Stillwater Fire District

Brief History of Arvin Hart Fire Company

Founded 1954

              On a fateful day in 1940 a call went out to the Village Fire Department for a barn fire at the Leonard Kellogg farm.  By the time the village department arrived, the barns were devastated despite the efforts of Leonard and several family members.  It wasn’t until the men returned from WWII that a group was able to form a fire department in the Town, to service town residents.  After the war, the Kellogg’s next door neighbors, the Cowins, loaned the use of their barns to house the Town’s first fire engine.  Meetings were held at the homes of the Cowins and they donated the land on which the main station stands today.

              On July 24th 1954 a group of 38 men from the Town of Stillwater signed a roll book and began a long legacy of what has become the Arvin Hart Fire Company of the Stillwater Fire District.  The dedicated group had humble beginnings, using Cowin’s barn to store a vintage 1934 American LaFrance Pumper.  The first piece of apparatus was covered by a canvass door, fire alarms were received by phone, and the wives of the first firefighters formed a phone tree to spread the alarm.  Occasionally the “fire phone” was set off by Mrs. Cowin’s new Mix Master when she was baking a cake.  It provided practice for the new volunteers and a good laugh when they connected the activation of the alarm to the baking of cakes.   Of those original 38 Charter Members the last to answer his final alarm on July 24th, 2016 62 years later to the day, was 99 year old Larry Rinaldi.

              In order to distinguish it from Stillwater Fire Department which serves the Village, the fire company was named in honor of Delour Arvin Hart, whose homestead was on Campbell Road a short distance from the land donated by the Cowin Family to build a “proper” fire station.  Born Delour Arvin Hart, he graduated Valedictorian from Stillwater High School in 1942 and was called to take his military physical on November 5th, 1943 after volunteering for the U.S. Army.  Arvin was a private in the 28th Infantry Division and was 18 years old when he was killed along with 28,000 other American Soldiers defending his country at the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest, one of the longest continuous battles of WW II, which raged from September 1944 to February of 1945.  He was first laid to rest at a military cemetery outside the Dutch City of Maastricht, but later was brought home to Stillwater and laid to rest in Stillwater’s Union Cemetery.  As a Memorial Day tradition, the fire company lays a wreath on his grave.

              In 1955 the fire station at Campbell at Kellogg Road was built, with two bays, a bathroom, and a kitchen/meeting room.  The station housed the 1934 LaFrance and later a newly purchased 1956 GMC built by FMC, with high pressure fog.  The second fire station was a converted one room school house on McDermott Road which housed a US Air Force surplus tanker.  Imagine in those days responding to a fire on Saratoga Lake, 9 miles away in an open cab 1934 LaFrance, with no power steering and mechanical brakes and a surplus tank truck that didn’t exceed 30 miles per hour.  Especially when it was 30 below zero in January.  That was dedication.

             In an effort to lower fire insurance rates in their 42 square mile district, a third station was built on State Route 423 to provide fire protection in the rural areas and especially to the Saratoga Lake area.  As the years passed the Fire District added more apparatus, and the fire company took on more tasks.  In the early 70’s the closest hydraulic extrication tool was stationed in Clifton Park.  As a result of a serious accident in the Village, the fire company was successful in raising funds to purchase a new hydraulic rescue tool for approx $7,500.  At that time the Fire District was already into its second utility/rescue equipment truck, affectionately called the “Peanut Wagon” due to its white color (real fire apparatus is “Red”) the first being a donated vehicle that the firefighters had to put together before it would run.  The “Peanut Wagon” was piloted for many years by the last living charter member, Larry Rinaldi, who was famous for the rides he provided.  In the mid 80’s the fire company also found themselves being called to Saratoga Lake more frequently for water and ice rescue calls.  The company evolved from using a donated row boat, which they walked along on the ice, to their current 500+hp Air Ranger air boat which can skim across the water with three rescuers at 70+ MPH.

              As the size of apparatus increased and company participation increased, the fire district outgrew the old one room school house on McDermott Road and in 1996 the District built a new station on George Thompson Road on land donated by the Mackay Family.  A new modern station with two drive-through apparatus bays was constructed and paid off in five years.  The station was built to house the largest piece of apparatus at the time, a ladder truck, in anticipation of the growth in the Western area of Town.

              In 2000 due to failing enrolment, talks began with Riverside Fire District, one of the smallest fire districts in the State.  The Riverside Station is now Stillwater Fire District’s 4th station and houses a 2003 KME engine/tanker and a utility unit. 

              Today the Arvin Hart Fire Company responds to an average of 200 incidents annually with 10 pieces of apparatus including 4 pumpers, 1 heavy rescue, a brush fire unit, the air boat pulled by a multipurpose support unit, a fire police unit and a general utility vehicle.  There are approximately 50 active members who volunteer day and night to the call for assistance.

              The Fire District completed a new fire station in August of 2006 to replace the 50 year old station on Campbell Road.  Station 1 served the district well especially when it was used as the command post for an F3 tornado which struck portions of the town damaging or destroying over 250 structures in May of 1998.  The District has constructed a building that will serve the community for 50+ years, continuing the proud tradition of defending the community as D. Arvin Hart volunteered to defend his nation.

NATIONAL BROADCASTING COMPANY                   NEW YORK

 

 Program:  Robert St. John and the News

 

Time:     10:00 – 10:15 AM

Date:     March 15, 1946

Origin:   WEAF, New York

  

     Well, that’s the news.  And now I have a story for you which is a bit of proof that there can be, that there are sometimes are, good by-products of that horrible business we call war!

     The story commences a little more than a year ago, during the battle of the Hurtgen Forest, one of the most vicious actions of the whole war on the Western Front.  The casualties were heavy on both sides.  One of the American casualties was a boy from the town of Stillwater, New York.  Private Delour Arvin Hart.  His parents, back in Stillwater received the usual telegram from the War Department, one of those cryptic, bitter messages starting out:  “We regret to inform you…” It was a terrible blow, for Mr. and Mrs. Hart lived for that boy.  Night after night they’d say to themselves:  “Yes, we’ve lost about all there was that made our life worth living!”

     And yet they did go on living!  And then came a day when the War Department sent another communication.  His body had been buried in a cemetery about four miles out of the Dutch city of Maastricht.  Mr. and Mrs. Hart found Maastricht on a map.  They talked about how someday it would be nice to take a trip over to Maastricht after the war if they could afford it.  And then a neighbor named Booth, who also was in the army, abroad, heard about the death of the Hart boy and wrote asking the location of the graveyard.  When he received the information, he got a leave and last July hunted out the place.

      He found eighteen thousand white crosses and Stars of David in that graveyard, but he finally located the one he was looking for.  It was a pleasant day, and there were many Dutch people there.  Booth was rather puzzled, for most of them were kneeling beside various graved in the act of prayer.  In fact, two men, in Dutch costumes, were kneeling by the Hart boy’s grave.  When they learned that this stranger, who knelt beside them, had known the boy who was buried there, they were full of questions.  Who was he? What was he like? What was the address of his parents over in America?  Would his parents mind if they wrote to them because, they explained, they had made a solemn pledge to care for this very grave as long as they lived.  And so the neighbor from Stillwater, New York, gave them the parent’s address.  And that’s how it is, that every so often, Mr. and Mrs. Hart received a letter, sometimes in Dutch, which they had to have translated and sometimes in “broken” English – English which the Dutch people learned from our soldiers over there.  Pictures and gifts have been exchanged!  The Harts have taken quite an interest in these friends across the sea, and in their country, and their problems of the post-war world.  So you see what I meant, when I started out by speaking of one of the good by-products of war!  But now I want to read to you some bits from one of the Dutch letters to show you the spirit of those people.  It starts out: “This morning we visited again the grave of your son, who fought and died for our liberty.  We never knew your son, be we shall always honor him as one of “our friends”, and we promise that we shall visit him often, and take flowers to him so that he shall not be lonely among his fallen comrades.  He is buried in one of the most beautiful spots in our Fatherland, resting now peacefully amongst us.  It has not been in vain that he and his comrades fought.  We and our children live in liberty again, and we enter a hopeful future.  From now on, we and our little daughter, Leny, and our son Pete, will pray for your son every evening for the peace of his soul, and we shall pray, too, that there shall never be another war.

     Therefore, Dear people do not grieve.  It is for you a hard blow to lose your son who was so young and so much of his life before him.  But think also, about the millions of other parents, who, through such sacrifices, have a better future for their children!  Hereby we offer you the thanks of all Maastricht, and of all the Netherlands.  Thanks, and thanks again for all that your son has done for our liberation and for beautiful Holland.  Remember that God always picked the nicest flowers out of his garden.  If you come to Holland you shall be doubly welcome.  We should like to become acquainted with you, as soon as there is an opportunity.  Maybe next Sunday my wife and children will visit your son again, and take flowers to his grave.  We shall write you often.  Many regards from all of us “Signed, “Jean Cap, wife and children.”

     A later letter read like this: “All Saint and All Souls, two holidays, one of rejoicing and one of commemoration, are again past.  In the churches and at the cemeteries all over, it was beautiful.  Everywhere the people carried bouquets of chrysanthemums and other flowers mostly white.  From the churches were processions, going with the clergy to the cemeteries.  We have been to the cemetery and have brought many flowers and burned candles at the grave.  Then we prayed on our knees in your place for him who was dear to you.  We told him that you have written to us, at that, although you are far away you are always with him in your thoughts, and that through this offering, what he did, what he suffered, many tears have been dried.  It was all very nice at the cemetery.  On each grave were masses of flowers and wreaths.  Not one grave was forgotten!  Every soldier during these days had visitors, either his old comrades, or citizens of the Netherlands who have taken responsibility for caring for a grave.  All crosses on graves were newly painted white, and thousands of American soldiers and Dutch citizens were present, some laying flowers, and others making photographs of the grave, while other stood praying.  It was very beautiful and never to be forgotten.  You see your sons are remembered and we do all in our power to show our gratitude.  With this letter we send you several candles.  These candles have burned on the grave of your son while we prayed.  We send them now to you so you will have a souvenir from him who has fallen, from his last resting place.  If you are very depressed, you burn these candles and the spirit of him shall return to you and you will be relieved.  Your heart will then be gladdened, and you will again, with cheerful minds go on.  In the bottom of each candle you will find a round hole.  I have made these holes and filled them with earth, earth from the grave of your boy.  We hope that everything is all right with your.  Respectfully, Your Friends, Jean Cap and Family,”

Hands, yes, across the sea!  A boy from Stillwater, New York, goes to his death in the Hurtgen Forest.  His grave is cared for by Dutch people who bare their hearts and soul in letters they write to new found friends in America.  And who is there to say that the boy “died in vain” if by his death, he did his bit to bring about a little international understanding at a time like this, when so soon again Evil Little Men try to put class against class, system against system, nation against nation, and race against race!!