For the first 80 years of the Haverstraw Fire Department, Leadership was in the form of 1 Chief and 2 Assistant Chiefs, who were duly elected from 3 of the 5 companies. Politics played a dominate role in the early Department, with firehouses the center of political life in the Village. Politics also played a starring role in the Election of Chief, who along with the Mayor and political machine, would work hard to get thier man in. Reading the newspaper’s of the day, you would see that the department went through periods of intense controversy, including disbanding and re-organizations of Companies, though often with the same political plot line. By the 1930’s, Haverstraw was to abandon the old and begin an election of 1 Chief Officer from each of the 5 companies, and this tradition stands today. This is the story of ” The Combination”.
This story is told by members, both past and present. The chain of events border on folklore in the HFD. As with many hotly debated ‘firehouse’ issues over the years, the story you were taught just depended on what company you belonged to, but the lesson learned was of ‘equal representation’ On February 14, 1859 the New York State Legislature passed an Act which provided for, and regulated the election of a Chief Engineer and two Assistant Engineers of the Fire Department of the Village of Warren in the County of Rockland. Throughout the 19th century, the system of picking Chief Engineers held, and an annual convention became routine to elect a chief and 2 assistants for the following year, with the older more established companies holding sway over the others. The candidates themselves, at times surrounded in controversy, were often at odds with the Board of Engineers over company issues, and often would get the ‘boot’.
By 1900, with 5 companies represented by 3 Engineers, and political clout in the guise of easy assignments and better equipment for the companies involved, politics played a big role in the Department. Back door political maneuverings would find the Chiefs banding together, and of course dissent followed in the companies not represented in the combination. They had good candidates for Chief but couldn’t get enough votes. The first eight years of the 20th century would find General Warren, Lady Warren, and Relief Hose in control of the combination.
In 1908, the two companies not represented, Rescue and Cosgriff used their influence to swing General Warren their way, and this would last until 1914, when Bernie Fox, the Democratic Party leader in the village, and a member of Lady Warren wanted to be chief. This would set off a another change in the combination that would ultimately bring it down. The year is 1914, and Haverstraw was hosting the Hudson Valley Parade and Convention. Thomas Flynn of Rescue #1 was in step for Chief. Obviously, Bernie Fox wanted to be chief for the big convention and #5’s needed the combination to secure this honor. Through political maneuvering, the combination changed again, with #3’s and #5’s joining General Warren in electing Fox. The big loser was Tom Flynn and Rescue #1.
In 1921, a young man joined General Warren Hose Company and his name was Charles Fales. He was the Step-son of Thomas Flynn, and being that the only thing deeper than politics is family, Smokey never forgot that Flynn got the ‘boot’. Working the ranks of General Warren, serving as Secretary and Captain of the company as well as Village clerk, Smokey was elected in 1930 as 2nd assistant engineer, and made a motion that evening to create By-Laws for the department.
As with all enthusiastic volunteers, he was quickly named chairman of the By Law committee and soon had a group of rules up for review. Among them was a rule to allow the Election of a Chief Officer from each of the 5 companies, effectively ending the Combination and allowing equal representation in the Department. The matter of equal representation was voted down in committee, but The Constitution and By-Laws of the Haverstraw Fire Department were in place and on April 5, 1934 Smokey was elected Chief Engineer, thanks to the Combination.
Smokey thought that after 4 years of constant political maneuvering with the companies on Middle Street, who were out of the combination since 1914, and a more reformist attitude within our Company, that the time was ripe for change. The Minutes show that during the Department Re-Organizational meeting on April 27, 1934, Smokey proposed an amendment to the By-Laws to allow equal representation to the Board from all five companies.
On June 7, 1934 a special meeting of the Board of Chief Engineers was held for the purpose of adopting an amendment to the Constitution and By-Laws of the Haverstraw Fire Department to allow equal representation to the board by allowing election of one Chief Engineer and 4 assistants for the ensuing year. The amendment passed and an election was held that night to elect Chiefs from Rescue and Cosgriff. The the close of that meeting the Board consisted of the following:
Charles Fales General Warren #2
Harry Joachim Relief Hose #3
Jack Feeney Lady Warren #5
William Babcock Cosgriff Hose #4
William Pallett Rescue #1
To this day, on the first Thursday after the First Tuesday in the month of April, the Haverstraw Fire Department convenes a Chiefs Convention at 8pm to select 1 Chief and 4 Assistant Chiefs to represent each of the five companies of the Haverstraw Fire Department