On a late summer day in 1949, the members of the Cattaraugus Fire Department are putting their new pumper through its paces. A drafting operation has been established at an unknown location in Cattaraugus County, New York.
The truck has just arrived from Young Fire Equipment in Buffalo, and is equipped with a 500 GPM three-stage pump. A quick estimate from the type and number of lines shows that the pump is working well beyond its rated capacity. Notice the Sterling Sirenlite on the bumper, a combination siren and red warning light. Folks, that’s the entire warning light package, for back in this era rotating beacons on truck roofs had not yet become a requirement.
We see a group of firemen huddled around the pump panel, watching and waiting for their turn at the controls. No fire police are visible; back then they weren’t needed, for everyone slowed down to watch what firemen were doing.
Seven more firemen are playing their hose streams into the trees, being careful to miss the telephone and electric lines. Their smiles suggest a wisecrack made at the photographer’s expense, although they are clearly having fun crossing the fire streams. Perhaps they are delighted at simply being outside, on drill and spraying water.
See the rubber coats and turned-down three-quarter-length boots that some of the firemen are wearing? Back in the day, the coats, boots and helmets were carried on the truck. The first members to arrive at a fire scene donned the few sets of turnouts the department could afford, while latecomers wore the clothing they showed up in.
An older man stands off to the right, taking in the scene with a satisfied look. He’s probably the chief, overseeing the operation and evaluating the performance of his new “baby.”
I can almost remember this era, for this picture was not more than ten years old when it was given to me by a relative who worked for Young. It is quite possible that I traveled this very road more than once - to or from a family reunion, or perhaps in search of a fishing spot. There’s a certain look to the hills, the road and even the faces of the men that I recognize. It may be because of the many, many times I’ve studied this photograph over the years; like old family stories that are told again and again, eventually the memories of an event and memories of the story of an event become indistinguishable.
Much has changed in the art of firefighting and fire equipment since this picture was taken, yet much remains the same. Many fire departments still go out on drill one night each week for pump training, conducted at a favorite out-of-the way location. Members still gather around the pump panel, waiting their turn to practice picking up draft and getting “checked out” on the pump.
Firefighters don’t need to be asked more than once to stretch a hose, screw on a nozzle and spray water. Fire Chiefs still get satisfaction from watching a good drill that is well attended, and a truck that can do the job when needed.
New fire trucks still attract firefighters from all around, like moths to a light. And we still enjoy the simple pleasure of being out on drill on a fine summer evening, honing skills and pumping water with a good fire truck.