As firetrucks go the old red Dodge was a beast. In 1939 the newly formed Montauk Fire Department purchased it, and one more, to replace a truck the Montauk Beach Company had used in a makeshift effort to fight fires. Voters approved the expense despite it being the tail end of the Depression and not long after the hurricane of 1938.
In addition to converting an old schoolhouse at the base of Fort Hill into Montauk’s first firehouse, the department built a garage that only one truck could exit at a time. “This naturally set up a race situation as far as the volunteer drivers were concerned,” explains a history of the department that appears on the fire district’s website. “At the first wail of the siren, men would converge on the firehouse at breakneck speed, not so much to put out the fire, but to be the first out of the barn…There were occasions when the first truck would go roaring off in less than a minute after the siren sounded, but without any idea where the fire was.”
The two Dodges were the department’s only firetrucks for 15 years, shouldering their own water supply, hoses, gear, and men through often very rugged terrain, often to fight brush fires caused by sparks from steam locomotives.
Belonging to Company 2, the firetruck in the photo above wasn’t retired until 1974, after 35 years of service – and then it was refurbished for the department’s 50th and 75th anniversaries. “They just don’t make fire engines like that anymore,” says the history piece on the district website, written on the occasion of the department’s 50th anniversary. “Let’s see, at an original cost of $3,328 for thirty-five years’ service, that comes to $95.08 a year. I’d say the Montauk taxpayers got their money’s worth.”
Belonging to Company 1, the other red Dodge was damaged during a fire at the State Ocean Science Lab in 1973 – and Thomas Grenci Jr., a volunteer who’s collected MFD memorabilia for 40 years, had the foresight to save a partially melted, red plastic lens.
That firetruck lens is but one piece of ephemera now in a display case in the library’s Local History Exhibit Center. There are, in addition, emergency radios and other vintage equipment, chief’s helmets and caps, plaques and badges, newspaper clippings and photographs, and commemorative matchbooks and ashtrays, glassware, mugs, plates, and the like evoking many memories of anniversary celebrations, installment dinners and clam bakes, and so forth. On loan from Thomas Grenci and curated by Kathleen Ernst, the exhibit pays tribute to both the camaraderie and the responsibilities of fire department volunteers past and present. Check it out!
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