Submitted July 2023 by Anita M. Mance, Historian

     On May 23, 1898, a group of businessmen from Despatch (as East Rochester was known until 1906) met at Branshaud’s Hall on East Commercial Street to set up the first fire department.  On May 29th, the first official meeting was held, and the Despatch Fire District was formed.  During subsequent meetings committees were formed to find estimates for needed equipment, as well as for property and a fire hall.  It was determined that $1800.00 was the amount needed to outfit this first department.  Equipment included:  one dozen rubber coats, boots, and helmets, a hose cart, an alarm bell, a ladder truck, and three chemical carts.  Needless to say, the first fire trucks were either pulled by horses or pulled by hand.

     The first fire hall was built in 1903 on Main Street next to the Despatch Hotel.  Our fire department was initially comprised of three companies:  Despatch Hose Company #1, Ontario Hook & Ladder Company #1, and the Eyer Chemical Company.  Later, the Foster Armstrong Company (of the Piano Works), and Despatch Hose Company #2 were added.  The first Fire Chief was John Kane, owner of the Perinton Hotel.  The first real fire truck (i.e. purchased and built as a fire truck) was an American LaFrance 750 gallon pumper bought in 1925.  Used until 1958, it was lent a year later to the small community of Fishers while they waited for their new truck to be delivered.  Later found abandoned, it was restored by past fire chiefs, Willis (Skip) Burlingame and his son, Jim; and was donated back to the village in 1968.  Called Ol’ Betsy, it now proudly resides in the front left bay of our fire hall, and is often seen in our parades.

     Over the years our fire department has occupied three buildings.  In 1936, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) remodeled the existing firehouse/municipal building, and built a new façade.  A new firehouse was built on the corner of West Avenue and Main Street in 1968.  This building was enlarged and renovated in 2004.

     As is true of all fire departments, ours has continued to be very active in our community in ways other than fighting fires.  In 1952, we hosted the New York State Firemen’s Association Convention.  This was quite an honor for such a small village.  In the early 1950s, our department sponsored the Famous Actors Summer Playhouse, one of the earliest summer stock theaters in the state.  During the 1960s and 1970s, it sponsored the Town and Country Playhouse with plays produced by ER High School alumnus, Barry Tuttle.  In October, during Fire Prevention Month, the fire fighters have conducted school programs and firehouse tours to promote fire safety.  Since 2016, the department has collaborated with the East Rochester Alumni Foundation to purchase and distribute smoke detectors to second grade classes.  For many years, Christmas baskets for those in need have been distributed.  Since 1995, the department has sponsored the Easter Egg Hunt in Edmund Lyon Park.  In the summer it has hosted the Kiddie Parade during the Firemen’s Carnival.

     The East Rochester Volunteer Fire Department’s jurisdiction covers three square miles.  It has multiple mutual aid agreements with surrounding towns, and is a member of the 3rd Battalion in Monroe County.  It has always been an all-volunteer department and currently has 40 members.  Its current Chief is Jim Diego.  Over the years, fathers and sons have been members.  These fire fighters have a great sense of pride and truly believe they are “always at your service.”  This year’s carnival will take place, July 20th – July 22nd, and will honor the 125th anniversary of the department.

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