At the start of the 20th Century, the task of firefighting fell to the townspeople, who typically formed bucket brigades. Eventually, civic-minded individuals realized that this hap-hazard approach to firefighting could not serve the growing town. On October 6, 1916, a planning meeting was held to create a volunteer fire department and to solicit the community for funds needed to create it. On February 26, 1917, the Clay Volunteer Fire Department (CVFD) was officially incorporated.
The first unit purchased was a chemical hand cart which was drawn by another vehicle. In 1926 the CVFD purchased its first motor-driven fire apparatus – a used chemical fire engine built by the Obenchain- Boyer Company. It was built on a Ford chassis with two 35-gallon tanks for discharging water.
On June 21, 1932, a major blaze occurred in the Moulton and Weller Sauerkraut factory. The factory was destroyed. After that fire, the firemen discussed purchasing gear with better firefighting capacity. It was during the Depression, resulting in serious limitations in the purchase of any equipment. With $350 worth of donations and fundraising the fire department was able to purchase a used 1926 Chevrolet fire engine in August 1935. It had an on-board water tank and front-mounted engine-driven pump costing.
During the 1940’s, several of the firemen served as members of the Armed Forces. The remaining volunteers aided in the war effort by selling the old chemical trucks and alarm bells for scrap metal. This resulted in the need for additional revenue to support the fire department’s equipment needs.
In 1942 the Town of Clay Fire Protective District was established, encompassing the entire Town of Clay except the Village of North Syracuse. The first contract between the CVFD and the Town of Clay for fire protection services was signed in June 1943. This contract enabled the department to have a needed source of revenue along with fund-raising events to provide the services needed. In May 1949, the department bought its first new fire truck, a 1949 Dodge engine. The cost for the chassis was $2,786.80 plus an additional $3,500 to the General Fire Truck Company for the tank and fire pump. This truck was used until the late 1970s. It is still owned by CVFD and stored at Station 1, Route 31. Also purchased in 1942 was the department’s first smoke mask, helmets, coats, and boots.
The 1950s saw more growth in the department. In, 1954 a new firehouse (now the Town of Clay Senior Center) constructed of concrete blocks, was built across from the Immanuel Lutheran Church. Also in 1954, the CVFD purchased a tanker truck from the North Syracuse Fire Department and a 1941 Ford Fire Engine from the Dewitt Fire Department. This gave the department three firefighting vehicles. In 1955 the department updated its notification system with the purchase of a pole-mounted fire siren. This electric siren replaced the old fire bell that was sold during WW II. In 1956 CVFD purchased land in Euclid and in 1957 built Station 2.
The 1960’s saw more changes. A new fire activation system was devised using just one emergency number. Some “fire phones” were located in member homes and businesses. If a call was made, all the phones would ring until one was answered. Whoever answered the call would record the pertinent information and then activate the fire siren. This notification system was used until 1966. When Onondaga County established a centralized dispatch center at the Mattydale Fire Station. This center would alert all county volunteer fire departments via a radio alert sent to a Plectron radio alerting system. Plectron radios were purchased for a Clay Volunteer Fire Fighters. In 1967 a new Ward-LaFrance fire truck was purchased for Station 2 and in 1968 a formal Emergency Squad was formed. The department worked on better equipping the rescue truck in order to respond to auto accidents. Also, in 1968 land was purchased on Caughdenoy Road Cherry Estates for building of Station 3. By June of 1969, work began on the new Station 3 building.
The 1970s saw a formal system for the filing of personnel records. They also purchased a new 1971 Hahn fire truck and diving equipment for water rescues. The department also enrolled in the newly formed New York State Fire Reporting System.
In 1972 the department purchased portable radios for the chiefs and in 1973 they purchased a new Heavy Rescue from Saulsbury Fire Equipment. The department was growing and updating equipment and training to meet the needs of the growing community. 1974 saw a need to provide reliable daytime response. The Clay and Cicero Fire Department signed a mutual aid agreement to automatically respond to daytime alarms. Also, in 1974 another Hahn Pumper was purchased and an addition was added to station 2 (Euclid) to accommodate the new addition to the fleet. The close of the 1970’s saw the purchase of a Rescue Hurst Tool and two Mini-Pumpers.
The 1980’s saw continuing growth. A new water tanker was purchased to help with the non-rated areas of the fire protective district. The Motorola fire pagers were purchased to replace the old/outdated Plectron system. These pagers allowed firefighters to be alerted while away from home.
In February of 1982, the Department faced one of the worst fires in the history of the department. The Spruce Hill Drive fire claimed the lives of two young children. It was devastating to the community and the firefighters. This decade saw a continuation of the growth of the department. A new Engine was purchased to Station 3, a cascade system was obtained to fill air bottles, and a computer was purchased to do New York State Fire Reports. It was also used for personnel, business, inventory and purchase records, reducing the old handwritten system. In 1985 land was purchased at Caughdenoy and Maple Road for the building of a new station 3.
In 1989 a committee was formed to look at consolidating Stations 1 and 2 and build a new Station, with office space, hall rental/meeting room, and training room on Route 31 next to the Town of Clay Municipal Building. In January of 1991, the construction of the new station began. The fire department continued to grow in the 1990s. A ladder truck was added to the fleet and the tanker and mini-pumpers were sold. The rescue squad added the new AEDs to their equipment and two Chevy Suburban’s were purchased to respond to medical emergencies. The department, working with Brewerton, Caughdenoy, Moyer Corners, North Syracuse Fire Department and the state of New York combined funds and purchased a Fire Training Tower to help in the training of all the fire departments in the Town of Clay. This facility was located behind Clay Station 1 and has helped to provide the most realistic training in firefighting and rescue. As the twenty-first century approached the Clay Volunteer Fire Department was transitioning itself to meet the challenges of the new century.
In 2000 a new decade arrived. It brought significant challenges. After 9/11, all First Responder’s training and emergency equipment began to change to meet the new threats that were presented to everyday life. Changes necessary for the Clay Volunteer Fire Department included: security cameras placed in all the stations, new electronic locking systems and ID systems for the firefighters. There also were changes in training, including situational awareness when approaching scenes, signs of possible terrorism and more emphasis on scene safety. Also, in the first decade, the department replaced rescue, engine and truck with new American LaFrance apparatus.
Additional improvements is technology were made in 2010. The county changed to a new digital radio system: (a result of 9/11 communication issues). This system enables Police, Fire, and EMS to communicate with each other when on a multi-incident emergency. In February 2017 the Clay Volunteer Fire Department celebrated 100 years of volunteer service to the residents on the Town of Clay. The Department also updated it Computer Dispatch System.
Changes in 2020 included going to Vector Target Solutions Training Record System. This has enhanced the tracking of training and enabled the department to more accurately track training hours. Training hours along with the updated equipment, hydrant location response time allow the department to receive an improved score in the ISO rating for the residents of the Clay Fire Protective District.
Looking to the future, the CVFD goals are to continue to meet the challenges of staying current in training, equipment, and technology and to ensure the safety of the citizens and volunteers.