A Brief History of the Johnson City, NY
Copyright © 1987 - 2021 by Fire Marshal R.G. Blakeslee (ret.)
The Lestershire Boot and Shoe Company started work in their new factories in 1888 and immediately began to think of ways to protect their great investment against the ravages of fire. Thus, the J.R. DIMENT CHEMICAL FIRE ENGINE COMPANY was organized in the fall of 1889 with 22 members under the command of Foreman A.J. CHAMPAGNE. The Company was first housed in a brick building on Main Street (the exact location of that building is unknown and some are skeptical that they were ever housed in the described location) and then moved to a newly built station house on Corliss Avenue between Broad Street and Arch Street (the building stands today).
In 1892, the INDEPENDENT HOSE COMPANY NO. 1 was organized with 58 men under the command of Foreman ARTHUR SMITH. A third fire fighting force, the G. HARRY LESTER HOOK AND LADDER COMPANY NO. 1, was organized and added in December of 1894 with 44 men under the command of Foreman CHARLES BLIVEN. Although they were three separate companies, there was no known "rivalry" between them as was known between other fire companies in the country during that time period. The three companies worked very closely together - as if a "family".
On January 28, 1892, they merged as one unit and the LESTERSHIRE FIRE DEPARTMENT was incorporated. It should be noted that the fire department was in existance prior to Lestershire becoming a municipality. Lestershire became a village and was incorporated on September 15, 1892, some 9 months after the fire department decided to change their name to honor the Lester family.
It was decided that a bigger and more modern fire house was needed and plans were drawn up, construction began, the building was completed, and the Lestershire Fire Department moved into it's new quarters in 1899. This large building still stands today and is located on the corner of Willow Street and Corliss Avenue. According to local history books, "... the station was spared no inconveniences and was fitted with the most modern equipment of the day ... ". It also contained " ... a perfect Gamewell Fire Alarm System envied by many large cities ..." at the time. The total cost of this magnificent building was $27,000, of which $10,000 was donated by the Lester family. This station house was used as the "Central Station" until the mid 1970's when it was closed and the personnel distributed to the 2 outlying stations.
The C.F. JOHNSON HOSE COMPANY NO. 2 was organized in June of 1897, and in honor of HENRY B. ENDICOTT, President of the Lester Manufacturing Company, the J.R. Diment Chemical Fire Engine Company was renamed the H.B. ENDICOTT STEAM FIRE ENGINE COMPANY NO. 1 on July 3, 1897. ANDREW PEASE was named Foreman of the H.B. Endicott Steam Fire Engine Company, but it is unknown the name of the Foreman of the C.F. Johnson Hose Company (local history books indicate that the company was formed with 58 members).
The first motor driven apparatus was purchased and placed into service in 1914. It was about this same time that with the tremendous growth taking place, the city of Binghamton had ideas of annexing Lestershire. The residents wanted no part of annexation and the idea was soundly defeated. Also by this time, the Johnson family had entrenched itself deeply into the everyday lives of most residents. The Johnson family did much for the people of Lestershire, building more shoe factories, houses, medical facilities, etc. To honor the Johnson family, the residents decided to change the name of their village. On March 21, 1916, the Village of Lestershire became the Village of Johnson City, and the Lestershire Fire Department took on a new name at that time.
More room was needed for the fire department and a new station was built on Floral Avenue and placed into service in December, 1922. In March of 1966, a third station was built and placed into service on Harry L. Drive. The station dedication was attended by many local politicians and notables and was also attended by Senator ROBERT F. KENNEDY.
A listing of the Fire Chief's that have served since formation of the Lestershire F.D. is as follows:
Loren D. Duren
C. Fred Johnson
James R. Eldridge - Organized the paid F.D.
Francis S. Dohnalek - Acting Chief of Fire
Bert A. Wright
George R. Maney
Henry W. Michalovic
Robert J. Dempsey - Acting Chief of Fire
Paul Hlebica - Acting Chief of Fire
Robert S. Blakeslee - Acting Chief of Fire
A listing of Assistant Chiefs (equal rank to Fire Marshal):
Prior Names unknown at this time
George Major & Frank Slahucka*
Francis S. Dohnalek
Henry W. Michalovic
A listing of Fire Marshals (equal rank to Assistant Chief):
Bert A. Wright
George R. Maney
Frank J. Carro
Robert G. Blakeslee
Robert J. Dempsey
Robert S. Blakeslee - Current
* Served concurrently. When Chief William Grace retired and George Major was appointed Fire Chief, it was then decided rather than having two assistant chiefs, the department would retain one assistant chief who would be responsible for training and equipment, and make the other assistant chief a Fire Marshal responsible for fire prevention and codes.