems. Two citizen review boards, an in-depth examination by an engineering firm retained by the Village, and public pronouncements by both the Village and Town boards, found the building to be woefully inadequate to meet the current demands of the fire service. Discussions for a new firehouse took place for over fifteen years until a proposal to build a new firehouse on the corner of Rt. 20 (Genesee Street) and Rt. 41A (Kane Avenue) was passed by a vote of the fire district residents. The station became operational in March of 2008 and has quickly become a proud focalpoint for those entering the Village on Rt. 20 from the west. Both the weathervane and the fire bell have since been moved to the new Station 1 location - the weathervane sits atop a cupola on the 2-story part of the building housing fire and corporate offices as well as the large meeting room and kitchen. The original fire bell has been placed at its new location at the northwest side of the building and contains a time capsule in its base.
Unfortunately, on September 24, 2010, the Skaneateles Communication Center received and dispatched its final call from the communications room at the firehouse. After 46 years of dedicated service to the citizens of the town and village of Skaneateles and due to severe fiscal issues, the trustees of the Village of Skaneateles decided the financial cost was too great to keep the communications center in operation.