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Port Jervis Fire Department approaching 175 years of service

This article is a direct street report from our correspondent and has not been edited by the 1st Responder newsroom.

The History of the Port Jervis Fire Department (PJFD)

The community that became known as Port Jervis received its first settlers in 1692. It was incorporated as a village in 1853 and became a city in 1907. As the community grew with the advent of the Erie Railroad and the Delaware and Hudson Canal, the need for fire protection on the banks of the Neversink and Delaware Rivers increased.

The first fire company in Port Jervis was given legal status in 1847, six years before the village was incorporated. That first fire company was granted a certificate by the supervisor, and active community leader and hardware store owner Nelson Birdsall (N.B.) Mondon was appointed as a fireman by the town board.

In 1850, that company was known as Port Jervis Fire Company No. 1. It was privately owned and would remain so for many years. The fire department’s first vehicle was a wooden-decked, hand-operated unit known as a "goose neck" because of its unusual appearance. It required twelve men to force the handles on either side up and down in order to pump. Whether or not it was better than the bucket brigade was probably a subject of discussion in fire circles at the time.

On February 27, 1857, the first company was reorganized and renamed H.H. Farnum Co., with A.B. Gooddale as foreman.

On July 14, 1873, that first Port Jervis fire company’s name was again changed. It became Abbot Steam Fire Engine Company.

In 1876, the privately owned Abbot Steam Fire Engine Company was legally disbanded and its house on Orange Street and equipment were given over to the village’s Neversink Hose Company No. 1.

Also, shortly after the formation of the fire department (in the mid-1950s), the first Volunteer Fireman’s Parade was held in Port Jervis. This is an annual tradition that continues today, approaching two centuries later

Neversink Engine Company No. 1 (1850)
Meanwhile, the village was deciding on whether to have an additional fire company, and in May of 1870, 68 members signed up and chose the name Neversink Hose Company No. 1 for that second company. S. D. Boyce was the foreman. In 1876, the privately owned Abbot Steam Fire Engine Company was legally disbanded and its house on Orange Street and equipment were given over to the village’s Neversink Hose Company No. 1, where the Port Jervis Fire Department Museum is now located at 8 Orange Street. The other companies within the department were also organized within a future 20-year timeframe. The current apparatus for Neversink Engine Company No. 1 is a 1999 American LaFrance pumper and is housed at 27 Orange Street.

Maghogomock Hook and Ladder Company (1855)
In June of 1855, Maghogomock Hook and Ladder Company was founded. They received their first truck in 1858. Since that time, the Company has operated, among other equipment, two horse-drawn trucks, two motor-powered ladder trucks, and two aerial ladders. Their current apparatus is a 105 foot rear mounted aerial manufactured by KME and delivered in 2014, replacing a 23 year old apparatus. They are housed at 25 Orange Street, next door to Neversink Engine Company No. 1.

Delaware Engine Company No. 2 (1857)
On February 12, 1857, Delaware Engine Company No. 2 originated. One year later, Jacob Brant of this Company was elected the first Chief Engineer. Among the company’s vehicles was "The Claremont", which became a winner at the Boston State Fair. It was reported that local residents were surprised by The Claremont's "bright yellow running gear, wide gold stripes, polished steel springs and heavily silvered body.” In 1967, the Company claimed another first in Port Jervis and in the county when it accepted delivery of a new white colored cab-forward diesel engine with a top mounted pump. In 1974, the Company was relocated to a new brick building at 22 Hammond Street, in the business district and next to City Hall, at a complex shared by then Fowler Rescue & Salvage Company No. 3. It now operates a blue-colored 2,000 gallon per minute (GPM) pumper manufactured by KME, which was delivered in 2007, the same year that the City of Port Jervis celebrated its’ Centennial Year. The current apparatus features an enclosed top-mounted pump operator’s area to keep the driver out of the elements while pumping hour-after-hour at major incidents.

Fowler Engine Company No. 3 (1857)
On March 1, 1857, Fowler Engine Company No. 3 was formed. It served as an engine company for nearly a century, and then, in 1954, accepted delivery of a rescue and salvage truck, and changed its name to Fowler’s Rescue & Salvage Company No. 3, known commonly as Rescue 3. The most recent apparatus is a white-colored 1994 Simon heavy rescue. In 1961, a diving squad was officially formed and housed at Rescue 3’s fire house. The diving squad was comprised of members from each of the then 7 PJFD companies and later became known as the Water Operations Team. Its most recent rescue boat, the Oz, was placed in service in 2006, replacing the retired Chipper H. In 1974, the Company relocated to a new brick building at 22 Hammond Street in a complex shared by Delaware Engine Company No. 2, next to City Hall. In 2016, Fowler Rescue and Salvage Company No. 3 was disbanded and reformed as a Special Operations Squad with its house and equipment reassigned to the Squad. As of January of 2021, the Squad was comprised of 38 members from PJFD’s six remaining companies. The Squad is comprised of three specialty teams, which are Accident Vehicle Extrication Team (AVET), Water Operations Team (WOT) and Technical Rescue Rope Team (TRRT). These specialty teams include, but are not limited to, rescue diving, swift water rescue, ice rescue, trench rescue. The rope team is very versatile in what they can do.

Excelsior Engine Company No. 1 (1873)
On December 9, 1873, Excelsior Engine Company No. 1 was founded. For many years, it operated with a hand-drawn rig, but in 1917 accepted delivery of its first mechanized unit. That unit was a motorized hose and chemical truck with a Hann chassis. In 1937, the Company was reorganized under the name Excelsior Engine Company No. 5. It is currently housed at 143 West Main Street, in the area of the city known as West End, where it shares a building with the Fire Police squad. In August of 2005, the Company received delivery of a green-colored Seagrave 2000 gallon per minute (GPM) pumper.

Port Jervis Hose Company No. 4 (1877)
In October of 1877, Port Jervis Hose Company No. 4 was founded. After the death of Howard Wheat, a Hose 4 member who served a Port Jervis Fire Department for twenty-five consecutive years (1912 to 1937), the company rededicated in his Wheat’s name as Howard Wheat Engine Company No. 4. Engine 4 is currently housed at 31 Owen Street in the Fourth Ward section of the city. Among its many interesting vehicles, perhaps the most noteworthy, was the one received in 1976 by the Company. It was a lime green/yellow colored American LaFrance pumper with a “Sqirt”, which is a large capacity nozzle on a top mounted articulating boom, the first in the county for this specialized equipment. That vehicle was replaced by a 1999 American LaFrance pumper, a twin to the 1999 American LaFrance delivered to Neversink Engine Company No. 1. The significant difference between the two apparatus is that Howard Wheat Engine Company No. 4’s apparatus is equipped with another “Sqirt” articulating boom.

Tri-State Hose Company No. 6 (1890)
In December of 1890, PJFD’s youngest company came into existence with the formation of Tri-State Hose Company No. 6. This company is housed at 257½ East Main Street, in a section of the city known as Tri-States, which is near the Neversink and Delaware Rivers and entrance to the city. Its historic firehouse is the only city firehouse still in active operation by its originally founded company, and from its original responding site, only having been added onto at some point after its late 1800s construction. The company currently operates with a 2002 10-man cab Pierce Lance Pumper, with a 1500-gallon pump and a water capacity of 1,000 gallons.

Port Jervis Fire Police (1917)
In 1917, the Port Jervis Fire Police was organized and is currently housed at 141 West Main Street, a complex shared with Excelsior Engine Company No. 5. The Fire Police is a specialty squad whose members are sworn peace officers in New York State and is allotted up to 36 members by the City Charter. Firefighters from each of the 6 companies make up the membership. The primary purpose of the Fire Police is to protect firefighters and civilians at fire scenes and other fire department emergencies, including crowd control and traffic control. The Fire Police also routinely provides assistance to the local police department when requested, and as needed, provides their services at community events. The Fire Police squad currently operates a 2012 Dodge pickup truck, a repurposed fire chief vehicle, and also received a cargo trailer from the former High Angle Rescue Team that was repurposed for the transportation of additional equipment to major events.

Special Operations Squad (1990s)
In the 1990s, then Assistant Chief Joseph J. Kowal, a member of Maghogomock Hook & Ladder Company No. 1, saw the need for the department to expand its services to include rope rescue, and the High Angle Rescue Team was formed. It was the first rope rescue team in Orange County that had formal training. It This team was Initially housed at the Maghogomock firehouse and comprised from the members of all seven companies in existence at the time. In 1995 a cargo trailer was acquired to house the Team’s equipment for a rapid response. In 2016, the Team was renamed as the Technical Rescue Rope Team and absorbed into a new Special Operations Squad. That squad, now located at 22 Hammond Street in a structure that adjoins with Delaware Engine Co. No. 2. As of January of 2021, the Squad was comprised of 38 members from PJFD’s six remaining companies. The Squad is comprised of three specialty teams, which are Accident Vehicle Extrication Team (AVET), Water Operations Team (WOT) and Technical Rescue Rope Team (TRRT). These specialty teams include, but are not limited to, rescue diving, swift water rescue, ice rescue, trench rescue. The rope team is very versatile in what they can do.

Port Jervis Fire Department Chiefs and Past Chiefs
Jacob Brandt: 1858
Charles W. Douglas: 1859-1860
Thomas Holt: 1861
James Tayton: 1862
Stephen Roberts: 1863
Alex H. Simpson: 1864
Luther Beckwith: 1865
Thomas Holt: 1866-1867
L.S. Rosencrance: 1868-1869
Leopold Furth: 1870-1873
W.E. McCormick: 1875
Thomas Holt: 1875
Charles Terbell: 1876-1879
James McDoughall: 1878-1879
H.G. Lee: 1880-1883
Thomas Birmingham: 1883-1885
Charles Terbell: 1886
Between 1887-1899
Harry Nichols
C.I. Terwilliger
P.J. Donahue
Jacob Rauber
Claude Gaillard, Jr.
John J. Cary
Joseph Harding
Anthony Lump: 1900-1902
Joseph Harding: 1908-1911
Howard Wheat: 1912-1937
Fred C. Harding: 1938-1940
Robert Miller: 1941
J. Lester Buchanan: 1942-1953
Franklyn J. Gordon: 1954-1957
Roscoe B. Case: 1958-1959
F. Raymond Harding: 1960-1965
Douglas H. Moore: 1966-1967
J. Richard Hosking: 1968-1971
Donald E. DeVore: 1972-1975
Charles F. Baumgardner: 1976-1979
Robert B. Dunn: 1980-1983
Michael E. Innella: 1984-1987
James W. Rohner: 1988-1993
Russell R. Potter: 1994-1997
Joseph J. Kowal, Sr.: 1998-1999
John W. Launt: 2000-2001
Michael J. Cicalese: 2002-April 2004
Donald E. DeVore, Jr.: April 2004-2005
Joseph J. Kowal, Sr.: 2006-2009
James B. Fuller, Sr: 2010-June 2011
Jeffrey S. Rhoades: June 2011-2015
Frank W. Fuller III: 2016-2017
Dominic M. Cicalese: 2018-Present


1850 Port Jervis Annual Inspection Day Parade (1850 through present) Newspaper reports dating back to the earliest Port Jervis newspapers available, 1869 and forward, detail elaborate preparations and well-established traditions for each consecutive parade that occurred both before and after newspaper reports were first available. The Port Jervis’ Evening Gazette, established in April of 1869, notes that the “Annual Parade and Inspection of the Port Jervis Fire Department” of the Gazette’s charter year took place on October 14, 1869. The parade step-off followed a period of heavy rainfall as described in the parade coverage. “The streets were lined with mud, but the sky in the morning betokened a fine day overhead, but in the afternoon the many clouds that had only partially broken away began to collect, and it was feared a heavy rain would set in and mar the proposed parade, but fortunately the pluvial god stayed the element so that it sprinkled little, not sufficient to dampen the ardor of Port Jervis firemen, who plod along through the mud and mire of our streets, apparently unmindful of anything but their duty.” The article goes on to praise the service of Port’s volunteer firefighters throughout each year. “The companies turned out well on this occasion, and the interest they take in the discharge of their duty was manifest in the fine appearance of themselves and their equipment. No one can say aught against our firemen, and the readiness with which they perform their duty, whether it be at the dead hour of night and in the cold pelting storm, or in the mid-day, merits them the heartfelt thanks of our citizens generally.”

1955 A hurricane in August 1955 (Hurricane Diane) caused extensive flooding in the City of Port Jervis and millions of dollars in damage.

1960s and 1970s During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Port Jervis Fire Department’s allowed membership was 525 members, with 75 members allocated for each Company. Often during these and preceding decades, there was a waiting list for members to join the Port Jervis Fire Department.

1971 On February 12, 1971, disaster struck Port Jervis when a building collapsed due to the weight of heavy snow on a roof top on Pike Street. This crushed the nearby Strand Diner and causing the loss of life and multiple serious injuries.

1981 On February 12, 1981, flooding devastated the Tri-State area when a major ice jam forced the Delaware River to backflow onto many streets and homes in Port Jervis and surrounding areas, causing millions of dollars in damage and the loss of one life.

2006 In 2006, a noteworthy year for the all-volunteer department, 430 alarms were answered. Responses included five major structure fires and multiple flooding incidences in the Tri-States and Acre areas of the city. Department-wide membership stood at 365.

2007 In 2007, Port Jervis’ Centennial year, marked the completion and dedication of the Port Jervis Fire Museum. This more than 10- year project was spearheaded by then-Chief Joseph J. Kowal and completed with a large number of volunteers. Housed in the city’s historic first firehouse, at 8 Orange Street, this museum features firefighting artifacts, a state-of-art training facility, the chief’s office, and supply storage. It is frequently utilized by firefighters, police officers, public works employees and other city departments for training and meetings.

2008 In 2008, the department applied for a $200,000 grant, under the direction of Past Chief Joesph J. Kowal, for much needed firefighting turnout gear and was awarded the grant in 2009.

2011 In 2011 the department responded to 680 calls. There were two major storms that hit the city that year, which caused 169 responses in August alone in August and another 110 responses in September. The department both solely and jointly applied for many state and federal grants that provided for fire prevention, wild land gear, and ultra-high band radios. Also in 2011, members trained as Rope Technicians on the High Angle Rescue Team were incorporated into the Rope Team component of Orange County’s Technical Rescue Team. The county rope team is also comprised of volunteers from the neighboring Sparrowbush Engine Company, as well as career firefighters from the City of Newburgh and the West Point Fire Department.

2012 In 2012 the department responded to 414 calls and continued to apply for many grants. Word was received that Orange County Battalion 8 Departments, comprised of Cuddebackville, Huguenot, Port Jervis and Sparrowbush, was to receive a $330,000 grant to purchase ultra-high band radios. These radios were ordered and installation began shortly thereafter.

2013 In 2013 the Department responded to 334 calls.

2014 In 2014, the department was awarded the Technical Rescue and Urban Search and Rescue grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in the amount of $142,278.50. That grant provided for the purchase of a Kubota 4-wheel drive utility vehicle, an enclosed trailer, swift water rescue equipment and rope rescue equipment. Unexpended funds from a previously awarded radio grant were used obtain 100 rope rescue bags for firefighter safety. The department also replaced hydraulic rescue tools that had been in service since the 1980s

2015 In 2015, the department responded to 438 calls, and received a matching grant from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation for wild land fires. It also worked with Huguenot Fire Company and Sparrowbush Engine Company on new guidelines for water rescue operations. A new computerized records management system known as Emergency Reporting was implemented, and two Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) were purchased for use by the members. The department has since expanded AED availability to one on each fire apparatus.

2017 In 2017, the department achieved an improved Insurance Service Office (ISO) rating, under the direction of then Assistant Chief Dominic M. Cicalese, with the Public Protection Classification was elevated to Class 3. This rating may impact what a city resident pays for fire insurance. It is significant to note that in Orange County, there are no Class 1 or Class 2 ratings, the highest available, and PJFD is one of only 10 county departments out of 55 with a Class 3 rating. Statewide, out of 2,423 fire departments, there are only 278 with a Class 3 rating, or only 326 department with a Class 3 or better rating. Nationwide, out of 48,632 fire departments, there are only 3,265 with a Class 3 rating and only 4,607 with a Class 3 or better rating. Also in 2017, PJFD revised its now 113-page by-laws to include addendums for each company and squad. The by-laws were updated again on January 1, 2021 to be inclusive and uniform in standards of all PJFD companies and fire police rather than each having separate by-laws and individual hard copy and electronic publications.

2018 In 2018, a fundraiser was conducted by mail to local residents to raise funds for the purchase of a slide out skid unit, specially equipped for fighting brush fires. This was to be mounted to the Kubota that was obtained through a grant in 2014. Through generous donations received, the skid unit was ordered and put into service in 2020.

2019 In 2019, under the direction of Chief Dominic M. Cicalese, the department was awarded a grant in the amount of $12,000 from the Lieutenant Joseph P. DiBernardo Foundation (Joey D Foundation) in cooperation with the Leary Firefighters Foundation. This grant provided for the purchase of bail out equipment to enhance firefighter safety.

2020 In 2020, the worldwide coronavirus (COVID-19) forced the cancellation of the department’s historic 170th Annual Inspection Day Parade. This parade is believed to be the longest and continuously held firefighter parade in the nation, with the very first parade was held in the early 1850’s and earliest years of Port Jervis Fire Department. Legend has it that rain did not fall on the parade but for two times in the long history of the event. Besides the annual parade, the pandemic forced the cancellation of other special and city-wide events based on state and national guidelines. Yet, the department found a way, while exercising social distancing and other protective measures, to be part of something special. In honor of the heroic efforts of first line workers during the pandemic, the department, along with other police and emergency medical first responder services, held drive-by parades. This included a large drive-by parade at Port Jervis’ Bon Secours Community Hospital, the VA Clinic, and Cornerstone Healthcare which included neighboring fire departments and the delivery of meals purchased from a local restaurant for medical staff. Also in 2020, the Department received three grants – totaling $88,143. Chief Dominic M. Cicalese successfully secured a second grant ($4,400) from the Joey D. Foundation. This was designated for the training of eight Port Jervis firefighters as bail out equipment trainers to train and help keep interior firefighters safe. Assistant Chief Keith K. Brown successfully secured a $33,743 grant for the purchase of battery-operated hydraulic rescue tools, and later a $50,000 grant for the purchase of a new rescue boat. Finally in 2020, the department expanded its vehicle fleet with the purchase of a 2020 Ford F250 pickup truck. This vehicle is used to transport personnel as well as the department’s boats, trailer, and Kubota that are assigned to the Special Operations Squad. The department ended the year 2020 with 265 members. Of these, 154 (58.11%) have 25 or more years of service to the department. Fifty-two have 50 or more years of service, and 118 of the 265 active members are 61 years of age or older. Fortunately, the department has more than 48 medically qualified, properly trained interior firefighters, with the oldest interior firefighter being 71 years old

2021 In 2021, the department continues to aggressively pursue grants to benefit the department and city. A record number of members, nine to be exact, will achieve 50-years of service to the Port Jervis Fire Department in 2021. They will join the many additional dedicated volunteer firefighters already having provided 50 or more years of service.

*** Port Jervis Fire Department is always seeking and welcomes new members to help bolster the ranks.

Compiled from various sources, last revision 7/9/2021.
Anyone wishing to contribute historical data with documentation for ‘items of note’ may email

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SHARON SIEGELSenior Correspondent

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