POUND RIDGE, N.Y. – Carl Breuninger can recall when one of a fireman’s biggest firefighting tools was a broom.
Breuninger, 83, has been a Pound Ridge volunteer fireman for 65 years.
“Back in those days, a truck had about a dozen brooms on it to put out brush fires,” said Breuninger, Pound Ridge’s oldest active fireman.
Breuninger was born in Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco and has lived on West Lane in Pound Ridge all his life. He was educated in a one-room schoolhouse, which has long-since been converted into what is now the Pound Ridge Library.
“The house we lived in on West Lane was a cottage back then,” he said. “But my dad and some of his friends remodeled it and put on a second story.”
Breuninger joined the Pound Ridge Fire Department in 1947. He says there was no fire station back then.
“The [fire] truck came before the garage,” he said. “We would park the truck behind what is now the Samuel Parker Deli [on Westchester Avenue].”
A lot has changed in the art of firefighting since 1947. When Breuninger was a young fireman, there was no 911 dispatch system. Instead, those who wanted to report a fire had to call Schellings – the local grocery store that doubled as fire headquarters. If no one was there, then the call had to be reported to one of the fire department officers.
“They had a telephone chain,” Brueniger explained. “You would call the officer and he would call two more and each of them would call two more and so on.”
Eventually, the fire siren was adopted. A fire call would come in and one of the top officers would sound the alarm summoning the volunteers to the station.
Breuninger says another important development in firefighting was the advent of the two-way radio, which enabled firemen to keep in contact while fighting a fire and to develop and communicate strategies.
In his 65 years with the department, Breuninger said he doesn’t recall too many fire fatalities and notes that his department has never lost a firefighter while fighting a blaze.
“Back then, most house fires were actually chimney fires,” he said. “They burned a lot of green wood and some chimneys didn’t even have flues. If a chimney fire started it could be trouble because a lot of homes had wooden shingles and the embers could also spread. I remember one time when we had three house fire calls all within a half hour.
“It was very discouraging to see a house burned to ground. But that doesn’t happen as much today because of the response time and the mutual aid [from neighboring fire companies].”
While no longer considered a first-class fireman – he’s not allowed to enter burning buildings or drive a truck – Breuninger says he has no intention of slowing down as a volunteer firefighter.
“I still have an interest. What else would I do?” he asks. “It gives you some responsibility. I like the camaraderie, but that’s secondary. It’s being a good guy and doing a good turn for your neighbors.”