The History of the Cooperstown Fire Department

Founded originally in 1813 as the "Fire Engine Company of Cooperstown", the Department has remained a pure volunteer service, staffed by local volunteers. We have grown from humble beginnings with hand-drawn hose carts and horse drawn steamers, to a modern firefighting and rescue department equipped with state-of-the-art tools.

Steeped in tradition, the Department carries on its history of camaraderie, fellowship and service through community events, including community parades and children's parties.

Old firefighter helmet from the Mechanic's Hook & Ladder company  #5 used in the 1800s.

Accidents and incidents, search and rescue, high winds and high water, boating incidents and water rescues, fallen trees and power lines, and of course, fires…our village has endured it all and more.  For over two-hundred years citizen volunteers of Cooperstown and its adjacent areas have experienced and responded to emergencies.  

Until 1813 there is no documented reference to a specific group of individuals organized and tasked to respond to a fire or any other emergency.  A December 1812 Cooper family storehouse fire apparently prompted action on the part of village trustees for, by May of 1813, official certificates of membership in the “Fire Company of Cooperstown” had been printed and issued.

2013 marked the two-hundredth anniversary of the formal establishment of what is now the Cooperstown Fire Department. With a typical number of 60 to 70 volunteer members specializing in firefighting and rescue as well as emergency medical and fire police services, Cooperstown Fire Department and EMS continues to serve the people of Cooperstown and our neighbors.

The Early Years

The village of Cooperstown itself was first settled in 1786. The town took 26 years to buy its first fire engine and 27 years to create its first organized department in 1813

The need to respond to fires was a large reason for the incorporation of the village in 1812, when the first piece of official fire equipment was purchased. 

Our first engine was a small, early Nineteenth Century hand pumper named the "Nepute Engine No. 3". It's operation required much of the town to buy and bring leather buckets to refill the machine from private wells.

The second engine, of similar design, was bought just two years later in 1815 by the Cooper family, and brought about the founding of the second engine company. 

Neptune Engine No. 3  - Research Center

Growing Pains

The two engine companies addressed many fires with varying success over the years before 1840. Due to the available technology, much of the suppression work was bent on stopping the spread of a fire to other buildings. 

As building materials and the size of the town expanded, the need for additional resources became apparent and a third engine was purchased in 1841, founding "Engine Company No. 3".

Edgewater Bucket similar to those used in community bucket lines when the water supply ran out. - CFD

A series of larger fires in the 1850's, followed by the "Great Fire" of 1862 (and a follow-up fire just two days later), prompted greater social interest and pressure to increase firefighting potential. This lead to the purchasing of the Cowing hand engine in 1867.

1862 - "The Great Fire"

Aftermath of "The Great Fire" in 1862 

Another major fire at the St. James Motel (on the corner of Main Street and Chestnut), brought about a cascade of changes in the 1880's, including the election of chief engineer Marcus Field in 1873, a new waterworks project in 1881, the construction of the first Fire House in 1889, and the consolidation of seven hose companies down to five.

20th Century

The early 1900's saw the first instances of horse-drawn steam pumpers, alarm system improvements, telephone systems, waterworks development, and the full motorization of the department by the late 1920s. 

The later half of the century saw the formation of the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) unit formed in 1969, and the first women members joining in 1982. 

Recent History

In 2001, the Cooperstown Fire Department sent an ambulance and team of EMS/firefighters to New York City after the historic attack on the World Trade Center.  Although staged nearby as backup, New York City showed appreciation for their presence by awarding the department a large banner (displayed in the truck bay) and the framed piece of steel from the tower (on display in our main meeting hall). 

In 2002, after 187 years, the separate 'ladder', 'hose', and 'pump/engine' companies were consolidated into a single, unified, "department".  Because of their unique roles within the department, EMS and Fire Police remained as specialized units with their own command structure. 

The 200-year anniversary of our founding took place in 2013 and was celebrated by a series of public events and the creation and publication of a booklet detailing our history in greater depth. We give thanks to author Doug M. Preston, the NY State Historical Association, the Farmer's and Fenimore Art Museums and affiliated Research Center, the Freeman's Journal, and others for their contributions, and to department member Frank King, who researched, compiled and edited the Bicentennial Celebration booklet for department publication.

Learn More

To learn more about our history, you can find a copy of our "Bicentennial Celebration" booklet at the station, pick up a copy of one of historian Doug M. Preston's books on the subject or visit the Fenimore Art Museum's Research Library.