James Hill Hook and Ladder History
The history of the James Hill Hook and Ladder Co. Fire Company began on May 21, 1889 when a group of Fourth Ward residents petitioned the Board of Trustees of the Village of Greenbush to form a hose company named the Ocean Hose Company #4. This petition was presented to the Board by James Hill, who was the Fourth Ward Trustee at the time.
The first Officers to man the new company were:
- President, John F. Kapp
- Recording Secretary, Charles L. Connelly
- Foreman, Stephen Clemshire
- 1st Assistant Foreman, George Kapp
- 2nd Assistant Foreman, William Cunningham
The first firehouse of Ocean Hose Company was provided by its members and housed their hose cart. It wasn't until 1891, when the Village purchased from Mrs. Mullen for $400, property on Partition Street. The original building was built by John Zeph for the sum of $2775.50.
In April 1892, Chief William Brown bought to the Village Board attention the villager's dire need for a hook and ladder fire company. On May 22, 1892 the Officers of the Ocean Hose Company petitioned the Village Board of Trustees to disband Ocean Hose Company #4 and reform as the James Hill and Ladder Co. #4. The company was named for Mr. James Hill, who was a long-time Trustee of the Fourth Ward of the Village of Greenbush, who resided on Lansing Place, just around the corner from the former Partition St firehouse. Hr. Hill died in February of 1912 at the age of 70. He had one son, Bart Hill, who was a Life Member of the Company.
With the approval of the formation of the new Hook and Ladder Company, the village purchased its first hook and ladder truck for $600, from the Gleason and Bailey Manufacturing Co. of New York City. The first truck was pulled up and down the hills and streets of the Village by the firemen. (horses were not used at this time)
The Company went through a few name changes in the late 1890's and early 1900's. In February 1892 the Company petitioned the Village Board for its approval to incorporate. Approval was given and incorporation papers were filed with Rensselaer County on April 22, 1892. In November of 1900 the Fire Company officially changed its name to the James Hill Hook and Ladder Company #1.
The Hill's have had a long association with State and are Fire Associations. The first organization joined was the Hudson Valley Volunteer Firemen's Association on June 13, 1904. Next was the New York State Firemen's Association on July 12, 1909. The last was the Hudson-Mohawk Firemen's Association on December 7, 1931. These Organizations sponsor firefighter conventions each year during the summer months and the Hill's have always taken part in attending their conventions. Our organizations have won many awards from marching in the parades sponsored by these organizations.
In the early days of the Company, the members used to go to the parades downriver in Hudson, Beacon or Tarrytown by either booking passage on the Dayliner or taking the train. The price of traveling back then was usually between 50 to 75 cents per person for the entire round trip. While participating in the parades the Company was never allowed to take any fire equipment out of the city until mid sixties. It was then the E.F. Hart Hose Co's 1927 chain driven pumper truck that was stored in the Hill's Firehouse were the City's fathers first allowed the company to take an apparatus out of town for parades.
When the Hill's 1947 American LaFrance ladder truck was retired in 1968, the company switched to taking this unit out for parades when it was not being used in a back-up capacity. In August 1977 the Company purchased the 1947 ladder truck from the City and after completing extensive refurbishment to the body and drive train makes the truck serviceable for parade duty.
The Hills parade uniforms have changed a number of times over the years. Initially the the outfit consisted or a long brown wool coat and pants with the fire helmet headgear. In the early 1920's the Company went to a navy blue wool coat and pants with fire helmet headgear. In the 1940's the Company switched to a grey shirt with navy blue pants and navy blue wool hats. From 1956 to 1957 the Company uniform consisted of gray pants and shirts with maroon ties and navy blue hats. In the 1960's the uniform was changed to the present day uniform consisting of a white shirt, navy blue pants and navy blue wool hats.
In 1892 when the Company was formed as the James Hill Hook and Ladder Co., we had in our possession the original hose cart from Ocean Hose Co. #4 and the Village of Greenbush purchased a hand drawn ladder truck from the Gleason and Bailey Manufacturing Company of New York City.
Seeing that the Hill's Firehouse is located on the top of the hill on Partition Street, it was fairly easy to go to the fires down either side of the hill into "the hollow" or down to Broadway, but it was very tiresome for the men to pull the ladder wagon back up the hill to the firehouse. The first ladder wagon was worn out by 1908, so the City purchased a new horse drawn ladder wagon from the Combination Ladder Co. of Providence, Rhode Island. The horses used to pull the wagons were purchased by each Fire Company, but the City furnished hay and oats for feed and also made alterations to the firehouse, making stables for the horses.
The brothers, George and Joe Zeph, who were contractors in the City, were hired to revamp the firehouse to add stables for the horses in 1908. The Hill's, E.F. Hart Hose, and J.N. Ring Fire were the first companies in the City to have horses for their wagons.
The first driver that the Hills Hooks had for the horse-drawn wagon was Adam Henry Otto, followed by John Yonkers and Matthew Frear. The City purchased the first motorized carriage for Truck #1 in 1915 when it bought a three and a half ton Mack chassis from the International Motor Company and retrofitted the 1908 wagon to this chassis.
The next three trucks purchased were factory built pieces of fire equipment from American LaFrance located in Elmira, NY. The first was a 1925 motorized ladder wagon with 50ft Bangor ladder. The second was a 1947 - 85ft cab forward series "JOX" body style. This truck and one at the Watervliet Arsenal were the only two local ladder trucks of this type. American LaFrance also features this truck on its 150 Anniversary Calendar in 1982. The third truck was a 1968 American LaFrance diesel-powered 85ft aerial ladder.
From its inception in 1892, the James Hill Hook and Ladder Company have accomplished many things and has undergone many changes in the 100+ year history.
We have had only one member pass away in the line of duty. David Kellogh lost his life on June 30, 1903 while fighting a fire at the Eldorado Hotel on Broadway.
The company has grown in size from the twenty three original charter members to sixty members in 1909 to 148 firefighters in 1992.
In September of 1917 we started a long standing tradition of honoring our life members in the Company. A life member is one who has served the Fire Company faithfully for twenty-five years. The first members to achieve this honor were Edwin Heck, Fred Scheilbly, George Zeph, Bart Hill, and Thomas Herman. In 1972, to recognize the new Life Members in a permanent way, the practice of providing a gold lapel pin and name badge was instituted.