The story of the beginning of the Columbia County Volunteer Firefighter's Association to the current year:
A meeting was called for all Columbia County Volunteer Fire Companies to meet on January 18th, 1925 in the Village of Philmont. The presiding officer was County Vice President of the Hudson Valley Firemen’s Association, Mark Rosenthal, who stated the purpose of the meeting.
Several distinguished guest firemen were present, including W.H. Frank, President of the Board of Trustees of the Hudson Valley Association, Chris Noll, Secretary of the Hudson Valley Firemen’s Association, W.H. Hallenbeck, President of the Greene County Firemen’s Association, and many more. Henry Buxbury from Hudson was chosen Chairman and Ross Myers from Philmont temporary Secretary. Mr. Sweet from Coxsackie gave a very descriptive account of the Greene County Association and its workings. W.H. Frank spoke generally about matters of interest to firemen and especially about the State Firemen's Home in Hudson.
A motion was made by Mark Rosenthal and carried that the roll be called of the delegates present (about 80 in all), to express their views in favor of or against the establishment of County Volunteer Firemen's Association. After an expression from delegates from Germantown, Copake, Stockport, Mellenville, Hillsdale, Niverville and Philmont, a motion was made by Mr. DeWald and carried to continue the business of forming "The Columbia County Firemen's Association". On January 8, 1997 the name of the Association was changed to "Columbia County Volunteer Firefighter’s Association" or “CCVFA”, due to the increase of women becoming firefighters. Mr. Wright Drumm of Chatham gave an invitation to the Association to meet in Chatham for the next meeting, which was accepted. President of the Philmont Fire Company, J.E. Walker, gave an invitation to hold the first convention in Philmont, which was accepted.
Mr. Walker made a motion that a committee of 5 be appointed to nominate the officers. The nominating committee reported that they had made the following selection of Officers and Directors: President Henry Buxbury, Hudson; 1st Vice President Harold DeWald, Philmont; 2nd Vice President Nathan Wild Jr., Valatie; Secretary George Feltner, Stockport; Treasurer Stanley Miller, Germantown. Board of Directors Mark Rosenthal, Hudson; Adrian Langdon, Copake; P.T. Winslow, Niverville; F. Dimmick, Hillsdale; and Wright Drumm, Chatham. On the motion from the floor, the Secretary was instructed to cast one ballot for the Officers and Directors, and they were declared elected.
A resolution passed to appoint 5 members to draft bylaws and present them at the next meeting, to be held February 26, 1926 in Chatham. At the next meeting many appointments were made by the President from among the 21 fire companies in attendance. Dues were set at 50 cents per member and $1.00 per Company. At this meeting the delegates voted to set the last weekend in July for the first convention to be held in Philmont. Care was given to assure that the weekend would not interfere with the Hudson Valley Convention and the New York State Convention. In support of these organizations, the Columbia County Firefighters Association, annually sends up to two delegates to the FASNY State Convention and the Hudson Valley Volunteer Firefighters Convention. In addition, the CCVFA also participates in the Hudson-Mohawk Volunteer Firefighters Convention. There are three members from our Association also elected by membership that sit on the Columbia County Fire Advisory Board.
Since the beginning of the Columbia County Volunteer Firefighter’s Association there have been some firefighters and families that have served this Association for years. The following are some examples. Past Presidents that served twice: Henry Buxbury (1926 and 1927); and, Henry Swartz (2001 and 2016). Recording Secretary: Mark Wiesenthal (14 years); Edward Rowe (28 years); Alton Miller (12 years); and Jeffrey W. French (24 years). Treasurer: Frank V. Wilson (10 years); Stanley Stickles (14 years); Kenneth Glover (13 years); and, Bruce E. Babjeck (28 years).
Brothers that have served as President: Sylvester E. Walker (1956) and Eugene Walker Sr. (1964); and Jeffrey W. French (1989) and Mark D. French (2000). Fathers and sons that have served as President: Charles L. Wilber (1962) and Kenneth H. Wilber (1986); Alexander Monthie (1966) and Mynard Monthie (1977); William Blaauw (1996) and John Blaauw (2006); and, Joseph F. Loeffler (1982) and Joseph H. Loeffler (2012). And, in 2023 a father, son, and grandson category will be added, as Kyle F. Wilber will become the third generation from his family to complete the term as President. As of this update (May 2020) there are 28 living Past Presidents and one open Director’s position.
The first Convention book, printed in 1939, recorded a profit of $750. At that time 40% of the proceeds went back to the Association and the host company kept 60%. The motto the Association used for the book at that time was "United for Service." From 1943-1945 the books were dedicated to the firemen of Columbia County serving in the Armed Forces of the United States. Fire Companies listed the names of the members who were serving. In total 750 volunteer firemen from Columbia County served our Country during WW II. The 21st Convention was called "Victory Convention" and was held in Valatie. During the time from 1945 to 1949, the Association bought War Bonds to help support the troops. The 1949 book was the biggest book in pages to that date. In 1950 the Association celebrated the 25th Annual Convention. The book cover was silver with blue print and the convention was held in Livingston. At this point in time the membership numbered well over 1000 members.
In 1975, the County Association turned 50 years old. The Convention was held in the City of Hudson and the cover of the book was gold with red print. The 1977 book was dedicated to Edward R. Rowe, who was Secretary of the Association for 28 years.
The yearbook has changed in size three different times. It started out 8 1/2"x 11", then changed to 5 1/2"x 8 1/2", with the third change back to the current size of 8 1/2"x 11” and bound on the edge because of the number of pages. In 1988, the Association changed allocation of the profits of the yearbook. The company publishing the book, one year prior to hosting the convention, would receive 100% of the profit to assist them with expenses related to hosting the convention. Detailed information about yearbooks goes back to 1991 and includes the 2003 version produced by Stuyvesant Fire Company, which as of that date the largest at 220 pages. The 2003 version also holds the record for the most money brought in. Since then companies publishing the yearbook have worked to increase the book’s size, to augment their expenses. In 2006, Greenport’s printed book had 232 pages, which was the most to date as of 2019.
The County Association has had two increases in dues for both the fire companies and the membership. The original dues were $1.00 for fire companies and 50 cents for the general membership. In 1949, the dues were increased to $2.00 per fire company and $1.00 for the general membership. The second increase came in 1977, to $6.00 per fire company and $3.00 per member. The Association membership has had its ups and downs in membership of both fire companies and general membership. In 1989 the membership was 1,000 members, the first time since 1950, but fell to 573 for the year 2018-19 (as of May of 2020 there are 499 members).
The Officers of this Association, along with FASNY, have focused on recruitment to try to increase the membership. However, the extra firefighter training hours mandated and community members working outside of their community has impacted our success. Yet, our Fire Companies and Departments continue on, some with better success in recruiting than others.
In 2002 the bylaws changed to have all new Directors, who are elected at the 77th Annual convention and after, be elected to a six-year term. During the last year of being a Director, that person becomes the Chairman of the Board of Directors. This was changed from the old bylaws when the election was for two Directors for a term of three years, two for a term of two years, and two for a term of one year. The updated bylaw brought the CCVFA up to date with other Associations.
The year 1995 was the first year that the Association was the host of the convention. It is the general practice that the President's company served as host to the County firefighters. In 1995, it was hoped that this would encourage other members to become more active in the Association, knowing that if their company could not host the convention that the County Association would be there to help.
In 1988, our first women firefighter, Janet Shumsky, was elected to the position of Director. At that time, she was a member of the Livingston, but then transferred to Greenport Fire Department and they supported her. She was elected President of the CCVFA in 2006 and Greenport hosted the convention in 2007. In 2009, our second woman firefighter, Laura Foster from Germantown was elected Director and served as County President in 2017– 18, with Germantown hosting the convention in 2018. In yet another first, Director Foster served twice as Chairman of the Board of Directors, because there was an opening for that Director’s position and a host for the 2017 convention. Since then the 2017 convention position was filled by Stockport. In 2018, the Association recorded another “first” as Past President Laura Foster, was elected as our first female Recording Secretary.
In 2016, there became two convention years vacant, 2020 and 2024. To fill these voids, the CCVFA decided to serve as host for the 2020 Convention, and the Stuyvesant Fire Company agreed to host the 2024 events. In 2025, the 100th Anniversary of this Association, the Convention will be hosted by the Mellenville Fire Company. They and several other Fire Companies will be celebrating their 100th Anniversary that year. Looking further into the future, Hudson will host in 2026 and the Association is actively recruiting a new Director, whose Company would host the 2027 convention.
Over the years, the Association has made donations to the volunteer rescue squads in the County as well as many other worthwhile organizations and projects. Individual awards have been made to those who have shown acts of bravery toward saving other lives and other notable acts. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the southern States of Mississippi and Louisiana and many volunteer fighters lost their homes. The Columbia County Firefighter’s Association collected and donated $5,000 to send gift cards from Home Depot to a volunteer fire association in Mississippi.
Each year, attendance awards are presented to the three companies who have the largest attendance at the three quarterly meetings. These awards are $125, $75, and $50. In the year 2000, the County Association took on a new fundraiser, collecting used clothing for recycling. The clothing bins are located throughout the county and a recycling company collects the clothing, reimbursing the Association 3 cents per pound. In times of catastrophic fire loss, the recycling company has donated clothes back to the Association to be passed out to victims of the fire. The recycling program briefly ended in 2002 due to the lack of demand for recycled clothing. But in 2006 the program was started again, and the Association has realized a profit of several thousands of dollars annually.
In 2013, the Columbia County Volunteer Firefighter’s Association and the Columbia County Fire Chiefs’ Association started a scholarship program. The scholarship provides $500 to a graduating senior in Columbia County that is a firefighter or a junior firefighter, with the cost being split between the two Associations. The CCVFA has also been honoring Firefighters of the Year and recognizing a Lifetime Achievement for a 25-plus year member each year. Each Company or Department within the County can submit names for the awards each year.
Over the years of convention parades, only one parade was rained out. That was 1960 in Stockport. There have been parades where the rain fell before, during, and after, but never as hard as 1960. The parades used to start at 3:00 PM. In 1991 the parade time changed to 2:00 PM because of the heat and the threat of rain in the later part of the day in late July. The 1997 parade in Greenport started at 6:00 PM and in 1998 the parade in Chatham started at noon. Then in 1999 the parade changed to 4:00 PM in Clermont. Niverville hosted the 74th Annual Convention, their first time, and the parade time changed back to noon.
The 75th Annual Convention was held in Mellenville and included the National Class "C" Hand Engine pumping championship. That parade was moved back to 1:00 PM due to the pumping contest. The parade time changed again in Hudson in 2003 to an evening parade with a 6:00 PM step off. Another evening parade was held in Greenport in 2007, starting at 5:00 pm. Since then the parades have started somewhere between noon and 2:00 pm.
As of this update (2020), the companies or departments that have hosted the county convention the most is as follows: Valatie 8 times, Chatham 8 times, Stuyvesant Falls 6 times, and Ghent and Philmont 5 times each. The Columbia County Firefighter’s Association hosted the 70th Annual Convention in 1995 as there was no host company and plans were set to again host the 95th Annual Convention in 2020 for the same reason. Like the 1995 Convention it was planned for the parade to be held at the Columbia Agricultural Society Grounds (Fairground) in the Village of Chatham. Unlike the 1995 meeting, which was held at the Klein Kill Airport in Ghent, the 2020 meeting was set to be held at the Fairgrounds.
On May 15, 2020, due to social distancing requirements imposed to manage uncertain impacts of the COVID-19 virus, the Board of Directors, Officers, and Past Officers met remotely for the first time ever, via Zoom, an online internet video conference service for group meetings. At the meeting, due to concerns over mass gatherings, the CCFVA officers voted to cancel the 95th Annual Convention. So, as I update the great history of the Fire Service here in Columbia County there is sadness that for the first time in our 95 years, the Columbia County Firefighter’s Association Annual Convention and Parade will not occur. Our Country, and the world, has been invaded by a virus that has taken the lives of and made thousands of people throughout our great Nation sick. There has been a massive shutdown of businesses, social events, all major sports, and schools. Social distancing practices (staying apart by six feet, wearing face masks, etc.) have been implemented and people have been asked to stay at home.
This epidemic started in February 2020 in our Country and New York State continues to urge large social events to be delayed. The choice by our Association Officers and Board of Directors was to not to risk the lives and health of volunteer firefighter’s, their families, and the public. The Officers and Directors are saddened that at such time and under such a threat, when we need each other more than ever, the medical and scientific facts rule against us being together in physical space. There has been a lot of work put into this year’s convention by the Board of Directors with each Director taking a chairmanship of a convention committee. On July 25, 2020 the Officers, Directors, and Past Officers and delegates from Fire Companies and Departments could meet if permitted by New York State reopening guidelines. If not, another Zoom meeting will be held.
Despite the Convention being cancelled, the 2020 Annual Yearbook will still be printed by the 2021 host, Stuyvesant Falls. It will be distributed later than usual since there will be no convention and since Stuyvesant Falls’ members have been hindered selling advertising due to the pandemic. This is uncharted territory for all of us. Our agenda going forward must meet the needs of our great Association and its members while maintaining the health and safety of all.
The Columbia County Volunteer Firefighters Association has grown in stature over the years and has kept the objective of this organization going. We continue to foster and extend the interests, welfare, and growth of firefighter’s interests and good feeling in Columbia County.
The Officers, Directors and Past Presidents of The Columbia County Volunteer Firefighters Association wish to express thanks to all who have contributed to the success of this Association. Without these loyal friends, the Association would not have grown to what it is today.
As Past Recording Secretary, and now serving as Historian of this great Association, I hope this history will show the proud heritage of the Volunteer Firefighters in Columbia County.
Jeffrey W. French
Historian (Updated 2020 May)
Director of Admissions