“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.