“On the morning of Sunday, April 5, 1914, as the good people of Amagansett quietly got ready for church, the call of ‘fire!’ rang out through the village. Amagansett’s first fire alarm, a gift from the railroad, would not arrive for almost another month. Still, the word spread quickly: A defective chimney at the Main Street house of Charles B. Edwards had caught the house on fire. Chief James Eichorn, with the help of ‘the boys,’ hustled the ladder and bucket truck out of the new firehouse and into the street, where they hailed the first passing car to tow the wagon to the fire.”
So began the work of the Amagansett Fire Department, as described in the recently published journal marking its 100th anniversary. To commemorate this momentous occasion, the department is throwing itself a party on Saturday.
A parade, featuring fire departments from several East End towns as well as East Hampton government, business, and civic organizations, will start at 11 a.m. at the American Legion Post 419 in Amagansett and proceed to the fire department. Joseph LaCarrubba, who began service in 1952 and is a former chief, captain, and firefighter, will be the parade’s grand marshal.
The fire department’s anniversary celebration will start at noon with activities for all ages including rides, games, music, food, proclamations, presentations, and the awarding of parade participation trophies.
An antique fire vehicle display and antique pumping and bucket brigade competition is scheduled for 1 p.m., with the awarding of competition trophies at 4. The celebration will conclude at 5.
In the March 13, 1914, issue of The Star, the Amagansett news page included the following: “We are glad to know that the young men have got together again on a proposition that interests them and is liable to hold their attention to the mutual benefit of the entire community.”
“The boys have promised to organize a fire company and be instructed by competent men in fire drills and to practice faithfully whenever called upon. They ask the cooperation of all, to help purchase the building for the fire truck and other equipment. The fire company will have direct communication with all parts of the village, through the central telephone office.”
“Encourage the boys this week, and they will prove to you next week that they mean business.”
The first firehouse was the former Boys’ Club building, on Main Street behind the present site of the Hamptons Realty Group. The first alarm, a split steel locomotive tire, was situated nearby, Hugh King, East Hampton Village historian and East Hampton’s official town crier, told the village board on Monday. “They hit the ring a certain amount of times to tell where the fire was,” said Mr. King, who will serve as master of ceremonies on Saturday.
The department moved across Main Street in 1926, occupying the Cartwright Carriage and Wheelwright Shop, where the Amagansett School’s parking lot is today. The present firehouse was built in 1943, with additions constructed in 1961, 1979, and 1995.
Over the decades, the Amagansett Fire Department has taken on greater responsibility as the district’s population has swelled. Concurrent with that population growth, many of them second-home owners, has been a significant increase in the size of houses and the landscaping surrounding them. All have made for a more challenging environment.
At the same time, shifting demographic and economic trends have resulted in a shortage of volunteers. “I remember when people actually lived in this town year round and did business here,” said Michael Cinque, a member of the 100th anniversary committee. “And their kids came down the line.”
“Back in the ’60s up to the early ’80s,” said John DiSunno, a 53-year member, “I would say 80 percent of the department owned their own business, and you could have your own men fight the fire. Today, our young people leave — they go to Southampton, Riverhead. They’re not working in town, which was a much smaller place, like we did back then.”
In 1972, Chief LaCarrubba, Assistant Chief Pete O’Brien, and other members persuaded the district commissioners that an ambulance company was necessary. Amagansett’s ambulance squad has almost 40 volunteer members now, and, as of this year, full-time professional advanced emergency medical technicians. Some 500 calls are fielded annually.
The fire department serves the community in myriad ways. The Ladies Auxiliary, formed in 1955, raises money for donation to needy families and the East Hampton Food Pantry. According to Colleen Stonemetz, quoted in the 100th anniversary journal, “Some people have nowhere else to turn, and we turn up, just in time.”
The department also hosts a classic car show on Memorial Day weekend, and serves some 2,000 residents and visitors at a chicken barbecue in August, the latter now a 50-year tradition. It has also sponsored youth sports programs, with many members serving as coaches.
One hundred years after the department’s founding, “the current members hold true to the basic principles of a volunteer fireman: courage, duty, and dedication,” Chief Dwayne Denton wrote in the 100th anniversary journal. “Even though the community has grown and changed to the faster pace of today, the dedication to duty and professionalism demonstrated by the current members is truly a tribute to our forefathers. Surely they would be proud of our performance and the professional manner in which we operate today.”