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Volunteer fire company's 150 years full of change, but same spirit burns bright

Back in the earliest days of Rough and Ready Fire Engine Company No. 1, meetings would be held in barns or whatever space was available in the Village of Williamsville.

Thursday, exactly 150 years after the date of the first meeting, members of what became known as Hutchinson Hose Company in 1908 held their monthly business meeting in a spacious new building on Sheridan Drive, complete with a cavernous truck bay and large social hall.

That's only the beginning of the changes experienced by the oldest all-volunteer fire company in upstate New York.

Some artifacts of the early days remain, including a leather helmet that's shaped more like the caps worn by polo players. A later helmet, circa the 1940s, has the more recognized shape but was made of aluminum with a leather liner.

Kevlar turnout coats are the successors of the old rubber turnout coats, which Chief Jim Zymanek described as "heavy-duty raincoats."

And while no descendants of the original 49 volunteer firefighters are believed part of the current active roster of 52, there still are several members around who gave decades of service to Hutchinson Hose.

Among them is 88-year-old Irvin Lorich, a Department of Defense retiree who was an active member for almost 59 years and a former chief.

Did firefighting change through the years?

"That didn't change too much -- you [still] use water," Lorich joked. But he considers air packs to be the most important new piece of equipment to be introduced during his time.

Ask Lorich about the memorable events of those years, and he first mentions the 1968 fire at the Glen Casino.

He also recalled the successful rescue of two men trapped in a sewer trench collapse on Reist Street.

"One [man] was buried completely," Lorich said. "Those little fingers went to work to uncover him," he continued, wiggling the fingers of one hand. "I couldn't use any equipment."

Out in the truck bay of Williamsville Station 2, three eras of engine trucks were on display Thursday. The earliest is from 1935, the next from 1947 and the most modern from 2003.

"The bottom line is you're still putting wet stuff on the red stuff," quipped Zymanek, a 26-year veteran whose day job is director of emergency services in Amherst.

Along with equipment, training and regulations also have changed through the years, Zymanek said. "We have to comply with everything paid firefighters have to," he said.

So what do volunteer firefighters consider "payment"?

"A lot of it is emotional satisfaction. A lot of it is giving back to your community," Zymanek said. "And it's truly enjoyable."


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