Volunteer Fire Dept. Marks 100th Year
NEWINGTON - It’s often said that Newington is a “community of volunteers”.

       Its Fire Department started that way-in 1917, when 30 residents first met at Town Hall after stepping into the then unfilled role-and last Monday night, firefighters past and present gathered in the back room of Paradise Pizza to commemorate the day with a Kiwanis Club tribute to a legacy 100 years in the making.

       “It’s an exciting time for us,” said Fire Chief Chris Schroeder. “We’ve been working toward 100 years of service for a while.”

       One hundred years is a while-too much, to put in one presentation, but Schroeder certainly gave it a good shot. He narrated a lengthy slideshow that reached back to Newington firefighting’s inception-the Department was actually established unofficially in 1897-through the 1929, fundraised purchase of the town’s first Buffalo fire engines, the establishment of all four fire houses, and even the evolution of the Department’s emergency alert system.

       But perhaps the most vivid recollections of Department history were more recent-and were told by residents that lived them.

       Former Mayor Steve Woods remembers when his south end Stone Hedge Drive home went up in flames back in 1965. He thanked the volunteers for their assistance on that day.

       “You aren’t in it for the praise-you know someone’s got to do it and you’re brave enough to do it,” Woods said. “It amazes me that when everyone’s running out, you’re trained to run in.”

       Patty Foley, a town resident who was filming the event for NCTV, says the Department came to her rescue when the building she lived in went up one New Year’s Eve.

       “They stayed there all night to make sure it was put out,” Foley said. “We had to move 16 families. I give ‘em a lot of credit, cuz that’s what they do.”

       On September 23, the Department will hold a parade to officially mark its 100 years. They’re in the process of restoring three old Buffalo fire engines-purchased for $6300 each back in 1929. In a phone call Monday, Schroeder said the Department spent about $20,000 to restore the remaining two for parade action.

       Among the many Department alumnus in attendance was former Chief Duke Kalasky-widely credited with being the first to provide the volunteers with the latest gear.

       “Looking around this room, I counted at least 800 years of fire experience,” said former volunteer Matt Nelson, who has 20 of those years himself. “The amount of people that have worked hard for you over the years is just unbelievable.”

       And the event, which also immortalized the legacy of the late Al Cohen-the chief Kiwanis Club planner who passed days before it took place-also recognized those who have worked hard for the Fire Department.

       There was Al, and his late wife Myra-widely credited for being the lone public official to oppose the demolition of the Main Street fire house more than 30 years ago.

       The building, which had fallen into disrepair, sat adjacent to deserted residential structures, prompting the town to consider clearing all of them, Schroeder recalled.

       “She gave us credibility,” he said. “She was just a strong voice for saving the fire house.”

       Residents opted in a 1986 referendum to keep it, with the Council appropriating $70,000 for architectural work shortly after. But it was members of the Department that would perform the necessary interior work themselves, Schroeder said.

       Today, the building doubles as a meeting location for local organizations.

       “It’s busy almost every night of the week,’ he said. “It’s just a good community building, right in the center of town.”