Greenport’s Standard Hose Company reaches century mark

10/06/2011 11:00 AM |

COURTESY PHOTO | An early photo of a Standard Hose Company truck. The company will celebrate its 100th birthday this weekend.

Train tracks. That’s what spurred the creation of Greenport’s Standard Hose Company back in December 1911.
George Capon Jr., now 80, remembers hearing stories about launching the new company from his father, George Sr., and two uncles, Charlie and Henry.

Back then, trains that came into Greenport Village were a lot longer than those that travel the rails today. And if a train was in the station when a fire call came in south of the tracks, firefighters couldn’t respond in a timely way.

One hundred years later, the firehouse on Flint Street between Fifth and Sixth streets continues to serve the wider community. Standard Hose’s 33 members believe they share an unparalleled camaraderie — and that’s why they stay, according to Captain Wayne Miller. He acknowledged that there’s competition for new members among Greenport’s various fire companies.

There used to be waiting lists to join the fire department, Capt. Miller said. But today, more residents have jobs away from the North Fork and in many families, both parents work, making it more difficult for them to devote the necessary time to either training or responding to emergencies.

Today’s local firefighters, although all are volunteers, have almost as much training as professional firefighters, the captain said.

Standard Hose has no female members, he said. One woman joined and began training, but had to quit for personal reasons, he said, and no others have applied.

Standard Hose Company members and their families have invited the community to join them this Saturday from noon to 8 p.m. for a pig roast at Fifth Street Beach, just one of several celebrations of the company’s centennial year.

They launched the celebration in February with a firehouse dinner following the annual Washington’s Birthday Parade in the village.

And on Sept. 10, members and their wives took a dinner cruise from Port Washington to New York City, where they observed the twin lights that shine every year from the ground where the World Trade Center’s north and south towers stood. They also got to see the new Freedom Tower all lit up for the next day’s 10th anniversary observance of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

That was special, Capt. Miller said, because some of the company’s members are New York City firefighters who were involved with the aftermath of the attacks. Some lost very good friends that day, he said.

There was a time when Standard Hose was the most active of Greenport Fire Department’s five companies, Mr. Capon said. He practically grew up in the company. He was its mascot when he was only 7 and a junior member before joining the regular company.

When he joined in 1949, potential members saw a doctor who asked them if they felt fit enough to serve, pronounced them healthy and enlisted them.

So why do those who still volunteer do it?

“You get the adrenalin flow,” Mr. Capon said of racing into a burning building when others are racing out. “You’ve got to be pretty dedicated.”

“If I had a problem, I’d want someone to come to me,” company member Richard Sledjeski said.

Mr. Capon remembers the worst fire he ever fought was at Drossos Motel on Route 25 one New Year’s Eve back in the late 1960s. It was a frigid night — even colder than the more recent night the volunteers fought a winter fire at Driftwood Cove. Pictures from that fire, which occurred within the last decade, showed firefighters with ice on their faces. But at the Drossos fire, Mr. Capon remembers one firefighter climbed up to try to contain the fire in a top corner of the motel, only to be blown down by a gust of wind.

“That’s when we lost the building,” Mr. Capon said.

When Mr. Capon started out with the company, firefighters had none of today’s sophisticated equipment — not even oxygen masks to help them breathe during heavy smoke conditions. They used handkerchiefs, he said.

But while Mr. Capon appreciates a lot of the new equipment, he admits that the heavier Mack trucks that replaced the open cab vehicles many years ago were so weighty that it was sometimes difficult to bring them to a stop. He recalls one incident in the Kerwin Boulevard area where he literally flew over a bridge because he couldn’t stop one of the newer trucks. He emerged unhurt, he said.

On the other hand, the vehicles the department used when he first joined had open cabs and firefighters clung to the running boards as they raced to fire calls.

Racing is one activity that has won the company many trophies over the years, as members have had to demonstrate their speed and prowess with firefighting techniques. Years ago, Standard Hose teams routinely placed first or second in competitive meets, Mr. Capon said.

Today, fires tend to be less severe and fewer in number, Mr. Sedjeski said. He credits better safety regulations and an end to the prevalent use of kerosene stoves, as well as the nature of building materials and techniques that provide for more fire resistance.

A final celebration will include a special dinner for members and their wives at the firehouse on Dec. 17.

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