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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




Continued from previous column ....

assistance. In mid-1980 the 911 system was finally initiated into the area. The 911 system was a fool-proof computerized system which gave the name and telephone number, address, as well as fire and ambulance district when a caller dialed the number.However, the area is on a two-button relay system, persons calling 911 are not immediately connected with the local dispatcher as they had previously been. Human error caused a miscommunicated dispatch in the early days of the 911 system, local residents lost faith fast and it became the task of local volunteers to not only address the problem, but to build faith within the community they served. As fate would have it, The Collins Center Volunteers made considerable progress with public relations, and there have been no major problems since.

During the 1960’s the Zoar Valley Rescue Squad was also formed, many members of the Collins Center Fire Department joined this team in search and rescue operations. This team was founded in response to the “hippy” communities which invaded the Zoar Valley area, many of which were unfamiliar with terrain. Many times, persons would become lost and/or injured in the area. This specialized group was trained to repel and rescue, far before the technique was readily utilized within fire fighter and rescue communities.

In the early 1980’s the group that had once been known to place signage on their door indicating; “Men Only, Do Not Disturb,’ welcomed their first female fire fighter. Donna Dunkleman not only became the first female fire fighter in Collins Center, she also held the position of truck captain, assistant chief and was a member of the executive board before moving from the district in the early 1990’s.

Mutual aid and Fire fighter training manuals easily show the changes the Collins Center Volunteers have dealt with. During the 1940’s, fire fighters were trained in the techniques of war. Training included disaster preparedness, including rescue and treatment from incendiary bomb and chemical warfare attacks. In the 1950’s the training included preparedness for nuclear attacks.

Today, fire fighters are trained in essentials of fire fighting, disaster preparedness and chemical spills. More and more firemen have added emergency medical technician training and first responder courses. Each of the volunteers must be trained in the usage of specialized equipment and have specific training as regulated by OSHA. The fire company is also linked with the Gowanda Ambulance service so that they are always prepared for any disaster.

The actual courses which have become mandatory for our volunteers include a Fire essential course, which includes the fundamentals of firefighting, rescue and extrication techniques, care and use of breathing apparatus, basic hose use and care, types of fires and extinguishing methods, and hazardous material procedure. They are also required to take an annual OSHA mandated training refresher course.

Whenever a time of need arises, members of the Collins Center Volunteer Fire Department are ready to answer the call. Many of the volunteers are also active reservist, and support our country just as they support our community. In 1992, the war torn country of Bosnia made an international plea for donations of unused fire equipment. Nearly 2/3 of all of the equipment that was sent to Bosnia came from Erie County Volunteers Fire Departments.

The Collins Center Fire Department has spent 110 years faithfully serving its community. While the company has never suffered a fatality, these volunteers eagerly respond to hazardous situations with barely a thank you from the community. They save local taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, and stand ready to put their lives on the line to rescue their fellow community members.

This year marks the 110th anniversary of the Collins Center Fire Department. They consistently answer calls of distress, including first aid, rescue, accident and fires, and more recently they have added a small plane crashes to their list of unique calls. In the past ten years they have strived to complete some renovation work on the hall, including painting the inside, insulating the hall and adding vinyl siding, replacing the heating system, purchasing a new information sign, new tables and chairs, new flooring and a new refrigerator. They extended the roof for their bar-b-que pit. To show their community spirit they have added a new flag pole and in support of the many POW’s that have yet to be accounted for, a POW flag now flies before the hall. They sponsor a baseball team, and have even purchased new dress uniforms, continuing to utilize the traditional maroon and gray of yesteryear. A memorial plaque has been added to the fire hall, naming those whose have served the community and have since passed on. Most important, they have continuously upgraded their fire fighting and rescue equipment. The updates include; a new defibulator, purchased with money that community residents donated to their fund drive, and they have replaced another vehicle, spending a far cry from the $750 that they spent to purchase the horse drawn pumper in 1902. This KME Truck, the new Truck #3, cost a whooping $194,000.00.

This dedicated Fire Company has spent 110 years serving the community. The Volunteers of Collins Center, as are other volunteers, an elite class, dedicated in serving and protecting. May each of the volunteers that make up this group be blessed for their unselfishness towards their community.

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    Page Last Updated 9/1/2002
    C 2002 L Munro