Historian Esther Dunn wrote of the steady growth of the West Webster Volunteer Fireman’s Association (WWVFAI) from 1926 – 1970. The demand for its services in the next two decades nearly tripled! Luckily Pepper, their Dalmatian, could ride along for some of those years! Major calls included the biggest fire to date at Russell B. Mason Company, 205 North Avenue, Empire Blvd’s Webster Manor Apartments, two fires at Hill Haven Nursing Home, and a welcome assist with Buffalo’s 1977 snow emergency. Also noted was a significant increase in snowmobile accidents. In 1976, the association celebrated its 50th year with a parade and a banquet. The 1973 Explorer Post initiative and the annual fire prevention essay contest begun in 1975 would attract many firefighter recruits. The addition of women to medical and fire assistance roles was recognized by the 1979 change in language to “firepersons,“ anticipating active firefighting participation by women today. Station #1 got a much-needed addition in 1978.
The early 1980s were marked by increased calls, especially calls for snowmobile accidents. WWVFAI’s careful assessment of the needs of large facilities and regular fire drill practice in such facilities saved the day in 1981 during a significant fire at Hill Haven Nursing Home. No deaths and few effects from the fire rewarded the Association’s diligent planning for such emergencies. Another fire there in 1986 had a similarly happy ending for residents, including a former chief and his wife. By the end of the 1980s, West Webster was annually responding to over 300 fire calls and nearly 700 emergency calls.
Both fire and emergency calls doubled in the 1990s, some attributable to the over 1000 responses during the 1991 ice storm. Two years later, a second addition was made to Station #1. In 1995, two EMTs were hired to cover 5 am-5 pm weekdays and by 1996, two AEDs were in-house for emergency use. Major calls in this decade were fires at Commercial Street, Sea Breeze, Al’s motel on Empire Blvd as well as the severe thaw of 1998 and the blizzard in March 1999.
The new millennium through 2016 saw not only growth in the number of requests for service from West Webster VFA, but an expansion in the kinds of such requests… to 80 different categories of calls by 2016. The opening of Station 3 (“Elm Forks” at Plank and State Roads) assisted members in their efforts to fill those requests. Local fire and rescue calls included a major brush and structure fire on an Irondequoit Bay hillside in 2003, an airplane crash and fire on Empire Blvd in 2007, rescue of a horse in a sinkhole in 2008, vehicle and house fire on Gasberry Lane in 2010, a fatal house fire on Cardile Drive in 2012, trail, boat and kayak rescues, and many local mutual-aid calls. WWVFAI personnel responded to requests for their fire and emergency services for an Adirondack ice storm and fundraising for NYC families affected by 9/11 in 2001. They traveled to Millgrove NY for an October 2006 snowstorm, Binghamton for Hurricane Irene, Long Island for Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and Buffalo for a snowstorm in 2014. It is not hard to see why in 2016, West Webster was honored as the most active VFA in Monroe County.
First responders are prepared for the known hazards of their volunteer profession. Some dangers, however, cannot be anticipated. On December 24, 2012, Past Chief Michael Chiapperini (also a sergeant in the Webster Police Department) and young recruit Tomasz Kaczowka were ambushed and killed when a gunman opened fire as they responded to a fire call initiated by the shooter. Firefighters Joseph Hoffstetter and Theodore Scardino were seriously injured. In the days following their deaths, Mike and Tomasz were mourned and honored by their families, their West Webster VFAI family, the community, and individuals across the world. The brotherhood of firefighters banded together to support the slain and injured and their families, and a grieving Webster community supported them all. In 2013, a new protocol was initiated for staging a response at high-risk addresses and Webster’s First Responder playground was dedicated. 2014 saw the 12/24 Memorial and First Responder Spray Park dedications. People continued to get lost in parks, stranded on the ice, and generally kept their West Webster Volunteer Firemen’s Association busy! As fire and rescue calls increased to over 2800 annually in 2015, training in diverse areas continued. Mock DWI, ice rescue, water rescue, and wildland search were added to the growing list of training sessions offered to West Webster firefighters each year.
- Esther A. Dunn, WEBSTER… Through the Years (Webster Town Board, 1971).
- William R. Schlegel and Lawrence J. Gleason, The West Webster Volunteer Fireman’s Association, 1926-2001.
- West Webster Fire Department Website
- Tom Diesenroth, former chief: interviews and documents of WWVFAI recent history
- Ron Sobtzick, Maintenance Technician