History of the Collins Center Fire Company
Formed September 29, 1892
Celebrating 110 Years of Service
Whether it was the devastation of the fire that burned neighboring Gowanda in 1856, or the similar threat that occurred in 1884, the unorganized fire brigades within the Town of Collins necessitated the establishment of an organized fire protection agency. No longer could the residents rely on neighbors gathering limbs to beat back flames, or forming bucket brigades from the nearest water source to the fire as a means of fire support within the town. Thus on September 29, 1892, with a need to create an organization specifically meant to meet a community need, the Collins Center Volunteer Fire Department became the first Volunteer organization within the Town of Collins. Twenty six men headed by H. F Clark, and their equipment, which consisted of a hand drawn, made up the newly formed volunteer organization.
The equipment seemed appropriate since a neighbor from the nearby Town of Concord, George Holland, (1805 – 1850) had invented the first force pump to be used by fire companies, as well as the horizontal movement in fire engines.
There was no fire house, nor were there regular meetings. Meetings were held during times of fire and the pumper was stored in a barn owned by D. W. Wood. During the early years of the fire department, men who held positions of authority were paid at a rate of $10.00 per year for their services. In 1902, the barn used to store the pumper was devastated by flames. Although the property was a total loss, the pumper was saved. During the same year, the fire department became incorporated and the Collins Center Volunteers embarked on the world of change which continues through today. The former wagon shop of John Auwerter was converted into the fire hall, it also served as the town jail.
It was during this time of frequent meetings, that the fire department began to serve as a club, specifically meant for men. Minutes from early meeting indicated the erection of a sign indicating: “Men Only, Do Not Disturb,” on the front doors of the old fire house. For many years, it appears that the fire department would be utilized as a man’s drama club, with fire fighting being a side line. Although actual written verification of this matter has been lost, evidence does exist, which indicates that the fund raising activities of the Collins Center Fire Department coincided with performances by the Collins Drama Club.
In days gone by, Collins Center was a larger community extending west as far as Quaker Street and south to Poverty Hill. The Volunteers had their work cut out for them, yet they persevered. They bought their first horse-drawn gasoline engine in 1922, for a price of $750. Yet this still did not allow the Fire Company to reach all of the Town fires in a timely manner. Therefore, a hap hazardous borrowing routine of persons extinguishing fires, ladders and buckets borrowed by the “volunteers” had not always been properly returned. To help combat this problem on April 21, 1925, the Collins Fire Department was finally formed.
In 1932, the fire department purchased a new Chevrolet pumper, which was kept in use until 1955. In 1943, The Collins and Collins Center Fire Companies were merged to become the Town of Collins Fire District, with each company becoming solely responsible for fires within their own districts. Jennings Road was to become the dividing point for the districts, with the actual division running directly down the center of the road. Every call from the east side of Jennings Road, continuing east to the Town of Concord line, North to the Town of North Collins line and South to the middle of the Cattaraugus Creek would from thence forward be answered by the Collins Center Fire Department.
At the same time, the Town Board of Fire Commissioners was created. The fire commissioners, elected by town residents became responsible for the financial aspects of equipment purchases and maintenance, as well as purchases of safety equipment and major building renovations. The budget however is extremely low, and the fire departments are still positioned to hold annual fund raisers, to assist with equipment and non-major building renovation and remodeling tasks.
In 1945, the Collins Center Fireman’s Auxiliary was formed. This group of dedicated women assists fire fighters in fund raising efforts, remodeling projects as well as providing food and drinks during major fire crises. In 1954, after purchasing the property on the corner of North Division and route 39, the Collins Center Fire Department moved the house which had previously stood there, and built the a brick fire hall in its place. Additions and other renovations have since been made, but the fire hall still stands. The original fire hall, which had maintained the outer appearance while being converted to a private home, burnt in late 1991. The house that had been moved burnt in 1994, and more recently demolished.
On July 24, 1952, the Civil Defense authorities made the Gowanda Psychiatric Center (GPC), then known as the Gowanda State Hospital, the base of operations for mutual aid runs. Collins Center Fire Trucks, as other area fire trucks, were equally numbered with their civil defense numbers in preparation for national disaster. In late 1954 or early 1955, an area base station was added to Helmuth Fire Department and a two-way radio was installed in the Helmuth Fire truck. On October 26, 1955, the signatures of GPC Supervisor, Harold Becker and Erie County Fire Coordinator, Joseph Farner, on a document stipulating FCC regulations and Erie County radio equipment maintenance rules, created what would become known as the Helmuth Fire Control. For the first time, the new truck purchased by Collins Center in 1955, contained a radio dispatch unit as well as a booster tank and first aid equipment.
The control center became the heart of six local fire departments and a back up for both Gowanda and Springville control. In the early days people simply asked the operator to connect them with the fire dispatch. In late 1962, dial telephones were finally brought into the area and local residents knew they needed but to dial a simple telephone number to have a calm, responsive person dispatch ...Continued next column