Rapids Volunteer Fire Company in it's first 75 years:
In the early spring of 1935 near the community of Rapids, New York there was a fire. In April of that same year a meeting of community men was held, and all agreed that a fire company was needed. So was born the Rapids Volunteer Fire Company, incorporated in1935.
A fire truck was ordered from Buffalo Pump Company; it was an Open Cab 1935 International Truck with a 350 GPM front mount pump and a 350 gallon booster tank. This truck and all the equipment cost $3,500. The men needed a place to keep the truck and all the equipment, and bought the Old Creamery on Plank Road at Rapids Road. A one truck bay was built to house the truck and fire equipment. A tavern was built in the basement behind the cooler, the upstairs was renovated into a dance hall and a large kitchen, where for many years the Ladies Auxiliary served Friday night fish fry and the firemen held square dances Saturday evenings.
In the early years of the company, picnics, known as field days, were held on the property. It was apparent more fire company-owned land was needed. The fire company bought the farm across from the fire hall on Plank Road, where stood a barn, and provided a site for the fire company to hold their picnics. Around this same time a Ford half-ton pickup was purchased, and the fireman built an equipment body on it. A 3000 gallon tank truck was also built by the firemen on a used International Truck.
During the 1940’s the Ladies Auxiliary formed and supported a drum corps. In the summertime, the Ladies Auxiliary and firemen paraded at other fire company field days and community functions. The Rapids Volunteer Fire Company Marching Band took pride in itself and was evident by the trophies they won.
Up until 1950, all trucks were built by the firemen, except the first 1935 Pumper. In 1950, an FMC John Beam High Pressure Pumper on an International Truck Body was purchased. The pump was rated at 900 psi. The first tank truck was getting in bad shape and it was decided by the company that it was time to be replaced. A used International 1000 gallon gas powered truck was purchased to replace it, and was entirely rebuilt to carry new firefighting equipment.
The fire company continued to grow and again more space was needed. A two-story building with a two-truck bay was added on the south end of the fire hall. The two-truck bay was built into the front of the barn across the road. Things were going along very well in the 1950’s until one very cold morning in March 1959 when a fire broke out in the the fire company’s recreation hall. Crews were able to remove all fire equipment and use it to fight the fire. With help from South Lockport, Clarence Center, and Wolcottsville, the two-bay, two-story engine room was saved. However, the recreation hall was a total loss. Following the fire, the fire company was granted permission from the school district number 15 to use the one room school house in Rapids for their meetings. A building committee, consisting of members and officers, was put together to draw up plans for a new hall.
Committee members were:
Casimer Filarecki, President 1959
Clifton Smith, President 1960
Alvin Claude, Chairman
Roy Essler, Financial Secretary
Groundbreaking occurred in the fall of 1959 to build a new hall, but not as it stand today. Over the years we have added and renovated. Today we have a four-bay engine room, hose tower, large hall, small hall, offices, storage space, kitchen, bar and club room, workout room, and space for our exempt members.
The fire company had to raise money to pay for the new hall. In 1962, the fire company started holding bingo on Friday nights. The Ladies Auxiliary helped in many ways. They equipped the kitchen with many new items which included: an automatic dishwasher, convection oven, new cupboards, and a new refrigerator and freezer. The Ladies Auxiliary also over the years had given the fire company thousands of dollars to help pay for other large projects.
The community in the Town of Lockport was growing. It was agreed that the company had to have more and better firefighting equipment. In 1967, Young Fire Equipment built a 1000 GPM two stage pumper for the fire company on an International Truck. The pump was a Mid Ship, and also had a deluge gun mounted on the top for use in large fires. It also included all other equipment necessary to make it a first class pumper.
An International Step Van was also put in service to carry firefighting and EMS equipment. This truck was used by the company to answer EMS and motor vehicle accident calls. If an ambulance was needed, a call went to another company who had an ambulance. It was agreed that the number of EMS calls was increasing, prompting the decision to purchase an ambulance. The first ambulance was a used Cadillac, with no head room and limited EMS equipment. A few years later the membership voted to purchase a Superior coach body on a Dodge chassis. This ambulance was equipped with air conditioning, piped in oxygen and all the latest life saving equipment. It also had a MERS radio so EMS personnel could talk directly to the hospital to which it was enroute too, and receive vital information about the patient.
Due to small turnouts and the extensive amount of work needed to put on such a function, the fire company had discontinued there field days. Our annual auction and chowder day continued and was still growing, so the fire company voted to build a 50′ X 90′ pole and metal building to house the event. This building still stands today and serves as shelter during outdoor events such as our annual family picnic and the summer gun raffle.
In the 1970’s, Young Fire Equipment company built a 1500 gallon tanker on a Diamond Reo Truck. It had a 750 GPM front mount pump, deluge gun, flood lights, generator (3000 watts), and other equipment to make it a class one fire truck.
In 1977, the fire company moved forward to meet the firefighting needs of the community and town of Lockport. The fire company purchased a Pierce fire truck, which was built on a Ford Tilt Cab Truck. It had a 1000 GPM two stage Mid Ship Pump, and two high pressure power take off pumps which can be used together or independently. It featured two 1-1/2 inch Pre-connect cross lays, two 3 inch Pre-connect suction cross lays, with all controls for the pump operation on top in front of the crew cab, automatic transmission, flood lights, deluge gun, port-a-tank and other equipment to make this truck a class “A” pumper.
As the Town of Lockport continued to grow, the fire company could see the need for a sub station to be located elsewhere within the district, and land was donated on Old Beattie Road in the northwest end of our district. A two-bay building was constructed and housed the class “A” pumper. The sub station also is used by the town as a voting station for local and national elections.
In 1985, a new larger all aluminum body GMC Step Van was put in service. This van carried coats, boots, helmets, gloves, Scott air packs, extra bottles, port-a-power tools, rescue saw, chain saw, portable pumps, generator, flood lights, entry tools, and numerous other pieces of firefighting and rescue equipment.
We had all trucks and ambulances equipped with radios which can receive and transmit with Niagara County Fire Control and Amherst Fire Control of Erie County. Home monitors can also receive both counties.
In 1987, with the number of EMS calls rising and the present ambulance getting older, A Van style ambulance was purchased from Wheeled Coach. This one was a bit larger and able to carry the added equipment needed for improved patient care.
In 1989, a 1971 American LaFrance pumper was purchased from Transit Fire Company. the pumper held 500 gallons of water, with a 1250 pump, and powered by a diesel engine. It was purchased to fill the need of another pumper until a new one could de designed and built for the fire company.
During the 1980’s, after the dissolution of the Ladies Auxiliary, Rapids fire company still required the community’s assistance with non-firefighting activities, such as bingo, raffles, and pancake breakfasts. The membership of the company decided to accept individuals as “social members”. This membership is for individuals who do not want to be firefighters but who want to help their community by helping their fire company.
In 1992, Rapids took delivery on a 1992 pumper built by RD Murray. It was built on a Spartan Gladiator cab and chassis. It had a 1000 gallon tank, 1250 GPM pump, a 6 man closed cab, with four Scott Pack seats, an Akron deluge gun and a Task Force Tip was installed. This truck was the first in the fire company to incorporate large diameter hose with the addition of 1,000 feet of 5″ diameter hose.
In 1993, a 1992 Mobile Medical modular ambulance was purchased to replace the 1975 van ambulance. The ambulance was a diesel and had the capacity to grow with the community, such as the future addition of defibrillators.
In 1994, the Pierce pumper was upgraded with a diesel engine, and an additional 1,000 feet of 5″ hose was placed on this pumper. The LaFrance was retired that summer. The front of the Main station was upgraded with new siding over the truck bays and around the front of the building. The entrance, bingo hallway, and front ladies room were redecorated. The engine room was repainted in red, white and blue. A new refrigerator/ freezer were purchased for the kitchen.
In 1996, Rapids took delivery of a 1996 Spartan/RD Murray Rescue/Pumper combination, purchased to replace two vehicles in an on going effort to downsize our vehicle inventory. It carries a crew of 8, with 5 available packs for interior firefighting, and is a class “A” pumper. Today, known as Engine 5, it carries 750 gallons of water in a polypropylene tank. This vehicle is powered by a 774 cubic inch Detroit diesel engine rated at 430 hp. It is equipped with a hydraulic powered generator rated at 25,000 watts, a full complement of rescue tools, a complete set of Amkus extrication tools(jaws of life), air bags, numerous air, gasoline and electric powered hand tools necessary for all firefighting needs, and a cascade system used to refill bottles for firefighters air packs. This truck is the primary truck to respond to motor vehicle accidents, alongside the ambulance(s). To ensure our firefighters’ safety, a twenty foot light tower was placed on this truck to assist in lighting up any fire or rescue scene.
During 1996, Rapids purchased its first defibrillators, two Marquette Responder 1500 models. The new defibs were the top of the line in advanced cardiac care. They allowed the EMS personnel to not only monitor the patient, but see the heart rhythm on the LCD screen. They were equipped with the ability to monitor, shock and print all cardiac rhythms which make diagnosis faster and cardiac care received by the patient faster upon arrival at the hospital.
In 1997, with the population and district still growing, it was time to better distribute the apparatus throughout our district. Rapids members decided it was time to expand the 1975 sub-station from two-bays to four.
As the millennium rang in, it was time to upgrade our older ambulances. We purchased a 2000 Ford Braun E-450 to replace the current 19R9. This type 2 was larger and able to carry the added equipment needed for even more improved patient care. At the same time, we replace the Marquette defibs with Bi Phasic AEDs (automated external defibrillators).
In 2001, Rapids decided it was time to retire the current Engine 1 and replaced it with a 2001 Enforcer Pumper Tanker custom built by the Pierce Manufacturing Company. This vehicle carries a crew of six: a driver and officer in the front, and four firefighters inside the crew cab. It carries 1000 gallons of water in a poly tank, has a waterous single stage pump rated at 1750 gallons per minute and a 6-cylinder turbocharged Cummins diesel engine, 1000 feet of 5″ supply hose, two pre-connect 1 3/4 inch interior attack lines and a top mounted deluge gun capable of supplying over 1500 gallons of water a minute if needed. This Engine like E-5, was equipped with a light tower unit and all the tools necessary for firefighting. This vehicle is dedicated to those who lost their lives on 9/11/2001 MAY WE NEVER FORGET.
With the ever increasing number of EMS calls, Rapids filed papers with the Department Of Health to move to a Level Two Certified EMS Provider. In 2002, Rapids upgraded from Basic Life Support to Intermediate Life Support allowing certified AEMT’s to provide IV care and better airway management, assist diabetic patients, and interpret cardiac EKG rhythms. The intermediate level of care will greatly increase the survival rate of trauma and seriously ill medical patients.
The Rapids district includes a number of farming and off-road fields requiring access, and we needed to get a piece of apparatus to do the job. In 2003 Rapids successfully applied for a $62,000 Assistance to Firefighters Grant that was used to purchase a multi-purpose brush truck. The truck was custom built by CET Pumps in Quebec, Canada. This truck, 19M10, serves multiple purposes from brush fires, to assisting in fire police details, to aiding in EMS calls, and finally to transport firefighters.
In 2004, Rapids had the “call of all calls”. It took almost 12 hours, with the help of firefighters from 16 local companies, to put out a multi-million dollar fire at the well-known cabinet company, Kitchen World, on Robinson Road.
In the same year, the members of Rapids recognized that it was once again time to expand it’s facilities. With the membership number increasing, and the number of events on the rise, the main hall was becoming too small. We added on and squared off the back northeast part of the hall. The addition added six rooms, including: three offices, one training class room, a social room for our exempt members, a fitness center for all company members, an extra set of bathrooms with showers for our members, storage, and janitorial closet.
We are always faced with the fact that our equipment continues to become outdated. In 2005, with ever growing NYS EMS Protocols, it was time again for Rapids to upgrade our defibrillators on the ambulances. We upgraded from our basic Automatic External Defibrillators Bi Phasic units (AEDs) to the Zoll E-Series defibrillators. These machines are capable of acquiring blood pressures, pulses, oxygen saturation levels, and 12-lead EKG monitoring, all of which can be transmitted to local hospitals via Bluetooth technology to assist in better medical treatment for patients. The new machines also allow for programmed defibrillation, tracking and room for add-on features. These machines provide for increasing survival statistics.
Over the years, children of our members have always expressed an avid interest in the fire service. In September of 2005, a junior firefighting program was re-established from the late 1970’s. Through the Boy Scouts of America: Iroquoise Trail Council, The Venture Crew #3219 was formed. Developing their own set of by-laws, standard operating procedures, and officers, the journey of our children into the fire service is just beginning. With much assistance from the fire company, the Venture Crew participates in drills to learn the skills of active firefighters. After appropriate training, the junior firefighters are allowed to respond to limited calls and lend support in whatever ways possible.
Thursday October 12, 2006 started off as a very odd day in Western New York. The very cold temperatures were only the start of what was to come. By lunch time a rain/snow mix began to fall at a rate of approximately an inch per hour. As the day continued, the temperatures began to drop and the wind speeds increased. The “Surprise October Storm” wreaked havoc throughout Western New York. While the town of Lockport and the Rapids district in particular didn’t experience the devastation of our neighboring communities, we were not without problems. At approximately 10:00pm Rapids firefighters were dispatched for their first storm call; a report of a tree collapsing on a house with residents trapped inside. From that moment on, Rapids was busy the entire four days following. In total, Rapids responded to over 200 storm related calls, from downed trees and power lines to assisting residents with their medical needs, all on top of responding to our normal everyday EMS and fire calls. We were very greatful to have received help from neighboring fire companies whose districts were not affected by the storm. They came from many areas of the county to help. This assistance not only benefited our community but also allowed members to get some needed rest and check in with their own families.
Also in 2006, the renovations on the main hall were finally complete. A grant from the offices of Senator George Maziarz and Assemblyman Mike Cole allowed us to furnish our training class room with appropriate technology.
Our 19R9A ambulance was getting tired as the days went on and needed to be replace. In July 2007 we took delivery of a 2007 McCoy Miller Ambulance. Just like other ambulances, it too was certified by the New York State Department of Health with the capability of being equipped with Intermediate Life Support technology.
Just after taking delivery of our new ambulance, we learned that our neighboring and mutual aid company Clarence Center was selling their 1990 Pierce Walk-in Heavy Rescue vehicle and we were fortunate to purchase it from them and add it to our ever growing fleet population. This truck came to us with a complete set of Hurst extrication tools, a 200 gallon tank/750 gpm pump. We have equipped it with our cold water rescue equipment, and all the equipment needed to use this multi function walk-in command post.
Rapids was once again fortunate enough to have been awarded a grant in the amount of $126,000 through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program in the fall of 2008. The grant was for the purchase of 24 MSA Firehawk M7 Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) units. The 20-year rotation was up and Rapids was desperately in need of air packs to keep with the ever-increasing safety regulations of NFPA4.
Technology advances in the county have required that the radio system we are dispatched on experience a major overhaul. Niagara County Fire Control is now dispatching on a UHF (high band) system that allows units to talk to one another from all over the county with crystal clear clarity, unlike transmission with the old low-band system. The switch to UHF system required us to upgrade our Minitor II pagers. This new UHF system is now compatible with the same band of channels used by Amherst Fire Control, making our communications with Amherst much better.
In 2009, Rapids bought a 1998 Ford Marque E-450. As currently configured, it carries EMS supplies and a crew of five. It is used mainly for fire police but responds to a variety of calls when a full sized vehicle is not needed. The addition of this vehicle has allowed us to reserve the use of our other rescue vehicles for their respective purpose, thereby greatly increasing their life span, lowering maintenance cost, and increasing their resale value.
Our exempt organization has experienced significant growth over these 75 years. Using money saved from various fundraising activities, they are building a two-bay garage and patio enclosure behind the main hall. Inside this structure will be a fully designed industrial style kitchen. This building will house our original 1935 engine and will be used by the fire company for their in-house events.
The Rapids Fire Company continues to expand. The latest venture that the fire company is pursuing, is the construction of a brand new state-of-the-art sub-station, a major upgrade from our current four-bay station. This facility will contain four truck bays, a lounge and kitchen area, multiple offices, a communications room, a gear rack area, and space for additional equipment storage.
Today, Rapids Fire Company is running a fleet of two ambulances, one ems fly car, one main line pumper, two rescue pumpers, one brush truck, and one fire police/utility vehicle. We currently cover the towns of Lockport, Royalton, and Clarence Center. Our district includes single family homes, numerous apartment complexes, commercial buildings and warehouses, small businesses, and heavily traveled roads.
Rapids Fire Company is a member of the Niagara County Fire Chiefs Association and the Clarence-Newstead Chiefs and Presidents Association.
In 75 years, Rapids has grown from very meager beginnings. Through this community of caring and committed volunteers, we’ve built an excellent fire company and strong district. None of this success could have been possible without the efforts of individuals past and present including: the founders, fire chiefs, presidents, line and executive officers, our social members, the now-defunct ladies auxiliary, and of course the firefighters and EMS personnel. Of equal importance to the success of the Rapids Fire Company, are the families who have supported the dedication and commitment of our members.