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N.Y. fire department celebrates 100 years of service

The Durhamville Fire Department started with 25 members and a hand pump built


Durhamville Fire Department Engine 3.

Durhamville Fire Department/Facebook

By Roger Seibert
The Oneida Daily Dispatch

DURHAMVILLE, N.Y. — The Durhamville Fire Department celebrated 100 years of service on Sunday, April 7 with a cookout, raffles and memories of service to Durhamville and the surrounding communities. That service continues today with improved equipment but the same commitment to its residents.

“The hours are terrible and the pay is worse, but we have fun and we make a difference,” Durhamville Fire Chief Eric Wilcox, a 10-year member of the department, said.

The hamlet of Durhamville was established in 1813 and the fire department was founded in 1924. It had 25 members and a hand pump built in 1898. The pump was on a cart and had to be pushed to any fires.

The department itself was housed in the St. Francis church hall basement. The church hall doubled as the Durhamville schoolhouse. Durhamville added a firehouse in 1929. The department built its fire station in 1950 and added a kitchen in 1952 and a fire hall in 1960. The firemen bought a nine-acre field for training in 1955.

The department founded its ladies auxiliary in 1951. By the late 1980s women joined the department and served as firefighters. They also served as department officers, including the position of secretary, parade chair and vice president. The women served alongside their male comrades as fire police, EMTs and first responders.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, the total number of firefighters in the U.S. in 2020 was the lowest it has been in nearly three decades.

Data from the National Volunteer Fire Council states that as of January 2024 more than 65% of the one-million firefighters in the U.S. are volunteers. Of the more than 29,000 fire departments across the country, almost 19,000 of them are run completely by volunteers.

But in Durhamville staffing for fires and other emergencies has not been a problem. Assistant Fire Chief Keith Brandis, a 20-year member, said cooperation between fire departments is key to fire service.

“The Sylvan Beach department has been a big help,” he said. “We also partner with Verona, New London, even Canastota. Recruitment has been a problem, both in this area and statewide but we’ve been able to work together.”

The city of Oneida has a professional fire department.

Teamwork has been augmented by improved technologies. “Firefighting has changed incredibly over the years, even since I’ve been here,” Brandis said. “For example, we started with the hand pump and now we have two fire trucks, a rescue truck and a parade truck.”

From 1924 to 1944 the Durhamville department averaged six calls a year. That has increased to 125 calls.

“These are mostly medical calls,” Brandis said. “And partly because of the fentanyl problem these calls have increased.”

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 110,511 people in the United States died of drug overdoses and poisonings in 2022, with almost 70 percent of those deaths involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Only two milligrams of fentanyl is considered a potentially lethal dose. In 2022, the federal Drig Enforcement Agency seized more than 58.3 million pills containing fentanyl and more than 13,000 pounds of fentanyl powder.

Today the department is staffed by 12 members. “We are all volunteers,” Wilcox said. “No one has set hours, but we are always on call.”

The Durhamville department uses Vineall Ambulance Service for medical emergencies.

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