Fire Captain Kyle O'Brien, Robert Dickinson and Lt. Andres Ospina.

Fire Captain Kyle O'Brien, Robert Dickinson and Lt. Andres Ospina. Credit: Joseph Sperber

The Valley Stream Nassau Hook & Ladder Company, which still operates out of the same firehouse it did in 1901, marked the department’s 125th anniversary Friday night and honored longtime members.

It is the oldest active firehouse in Nassau County, first serving Valley Stream from 1898 to 1911, when another Valley Stream company was formed, the department’s treasurer, Rob Sarno, said.

The firehouse on South Corona Avenue is still used, although it has been modified over the years to twice lower the floor and widen doors to accept larger trucks.

“It’s always important to honor your history,” said Sarno, a member of the company for 50 years who also retired after 40 years from the FDNY. “It’s getting difficult because trucks are getting bigger. The firehouse was built for hand-drawn trucks.

The company has 26 active members, but volunteers are on the decline in the aging department, Sarno said.

The department started after a coal-fueled bakery fire that burned for more than a month and prompted residents to form Nassau Hook & Ladder Company 1, according to the department’s history website.

Photos of the first fire company showed bunting hanging above the firehouse to mark the assassination of President William McKinley in September 1901, Sarno said.

Officials Friday honored several chiefs from the department’s history, including its oldest member, 98-year-old Robert Dickinson of East Meadow. 

Dickinson joined the department at 17 in 1941 as firefighters were seeking to replace men leaving for World War II, he said. He joined the Navy a year later and served on the USS Queenfish submarine, tasked with sinking Japanese war ships in the Pacific.

“They needed me and I joined during the war because they were getting shorthanded,” Dickinson said. “I started my last year of high school, and they took me in to replace a lot of guys who had to go to the service. They needed help very badly in the fire department and I went to war when I was 18.”

He returned to the Valley Stream department in 1946. He bought his first home with his wife in Levittown where he was a founding member of the Levittown Fire Department in 1950.

He helped establish the original charter from the Town of Hempstead and served as one of the first Levittown commissioners.

Valley Stream Mayor Ed Fare noted the area was just celery farms when the department was formed and the village wasn’t founded until about 25 years later.

Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-Island Park) said the U.S. Capitol flew a flag last week in honor of the department’s anniversary that will be delivered to Station No. 1 in the coming weeks.

Former Fire Chief Brian Howley was honored for more than 40 years of service after joining the department in 1979.

“It’s special because I grew up in that firehouse with my father and three brothers and we lived just down the block,” he said. “I've seen the history. I lived the history of that firehouse. It’s iconic because that building is more than 100 years old.”

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