The Gerritsen Beach Volunteer Fire Department, known as the “Vollies,” will receive a portion of a $500,000 grant given to seven volunteer fire departments throughout the city by the Department of Homeland Security’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program, Senators Chuck Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand announced on Tuesday.
The money will be used to buy new a radio system for the volunteer departments, which will give them a stronger connection the city and FDNY network, according to a press release from the senators.
“This grant is huge,” said Daniel Cavanagh, captain of the Gerritsen Beach Volunteer Fire Department. “The radios we had were aged; we were having trouble talking to each other.”
The Gerritsen Beach Vollies spearheaded the push for this grant. Although seven volunteer fire departments throughout the city benefit from it, including Breezy Point, Broad Channel, West Hamilton, and Edgewater Park, it was Gerritsen Beach who filed the application for the grant and did the administrative legwork, which took two years, according to Cavanagh.
Being that the department is not part of the FDNY, they rely on donations and fund-raising from the community. In fact, it was the Gerritsen Beach community that started the volunteer fire department in 1922, when a fire destroyed a building on Abbey Court. The nearest FDNY department was over two miles away, and couldn’t respond fast enough. This is what led to the community forming their own fire department.
Today, the Gerritsen Beach Vollies serve the isolated community when the FDNY can’t respond in a timely fashion.
During the blizzard in 2010, the Gerritsen Beach Vollies responded rapidly with their lone ambulance when EMS was suffering delays. On 9/11, the Gerritsen Beach Vollies helped the FDNY Battalion 33 by temporarily moving into their firehouse on Gerritsen Avenue to serve the communities the Battalion 33 normally serves, while they were responding to the terror attacks in Lower Manhattan.
They have not been without opposition, however. When Engine 321, the one the Vollies moved into on 9/11, was established in 1930 at 2165 Gerritsen Ave, the Fire Commissioner at the time demanded the Vollies disband, claiming there wass no longer a need for them. The Gerritsen Beach Volunteers refused, and were raided by two FDNY companies, the 12th Division and 33rd Battalion, according to They Also Served, A History of the Non-Municipal Fire Departments in New York City by John A. Calderone.
A crowd of over 300 people protested outside the firehouse while it was the FDNY took back all the equipment they loaned to the Vollies. After that, the Vollies were prohibited from hooking up to the city’s fire hydrants. City officials and community groups eventually resolved the matter, Calderone wrote.
Cleary, the Vollies have the support of the city today, and continue to serve their small but strong community.