Brewster Fire Department
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By Life Member James Delawder
December 16, 2021

On February 5, 1969 a fire broke out about 3 PM at the Trinity Pawling School. The conjecture was that it started with a cigarette. It is believed the cigarette was smoldering for several hours in the false ceiling above the library in Cluett Hall (picture #1). All the students were safely evacuated.

The Brewster Fire Department responded with its brand-new 85 foot Snorkel (pictures #2 & 3). It had just arrived from the manufacturer the previous month. It was not yet officially in service. The Snorkel was an aerial device with an articulating boom, a semi-enclosed platform or basket, and a waterway. It had a compact design with maximum maneuverability. It was excellent for two and three story buildings. It could reach a vertical height of 85 feet. It could reach a horizontal distance of 44 feet. The last Snorkel was produced in the year 2000. Once at a drill, two Carmel firefighters were in the bucket when the hydraulics "broke". They were told that they might have to repel down! They were not happy about that possibility. Fortunately, there was a wheel crank that could be turned in such an emergency and they were slowly let down.

When the Snorkel first arrived at the fire, it was being hooked up to an engine to supply the Snorkel's waterway for its Master Stream. The waterway was not yet charged when word came that two firefighters were trapped on the fifth floor. Charlie Erickson broke the line and got soaked doing it that cold winter day. This enabled Daniel Clancy, the driver to back the Snorkel up to a location where it could reach the trapped firefighters on the fifth floor. Georgie Walsh (Chief 1967-68), then Captain of the Snorkel flew the bucket at which he was highly proficient. Some of the other members who "flew" at that fire included Ole Black, James Duffy (Chief 1969), Charley Erickson, Louis Gasparini(future chief), and another future chief, Homer Stephens.


It was a very cold day and night at that fire. The fire was fought in freezing temperatures for eight hours. The fire-men's rubber coats froze. Notice the snow on the ground in pictures #2 and #6. Charley Erickson remembers the spray from the nozzle misting back on him in the Snorkel's elevated bucket and freezing on his turnout coat. George Hill remembers ladders freezing to the building for a couple of weeks and 5 inch hose lines that were frozen solid. Approximately three hundred firefighters fought the fire. Besides the Brewster Fire Department, some of the other fire department engaged were Beekman, Carmel, Dover Plains, Holmes, Patterson and of course the Pawling Fire Department.

When fire broke through an adjoining wall in the attic, six firemen immediately evacuated. They thought their two colleagues were following them out but they were not.Two firefighters remained. One trapped Pawling firefighter, Joseph Pietryka, age 22 was rescued by the Brewster Fire Department Snorkel from a high window on the fifth floor. Unfortunately a second firefighter, Nicholas Taska, age 47, was later found deceased back inside the attic .

For that February, the Brewster Fire Department won a 1st place award in THE NEWS Vamps Award competition for dramatic rescue.

Information for this article was provided by interviews with Charlie Erickson, Louis Gasparini, George Hill and George Walsh. Newspaper articles are archived in the Brewster Fire Department Library by deceased Chief and Historian Ed Schneider.


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