The Vails Gate Fire Company, as we know it today, did not have its beginnings as a fire fighting unit. Rather, it was formed in 1906 as a social club with just twenty members. The club was named the Vails Gate Social Club and was organized by John Eldridge and William Cushing. A building owned by William Cushing, operator of a general store in Vails Gate, was open to them for their meetings. The Vails Gate Social Club produced one of the best baseball teams in the area, and they also promoted billiard tournaments and boxing contests.
For one year, the Vails Gate Social Club had nothing to do with fire fighting. In 1907, a fire broke out in a shed in which the workers on the New York City aqueduct kept their tools and equipment. The aqueduct workers tried to put out the fire, but all efforts failed to control or extinguish the blaze. As a desperate measure, the aqueduct workers pumped water into a trough, and the members of the Vails Gate Social Club formed a bucket brigade that helped to extinguish the blaze. As a result of their fire fighting efforts, the members began to consider the need for fire protection in the community. John Eldridge and William Cushing, aided and persuaded by Mrs. Burden and Mrs. McClain, organized the Vails Gate Social Club to fight fires in the community.
The members needed to fund-raise for the purchase of equipment, and their first fair was held at Knox Headquarters in 1909. As a result of the fair, a two-wheeled cart with a seventy-gallon chemical tank was purchased. It is still on display in the social hall of Station 1. The firefighters, armed with their two-wheeled chemical cart, made no distinction of town lines or boundaries. They went wherever there were fire calls. Sometimes a horse and wagon were available to pull the machine, and other times the firefighters set out on foot and took turns pulling the cart.
As the need for fire protection increased, the members decided to rename the group the Knox Chemical Association. In 1910, the first by-laws were drawn up with the intent of forming a fire company. In 1913, the Secretary of the State of New York granted the company a charter. In the same year, a Ladies Auxiliary was organized by Mrs. Burden and Mrs. McClain.
1920 saw the motorization of the Knox Chemical Company. The Company bought a La France apparatus with two 35-gallon tanks mounted on a worm drive Model T Ford chassis. Two years later, the company was incorporated. Its name became the Vails Gate Chemical Company Inc. of Vails Gate and Meadowbrook, NY. It had grown in maturity, and would now be know and designated as the Vails Gate Chemical Co. No. 1 of Vails Gate, New York. A new charter came with the new honors. In the same year, a frame building was purchased from the Town of New Windsor to keep the apparatus and equipment.
In 1924, Nicholas Marshall donated land to the company so that it could put up a larger building. There were now fifty members. In 1925, a new two-story home of concrete block was built. Vails Gate Chemical Company was now protecting all of New Windsor, Orrs Mills, and Meadowbrook in the Town of Cornwall. In the same year, the Company was finally able to buy its own uniforms. (Their first uniforms had been donated by the Storm King Engine Company of Cornwall-on-Hudson.)
In 1927, a fire district was formed, embracing the portion of New Windsor west of Woodlawn Cemetery, the portion of Cornwall to Moodna Creek at Orrs Mills, and the N.Y.O.W. railroad on the west as far as Meadowbrook railway station.
About 1929, an iron railroad engine tire was donated by the O&W Railroad to be used for ringing the fire alarm. With this innovation, the chapel bell that had been used since 1912 was moved to Little Britain where it was used to summon members in that area. Also in 1929, the Vails Gate Fire District was formed by the Vails Gate firemen and the Town of New Windsor. The district covered an area of about thirty square miles. Northward, its boundary was the Newburgh city line. Eastward, if followed the Hudson riverfront far enough to include Moodna. To the south, it carried beyond the Cornwall town line and took in Orrs Mills at the Moodna Bridge on Route 32. On the west, it stretched again into Cornwall, keeping its old boundary of the O&W Railroad and covering Little Britain up to the Little Britain Grange.
Each year, the company bought new equipment. The purchases were made possible only with the devoted and efficient aid of the Ladies' Auxiliary, which arranged and executed various fundraisers, such as dances and dinners. The dinners, especially, meant hard work for the ladies, as the food had to be cooked on a large coal range in the rear of the engine room. Then, every platter had to be carried upstairs into the main hall.
The company continued to build itself into a fully efficient fire-fighting force. In 1929, a 1925 Hudson was donated to the company to be used in combating brush fires. The members converted it into a pick-up truck for carrying brooms, shovels, Indian tanks and milk cans - things needed for carrying water and smothering brush fires. By 1930, the company was able to buy a Mack truck with a 250-gallon booster tank, a 500-gallon pump, and the latest equipment for combating fires. At that time, this was the finest and most complete piece of fire-fighting apparatus in the neighborhood. In 1938, the company bought a 1935 Ford V8 chassis, Robert Glassey built a 250-gallon tank and body for it, and members of the company installed the pump.
In 1949, the firemen built a twenty-foot addition to their firehouse. The additional space housed the new apparatus downstairs, and an upstairs kitchen assured faster and easier serving of more people at their dinners.
In 1952, the company bought a new Mack fire truck with a 500-gallon pump, a 250-gallon booster tank, and full equipment in modern methods of fighting fires. In the same year, the company bought a 1750-gallon tank truck in which to carry water to the places where it was most needed.
In 1954, a 1946 White truck was purchased from Temple Hill Garage, which also did the work of mounting the tank on the new chassis.
The company's equipment was improving and growing. So was the community - and rapidly. The only thing that didn't grow was the size of the firehouse. In spite of the twenty-foot addition, the house was simply too small to contain the additional apparatus that had to be added to protect the mushrooming developments and the up-springing homes in the district. The next project, therefore, was to acquire land for a new building, and then to build on it.
1958 was a year of architect plans - drawn, re-drawn, and much discussion about what was most needed in the proposed building. The Ladies' Auxiliary wanted a large and well-fitted kitchen, a large hall, and a an engine room large enough to house fire engines, equipment, and first aid. A set of plans drawn by E.C. Noot, a general contractor, was finally adopted. The property was obtained from Forge Hill Farms, ground was broken, and construction commenced in the fall of 1958. Many business establishments contributed generously to the project. One particularly outstanding donation was the drilling of a well by C. DeWiit & Sons.
The building was completed in 1959. In the same year, the company bought two Scott Air Packs, which enable firemen to enter smoke-filled buildings. At the 1959 annual dinner, the Ladies' Auxiliary presented the company with two much-needed powerful spotlights, which were mounted in the fire truck. The year 1959 also saw the installation of a new seven-horn siren, capable of being heard at a distance of ten miles. This siren was installed at the new fire station on Route 94.
The year 1960 marked a half century of strong organization. The company purchased a 1960 Reo chassis with a John Beam high pressure fog and a 750-gallon volume pump with a 500-gallon booster tank fire truck.
In 1963, the social hall was expanded to twice its original size.
In 1964, the company purchase a new Diamond Reo emergency truck equipped with a John Beam high pressure pump, 250-gallon water tank, and the latest in rescue and emergency equipment.
1964 also saw the formation of the Vails Gate Exempt and Benevolent Volunteer Firemen's Association with Herbert Townsend as its first president. The Vails Gate Fire Company also started a Junior Firemen's Program. This program proved to be very successful over the years. To date, two men who entered as Junior members have advanced to head the department as Chief. These men were Sidney Weinheim Jr. and Steven Weinheim. The present Assistant Chief, Dominick Lucera, also started his career as a junior fire fighter.
1965 saw the building of a new firehouse on Weather Oak Hill Road to better serve the western end of the district.
1966 was a year of two major purchases, one being a 1966 Reo with a John Beah high pressure pump and a 750 GPM volume pump with 1000 gallons of water. The second purchase was a 1966 Reo 65' aerial ladder truck with John Beam high pressure pump and 750 GPM volume pump with 250 gallons of water.
In 1967, the company hosted the Orange County Volunteer Firemen's Association county parade in honor of President Herbert Townsend.
The years between 1967 and 1970 saw steady growth in the Station 2 area and the need for more fire protection. In order to accomplish this, the company purchased a Diamond Reo 1600 gallon tanker and placed it in service at Station 2. A used Dodge Power wagon was purchased and rebuilt with a brush truck and put into service at Station 1.
1971 saw the continued growth of the Vails Gate Fire Co. and the need for more room. An addition was planned and a lounge, conference room, and chiefs office were added to the second floor of Station 1.
In 1979, one of the Vails Gate fire fighters was honored by being named Orange County Volunteer Fireman of the year. Michael Mashnouk was given this honor for performing a rescue during a fire on Vails Gate Heights Drive.
1979 saw the addition of the first 1000 GPM pumper when the company purchased and placed into service a new custom built 1978 Mack Pumper with a 1000 gallon water tank. Once again, Vails Gate Company was honored by the Orange County Volunteer Firemen's Association when John McCann became president in 1975 and the Fire Company hosting the County parade in 1976.
In 1977, Vails Gate purchased and placed into service the "Jaws of Life," which at the time was the latest in rescue tools. This equipment has proven its value on many occasions.
In 1978, the company updated and modernized its vehicle fleet with the addition of a 1978 Duplex 1250 GPM Pumper.
In 1979, the members of the company voted to become a Fire District. This was voted on by the town residents living in the Vails Gate fire district and became a reality in April 1980. For the first time in its history, the members no longer had to hold fairs or raise money on its own to purchase fire trucks. The fire district rented the fire stations and passed a resolution that the Vails Gate Fire Company would be the fire company servicing the district.
In 1982, the company purchased a 1981 Duplex/Sailsbury Emergency Rescue vehicle equipped with its own electrical generator and cascade system built in. This vehicle was also equipped with the latest in rescue and firefighting equipment. Another purchase in 1982 was a 1982 Ford/FMC 1000 GPM stock pumper. During this period the company formed and placed in service an underwater rescue team with five members.