Kings Park firefighters to mark 100th year
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Miles Borden remembers when the Kings Park Fire Department's ambulance was "a taxi service" taking the infirm to the hospital.
"You'd go to a scene and you might give basic first aid, but that was about it," said Borden, 86, who has volunteered for 59 years.
With more than 100 training hours now required to volunteer, Borden said those days have changed, but commitment to serve local residents has remained.
The fire department has since expanded and plans to celebrate its 100th anniversary Saturday, during a day of performances and activities for an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 people on the fields of the Ralph J. Osgood Intermediate and William T. Rogers Middle schools.
"They're the ones who supported us the last 100 years," said Christopher Triolo, 45, co-chairman of the department's centennial committee. "Without them, we wouldn't be here."
John Murray, an instructor at The Francis X. Pendl Nassau County Firefighters Museum and Education Center in Uniondale, said the department is among an increasing number reaching the milestone. "Early 1900s into the 1920s, fire departments started to fill in with more regularity," Murray said. "That's going to lead to [100th] anniversaries every few years."
The Kings Park Fire Department traces its history to a small brigade that organized around a horse-drawn hand engine in 1910, possibly as early as 1908, said Borden, who published a book on the department. The brigade was the foundation of Kings Park Hook & Ladder Fire Company, which was officially named in 1913 in a livery barn, he said.
Interest in improving the service ratcheted up after the May 15, 1917, "Flats Fire" devastated roughly one-third of a mile on both sides of what is now East Main Street, Borden said.
A May 18, 1917, story in The Long Islander newspaper described it as "a $100,000 fire" that "wiped out nearly an entire block of the business section of Kings Park . . . destroying eight stores and gutting a ninth, and made a number of families homeless."
The fire reportedly started in a barbershop with a billiard room in the rear, the news story said.
That fire gave "leverage to say, 'We've got to improve our fire department,' " said Borden, adding that the Kings Park Fire District was formed in 1924.
The department went through several transformations, from horse-drawn wagons to the first motorized rig, a Mitchell automobile that was rebuilt as a fire truck in 1917, and to the first "walkie-talkie" in 1953. By the mid-1980s a system that set off sirens around five different sites in town was retired in favor of home radios, pagers, and eventually text messages.
The department of 180 members -- roughly 100 active responders -- assists in wildfires and structural fires, motor vehicle accidents and boat rescues, said Hans Richter, co-chairman of the centennial committee.
Linda Buffa, 56, a professional paramedic who has volunteered for nearly 20 years, said responding to emergencies in the tight-knit area can be "very emotionally draining, because you know the person," but said she continues volunteering "because I feel like I'm doing something good for the community."
Saturday's event is scheduled to begin at noon, and includes bounce houses, a merry-go-round and muster of antique fire apparatus. Vendors will offer food, but families are encouraged to bring picnics.
Five bands will perform throughout the day, starting at 1 p.m. with a Kings Park school alumni band that features about 100 current and former graduates. The event is to culminate in a fireworks show by Grucci at about 9:45 p.m. (Sunday is the rain date.)
"We're just looking for the community to come out and have a great time . . . and find out what the fire department and volunteering is all about," Richter said. "Hopefully, we get some people to put in an application and keep it going for another 100 years."