Whitehall firehouse a swirl of activity

DSC_0054There isn’t a fire department in Washington County that’s been more active than the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company.

“We’ve responded to over 500 calls when you factor in the first responders,” company president Brian Brooks said. “That’s more than any other department in Washington County. We’ve also responded to more structure fires than any department in the county.”

The reason for such a high volume of calls is multifaceted. 

In the fall of 2011, the company formed a first response unit that is dispatched with the Skenesborough Rescue Squad and provides emergency medical services to the community 24 hours a day. That added responsibility has increased call volume exponentially.

“It’s a lot of work but the guys have been doing an excellent job,” Brooks said.

The company is also called upon frequently to respond to fires in other communities, primarily because its one of the few fire departments in the area that has a ladder truck.

“Northern Washington County has really started to rely on us for the ladder truck,” Brooks said. “We have a good working relationship with other local fire departments and they know they can count us.”

Besides responding to calls in Whitehall, Dresden, and Huletts Landing, the company has responded to fires in Fort Ann and Hampton, was part of the massive response to the Route 4 rock slide in Comstock last October, and was instrumental in helping extinguish a fire on Main Street in Granville that destroyed two historic buildings.

The company has continued to upgrade and consolidate it fleet of firefighting apparatus. It recently replaced a 30 year-old engine-tanker with a 2012 Peterbilt engine-tanker that has greater pumping capacity than its predecessor and will be one of the first trucks out of the firehouse when the department responds to calls.

The department also bought a 2004 Chevrolet 2500 HD truck that will eventually become the primary vehicle used for first response calls. The purchases give the company seven apparatus in addition to an UTV and multi-use trailer that are vital for responding to emergencies off the beat path and an air boat for water and ice rescues.

Nearly every piece of equipment is multifunctional.

“Every engine is a class-A pumper capable of pumping 1,200 gallon of water per minute,” Brooks said.

The company has also continued an extensive renovation of its firehouse, which turned 100 years old this year.

Brooks said the company is trying to complete the work so the building looks like it did a century ago.

Bathroom facilities have been remodeled, new wainscoting and trim has been hung, walls have been painted, a stone façade has been installed around the bay doors, period appropriate lights were hung near an entry door and a window with the company’s original insignia was installed, among other things.

The improvements, both to the firehouse and the company’s equipment, have allowed the department to buck the national trend of declining membership that has plagued many volunteer organizations.

The company has more than 70 members, including three state-certified fire instructors and four arson investigators. They also have a handful of members who are currently enrolled in a fire fighter one training program.

Members refine their skills on a weekly basis and attend training courses throughout the year.

“We have a lot of guys; it’s always a swirl of activity,” Brooks said. “But we’re always looking for more guys.”

Those interested in joining the company or learning more, can attend the Recruitment Open House on Sunday, April 28, at the firehouse. Members will show off apparatus and answer questions people may have 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

To learn more about what the department is up to throughout the year, visit www.whitehallfire.org.

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