OSSINING, N.Y. – Before leaving for the Ossining Fire Department's 200th Anniversary Parade Saturday, 3-year-old Rafael Rodriguez insisted to his mother Laura that he wear his firefighter outfit to look like one of his heroes.
“I want to be a fireman,” Rafael said. “I want to rescue people and put out fires. And I want to rescue a cat in a tree.”
As Rafael and thousands of other Westchester residents looked up to the Ossining Volunteer Fire Department during Saturday's 200th Anniversary Parade, Chief Thomas Reddy said he couldn’t help but think of those looking down on him.
“I’m sure my great-grandfather and grandfather were looking down on me saying go get ‘em you’re chief now of this big celebration,” said Reddy, a fifth-generation firefighter. “The men and women of this department is what makes it great and remembering our tradition and those who came before us is part of what makes us such a great, extended family.”
Both Reddy’s great-grandfather and grandfather served at the top of the Ossining Fire Department and came up through the department's first company now known as Washington Hook & Ladder Company No. 2. The company started on May 4, 1812 as Washington Engine Company No. 1 in the hamlet of Sing Sing – a year before the village was incorporated. The all-volunteer department started primarily to help provide exemptions so that members could stay and help their local families during the War of 1812.
Being a member of the department now carries with it knowledge and tradition built over the last 200 years, said Frank Palmietto, Washington Hook & Ladder’s historian.
“When we have new members join, we talk about the rich history of this family because we really are a family and it’s important to know where that family came from,” Palmietto, who’s served with the department for nearly 40 years. “When I joined in 1973, this tradition was taught to me by members who had been around since 1920. You have to remember your past to go forward into the future. It's a great honor to be a part of Westchester's oldest company and a part of this amazing department.”
At present, there are about 480 all-volunteer members of the Ossining Fire Department. With half of the 75 members in Washington Hook & Ladder under 35-years-old, Palmietto said he also sees a bright future ahead of the department.
“A lot of fire departments are hurting for people but we’re very strong,” Palmietto said. “I’m hoping that this continues and it looks promising. We’re starting to see a lot of the younger members step up and it’s really great to see that family keep going.”
For ex-captain Bill Carrigan, keeping the traditions and strength of the Ossining Fire Department going starts with the community and kids like Rafael Rodriguez and other kids who dream of becoming a part of the department.
“When I was a kid I came to the parade and I just loved seeing the firefighters come by and I always wanted to be a part of that,” said Carrigan, who joined the department in 1972, at 18. “In this town it’s a big thing to be a firefighter and I think it’s something every kid in this town dreams of. It’s a great feeling to see people coming out and it’s a great feeling marching with those men because they do it with pride and honor.”
To show respect for the department, more than 70 departments from around Westchester and all over the state of New York also marched in the parade. The departments in attendance Saturday included Briarcliff Manor, Pleasantville, Croton, Elmsford, Nyack, Montrose, Hastings, Lake George, Danbury, Carmel and Maybrook, Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown.