Although Briarcliff Manor was not officially incorporated until November 21, 1902, Fire protection had already existed in the area of the future village for more than a year. In 1901 Frederick Messinger and a group of 13 other local men had founded a private fire company. Messinger had recently moved to the area after spending ten years as a fireman in Kingston, New York and had seen the opportunity to use his skills. The Volunteer Company was formalized at a meeting held on Feb. 25 1902 in the “Band room.” On April 15, 1902 the name Briarcliff Steamer Company No.1 was adopted. Following the incorporation of the village in the following November, the Steamer Company petitioned to be taken under its jurisdiction, a request which was granted on February 10, 1903
The Company’s first piece of fire equipment was a hose cart pulled by the firemen. This was followed in 1902 by a horse-drawn steamer purchased by the Briarcliff Realty Company, the enterprise of the Walter Law, the “Laird of Briarcliff Manor”. And loaned to the village. This pumper, along with the horses which drew it, was housed in Barn A of Laws estate, just off Dalmeny Road.
This barn burned to the ground in a spectacular fire in 1913, but all of the horses and most of the equipment were saved. Later that same year the department purchased a 750 gallon-per-minute motorized pump truck from American LaFrance. In 1914 a new Municipal Building was constructed to house village offices and the fire apparatus. The first major fire to use the new equipment was in the central business district in 1916, when the businesses along Pleasantville Road in the northern end of the village were destroyed.
There were a number of notable fires in the 1920s, including one at the 300-acres Macys estate, which was later sub divided to become the Chilmark area of homes and shopping center. In October, 1939, the Luckacovic residence on Sleepy Hollow Road was destroyed. The newspaper commented, “Probably this was one of the driest fires in the memory of the Company, since there was no water with which to fight it, and a number of barrels of perfectly good cider were out of the reach in the flames.” Later in the decade, the house of Curtis and Anna Roosevelt Dall on Sleepy Hollow Road burned to the ground. Anna, the daughter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the New York Governor and future President, was in Europe with her husband at the time.
In 1929 in order to improve fire protection in the west part of the village, it was decided to partially merge the Archville Fire Department with Briarcliff’s department, and a new company with the name Scarborough Fire Company was formed. The Archville Fire Department had been established in 1901 and chartered in 1909, with Herbert W. Mannerly as Fire Chief from 1909 to 1930. Its headquarters were at the corner of Union Street and the Albany Post Road. After the partial merger, the Scarborough Fire Company reported to the Briarcliff Fire Department and had fire engines both at the original Archvill location and at a garage of the Scarborough Presbyterian Church at the corner of Route 9 and Scarborough Road. This arrangement lasted until 1972, when a dispute between the Briarcliff Village Board and the Archville hydrants led to a ruling by the New York State Contoller that arrangement was illegal, and the units were again separated.
Another reorganization took place in 1936, when the Hook and Ladder Company split off from the Engine Company in order to comply with a state law limiting the number of firemen in any one company, the new company fought several major fires in the last years of the decade, including a fire at the Bloom home on Crest Drive when former fire chief Rowland Doughty rescued Mrs. Bloom, her husband, and an Airedale dog. The July 29, 1939 edition of The Briarcliff Weekly reported another dog story under the banner headline, “Cunningham Home Burns to Ground: Nearby Kennels and thirty-eight dogs are saved by Briarcliff Fireman.”
During the period leading up to World War II, many of the volunteer firemen joined the Armed Forces. In response the New York State Legislature passed laws allowing 16-year-olds to become volunteer firemen, and a number of young men responded. Briarcliff Manor lost a number of its sons during the war, including Sergeant Arthur J. Quinn, Jr., who was killed in action in Germany in 1945.
Following the war, a number of citizens expressed the need for an ambulance, and a fund drive was organized. The main source of funds come from a benefit performance by a circus headquartered in Briarcliff called the Holland Classical Circus. The Proprietor of the circus, Benard Van Leer, donated the performance in gratitude after the Fire Department saved a barn housing the circus” four elephants and sixteen Lippinzaner performing horses. The Performance was almost canceled because of the sudden death of President Franklin D, Roosevelt, but with the encouragement of his wife Eleanor, it was decided to proceed with the event. The proceeds were a substantial portion of the cost of $5000 for the ambulance purchased in 1947. An Ambulance Corps was formed using volunteers from the three companies.
New equipment continues to be purchased. In 1957 the weight of new pumper and ladder trucks purchased the previous years ruptured the floor of the fire house. However, it tool five more years for the village to draw up plans and receive voter approval for a new fire house/municipal building, which was completed in late 1963. The 1960s also saw the introduction of the Plectron, a small radio receiver that was remotely turned on by a signal from headquarters when there was an alarm.
During the 1970s, Fire Department Chief Sid Carter and his assistant Chief Jim Gaffney and Hank Kaufmann undertook a major program to upgrade the level of emergency care being provided by members of the Ambulance Corps, who were trained only in first Aid. Five members of the corps were trained and certified as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTS). Anew ambulance was also purchased I 1978 for 32,750 in contrast to the cost of $6000 for the original 1947 equipment.
Mention was made earlier in this history of a fire in 1916 which destroyed a major part of northern section Briarcliff’s business district. An equally serious fire in January, 1982 engulfed a number of buildings in the southern section of the district on one of the coldest nights of the year. Later that same year a spectacular blaze started under suspicious circumstances at the abandoned Combined Books Exhibit building off Route 9. There was a second fire at the same site in 1984 involving an adjacent large barn. The blaze was so hot it melted the lights in the front of the truck when Captain Frank Capozza attempted to get close enough to use Scarborough Engines deck gun.
The 1980s also marked the introduction of women as active firefighters. Rachel Higgins, later Leibacher, and Debbie Conachhhio, in time Johnson, had their baptism of fire at a house on Butternut Road where there was a gas explosion. They were followed by others, some of whom were “ambulance only” members, a new category requiring only first air training rather than the fire training formerly required of all members.
Of course, women had been associated with the Briarcliff Manor Fire Department as members of the Ladies Auxiliary, which organized in 1933 with Clara Matthew as the first president. Among their most important activities was the direct support if the fire fighters at the scene of the fire through serving food and coffee, especially appreciated in rainy and freezing weather. The Ladies Auxiliary also marched with the Department in many parades, both in Briarcliff Manor and other Westchester Country events. For their marching skills and uniforms, the Auxiliary won numerous trophies now displayed with the other trophies in the Fire House meeting rooms. However, in 1993-1994 the organization was dissolved, partly because of the difficulty in recruiting new members at a time when young women felt more comfortable in being active fire fighters thank being in a service auxiliary.
Part of the Department but organizationally separate are the Fire Police. Members of the Fire Police are all firefighters from one of the three companies who have received special training in traffic and crowd control. They must ensure safe arrival and departure of firefighters and equipment at fire or other emergency scenes. They also serve at special events when requested by the chiefs. IN addition, the Fire Police are charged with maintaining safe conditions for emergency personal at the scene. Crowd control is often necessary at suck times to allow the firefighters to do their jobs and to allow the police to conduct any necessary investigations. The Fire Police can be identified by their special orange vests. The present Fire Police units was organized in the early 1980s with Chris Ghiazza as Captain. Currently there was 26 members on the Fire Police roster under Captain Bill Sharman. However, Depending on the demand of the fire or other emergency, many of the fire police on the scene are more active in firefighting or ambulance duties than in strictly fire police work.
In September of 2001, the Department was preparing to host the 95th Annual Westchester County Volunteer Firemen’s Association Convention & Parade, however, due to the events of September 11, 2001, the parade and convention were postponed. Instead, on September 11th, the Department sent Engine 92, along with many other Westchester County fire departments, to the Bronx to cover FDNY units that were working at Ground Zero. Engine 92 was stationed at Bailey Avenue and 133rd Street before being moved to Yonkers Raceway to standby with other Westchester County departments. The Convention meeting was later held in November, with the parade in May of 2002.
Prior to the 2001 WCVFA Convention, the Department hosted the event two other times. In 1957, while William Magee, a member of the Department, was President of the Association and in 1997 to honor Association President and Briarcliff Manor Fire Department Deputy Chief William Kowack. The 1997 Convention also recognized the 25th Anniversary of the Scarborough Engine Company and the 50th Anniversary of the Ambulance Corps.
Over the course of the next several years, the Department had a few significant incidents. On September 20, 2003, the original wing of the Briarcliff Lodge caught fire. Residents began calling at 6:37 am, after noticing smoke coming from the property. The Department arrived, at 6:40 am, later followed by surrounding mutual aid departments, totaling about 150 firefighters. The fire also spread to the lodge’s 9-story west wing, the fire departments were able to contain the fire and prevented the fire from spreading to the north as well as the village water tower which contains both village and commercial radio antennae.
At around 7:30pm on November 17, 2004, a tanker truck carry 4,700 gallons of gasoline crashed into a car in the northbound lanes of Route 9A causing a fireball over sixty feet high and trapping both drivers of the vehicles. Prior to the arrival of the Department, bystanders pulled the drivers from their vehicles. The Department used foam to contain the fire and prevent it from spreading to nearby trees.
During a series of storm related calls on May 10, 2007, Deputy Chief Joseph E. Piazzi, a 35 year member, was responding to his eighth call that day when he began to experience chest pains and called 911. Deputy Chief Piazzi later passed away and became the Department’s only Line of Duty Death.
Over the years, the needs of the Department changed and in 2009, the Department temporarily relocated the Scarborough Engine Company and Engine 92 to the Archville Fire Department while the Scarborough Firehouse was demolished and a larger firehouse was built. The building was doubled in size and added a second bay, 14- foot-high garage ceilings, and a radio communications room.
On the evening of December 13, 2015, units responded to a fire at the Law Park Pavilion. Upon arrival, crews were faced with a fully involved fire in Pavilion and began to extinguish the fire from all sides of the structure. The fire was contained, but there was significant damage to the structure. The upper level was later demolished and rebuilt by the Village.
The Department continues to be a vital for both in our Village and in the Country. In the year 2000, they answered 361 fore calls, 530 ambulance calls, and participated in six parades. In each of these calls, volunteers left the comfort of their homes to serve their community, often in cold or rainy weather. With their hundredth anniversary celebration this year, they are looking forward to a second century of volunteer service.