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By Life Member James Delawder
January 9, 2024

" RUN TOWARDS THE TRAIN!" was the shouted order given by Chief Thomas Hughes. He was Chief from 1982 to 1985. During those years, we frequently had brush fires by the railroad tracks just south of the Brewster Railroad station. The train engines were FL 9's (Photos # 1 & 2) and sparks could be generated by the engine and/or the axles of the passenger cars. The FL 9 locomotives could run on both electrified and non-electrified lines. Entering NYC required electrical power. Diesel exhaust was a hazard in confined spaces such as the East River Tunnels and Grand Central Station. Once out of the city, trains could run on diesel.

The fire call did not seem out of the ordinary although no fire is ordinary. The fire was reportedly in the brush on both sides of the tracks just south of Marvin Mountain. Just getting to the fire was not an easy task. We responded with the Power Wagon (photo # 11&12) onto Nelson Boulevard opposite what was then called Electrazone Field (photos # 5,6,&7). The Power Wagon was not a glamorous vehicle but was great in places that were inaccessible to other vehicles. It was Army surplus. It came with four-wheel drive, a four speed, manual transmission on the floor, and a hundred and fifty gallon water tank. Later, under Chief Chuck Doyle's (photo #4) direction it was painted "to any color as long as it is Green".

Nelson Boulevard is now a walking trail next to the Diverting Reservoir. It was confirmed that all trains were stopped as we approached the tracks. The line was not electrified that far north at that time. This allowed us to get the 4-wheel drive, four speed, manual Power Wagon on the tracks. We proceeded south slowly and arrived at the fire scene near Daisy Lane and the Spillway. We began to fight the fire with Indian tanks (photo #10), a booster reel from the Power Wagon, and rakes. It seemed as if we had the fire under control. One train filled with passengers waiting to get home had been halted for quite awhile just in front of the fire. Eventually, it was allowed to slowly proceed through. After the passenger train had passed, the fire rekindled in a few spots. We again fought to put the brush fires out. After a short period of time, Chief Hughes noticed another train quickly approaching. At first the headlight seemed to be a little penlight.

The order was given by Chief Hughes: "RUN TOWARDS THE TRAIN." The Power Wagon was on the tracks but we were told to leave the Power Wagon. As we ran towards the engine. its headlight kept getting bigger and bigger. Soon it seemed to be larger than a gigantic searchlight. Unbeknownst to the fire department, when one train is let through, the "block" is abrogated. Fortunately, the engineer in the oncoming train was alert and stopped in time (photo #8). Chief Hughes was so incensed that he went to the Brewster Railroad Station Master. He said if I may paraphrase: "I will stop every !@%*#^! train from here to Chicago! If another train comes through, I will have you arrested." The Station Master said :"You can't do that!" The Sheriff with Chief Hughes said : " He can't but I will!" No further problems occurred on the tracks that day. A train-master was sent to control train traffic. The fire was put out without more surprises. All responders and the Power Wagon returned safely.

There were other interesting events involving Chief Thomas Hughes.

Another notable incident occurred during Thomas Hughes time as Chief. At the now named Metro North (then Con Rail) Railroad Yard in Brewster, there was a Maintenance building (near the former "Roundhouse") that caught on fire. It was started by the air compressor which supplied the entire railroad yard and trains. It was an extremely cold, windy winter night (1983?) and the temperature was 15 degrees below zero. It was the coldest fire I or Chief Hughes ever faced. The water supply was inadequate and we had long hose lays. Our gear, the ground, everything seemed like a stream of ice. It turned out afterwards, that we learned from Metro North employee, Wayne Barr, former Chief of Mahopac, that magnesium was stored in a corner of the Maintenance building. Luckily we had not hit that area with water. To warm up, members kept rotating from the fire into the ambulance or rescue truck to unfreeze. I remember it being necessary to edge in sideways in the Rescue truck because my gear and everybody else's was frozen solid like a scare crow. After the fire was out, we could not move or break the hoses. Chief Hughes ordered us to chop the hoses with axes so that we could at least get the trucks into the firehouse before they froze up. Ed Butler Jr. (photo #15) took off his turnout coat in the firehouse and it stood up by itself until the ice melted. The next day, Joe Durkin (photo #16) picked up the hose with his pickup truck and a small trailer. Joe Durkin was a Master Mechanic for Con Rail which followed Penn Central Railroad and preceded Metro North. His job was to maintain the diesel engines,

Another interesting call happened when we responded to a tree on fire by the Troopers' barracks on Route 22. It was called in by a New York State Trooper. We responded with a small brush truck. Chief Hughes arrived first at the scene and he looked up. There was a car in the tree. He went inside the Troopers barrack and told them to call a State Police Investigator. The Trooper asked: "Why?" . Chief Hughes replied that there was a burned arm of a dead person up in the car in the tree that was burning. Evidently, the driver had tried to get out of the passenger side because the driver side was blocked and was unable to extricate himself before he expired.

A disturbing incident during occurred during an ambulance call. Joe Freeburn (photo #17) was the driver. George Hill (photo #18) and Thomas Hughes were the attendants They picked up a woman at Putnam Hospital. The troopers said they had searched her and she had no dangerous weapons. They were instructed to take her to the mental institution which at that time was located at Wingdale. When they got there, the ambulance crew was told they needed two doctor signatures. So they went back to Putnam Hospital with the patient and received the necessary two doctor signatures, They had to stop for gas at the Brewster firehouse first before they could continue. On the second trip to Wingdale the woman said maybe I should give this to you guys. Out of her pocketbook she produced and handed over a Special Forces Knife.

Chief Thomas Hughes
Chief Wayne Barr (deceased)
Pat Pascarelli: Brewster Fire Department Firefighter; Metro North Engineer; at work for Con Rail, in railroad yard, the night of the "Roundhouse" fire"
Ex-Captain and Author: James Delawder

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