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Ossining's Bravest: Risking Lives for 200 Years

OSSINING, N.Y. – As Ossining Fire Department Chief Thomas Reddy worked his way Saturday morning toward a fallen firefighter inside a building on 80 Main Street, smoke from inside billowed forth so thickly that Reddy couldn’t see more than a foot in front of his face.

“If this was a real fire, it’d be like standing in a cave and it’d be impossible to see anything in front of your face,” Reddy said. “It’s as dark as closing your eyes and it’s so hard to breathe you might as well be under water.”

After 35 years with the department, the situation was a familiar one for Reddy and he walked sure-footed through every room at the old Elks Lodge. But it wasn’t as familiar for other volunteer members of the Ossining Fire Department so obtaining permission from the Village of Ossining to utilize the building for training was vital, Reddy said. Instead of smoke and fire, the department used fog machines and lined their masks with waxed paper to simulate effects of real smoke. And instead of rushing, Reddy flipped on a Thermal Imaging Camera designed to track heat signatures of other firefighters around him.

“It’s very important we all keep our skills up,” Reddy said. “The downed firefighter in the back is just there for training but we do this because in a real situation that’s someone you know and a member of the community. That’s why this is so important for us.”

There are about 480 all-volunteer members of the Ossining Fire Department. Many work 40 hours every week at regular jobs and put in an extra 20 to 40 with the department. From plumbers and electricians to attorneys and politicians, they all come from different backgrounds. But each of them, Reddy said, come together with a common goal.

“Everybody either has a job outside of this or is retired. They do this because it’s something they love,” Reddy said. “Every time you go to a call, you’re risking your life and limb and they don’t think twice about it because they’re doing it for their community.”

Saturday’s training exercise included the use of the thermal imaging cameras, chainsaws to cut through roofs and the proper procedure for using breathing tanks. Most of the tools the department used were modern technologies and Reddy was quick to comment that none were available when the department first started 200 years ago.  

“They used to use buckets of water and eventually a hose cart when they started out,” Reddy said. “They didn’t have the technologies we have today. But they had the spirit and dedication and the love for helping their community.”

On Saturday, May 5, the Ossining Fire Department will host its Annual Fireman’s Parade celebrating 200 years of service. As Westchester's oldest organized company, Washington Hook & Ladder Co. No. 2 was organized in 1812, a year before the village was officially incorporated. More than 55 visiting departments from all over the state, Connecticut and New Jersey are scheduled to attend the parade that is set to step off at 3 p.m. from Roosevelt Square at Croton Avenue and Pleasantville Road. The parade will continue west on Croton Avenue across Route 9 to Main Street and to the Ossining Waterfront.

Village Mayor William Hanauer said the Ossining Fire Department “is the best fire department in the world.”

“People are astounded of this department,” Hanauer said. “I travel around the state a lot and I meet with other mayors and they’re always telling me that this department is infamous for being great. Everybody has trouble finding volunteers but we don’t. We have the best fire department in the world.”

For Reddy and many others the parade will be one honoring not only the department, but family and community.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to be the chief during the 200th anniversary,” Reddy said. “I’m a fifth-generation firefighter. My great-great grandfather was chief from 1901 to 1907. So it’s a tremendous honor to be chief of a department of this size and to see the dedication and the professionalism of each and every member.”

Matthew Scarduzio, who currently serves as Second Assistant Chief, also has two brothers and his father serving with him.

“It honestly means the world to me to be a part of this department,” Scarduzio said. “There are not enough words to explain what it means on the inside.”

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