By Cathy B. Koplen Contributing Writer
---- — Beginning Friday, The Cooperstown Volunteer Fire Department will host a variety of activities to honor 200 years of organized community service.
The celebration, which includes a party at Lake Front Park, a parade and fireworks will continue through Saturday night.
“It is going to be fun,” said Cooperstown Volunteer Fire Department Captain and bicentennial event coordinator Mike Malloy. “We are having food vendors, games and activities for kids, beverages and live entertainment. There are 42 units in the parade so far – and don’t forget the fireworks. They should be spectacular.”
Of the 42 units signed up to march in the parade, more than three quarters of the units are other area volunteer fire departments who will bring fire trucks and equipment as well as groups of fire fighters to march in honor of Cooperstown Volunteer Fire Department.
Volunteer fire fighters have been working for a year and a half organizing the 200th anniversary. Documents, pictures and living histories have been scrutinized.
Many of those involved in planning the event said they are extremely proud that the fire department has a wealth of artifacts chronicling the history of the department.
“I don’t volunteer, I just go,” said James Leo, past chief of the Cooperstown Volunteer Fire Department. “I remember some of the old engines we used.”
Many of the early fire engines remain in Cooperstown, and two of the early trucks will be featured in the parade Saturday. The parade will begin at 6 p.m. on Main Street.
The history of the Cooperstown Volunteer Fire Department mirrors the development of early American fire fighters who organized in the former colonies after gaining independence from England.
“The first documented event in Cooperstown was a fire in 1795, when Joshua Starr’s kiln was destroyed by fire,” said Cooperstown EMS treasurer Frank King. “But it was not an organized effort. The first evidence of an organized department is in 1813. That is when the village trustees issued certificates and ordinances establishing a protocol to handle fires. One of the new rules back then was that every house had to have one fire bucket for each fireplace in the residence. And if a citizen was asked to help in the event of a fire and if that resident refused, he could be fined a dollar.”
According to historian Douglas Preston, who wrote the authoritative biography of the Cooperstown Fire Department, the principal reason the village of Cooperstown incorporated was to create an organized fire brigade.
“In those days it was more about saving adjacent buildings,” said Cooperstown Fire Chief James Tallman. “If the chief gets the okay from two town board members we can destroy a building to save a block. It is still on the books today.”
In the early days of fighting fires, the community relied on a bucket brigade of citizens who would pass buckets of water from wells to fill up the hand pumped fire engine.
The Cooperstown Volunteer Fire Department grew steadily as the years progressed, adding updated fire equipment as the village could afford it or when wealthy residents donated it. The fire department was among the first in the nation to allow women fire fighters to actively combat live fires by entering burning buildings to assist in extinguishing structure fires.
For more than 200 years, the Cooperstown volunteer fire fighters have worked to contain and extinguish fires in Cooperstown and other areas when their assistance was requested.
The volunteers went to New York City just after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 to assist in the recovery efforts. The men and women of the Cooperstown Volunteer Fire Department also were actively involved in cleanup efforts after the recent hurricanes devastated the area.
The bicentennial celebration will begin on Friday at Lake Front Park when the concession stands, games and activities are open to the public. At 5 p.m. special games will be offered at the “Big Wheel.” The band, Scattered Flurries, will play music from the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s beginning at 8 p.m. Events will continue until 11 p.m.
On Saturday, the celebration will begin at 11 a.m. at Lake Front Park with concessions, gaming at the “Big Wheel” and a Chinese auction. At 6 p.m. the parade will begin on Main Street and end at Lake Front Park. A display of fireworks will be presented at 9:30 p.m.
The Cooperstown Volunteer Fire Department bicentennial celebration is free and open to the public.