It all began in October 1874 with a fire on Banks Avenue. At that time Rockville Centre was primarily an agricultural community with some light industry. When the fire was discovered, a group of men took pails from the tin shop, formed a bucket brigade to nearby Smith’s Pond, and eventually extinguished the fire; but not before all realized that the village was in dire need of firefighting equipment. Rockville Centre, settled in 1643, had endured more than two hundred years without any organized fire protection. There were no fire companies between Freeport and Jamaica on the south shore, with the result that nearly every fire caused extensive damage to the property involved.
It was not until almost a year later, on September 25, 1875 that a group of young men met at the old Institute Hall on Village Avenue to discuss the formation of a fire company for the protection of the community. They called their company Eureka Hook, Ladder, and Bucket Co.
On January 25, 1890 concerned residents, realizing that there was a more modern way of doing things, and to make better use of the few fire wells located in the business district, met and formed Live Oak Engine Company and went into fund raising mode to buy equipment. In early February 1890, the members of Eureka contracted to buy a No. 4 Button Hand fire engine and other equipment. While awaiting delivery, agreement was made between the two companies and upon delivery in June, the unit was sold to Live Oaks.
The two companies, both having quarters on Washington Street, operated at fire scenes as two separate entities. In July of 1893, the residents of Rockville Centre voted to incorporate as a village. This was officially accomplished in October of that year. The residents started making plans to improve their village. As part of the new thinking, the members of Eureka and Live Oak decided that it was time for them to operate as a single unit under one leader. They reached agreement in December, elected Benjamin Combes from Eureka as Chief for the calendar year 1894, and started calling themselves the Rockville Centre Fire Department.
In October 1895, the Village Board asked the Department to organize a unit south of the railroad tracks. Citizens got together and held the first meeting of Defender Hose Company No. 1 on South Centre Avenue that month, followed in November by the organization of Alert Hose Company No. 2 (later renamed Engine Company No. 2) on Sunrise Highway.
In April of 1896, an internal squabble in the Fire Department revealed that the Village Board had never formally and legally organized the Fire Department according to the State Laws of 1880 and 1886. Public outcry led to the Village Board taking the necessary steps and this was done in the next two months.
By 1908, with the expansion of the Village to the northeast, a group of nine men met and organized Reliance Hose Company No. 3 in that area. With the Village borders also expanding to the south, Woodland Hose Co. No. 4 (later Engine Co. No. 4) was organized in 1912.
Floodlight Company No. 1 was begun in 1941 when then Chief Louis Ferrari appointed two members from each of the other six companies to organize a unit to assist at fires using a 1941 Diamond T truck containing floodlights. This truck could also be used as an ambulance if required. They were quartered at Defender Hose Company fire house on South Centre Avenue.
Today, all companies are quartered in buildings owned by the Village, with the exception of Woodlands, who have always been in a fire house that they themselves own on Driscoll Avenue; Floodlight and Alerts are located in the Headquarters building on North Centre Avenue, Defender is still on South Centre Avenue, Reliance on North Forest Avenue, and Eureka and Live Oak are at the 103 Maple Avenue fire house.
Eureka Hook, Ladder & Bucket Company was founded in 1875 in response to a fire that resulted in damages the previous year. At the time there were no fire companies on the South Shore between Freeport and Jamaica.
Local town leaders got together to see if they could raise the money, men and material necessary to protect the growing village. Successful in their search, they organized the first fire company in Rockville Centre and took the name “Eureka” – a joyous expression that means “we have found it.”
A local carpenter fabricated the first hand pulled rig which sported, you guessed it, fire hooks, ladders and buckets (there were no hydrants and no “wet companies” in town. The fire alarm was a bell in a local church and the “fire district” area was defined by how far the firemen could run (roughly – Merrick Road to DeMott Avenue, Village Avenue to Long Beach Road). This is why today we still refer to responding to calls as “going on a run.”
The Department grew with the construction of water mains, expansion of the town into an Incorporated Village in 1893, and the increase of population shifting from small farms into a suburban community.
With the change in the Village, the rigs changed into horse drawn vehicles (local horses were “lent” to Eureka in case of a call. With the onset of WWI draft horses were called to military service – Eureka replaced the horses with a Maxim tractor and was soon able to respond to alarms at the breakneck speed of 20 miles an hour; best of all, the guys could ride on the running boards! Company officers who were “Foremen” now were called “Captain” and “Lieutenant”.
Time marched on, and so did the Village – farms converted to homes and buildings were getting taller. Eureka soon had its first aerial device – a wood ladder that was raised and lowered by springs and pulleys. This was soon replaced by a steel aerial that soared 75 feet and was raised and maneuvered by hydraulics.
1939 saw the arrival of the 85’ LaFrance – sleek and streamlined. This rig was partnered in the 1950’s with a 100’ LaFrance tiller truck. After 34 years of service, the 85’ LaFrance was replaced by a 100” Seagrave and the tiller soon after gave way to a 100’ over-the-cab bucket truck. Turning a corner with the LTI invariable caused those nearby to duck as the bucket would swing over their cars.
The last decade of the 20th century saw the Seagrave replaced by a Pierce 100’ rear mount aerial with the next decade seeing the LTI give way to a 100’ LaFrance mid mount ladder tower.
Now 141 years after our first rig – a $125 wagon custom built and tooled with wood ladders, canvas buckets, axes and pikes – we are going to blazes with our Pierce 100’ rear mount aerial (which cost a little more than the first “Eureka”). But it is still manned by local citizens who train many hours to protect their neighbors’ lives with their own.