Rockland Lake was a very different place 150 years ago, when the Knickerbocker Fire Engine Company was formed.
Back in 1862, the Knickerbocker Ice Company had been around for more than 30 years and Rockland Lake was a major supplier of ice for New York City in the days before modern refrigeration. The ice business made Rockland Lake a busy hub, with ice placed on inclined railroad cars and taken down to barges along the Hudson River.
The ice business is long gone, although an annual festival at Rockland pays tribute to the days of ice harvesting. However, the Knickerbocker Engine Company No. 1 remains on Landing Road, with its members serving as guardians of that tiny community between the Hudson River and Route 9W.
Members of the fire company celebrated their unit's 150 years of service with a picnic on Saturday at the Rockland Lake firehouse. More than 300 people attended, including former residents of Rockland Lake who came back to celebrate the fire company's history.
Among those celebrating the anniversary was John Hanchar Sr., 94. He's been a member of Knickerbocker Engine Company for 72 years.
Helping out at the celebrations: Clarkstown Auxiliary Police, Rockland County Fire Police and members of the Rockland County Red Knights, firefighters who are also motorcycle enthusiasts.
Rockland Lake Fire Chief Chris Ryan, a member of Knickerbocker Engine Company No. 1 for 22 years, said the celebration turned out to be a special event because volunteers from throughout Rockland County came to help mark the anniversary. Ryan was happy to see fellow volunteers from neighboring fire departments, but Ryan said he and fellow Rockland Lake firefighters felt honored that firefighters from as far away as Tappan and Sloatsburg visited for the party.
Knickerbocker Engine Company No. 1 is among the oldest firefighting units in Rockland County, but it is also among the smallest. The fire department has just 22 members, including its life members. There are about a dozen active firefighters who respond to emergency calls.
"It's like a brotherhood," said Ryan, describing the special relationship among Rockland Lake firefighters that keeps the group together. While the volunteer firefighters have the common goal of protecting the community, Ryan said Knickerbocker Engine Company No. 1 members are a close-knit group who help each other as friends and neighbors outside of the firehouse.
Ryan explains that Rockland Lake firefighters also take pride in the history behind their fire company, dating back to the days when Rockland Lake and its ice harversting made the area well-known. He notes that as hikers and other visitors to Rockland Lake come upon the small two-bay firehouse on Landing Road, firefighters get many questions about the area and its history.
"People are amazed when they learn about our history and Rockland Lake," Ryan said.