History of the Westchester County Volunteer Firemen’s Association

 Abstracts from the annals of the Association maintained by Secretary Robert H. Ruston

In the spring of 1906 several volunteer firemen of Westchester County, former delegates to the New York State Association met in the Village of White Plains and discussed organizing in the county an association of firemen who had served as delegates to the State Association so that when attending these conventions they could know one another.

This was the spirit that brought about the organization of the Westchester County Volunteer Firemen’s Association. At the first meeting in 1906, it was decided to call together all firemen who were qualified (Delegates to the State Organization) to meet at White Plains two weeks later. At the following meeting, temporary officers were elected, a committee on constitution and by-laws appointed, and a meeting was set to be held at the house of the Exempt Firemen’s Association, Yonkers, early in July. At this meeting the following officers were elected: President John P. Powers of Ossining, First Vice President, Frank P. Coxe of Harrison. Second Vice-President, Philip Baker of Port Chester; Recording Secretary, Daniel Hickey of Ossining; Financial Secretary, William Read of White Plains; Treasurer, William A. Hanson of White Plains. With the adoption of the constitution the organization was started and on it’s way.

At this meeting the Westchester Association asked for a uniform certificate for volunteer firemen and a resolution was prepared by John Sells of Yonkers and brought to the State convention at Jamestown. Through efforts of this Association, f Waterford, a law was passed establishing a uniform certificate. This was one of the first accomplishments and the Westchester County Association felt proud. 

The Association prospered and 79 men were on the roster. In April 1907, Albert F. Versen of Valhalla suggested a field day to bring the volunteer firemen of Westchester together one day a year to be known as Firemen’s Day. The first such day was held at the Westchester Fair Grounds on August 18, 1907 with the Marathon A.C. of Port Chester. The firemen did not enter into the affair with enthusiasm as they felt they were not a part of the Association. 

Mr. Powers had been re-elected president and said the organization would have to open its doors if it were to continue its good work for the firemen, and accordingly the laws were changed to permit each company to send one delegate.. At a July meeting in Hope Hook and Ladder Co., in the City of Yonkers, some 30 companies were admitted to membership and the Westchester Association became a representative body of the firemen of the County. 

Also at this meeting, the following officers were elected, President, Frank P. Coxe of Harrison; First Vice-President, Philip Baker of Port Chester; Second Vice President John Sells of Yonkers; Recording Secretary, George Studwell of Harrison; Financial Secretary, William Lawrence of New Rochelle; Treasurer William A. Hanson of White Plains. A. M. Keane of Yonkers was appointed chairman of an executive committee. By the year ending in 1908, 152 fire organizations were represented by the Association, in addition to over 10,000 individual firefighters. During this time, the Association Jury Regional and State associations, the Safe CigExemption forms were drafted, and completed in 1909, that continued in existence for more than eighty-five years.

The organization prospered during the years 1909-10, and in Oct. 1910 had 260 members on the roll. In 1911, additional members were added and the finances increased. The incorporation Act in 1912 brought a Board of Directors to succeed the old Executive Committee. The dues were only one dollar annually.

The field day grew and was continued until World War II. Its object was to create good will among firemen and enable them to know each other. The fire races, although keenly contested, did just that.

Through the years the Westchester County Volunteer Firemen’s Association has been a power in the State. The amount of protective legislation adopted by New York State for the firemen will never be fully realized. As examples, in 1913, the “Volunteer Firemen’s Pension Act” was written by W. O’Connor, an Attorney, on behalf of the Volunteer Firemen of Westchester County. Following submission to the NYS Legislature, it was rewritten to include “ALL” volunteer firemen of NYS, and in 1914, was signed into Law as the Firemen’s Benefit Law (VFBL). In 1972, the WCVFA alerted ALL volunteer firefighters that State Officials in Albany, had indicated that “mandated training” was in the wind, and the 2% Funds would finance it, threatening loss of VFBL coverage. WCVFA was a leader, along with Regional and State Associations to fight against the program. We won. In 1975, it took all the powers that the County, Regional and State associations could muster, to keep the State from deleting ALL fire training money from the State Budget along with closing down the Montour Falls Academy of Fire Science and we won. In 1976, the WCVFA, along with Regional and State associations “prevented the loss” of our Firemen’s Home in Hudson resultant from political red tape. Again, we won. Following the tragic fire in 1980 at the Stouffer Hotel in Rye Brook, the WCVFA played a significant role in exit sign display, sprinkler and Smoke Detector State and Federal legislation.

In 2000, through the dedicated and untiring efforts of the WCVFA legislative guru, Chris Becker, and with the help of arette Act was passed by the State Legislature. A similar bill is currently before the U.S. Legislature. Revisions to the “Blue Light” Law were presented by representatives of the Association, and written into Law this year. These are but a few of the examples of your County Association at work legislatively. 

For twenty years the Westchester’ County Volunteer Firemen’s Association fought for a Training Center, and we obtained one of the finest in the State of New York. This would not have been accomplished without the unity and major push of the membership of the WCVFA. And now, the WCVFA maintains a watchful eye on County Officials as they bring our training facility up to “high tech” status. 

Today, the Westchester County Volunteer Firemen’s Association has over 1,200 individuals and 131 volunteer fire organizations in the County affiliated as members. There’s strength in unity, a positive force and manner by which accomplishments will be achieved that will benefit the volunteer fire service. 

In 2006, The Westchester County Volunteer Firemen’s Association will celebrate its 100th Anniversary. The convention is being hosted in conjunction with Elmsford Engine Company’s 100th Anniversary. Surely, we have a lot to celebrate. Volunteerism in the fire service here in Westchester is alive and well.