Jonesville Volunteer Fire Dept. History
May 28, 2019 will mark the 100th Anniversary of the Jonesville Volunteer Fire Department. In our 100 years of dedicated volunteer service, the fire department has evolved from a handful of country neighbors banning together to serve their small rural hamlet, to a highly trained group of volunteers responding to the emergency needs of an ever-expanding suburban community.
A lot has changed in the 100 years since our inception, but the goals of the volunteer fire service have remained the same, to selflessly serve and protect the people and property of our community.
The hamlet of Jonesville, much older than the fire department that serves it, is located in the southern part of Saratoga County approximately fifteen miles north of the state capital Albany, New York. The hamlet of Jonesville got its name from an early tavern owner, James Jones, who operated the Jonesville Hotel. The hotel was located at the corner of Main Street and MacElroy Road (now a vacant lot across from the Jonesville Country Store). The hotel/tavern served as a rest stop along the stage line running to Saratoga. It burned to the ground in 1915.
May 28, 1919 marks the date that the Jonesville Volunteer Fire Department first came together to form as a group of volunteer firefighters. It is said that the Jonesville Hotel fire of 1915 started community leaders thinking about the need for fire protection. Three years later, on July 12, 1922 a community meeting was held for the purpose of officially organizing and incorporating as a company of volunteer firemen for the village of Jonesville. This meeting took place in the evening at the Methodist Church. Dr. J. R. MacElroy was elected as temporary chairman. Doc MacElroy was the prime mover in getting the department formed. Charter members of the department were J. C. Burk, Oscar Carlton, Andrew Caul, James Hatlee, John Hearty, George Hemstreet, John R. Jump, Frank Kelly, Andrew Nash, Ward Noyes, Nelson Peterson, John Riddle, William Riddle, Sr., Fred Schmerhorn, W. W. Weatherill, Alonzo White and R. J. Wood.
The early equipment could hardly be compared with today’s standards. Up until the department formed, fires were put out using bucket brigades consisting of a line of people handing buckets or canvas bags full of water from a water source such as a creek or pond to the fire. This technique was reliant upon many people to be successful. With the formation of the department, its first piece of fire equipment was acquired. Percy Smith, owner of the feed store at Elnora, supplied a two-wheel chemical cart that was pulled by hand. The cart consisted of two large wagon wheels placed close together with a 30-gallon tank mounted horizontally between the wheels. The cart also carried glass bottles containing acid. The bottles of acid were mixed into the tank of water with soda. The acid/soda mixture resulted in a reaction creating gases that would propel the water through a hose. As you can imagine this was a tedious way of firefighting. The tank would have to be charged frequently, water had to be bailed in, then the acid/soda mixture added. The cart was wheeled through the front doors of the Jonesville Country Store and stored in its front room. In 1921 the tank was paired with another and moved to the bed of a Ford pick-up. The truck was kept behind the Country Store.
In 1922 the members sought a more permanent storage area for the Ford. A committee of members contacted many local businesses to purchase, build on or rent space to act as a fire house. The school district was first contacted about converting a part of the cellar at the Jonesville Academy or possibly building on the school grounds. The Blacksmith, located at the corner of Longkill and Ushers, between the creek and the cemetery, was a temporary home for the volunteers. Between 1922 and 1925 the members raised funds to purchase the first fire station. In 1925 the department purchased a wagon shop/auto repair shop on Main Street owned by Royal J. Dyer. The shop had operated in the location since the turn of the century. In 1926 a 1-1/ 2-ton Graham was purchased and kept in the new station. The late 20’s saw the installation of a warning siren that would be activated when a report of a fire would come in. Fires in the early days would be reported in person or by phone to the Fire Chief or other company members. Ward or Roy Noyes, at the Country Store, would take calls and then go to the fire house to sound the alarm.
In 1934 the Jonesville Volunteer Fire Department purchased a second hand 1925 American LaFrance pumper that would become Jonesville’s prime attack piece for the next 15 years. The “LaFrance” as it was known, was a one-ton fire truck equipped with a direct drive, chain driven pump, two ladders, between 200 and 500 feet of 2-1/2-inch hose and capable of carrying a dozen men. With a direct drive pump located directly below the driver’s seat, caution was used when pumping. If the discharge line was suddenly shut off, the top of the pump would blow off endangering anyone sitting in the seat. The LaFrance is also remembered as being cold to ride on. With an open cockpit, the driver and passenger were subjected to snow and rain. To gain relief from the cold, members installed a temporary windshield made of canvas to deflect the wind, snow, and rain. Apart from its inconveniences, the LaFrance had the reputation by its members of being capable of out pumping any fire truck around.
With the out break of World War II in 1941, the Jonesville Volunteer Fire Department’s membership was challenged. With most young men in military service, the department relied on the men too old to enlist and the omen of the community to provide fire protection. Mary Hardey, Charlotte Sumner, and Evelyn Norton along with a few others became Jonesville’s first female members. The women, under the direction of Chief Ken Noyes, would learn to operate and drive all the department’s apparatus. Chief Noyes was also head of Jonesville’s Civil Defense during the war, holding black-out and air raid drills.
1946 became the Department’s most tragic year since its beginning. In January, James Hatlee’s barn, located at the corner of Main Street and MacElroy Road burned. The LaFrance, in responding to the 4 a.m. call went to the scene and began laying hose back of the fire pond located behind the Methodist Church. The driver, in good faith, attempted to speed things by short cutting across the back side of the church and became hung on a mound of dirt covering an underground water pipe. Ballston Lake arrived as part of a mutual aid agreement and helped contain the fire and keep it from spreading. Later that year, on June 12, Fireman Percy Smith died in an automobile accident while responding to a barn fire. Mr. Smith, who operated Smith Feed Store at Elnora, and who was a major contributor to the department, became the department’s first and only member to date to die in the line of duty.
In 1948 improvements were made to the department with the purchase of a Brockway with a Sanford body. The “LaFrance” was retired to storage at Martin Jewett’s and later sold to a local scrap yard. By this time, warning sirens had been installed in many locations, including Noyes Store at Main Street and Longkill, the fire house, and Lou Pasquarell Sr.’s welding shop located at the intersection of Kinns and Route 146A. The dual sirens that were installed at the Main Station were “war black-out sirens” purchased from the Town of Clifton Park in 1946. The sirens were later moved to the new Main Station in 1957. By the early 1950s, the Jonesville Fire District had changed its boundaries a half dozen times to keep up with fire protection to the slowly growing community.
The Jonesville Fire District, which was formed in 1924, was instrumental in assuring protection to all within the District as well as surrounding area. In 1934 Mutual Aid agreements were signed between Ballston Lake and Burnt Hills Fire Districts to provide additional manpower and equipment in times of emergency. As the District expanded, so did the Jonesville Volunteer Fire Department’s annual budget. In 1925 the annual budget was $320.00, by World War II the amount had grown to $1,000.00, and by the mid fifties had grown to $3,500. A sub-station (Station #2) was built in 1955 to serve the south end of the District. The station was located at Route 146 and Route 146A and operates today as a pizza restaurant. Two years later, in 1957, a new Main Station was built just behind the old fire house with the latter being razed shortly thereafter. The new main station, at the north end, and the sub-station at the south end brought in more members. Young families were moving into the area and the fire department became a focal point of activity for the Town.
In 1949, a group of seven women organized to form the Jonesville Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary. The Ladies Auxiliary formed to provide for and assist firemen in all their activities. The women would go to the fire scenes and serve refreshments to the firemen. The Ladies Auxiliary was most beneficial in raising money through bake sales, luncheons, and card parties. The money raised would go to purchase new fire equipment and supplies for the fire house and kitchen. Charter members of the Auxiliary were Jeanne Cordsen, Lydia Evans, Alma LaNigra, Margaret Makowski, Edna Millington, Edna Riddle, Eileen Riddle, Ruth Riddle, Mae Sluti and Harriet Wicks. These charter members were known for their ambition and spirit to commitment. The Auxiliary today still reinforces that commitment to providing help and assistance to the Jonesville Firefighters.
The 1960’s brought suburbia to the Jonesville area. Young families were moving to the newly developed neighborhoods. The Jonesville Volunteer Fire Department’s annual budget was $6,200, by 1969 the amount had climbed to $33,000. The 1970’s saw the beginning of many new additions to the Jonesville Volunteer Fire Department fire service. Town Fire Codes were instituted, the Junior Firemen Program began providing training and membership to high school juniors and seniors. Annual Field Day’s competitions were organized by the Department between neighboring departments. A parade and carnival accompanied the competitions for the community to enjoy and become familiar with their local fire department.
During the 1960’s and into the 1970’s the Department purchased and updated the firefighting equipment. In 1970, two new Maxim 1250-gallon pumpers and a brush truck were purchased to service the growing District. These same pumpers are still in service with the Department today. In 1972, Hydrant Zones were established in the developments of Country Knolls and Clifton Knolls. A new Station #2 was built in 1974 on Route 146A to service the south end. This station operated as Jonesville’s south end station. Many more important additions followed. Hurst cutting tools (Jaws of Life) were purchased with funds of which half were raised by the members. The radio system was incorporated with other Southern Saratoga fire departments to aid in the dispatching of fire companies.
In 1973 the Jonesville Volunteer Fire Department responded to its largest fire in Department history. Van’s House and Garden Center located on Main Street, near the intersection of Route 146A, caught fire at 2:30 p.m. and burned out of control for nearly three hours. Mutual Aid was requested and received from Clifton Park, Vischers Ferry, West Crescent, Ballston Lake, Burnt Hills, Round Lake and Rexford. The volunteers brought the fire under control by 5:00 p.m. and remained on the scene until noon the next day quelling hot spots in the rubble. The fire destroyed $2,000,000 worth of uninsured property.
The Department purchased its first rescue squad truck in 1974, an International with a Providence body. The squad was sold in 1991 to Woolwich Fire Company, a volunteer department in New Jersey and was recently involved in a broad side collision while responding to a call. The news of the squad truck’s untimely end struck hard with some members who were instrumental in its design, specifications, and construction administration.
A full time Station Keeper was hired by the District in 1975 to maintain the two stations. A Dodge four-wheel drive with plow was acquired to help shuttle gear between stations and plow snow from the station driveways. The 1980’s continued to bring changes to the Fire Company. Emergency Medical Services began with members being trained and certified to handle all types of medical emergencies. National Fire Safety Codes were enacted, two new Engine Tankers, two four-wheel drive medical trucks, and a brush truck were purchased to expand the Company’s firefighting arsenal. Firefighters were issued paging devices that would alert the firefighter to fire and emergencies. A computer system was bought to keep up with the growing paper work.
The District, in 1988, constructed a new Station #1 (Main Station), replacing the former station built in 1957. Jonesville’s first two firehouses were originally located where today’s Station 1 is situated, in the area of the north side entrance. The first fire house was right up against the road (Main Street). The second fire house was built directly behind the first. In 2012, the District replaced Station 2 on Route 146A with a up to date modern fire station to meet the needs of our growing population.
Members today meet weekly to learn and practice the skills needed to be a volunteer firefighter. The Department periodically trains at the County Training Facility in Saratoga. There members fight simulated house fires with control burns in a concrete block house. These smoke and fire drills allow the Department to train members in the use of the self contained breathing apparatus; one of the most important tools used by the firefighter today. Members also attend classes annually in Montour Falls, at the New York State Fire Academy, a training facility where up-to-date fire and emergency classes are taught. Jonesville firefighters are well trained volunteers who give selflessly to the community to help protect people and property.
As we begin our next 100 years of service, we ask our community to support your local volunteers, become a part of your fire department by volunteering your time. Citizens can help by being mindful of emergency vehicles on the road. Yield the right of way for emergency vehicles and firefighters responding to calls. The time you help save in the firefighters’ response can make the difference in saving a life. Teach your family about fire safety and the steps that should be taken in cases of emergency. Today the Jonesville all volunteer fire department has grown to one of the largest, best equipped departments in the county.
From a two-wheeled cart in 1919, to a multi-equipped arsenal, the Jonesville Volunteer Fire Department continues to provide the best in fire protection and emergency medical services to the residents and the businesses of the Jonesville Fire District.