Written by John H. Meyer Friday, 12 June 2009 10:00
Sometime in the fall of 1909, William J. Hoffmann and Christian W. Wentzler called a meeting with a handful of their friends to Pennell’s Hotel that was located on the east side of Hicksville Road, further south of where Sunrise Highway is today. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the possibility of organizing a volunteer fire department in Massapequa. The idea received the positive support of about seven or eight other local men.
Shortly following that initial meeting weekly meetings were held in the hotel. Eight or ten meetings later the men decided to informally start a fire department and it was to be called the Massapequa Fire Department.
Although there were very few records rescued from a fire in the home of the secretary, the date 1910 is the date on file from the early years of the department. While I attended several meetings planning the department’s 75th anniversary, some older members there had some answers to important history. It was believed that the first officers consisted of a foreman, assistant foreman, secretary, treasurer and three trustees. During the mid 1920s my father, John Hugo Meyer served as secretary. He always said that he was asked because he had legible handwriting.
Now there was a need for fire fighting apparatus. The men had to come up with ideas on how to purchase the fire apparatus needed. Everyone knew that there wasn’t any funds as of yet in the treasury so 25 cents monthly dues was collected from the members and after about a year of collecting the dues and some fundraising parties and fairs, the department was able to buy an American La France horse drawn hook and ladder at the cost of about $1,000 that was called a “30 Bucket and Hand Extinguisher” truck. However, the department didn’t own any horses so when a fire broke out, teams were borrowed from nearby farmers from along Hicksville Road.
Headquarters for their new piece of equipment was an extension added to Mr. Avignone’s barn that faced Brooklyn Avenue near where an office building stands today. The shed was only large enough to house the fire truck and some equipment so the meetings were still held at Pennell’s Hotel.
It was brought out during that 75th Anniversary planning meeting that a Model T Ford was purchased in about 1920 that was used for many years before other trucks were added to the fleet as we know it now in 2009. When the Model T was no longer useable, John’s twin brother Henry bought it and got it running and used it on the Meyer’s Hicksville Road farm. I remember as a kid the rusty old fire truck that no longer could run parked in the chicken pen with chickens perched all over it.
At 1:30 on the afternoon of April 6, 1917, Mrs. Avignone sounded the alarm by hitting on an old steel wheel with a hammer for a fire at their shed that housed the new Bucket and Hand truck. The truckhouse was completely destroyed and only some of the apparatus was saved. When the fire was finally put out, the discussion by the men was this: Now we have to think about building a fire house that would be able to house trucks, plus a meeting room and a space to hold fundraising events. However, the fire-damaged shed had to be replaced to at least store their fire apparatus. A new shed-type building near to the first one was built. It was decided in 1917 that a cement block and wood two-story building could be built on land facing Grand Avenue where the Massapequa Water District is presently located, all at a cost of about $7,000. Funds for the building were raised by holding fairs and block parties. The area that was used by the department was in the vicinity of the northwest corner of Merrick Road and Ocean Avenue, the reason being that Merrick Road was the busiest road in town. Sunrise Highway wasn’t even on the drawing boards at that time.
In February 1910, the Massapequa Fire Department was officially incorporated. The first officers were William J. Hoffman who served as chief for five years, Christian W. Wentzler, assistant chief; John Jones, treasurer; and Howard Collins, secretary. During 1922, an electric siren was purchased and installed at the Grand Avenue firehouse. Emergency calls would be answered in the drugstore located at the corner of Grand and Central Avenue and the siren would be turned on from there.
George Pennell, Jr. was the second foreman who served for five years. The third foreman was Jacob Weibel and the fourth foreman was Thomas H. Fraser who served in the position from 1923 to 1932. In 1929, the Massapequa Fire District was established and Thomas H. Fraser, William Rohr, Theodore Naar, George Schaeffer and George Gangloff were elected commissioners. Philip A. McGarty was the treasurer.
A short while after forming the district, plans were made to build a small garage-type building on Merrick Road in East Massapequa to house a truck and other equipment. During 1940, the firehouse on Hicksville Road was built. During the war years of the ’40s, besides the fire trucks, a military ambulance was kept in the house. Trudy Hansen who lived in Massapequa Park was the official driver.
The Massapequa Park House on Front Street was built much later and on the grounds of the former Wood Castle Hotel and famous German restaurant. The Massapequa Fire Department has had its ups and down over their 99 years of service to the Pequas.
Fundraising had become very difficult, plus local friends and neighbors became too preoccupied to support the department. Block parties and the fairs failed.
During 1947, door-to-door subscription drives became necessary to raise the much-needed funds to help support the department. The subscription drive is still being used by way of mailed information to all the homes in the district as their source of income. Now in 2009, 99 years have gone by and a far cry from the 15 to 20 members and six calls a year, to more than 300 members and about 2,600 calls a year. The Massapequa Fire Department can roll 21 pieces of equipment for a fire or emergency at any time of the day or night. According to Bill Beato, who was the chief at the time of the 75th celebration, a parade of local fire departments and a block party was held. He added that for its 100th birthday, they are planning a huge night parade with fire departments from throughout Long Island. He promises that this will be a birthday party that will be remembered for years to come.