ONONDAGA HILL FIRE DEPARTMENT
4831 Velasko Rd. | Syracuse, NY | 13215 | phone: 315. 492. 9191
The Onondaga Hill Fire Department was established in 1920 to provide the Town of Onondaga and surrounding communities with better fire protection. Since then, our organization has grown to also provide citizens with rescue, hazardouse materials response, and emergency medical services. Read more about our history below.
In the early days of the department some of the residents canvassed the community for funds to start a fire department. There was considerable interest in forming some fire protection. Some money was collected and a fire protection district was formed. The firefighters were given round bottom pails to be used in bucket brigades for firefighting. For a time there were 2 soda acid extinguishers on wheels that were stored in the basement of the school (presently town hall) in the winter so they would be protected from freezing. In the summer they were stored in 2 privately owned garages. One of these was owned by E.P. Boyle, directly across from Velasko Rd. on West Seneca Turnpike. The other may have been stored at Mel Fellows home on Onondaga Rd. across from the school. The meetings in the beginning were held in the American Legion house located on Onondaga Rd. next to the old Van Duyn farm buildings (no longer standing).
In the years leading up to the 1940s, not much was done to improve the town’s fire protection. Volunteers were alerted to alarms by the ringing of the school and church’s bells. After many of the local’s homes, barns, etc. were lost as a result of fire, more concern grew to better develop the fire protection for the area. Another house to house fund drive and petition was conducted. With time the organization began to grow and develop into a functioning firefighting force. Land was purchased for the erection of a fire station located where the senior center is located today. The man originally owning the property only sold a portion to the fire department until they proved that they were a capable firefighting unit. Some years later the rest of the property was able to be purchased.
The original fire station was big enough to house 2 pieces of fire apparatus. The station was built with a considerable amount of help by volunteers. Originally the station had two bay doors but was replaced with one big door after an accident occurred while Engine 1 exited the station. The station was heated by a coal stove, tended to by volunteers day and night. There was a single meeting hall located to the rear of the apparatus bays where daily, weekly, and monthly business was conducted. A water cistern was filled from rain water which was then used to fill the apparatus tanks with.
The first motorized piece of fire apparatus was purchased used from Virgil, NY. This unit did not have a pump or water tank. Instead the unit carried 2 large soda acid extinguishers on top with two hose reels for them. Members later built a pump and tank for the truck making into a functioning engine. A used oil tanker was also purchased from the Socony Oil Company to carry water to fire scenes. In 1949, Onondaga Hill purchased their first new piece of fire apparatus. The unit was a 1950 Ford, 1500 gallon tanker from Sanford. After a few years members installed a 500 gpm pump on the front of it.
By this time, when a fire was reported, the call was answered by the men who worked in the boiler room of the old Van Duyn. After taking the information the men would activate the siren. When the first firefighter would arrive at the station, they would pick up the red phone which was a direct line to the men at Van Duyn who would relay the information. The firefighter would write the information on a small blackboard that would be hung in front of the station so the others would know where to go. As technology improved, military surplus radios were installed. Firefighters were now alerted by dispatchers to the scenes of emergencies. The first dispatchers were located at the Mattydale Fire Station as they worked alone for 24 hour shifts in a small room.
Prior to pagers, when the siren went off, women that lived near the fire station and sirens would dial the firefighters that lived farther away from the station to alert them of an alarm. In addition to the women that called firefighters to duty, many women are listed on the early day rosters for the OHFD.