East Meadow

History of the East Meadow Fire Department

The East Meadow Volunteer Firemen’s Association held it’s first meeting on August 24, 1922. On May 19, 1927, they suggested that a Tax District be created. On December 27, 1929 a resolution was filed and on January 27, 1930, The Nassau County Board of Supervisors established the East Meadow Fire District. An election was held on February 27, 1930 and five Commissioners were elected.

The boundaries of the East Meadow Fire District are unique in that they do not follow those of either the school of postal district. We respond to alarms with addresses in Levittown, Westbury and most East Meadow sites. The original boundaries were set by the Town of Hempstead on February 1, 1923 when the East Meadow Volunteer Firemen’s Benevolent Association was approved to operate as a fire company.

The East Meadow Fire Department held its first meeting on April on April 3, 1930. The names of 36 members were listed with a notation that 22 were association members. The meeting hall and firehouse was on Maple Avenue, the current site of the Volunteers & Exempt Firemen’s Benevolent Association of East Meadow.

The Ladies Auxiliary was established in January 1924 and served the Old Association and the East Meadow FD. To this day they play a very important role in fund raising, assisting on committees, and are a welcomed sight to members at major fires when refreshments are required. For nearly 60 years they have participated as a unit in many EMFD parades. Their parade group has been outstanding over all the decades winning countless trophies, becoming Nassau County Parade Champs in 1995, and New York State Parade Champs in 1958, 1995, and again on the 1970s.

Company 1 (now known as Hook & Ladder Company 1) manned the 1917 Mack Ladder truck with a chemical tank that was purchased from the Franklin Square Fire Department.

Company 2 (now know as Engine Company 2) soon after was formed and held its first company meeting in January 1931. When the newly purchased 1931 GMC 500 G.P.M. pumper was delivered on March 5, 1931 they were assigned the 1917 Mack and Company 1 got the new pumper.

Arthur Brisbane, the famous publisher, donated his 1920’s Pierce Arrow touring car to the fire department. The members converted it to the racing rig shown below and were known as “The Suicide Squad.” A member designed the rear wheels skirts.

A Ford Floodlight truck was purchased in 1936 and refurbished in 1940 as shown below. Members who were Fire Police and Rescue personnel manned it. It also served as an emergency transportation vehicle.

Company 2 was assigned a new 1937 Buffalo 500 G.P.M. Pumper. This truck served in two other companies before it was retired in the 1960’s.

In 1931 the residents approved a $15,000 bond issue that provided for a firehouse on Newbridge Avenue (now East Meadow Avenue} and Park Avenue and one pumper along with other equipment. Upon completion in 1932, Company 2 moved in with the 1917 Mack Ladder truck. Company 1 remained at the Maple Avenue firehouse that was owned by the firemen’s Association.

In 1936 the Commissioners purchased land adjacent to the school located off the southeast corner of Front Street and Newbridge Avenue (now East Meadow Avenue) but were unable to get the residents to approve a firehouse. Company 1 moved in with Company 2 and shared the only firehouse owned by the District at that time.

The end of WWII created a building boom and in 1947 an $86,000 bond issue was approved by just 2 votes. In 1948 a 3 bay firehouse was built on the land purchased in 1936. Company 1 moved in with the GMC pumper and the Floodlight that was used as an Emergency and Fire Police Unit. In 1949 a public referendum approved a $20,000 for the purchase of a “quadruple combination fire truck” and improvements to the alarm system.

Soon After a bond issue to build a firehouse on the land at the corner of North Newbridge Road and Carnation Road in Levittown, donated by famed builder Arthur Levitt, was defeated.

When the bond issue was defeated for the Fire Station, a surplus WWII Quonset Hut was purchased and erected at Newbridge Road and Carnation Road site by volunteers of the department. On July 2, 1951 the firehouse was completed and became the quarters for Company 3.
Hose Company 3 (now known as Engine Company 3) held its first meeting on October 29, 1948 at the Newbridge Avenue firehouse.

On March 22, 1949, the East Meadow Water District was established and in April 1951, the one and a quarter million gallon water tank was completed. This was a major addition to our firefighting capabilities and protection to the district. Prior to this the water supply was from 11 ground well hydrants, The Meadow brook, ponds, water extinguishers, 5-gallon portable water tanks and water tanks on the pumpers. Our water supply is currently from 1,100 hydrants supplied by approximately 130 miles of water mains.

In 1951 a $114,000 general improvement bond was approved. This provided funds for the following:(1) A firehouse at Carmen Avenue and Salisbury Park Drive in Westbury and improvements to Company 3, (2) additional land and building additions for Company 1 and 2, (3) two Ward La France 750 G.P.M. pumpers, (4) an extension of the alarm system, (5) two way radios for the trucks (6) three salaried maintenance men for the care of the equipment, buildings, and alarm system.

In 1952 a one-story addition was erected to the rear wall of the Newbridge Avenue firehouse that was then called Headquarters. This added a bay a commissioner’s room.

On January 1, 1953, the firehouse to be located at Carmen Avenue and Salisbury Park Drive was erected and Company 4 was formed and went into service on.

The building boom continued with the construction of dwellings and mercantile structures. With the rapid growth the responsibility of the Fire District became greater. Additional and adequate protection had to be provided for the increased population and properties.

The Fire Police and Rescue Company held its first meeting on March 9, 1953. When the famous “White GMC Heavy Rescue Truck” arrived later in the year, the Fire Police became a Squad within the company and manned the floodlight truck with no rescue or first aid duties. Rescue Company 5 has been based at the East Meadow Avenue firehouse since its inception. The Fire Police were phased out in the 1960s.

On March 2, 1956 Ladder Company 2 was formed and held its first meeting at the Company 3 firehouse, later assigned the 1950 Ward La France Quad when Company 1 got a new 85′ American La France Aerial Ladder Truck.

On April 10, 1956 Engine Company 1 held its first meeting and was stationed at Fire Headquarters with Hook & Ladder Company 1 (formally Company 1) and Rescue Company 5. The 1937 Buffalo was refurbished and assigned to them.

In 1959-60 two bays were added at Fire Headquarters and the upper level was extended. In 1967 another story was added to the rear 1952 addition that became the District Boardroom.

The history our alarm and members alerting system also reflects our commitment to give the residents the most modern and best protection a fire department can deliver. It began with a discarded Long Island locomotive rim that was purchased for $15. It was placed in front of a house located on Prospect Avenue on November 24, 1924. The rim was struck with a sledgehammer to alert the firemen who would respond and converge to the point where the smoke was seen. Then came the telephone and the sounding of the sirens for the firemen to respond to the firehouse where the location of the fire was given. Then came fire pull down alarm boxes that were replaced with telephone alarm boxes. Since 1951 we have had our own paid dispatchers and maintenance staff to answer the telephone emergency calls and maintain all our equipment. .

In 1958, we were the first fire department in Nassau County to install a system to refill our air breathing tanks with our own cascade system. This was upgraded to a modern system that produces and refills our tanks as dome to this da te.

In 1959, we established a Bureau of Fire Prevention that had fire inspections and conducted Fire Prevention Programs. This progressed to the appointment of a paid part time District Chief Fire Inspector. Members of the department to this day present all fire protection programs.

In 1959 we pioneered the installation and utilization of a tone activated radio alerting system. It was believed to have been the first of its kind that could select individual companies or the entire membership. Currently every member is issued a pager that is activated when his company is selected. Our alarm and communications equipment remains the most modern available today.

In 1960, the National Board of Fire Underwriters (now ISO) inspection, awarded us classification grade 4. The EMFD was one of the first two volunteer fire departments in the USA to be granted this fire protection classification. In 1970 the re-inspection elevated us to class 3. In the years that followed our agency came within 4 points of a classification 2. A fully paid fire department would be very pleased to have this grading.

On June 4, 1970, The East Meadow Fire Department responded to Long Island’s first Hi-Rise building fire as the new, yet unfinished Nassau County Medical Center was ablaze from a tar roof fire now extended in some of the floors in the building. Under the Direct of Chief Edward J. O’Brien firefighters eventually got the fire under control.

On July 17, 1977, East Meadow Volunteers would see one of the largest fires of their time when the vacant Mitchell College caught fire. Previously know as the Mitchell Field Barricks in the earliest days, these structures stood in decay. As firefighters raced to their firehouses, the sunny sky was quickly filling with thick black smoke. Under the direction of Chief Williamson E. Henderson, East Meadow volunteers worked throughout the day to gain control of this huge “U shaped” barricks fire. The two most memorable occurrences that afternoon was Ladder 617, positioned in the courtyard began to suffer heat damage as warning light covers melted, and windshield weather stripping changed shape. Later in the day Engine 611, pumping water the entire day, caught fire itself as the jump seat nearest the hot engine ignited.

From their early existence, the East Meadow Fire Department racing team was outstanding when we competed in the motorized events. There are no records that indicate the “Suicide Squad” of the 1930’s performed to the level of “The Meadowlarks” who were New York State Champs in 1946 and 1958. They were always top contenders in Nassau and Suffolk Counties until the team retired from the motorized competition events in 1983. Currently the Meadowlarks compete in old fashion tournaments.

In 1980, an Emergency Rescue Squad was created and opened by members of Engine Company 4.

On January 25th, 1989 while Avianca Airline Flight 52 ran out of fuel, was lost on the Kennedy Airport radar screen, and crashed into a wooded residential area off Cove Neck in Oyster bay. As radios alerted firefighters throughout the county, the largest EMS operation of it’s time began to unfold. The East Meadow Fire Department responded with ambulances, medical technicians, and firefighters for what would become a 7 hour rescue effort. Although 73 people died in the crash 85 would survive on this unseasonable warmer foggy night.

On July 22, 1989, Ex Captain Carey Welt, while operating as a Nassau County Fire Marshall, at a major propane fire at the All-Boro Gas Company in Westbury, averted a major disaster when he crawled under a half-full 15,000-gallon propane tank as flames scorched the sides and turned off valves that were venting the gas and feeding the fire. All this as thousands of people were evacuated from a quarter-mile radius around the fire, amid tanks hurling several hundred feet into the air, and additional fears that the larger tank might also go off, said the Nassau County Executive, Thomas Gulotta. ”It would have been the equivalent of a small atomic bomb,” Mr. Gulotta said.

In 1990, a special squad staffed by members of the Fire Department who are Advanced Emergency Medical Technicians was created. This squad paved the way for advanced Life Support members to respond directly to the scene of a medical emergency for patient care.

A Safety Officers Squad staffed by Ex Chiefs and Ex Captains trained to improved firefighter safety was formed. They respond to a scene in unit 6155. A standard of the National Firefighter Protection Association (NFPA).

In August of 1995, one of the largest brush fire in modern time ignited in Westhampton. The ensuing fire destroyed more than 6,000 acres of Pine Barrens, wildlife, and homes along the way. It became a valiant effort in a massive response as the Nassau County Fire Service joined Suffolk to assist. The East Meadow Fire Department dispatched Engine Co 2, Engine Co 3, and Ladder Co 1, to the blaze. Exhausted Engine Company 2 firefighters found themselves on the cover of the August 27, 1995, Newsday appropriately titled “Hell Week”.

On February 13, 1998, the East Meadow Chief’s Association held its first meeting. Their purpose is to support the current Chief’s and exchange ideas. They meet up to three times a year.

On September 11, 2001, our nation suddenly came under attack by terrorists who took over (4) commercial jetliners and steered them into US targets. As the world watched in horror, World Trade Center buildings 1 and 2, and the Pentagon were struck by the planes. A 4th plane failed to reach its destination as a result of the heroics of the passengers. At 08:46 and 09:03 WTC towers 1, and 2 collapsed respectively and tens of thousands to New York City workers and residents fled. Under the direction of Chief Michael Mongello, a general alarm for the East Meadow Fire Department was struck, eventually leading to all seven East Meadow companies relocating to the City of New York at different intervals.
The loss of life of that day was uncomprehensible as 2,977 innocent persons and heroes were lost, including 343 FDNY Firefighters 23 NYPD Officers, and 37 Port Authority Officers, all who perished in their work to saving lives.

As the years passed, the toll continued on our nation and the E.M.F.D. Not only did Ex Captain Daniel Brethel, a past member of Engine 1, pass away in the collapse, but time revealed that the toxic dust from the worksite would eventually take the lives of East Meadow FD volunteer members Ex Captain Rudolf Havelka (NYS EMS), and Ex Captain Raymond Pfeffer (FDNY). Before his passing, Ray would become the most influential of heroic rescuers lobbying the members of Congress for years to continue the expired Zadroga Act. An act to provide financial assistance and care to those sickened by the contaminants of September 11th.

In 2002, the East Meadow Fire District successfully passed a bid for the purchase of (1) Ladder truck, as well as a land purchase and construction, of what would be the new Fire Station # 1.

Today, The East Meadow Fire District consists of more than 14,000 residences with an estimated population of 55,000. There are large office buildings, the Nassau County Eisenhower Park, the Nassau County Correctional Center, the 21 story Nassau University Medical Center building, in addition to more than a dozen facilities that support this operation. There are several large mercantile operations that include major chains such as Car Max, Wal-Mart, and Marshals along with a variety of other stores.

The East Meadow Fire Department has always been 100% volunteer, and has never failed to respond to an alarm. The response time is considered excellent because of the well-placed firehouses and companies, the direct dialing to our dispatcher, a state of the art radio alerting system, and the finest group of dedicated men and women, your neighbors, who stand ready 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to respond to emergencies. The Chiefs respond directly to all alarms in their chief’s cars. Less than 5 minutes is not unusual.

But this dedication has come with a price to our volunteers with four members passing away in the line of Duty. For this we honor Firefighter George Leggio (Engine 3), Ex Captain James Landrigan (Engine 2), Firefighter Walter Ernst (Engine 4), and Ex Asst Chief Robert Reed (Engine 4), who gave their lives in the performance of their duty.

The residents of the East Meadow Fire District are very fortunate to be protected by the East Meadow Fire Department.

Up to 2019, the History of the East Meadow Fire Department has been established by Department Historian / Ex Chief Anthony Butera, who spent thousands of hours in his research. A Veteran of World War II, a Marine Corporal, a Captain, Fire Chief, and Chief Instructor, who dedicated his life to our country and our community. “Andy” would pass away on November 12, 2022 at the age of 100. Thank You Chief Butera, for all you have accomplished.

By Ex Chief Anthony Butera
With newest additions by Ex Chief John J. O’Brien Sr.