Small-Town Heroes

The pride in helping others

The Callicoon Volunteer Fire Department

Posted 2/7/24

CALLICOON, NY — It all started with Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States (1706-1790).

In 1730, a fire broke out on a ship and rapidly spread to the wharf, …

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Small-Town Heroes

The pride in helping others

The Callicoon Volunteer Fire Department


CALLICOON, NY — It all started with Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States (1706-1790).

In 1730, a fire broke out on a ship and rapidly spread to the wharf, but before it was extinguished, all the warehouses and three houses were consumed by the flames.

Three years later, Franklin penned an article in the Pennsylvania Gazette calling for the need for citizens to band together to protect each other and property from fires.

On December 7, 1736, Franklin co-founded the Union Fire Company (1736-1843), aka the “Bucket Brigade”—the first formally organized all-volunteer fire company in the colonies. According to historical records, each member was tasked with carrying six buckets of water to fight fire and two linen bags to rescue property.

The Callicoon Volunteer Fire Department (VFD) in 2024

Fast forward to the present day and to the hamlet of Callicoon. William “Ladder Truck Willy” Maxwell is in his second term as chief of the Callicoon VFD. He first served for 10 years, and is now in his seventh year as head of the department. 

It’s all part of 35 years dedicated to fighting fires and responding to other emergencies in the Upper Delaware River Valley. 

“I was just always interested in the fire service, seeing fire trucks when I lived in the city,” he recalled, adding that his family moved to Callicoon when he was five years old.

After relocating to the small hamlet, the youngster “chased fire trucks around on my bicycle, and raced downtown when the siren went off… When I got of age, I signed up.”

Before he was old enough to join the fire service, Maxwell said he used to stop by the firehouse “to see if they needed help.” Over the course of time, he got to know some of the veteran firefighters—including Audley Dorrer, Milt “Uncle Milty” Groesbeck, Mike Henke and the recently passed Frank Hahn.

Hahn was a 60-year veteran of the department, and “made sure you knew what you were doing… you had to learn your job, and understand what was going on.

 “They made sure you were a good firefighter, knew the ropes and when the siren went off, you came when you were available,” he recalled.

A few years ago, the Callicoon VFD had 24 members on the roster. Now, at the turn of the new year, the numbers are down to 16.

“Six or seven guys makes a big difference,” Chief Maxwell said of the reduced manpower. The problems? People are getting older, moving away, or the younger generation is forced out of the area to find jobs.

Asked about the state of volunteerism in general—but particularly the fire service—he said, “It’s on a downhill slope. I don’t know why; it ain’t like years ago. It seems like people don’t want to volunteer. They want to get compensated for their time, and it’s hard because people don’t have time, and the young kids ain’t around anymore. Every fire department in Sullivan County is hurting.”

One bright spot in the future of the smallest fire district in the county—it’s about nine square miles—is that four younger members have recently joined to help their community: Jordan Maxwell, Mason Berllingeri, Austin Nedvetzky and Mack Zadubara. “It’s four young guys doing it,” Chief Maxwell said.

The current officers of the Callicoon VFD are Chief Maxwell, Assistant Chief Tom Baudendistel, Cap. Roy Sumfleth, Lt. Marc Sturdevant and Lt. Mike Dirie.

As of late December 2023, the Callicoon VFD had logged 88 calls, several of which were with the Upper Delaware Volunteer Ambulance Corps (UDVAC)—with whom they work closely.

In addition to structure fires, the department has responded to medical emergencies, water rescues, wires and trees down, wildfires and mutual aid calls. 

Chief Maxwell, a graduate of Delaware Valley Central  School, knows firsthand what it’s like to respond to a medical emergency. A few years ago the local fire department and the UDVAC helped save his mother during a congestive heart failure incident. “She’s 90 years old, and still going,” he said.

Memorable calls have included “fires with people inside that didn’t make it,” a motor vehicle accident on Route 97 that claimed three lives, and helping out a hypothermic driver whose car had slid into the river at the Darbytown boat launch. “The water was freezing, and the river was moving pretty good,” he said.

“We get there at the worst times they’ve ever had, and most of the time when you go to a call in a small community, you know the people,” said Ladder Truck Willy. “I love the fire service; you feel pride when you help out a family during a fire or medical emergency.”

The Callicoon Volunteer Fire Department is located at 9305 State Rte. 97, in the former Mills Chevrolet dealership. The mailing address is P.O. Box 806, Callicoon, NY 12723. The phone number is 845/887-4233, and they maintain an active presence on Facebook.

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