The St. James Volunteer Fire Department was organized in 1909 by Mr. T. Edward Ellis as the Eagle Hook & Ladder Co. The firehouse was located on Woodlawn Avenue. It existed until the early 1920’s when, as its hand drawn equipment was getting old and obsolete, interest in the company dropped.
During a Christmas Holiday fire in 1921 where a home was lost a committee of local citizens started a drive to raise money for equipment and for a new fire house. The first purchase was a model “T” combination pump and ladder with 1000 feet of hose at a cost of $1500. The new fire truck was housed in a small metal garage on property donated by Mr. Butler where the main house is located today.
With its new pumper and metal building the new department was started on March 8, 1922. Officers and members of the department were led by their first Chief, John O’Berry.
As the town grew so did the fire department and in 1922 a new fire house was built at the intersection of North Country Road and Lake Avenue. In 1923, Mr. Butler donated the engine room floor which is where the present building resides today. The second floor to the fire house was built by the volunteers and another wing was added on later.
In 1924 a Reo Pumper was purchased, and the model “T” pumper, after many years of service was replaced in 1932 by a Seagrave pumper. The model “T” was then sold to the Holtsville Fire Department and later transferred to the Gordon Heights Department.
In 1935, the St. James Fire District was formed and the volunteers no longer had to be burdened with the task of raising money for new equipment. Before the district was formed the volunteers would get the money for equipment by having annual carnivals. The carnivals would be started with a parade of the volunteers and it would last a week. Featuring circus and vaudeville acts nightly they proved to be the outstanding social event of the year. But band expenses and ambulance corp. funds still had to be raised by donations.
One of the greatest contributions to the community from the department was the drum and bugle band formed in the early 1930’s. Professor Psota, who also conducted the Suffolk Symphony, started the fire department band with members who for the most part had little or no musical training. He had to teach them to play instruments and how to parade. The band was originally known as the “Royal Aires” and disbanded during World War II. After the war it was reorganized as the “Saints” and had a membership of 68 young people.
Another activity of the department is the “Wildcat” racing team founded in 1932. The team won championships honors in many competitions, capturing the title New York State Champs in 1957, 1966, 1971 and 1972. Since their inception the team has won thousands of trophies.
Prior to World War II, membership in the St. James Fire Department averaged between 50 to 60 men.
The ambulance corp. was organized in October 1956, and went into operation the following month with a new ambulance costing $1700.
The fire district constructed a substation at Jefferson Ave. and Woodlawn Ave. to house additional fire apparatus in 1970.
Today, the complement of firefighters and ambulance personnel is 100 active members, with three pumpers, one aerial platform, one brush truck, one heavy rescue truck, three ambulances, two EMS first responder cars and four chief’s cars.