CFD History


The History of the City of Cortland Fire Department: Rooted in Tradition

The history of the fire service in Cortland has always been one of neighbor helping neighbor and cooperation between private interests, career and volunteer staff.

Around 1812 the Randall family opened a series of mercantile shops in “Lower Homer”. The incorporation of the Village of Cortland brought the first fire apparatus, which was purchased by the Randall family in 1830. The Randall Tub was a simple device with a reservoir and a nozzle. It was privately owned but accessible to the public for emergencies. Prior to this it was the civic duty of each resident to keep a full bucket of water on premises. The true nature of the fire service is rooted in the community bucket brigades in which the men made one line of water coming into the fire and the women and children formed the line of buckets from the fire to be filled. Even today the fire service is made of men and women from all backgrounds and life experiences.

The history of Cortland’s organized fire service dates back to 1854, when the city was still a growing village. The first organized volunteer fire companies were the Water Witch Fire Company and the Water Witch Hose Company (later to become Orris Hose Co. in honor of Orris U. Kellogg, a prominent local attorney). This was a public fire company. The 1862 Eagle Hotel fire prompted the formation of the Excelsior Hook and Ladder Company in 1864. The Emerald Hose Company was formed in 1878 as a product of the times and restrictions placed on immigrants from joining other fire companies. As a result of the boiler explosion at the Hitchcock Manufacturing Company the privately owned Hitchcock Hose Company was formed in 1888. The Cortland Wagon Company had a private Fire Brigade as well, but was never incorporated into the future fire department structure. The first career fire fighters were teamsters hired to train and drive the horse drawn apparatus.

 excelsior company 3 patch      union patch Company 5    

In 1900 the City of Cortland charter was established and the Fire Commission was formed. Until the construction of the Central Fire Station in 1914, the Fire Companies were housed throughout the city. The station still operating today at 21 Court Street was opened in 1915 with the first motorized apparatus. This was a turning point in the way fire was fought in Cortland. By 1915 drivers were hired and the fire station was manned around the clock. This was the makeup of the Cortland Fire Department until a Sorority House fire on Church Street left three occupants dead in 1949. The City Administration hired seven World War II veterans to man the apparatus and add to the compliment of volunteer staff available for fighting fires. As the City continued to grow Station 2 was added in 1969 to provided protection for the businesses and residents on the eastern end of the city.

Today it is through the continued efforts of both career and volunteer staff and the diversity of persons who choose to devote their time, community efforts and experience that the Cortland Fire Department can provide ongoing exceptional service to the residents and visitors in the City of Cortland.

Learn more about the history of the City of Cortland Fire Department!
Learn more about our Headquarters and its listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

Questions?  Contact us!
Email: Historian

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