JOHNSTOWN - As the Berkshire Volunteer Fire Department gets ready to celebrate its 60th anniversary Saturday, Chief James Wilder said the department is thriving.
The department, which has about 40 members, actually cannot have any more members join from outside the district. State regulations demand that a certain percentage of the department's members be residents of the district, which is about 50 square miles in size.
"We probably have one of the biggest fire districts in Fulton County," Wilder said. "Anyone, if they live in the district, we could take them."
The Leader-Herald/Rodney Minor
James Wilder, chief of the Berkshire Volunteer Fire Department, checks an air pack Monday at the department’s station on Route 29A in the town of Johnstown.
The history of the department actually goes back to January 1948, according to information from the department. That month, a fire had engulfed the Oakland Avenue home of Winslow Klopot. The residence was outside Gloversville, so the city fire department could not respond. Instead, neighbors and friends did what they could to fight the fire.
That fire, along with several others, led to talk of establishing a fire department. On Aug. 14, 1950, the volunteer fire department was formally established with the election of officers.
The department has evolved over the years. The original fire house on Route 30 added another bay, getting it up to three, so it could add another fire engine.
In 1968, the Berkshire Fire District expanded to absorb the Tryon Fire District, which had bordered Berkshire, the town of Perth and the Albany Bush boundary. This led to the establishment of a second fire station, which is near County Highway 107.
In the late 1990s, the district absorbed the Albany Bush district, bringing it to its current size.
Wilder, who has been a member of the department since 1978, said in addition to the department itself, the technology involved in fighting fires has changed a great deal over the years.
Besides equipment the firefighters use, the improvement in materials and equipment in homes has helped reduce the number of structure fires the department has to handle during the year, he said.
That includes not only the firefighters' personal equipment, but the vehicles they use as well. All of the improvements have led to bigger fire engines. At the original fire station - known as station one - the vehicles only have about 4 inches of clearance to get in the bay doors.
The department is currently reviewing plans to build a new fire house next door to its first station, located near Route 30 on Route 29A, he said. The new station will have bigger bay doors to accommodate the modern vehicles they use, he said.
Bruce Heberer, chief of the city of Johnstown Fire Department and a member at Berkshire since 1986, said the trucks take up so much room in the current station on Route 29A, they leave very little room to get by.
"That was the whole premise, to build bigger truck bays," he said.
The volunteer department has received a conceptual drawing of what the new station may look like, Heberer said. For now, the department has to get an idea of how much it will cost to build a new station, and how much it has to spend, he said.
Wilder said the department should break ground on the new station sometime next year.
Deb Finkle, a member of the department, said she did not know what the work entailed until joining in July 2008.
In addition to the training that is required, volunteers have to get up and go when there is a fire, she said, even if it is during the middle of the night and they have to be at work the next day.
The required classes have to be done on the volunteers' own time, not to mention the training at the department that happens twice a month.
While that is a significant investment of time, she said, the main goal - helping people - makes it worthwhile.
"I'm proud to be a member of this department," she said.
Heberer said along with the changes in technology, the demographics at the department, and many others, have changed over the years.
"You don't see youth involved as much in firefighting as you used too," he said.
The open house at station one, on Route 29A, will run Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It will feature activities, food and information will be available from many other area emergency responders.
Finkle said the committee established by the department to plan the anniversary event wanted to get other emergency services involved. It goes along with the department's mission, she said.
"In fire prevention, education is the number one priority," she said.