AMHERST FIRE CHIEF’S ASSOCIATION
Early in the 1950’s, an era when large barn fires seemed to be a high priority with many members of the community, a group of men set out to solve the problems caused by the loss of life and property to area residents. Leaders of Amherst’s 10 volunteer fire companies began meeting to discuss fire safety practices and prevention methods with hopes of reducing loss and preserving the area’s assets. With this in mind the Amherst Fire Chiefs Association was established. The charter members of this organization were: Ellicott Creek Fire Co., Eggertsville Hose Co., Getzville Fire Co., Main Transit Fire Co., North Amherst Fire Co., North Bailey Fire Co., Snyder Fire Dept., Transit Fire Co. ( currently the East Amherst Fire Dept. ), and the Williamsville Fire Dept. - Hutchinson Hose Co.
Although the first written records were started in 1955 the Amherst Fire Chiefs Association was said to have been meeting for several years prior to that date. The group decided to officially organize itself in 1958 when a discussion was held to create a set of bylaws by which to operate. Several versions of the bylaws were written and revised by the group until finally in March of 1960 a motion was made and unanimously approved to adopt the document. The organization, with new bylaws complete, then started the process of incorporation, a project completed in January of 1961. The new organization would from that day forward be known as Amherst Fire Chiefs Association Incorporated.
Throughout the Association’s history there were many topics of discussion, some of which left as quickly as they came, and others which seemed to repeat themselves over and over again. One important step in creating organization, was to begin determining boundaries for each fire district to create uniformity to the areas of coverage for each fire company. Working with the Town Assessors office the Chiefs Association pushed to complete this project one company at a time. Topics such as this, communications, firefighter training, mutual aid plans, emergency medical services, fire safety and coordinating the assistance from other town departments would be the most prevalent subjects at Chiefs’ meetings.
In order to properly train the firefighters the Chiefs Association would have to develop better training programs and an area which would be suitable for simulation of fire. A search started for a property on which a training tower could be constructed. The Chiefs Association approached the members of the Town Board to ask if a property such as this may be bought or donated to the fire service by the town. After consideration of many sites the members of the Chiefs Association decided the new training tower would be located on North Forest Road but this was only the beginning of a project that would take almost ten years to complete. The next hurdle to clear was to obtain the funding for construction of the training buildings. Most of the available training was provided by Erie County so it became the focus for needed funds. The Amherst Training Tower was completed by August of 1965.
Enhancing the training facility was only one portion of the project of training firefighters. In order to complete this undertaking, money and instructors to continue teaching the firefighters also had to be lobbied for. The Chiefs Association continued to push Erie County for more courses and instructors for drill nights at the tower. Like any funding source the available money was only as good as the economy and fire fighting suffered losses in training dollars many times. This would force the fire chiefs to increase the pressure on legislators to reinstate funds for training for the safety of volunteers.
Issues regarding the training tower resurfaced in the late 1980’s when the Town was approached by private developers who were interested in the land being used by Erie County for the training tower. The Chiefs Association now had a new mission. In order to keep up with current technology and take advantage of a current situation it was decided to ask the Town of Amherst and the County of Erie for a new state of the art facility to replace the old one. Since part of the request for use of the existing property was to create a new facility in a different location this would be perfect timing. Unfortunately this was one goal which ended unsuccessfully because the Town Board and Erie County could not come to terms with a proposal of Erie County requesting only a duplicate of the existing tower, which was built in 1965. This would turn out to be a major loss to the firefighters throughout the county.
Who does the fire department call when they need help? Development was starting to occur at a faster and faster pace and there was evidence that at times one fire department would not be able to handle all situations. A program of all available equipment and manpower was developed so that at times of need each fire company would be able to call for additional help and the Fire Alarm Dispatch office could research and dispatch the proper equipment per the request of the chief in charge. This would come to be known as a mutual aid plan. Recognizing the need for more than one type of request, the mutual aid plan was set up with second, third and even fourth alarm capabilities. In cases where the loss of life and property had the highest potential, an automatic second alarm was dispatched to provide a greater number of resources in a faster time period. Still in existence today the mutual aid plan is now regional and is continually updated to be sure ample coverage is available for all situations. The first automatic second alarms were set up to cover schools because of the large number of students involved.
Most recently a new addition to the mutual aid plan has developed. Approached by the men from the Snyder Fire Department, a discussion was held about a plan to help save other firefighters in case someone were to become trapped or injured. In 1997 the Chiefs Association established a “FAST TEAM”. The purpose is to intervene on the fire scene when the life or safety of a firefighter was at stake. This team of specially trained firefighters would be brought in to stand-by and react to situations which could prove to be life threatening.
From 1959 to 1963, the Amherst Fire Chiefs Association was prominent in the development of the radio dispatch center. This is now known as the Amherst Fire Control.
In the 1950’s first aid emergencies were being responded to by the fire companies to handle first aid and the patients requiring transportation to the hospital would be taken by the “Town ambulance”. This ambulance was driven by the officers of the Amherst Police Department. As the number of alarms for first aid increased so did the need for additional vehicles to transport those patients. The Chiefs Association requested the Town Board purchase additional ambulances. After many discussions were held between the Town Board and the Chiefs’ Association an agreement was reached. The Amherst Police would equip a station wagon to handle patient transportation and this unit would be the backup ambulance when required.
In 1971 The Chiefs Association requested the town board purchase another full time ambulance. Police Chief Zimmerman stated he did not feel another ambulance was necessary, and that the fire companies should use their equipment to transport when more than one ambulance was necessary. This is when the fire companies started to buy their own ambulances and to take care of transportation on their own.
When the new police station was built on John James Audubon Parkway there was no longer a town garage to store the town ambulance, so the Chiefs Association decided to store the ambulance at the Getzville Fire Company hall, due to its central location. If the ambulance was requested the alarm office would dispatch the Getzville Fire Company through the mutual aid plan and firefighters would drive the ambulance. When this ambulance was no longer serviceable the town would no longer keep a town ambulance and the fire companies would handle all transportation.
Because of the ever increasing number of first aid alarms and new standards of patient care, the Chiefs Association set up a committee to create a program by which a private ambulance service would assist the fire companies with advanced life support when requested. Each ambulance, when requested, would have a paramedic on board to provide medical assistance before ambulance could reach the hospital.
An advanced life support agreement was reached in 1985. With this new agreement the residents of Amherst could obtain the best medical care for all situations. This agreement, still in existence today, has been used as a model throughout Western New York and other areas.
Development was on the rise throughout the Amherst area creating yet another challenge for the Chiefs’ Association. As new developments were started each was required to install water lines and fire hydrants to provide firefighters an ample water supply for suppression of fire. As these hydrants were installed the fire companies noticed that all hydrants did not have the same threads. In 1963, at the request of the building department it was decided to adopt the National Standard Thread for all hydrants installed. This would make it easier for Fire Companies to inter-connect when responding to mutual aid alarms.
Standardization of building and construction codes was the next issue to be addressed by the Chiefs Association. Although the Town of Amherst Building Department was the enforcement agency for these codes, the Chiefs Association was constantly working with the Building department to try and improve the fire safety practices which governed construction in the area.
Working hand in hand with the Building Department the Chiefs Association set up a Fire Safety Committee which was made up of Town fire chiefs. These men would get together to review all development proposals with regard to fire safety issues. Their recommendations would be made to the Building Department who would take these requests under advisement and use them as conditions to approve the development.
Once projects were approved the Building Department would oversee construction to be sure the buildings were being completed as approved, but because of fast paced development this was a hard task. The Chiefs Association, not being happy with what some contractors were doing, decided to meet with the Town Board and the Building Department to discuss some guidelines for completion of projects. Items such as an accepted water and hydrant system were to be in place before people were allowed to occupy structures. Fire Lanes proper access were also concerns of the Chiefs Association. Agreements were reached and carried out by the Building Department.
The job of Fire Safety reviews was taken over by paid Fire Inspectors in 1990 because of the increasing demand on time required by volunteer firefighter.
By 1984 the Chiefs Association finally met a goal which they worked on for many years. Pressure on the State from other Towns and Fire Companies to adopt one set of codes was finally given into with the adoption of the New York State Uniform Fire Prevention & Building Code. This set of rules was to be adopted by all municipalities within the State and is the code still in effect today.
A disaster plan for the Town of Amherst was the next issue to be taken up by the Chiefs Association. In 1982 a committee was formed of Town chiefs to develop a disaster plan for Amherst. The Chiefs Association requested the Town Board hire a disaster coordinator on a part time basis. This position went unfilled until 1991 when part time job was created for 20 hours a week. The job would later become a full time position in 1994.
The Amherst Fire Chiefs’ Association is a volunteer organization assembled in 1955 for the purpose of creating a safer area in which to live. Over 50 plus years it has worked with the Amherst Fire Companies, Amherst Town Departments and regional groups for the creation of policies and standards for life safety which prevail throughout the community today. Many thanks go out to the men who have served this association which has devoted so much time and effort to the improvement of the community.