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.