Bicentennial Snapshot No. 37: Unsolved Arson Case – The Holiday Inn Fire of 1978

Today we look back at the horrific fire at the Holiday Inn in Greece in which ten people lost their lives while staying at the Holiday Inn. Every year goes by when the generation of people who were are the scene of the horrific fire and the temperature was a balmy chilly 20°F (-6.7°C) temperature and winds out of the north around 10mph. Remember when we told you about the town of Greece didn’t join the 9-1-1 call center and operations until around 1986, before that time you would have to call the station directly or if the business had an alarm system properly wired up to the fire company’s alarm system to alert the firefighters that there was a fire at certain places of business, this also played a roll in the case of this tragic hotel fire that took the lives of ten people.

Even though the Ridge Road Fire District and North Greece Fire Department are celebrating their centennials this year there is one fire that has effect everyone at both. Every fire district in the town has battled large and small fires, auto accidents, attend training, practiced at the fire training grounds, routine fire inspections, community programs, and outreach, but never prepared them for what would become Ridge Road’s most unique fire they had to deal with in the companies first 100 years of service.

Chase-Pitkin fire, August 30, 1980, courtesy of Matthew Pillsbury RRFD

Ridge Road Fire Department has battled many fires,

large…

…and small.

Greece Baptist Church courtesy of Matthew Pillsbury RRFD
Holiday Inn Fire, 1978, courtesy of Matthew Pillsbury RRFD

But never anything like the Holiday Inn Fire on November 26, 1978.

On Sunday, November 26, 1978, there were about 200 people staying at the Holiday Inn in Greece. According to the report Fire command, Volume 46. National Fire Protection Association, 1979 in that publishing it states there were 91 guest rooms at the hotel, but the exact number of guest rooms on November 28, 1978, is unknown due to the owner of the hotel began changing some of the guest rooms were converted into conference rooms. Among the guests were visitors from an Ontario, Canada bus tour here to take advantage of Thanksgiving weekend shopping specials, members of two wedding parties, a John Marshall alumna in town for her reunion, and attendees at the hotel’s Saturday night singles party.

Holiday Inn postcard courtesy of Bill Sauers
Holiday Inn sign courtesy of Bill Sauers

Around 2:30 am that frosty Sunday morning, a fire started among the paper products and towels stored in a closet area tucked under a first-floor stairway and that metal door for the closet area was not fire-rated or UL-labeled. The blaze spread quickly up the stairs where the fire doors had been propped open, raced down corridors, ignited the ceilings, and invaded the roof. And with strong winds from out of the north-north-west, and the temperature was hovering around 24.2°F (-4.333 °C) but with a wind chill, it would make it feel like 16.1°F (-8.333°C).

Two off-duty firefighters, one from the Greece Road fire department, the other an Albion FD fire chief, each driving on Ridge Road on the way home from a different workplace, spotted the orange glow of the flames approximately eight minutes after the fire started. The Greece firefighter radioed in the fire from his car and they both entered the building to start evacuating guests. Other people were calling from nearby payphones to report the fire. 911 wasn’t instituted until 1986 in Rochester (even later in Greece) and of course cell phones hadn’t been invented yet.

Greece 1970 Interactive Historic Data Map Monroe County https://maps.monroecounty.gov/Html5Viewer2/index.html?viewer=Historic#
Fighting the inferno, 1978, courtesy of Matthew Pillsbury RRFD

Greece Ridge put in the call for mutual aid to help with the scene unfolding at the Holiday Inn on Ridge Road next to Corona Road. The companies that came to assist Greece Ridge were Barnard, North Greece, and the City of Rochester, who fought the blaze for two hours with more than 125 firefighters. Ten ambulances were needed at the scene. Gene Preston who was a member of Kodak Fire at the time, remembers that Kodak Fire did offer to lend assistance by connecting Greece Ridge trucks to Kodak’s water source on the ground of the Latona Road Complex, but Greece Ridge turned down Kodak Fire Department’s offer to hook up to their water source.

Rescue crews piloted 170 guests, most of them still in their night clothes and many barefoot, outside into the 16-degree cold.

As you can see on this map where (Greece Ridge) Ridge Ridge had command of the scene and the Greece Ridge chief became the incident commander, he issued the call to request mutual aid as Barnard, North Greece, and City of Rochester companies arrived at the scene, Greece Ridge fire chief began assigning the assisting companies where to deploy their firefighting equipment at the scene. The blue lines on this map are hoses that ran to the water from the fire hydrants to the trucks and from truck to truck. The green lines on this map of the scene represent the hoses that were in the firefighter’s hands. A large contingent of the firefighting efforts was coming from pumper 253 on the west side of where the origin of the fire started. The red arrows represent the direction of where the fire was traveling outward from the origin to the shaded reddish, orangish zone was where the fire able to be stopped from consuming the rest of the structure.

What is a Squrt™️ fire truck? The Squrt™️ fire truck is a brand of fire truck Trademarked by SNORKEL FIRE EQUIPMENT COMPANY CORPORATION on November 4, 1969, as you can see in the Trademark filing on the USPTO website https://tmsearch.uspto.gov/bin/showfield?f=doc&state=4810:yri038.2.3 and licensed to different manufacturers that built these kinds of fire trucks like the one in service in North Greece was built by Young Fire Equipment Corporation in Buffalo, New York.

map of units on scene
Map of Units on Scene at Holiday Inn Fire courtesy of Matthew Pillsbury RRFD

Here is a list of the abbreviations of each of the different trucks at the scene means after each of the different fire fighting apparatuses is the number of that engine.

  • E – Engine
    • E-10
    • E-11
  • L – Ladder
    • L-221
    • L-251
  • M – Medic
    • M-220
  • R – Rescue Engine
    • R-222
  • P – Pumper
    • P-251
    • P-252
    • P-253
    • P-254
    • P-255
    • P-273
    • P-274
    • P-453
  • T – Truck
    • T-3
    • T-8
  • Squrt™️
    • Squrt 1
After the fire, in 1978, courtesy of Matthew Pillsbury RRFD

By 4:30 the fire was out, but the building was a total loss. A few guests leaped from second and third-story windows to save themselves. Thirty-five people were injured. Tragically, ten people perished in the fire from smoke inhalation.

We Remember the guest that perished that early morning on November 26th, 1978

List of Canadian citizens who died in the Holiday Inn Fire

They were: Rubina “Ruth” Cushinan, age 81, and her daughter Ruby Cushinan, age 61, from York, Ontario, Canada; four people from Etobicoke, Ontario, Maguerrette Duncan, age 57, 67-year-old Edward Farley and his 62-year-old wife, Lorene, and Pamela Sagriff, age 30, and from Bramalea, Ontario, Huguette Sundude, age 30.

Names of the remaining three people who died

Joyce Plumb age 42 from Arlington Virginia who had attended her 25th high school reunion from John Marshall High School the day before; Stephen Gregory Ford, age 29, from Ypsilanti, Michigan who was in Rochester for his best friend’s wedding, and from Pompano Beach, Florida, Nancy Garrett, age 26.

white rose
Photo by Aidan Nguyen on Pexels.com

Results of the Fire Investigation

The hotel had a host of structural faults that contributed to the easy spread of the conflagration: The “primary factors that led to the fatalities in this incident were the combination of the highly combustible interior finish, [and] unprotected openings that existed in the stairway,” there was only one vertical firewall between the two wings and the firewalls in the buildings did not extend to the roof, allowing the fire to rip through the top floor of each wing.

Aerial view of the hotel courtesy of Matthew Pillsbury RRFD
Sprinkler head from fessa.com.au

The hotel was equipped with a fire alarm system that included manual-pull stations and combination rate-of-rise, fixed-temperature thermal detectors as initiating devices yet it failed to do what it was intended to do to prevent the loss of life. It lacked a sprinkler system and Emergency Lighting. The alarm system wasn’t connected to the Greece-Ridge Fire Department or any other security agency.

The alarm system consisted only of one bell in the middle of each of the two wings’ five floors. The alarm didn’t have a distinctive sound nor was it loud enough. Guests didn’t recognize it as a fire alarm; they thought it was a phone in the room or an alarm clock. Furthermore, when hotel employees realized the alarms were ringing, they rushed to get people out, but no one remembered to call the fire department.

Burned-out corridor, courtesy of Matthew Pillsbury RRFD
Greece Police Headquarters Precinct 1, 1983 Office of the  Town Historian
Greece Police Headquarters Precinct 1, 1983 Office of the Town Historian

As news of the fire spread, the police department was flooded with calls. One volunteer Doug Worboys, recalls that after the fire he arrived home at 10:30 am, grabbed a little sleep, and returned to work the noon to 11 pm shift at the police dispatch office desk with fellow dispatchers Ron Timmons and Jim Leary. “We had callers from throughout the US and Canada; the farthest away, I think, was Puerto Rico. We referred most of the Holiday Inn inquiry calls to the front desk officer who was assigned to take all those types of calls. The next day they had a special line set up for further calls. You hear things like that happening in other places, but you never expect one like that in your own town. That day was a very busy day with all those calls along with calls for normal situations that occur day to day. That day was a very somber day for us dispatchers and all people involved in this fire.”

Although at first it was said that the fire was accidental, Police Chief Gerald Phelan, when speaking to reporters at the time, said that “his gut told him the fire was nonetheless suspicious due to its speed and intensity.”

Police Chief Gerald Phelan with Greece Town Supervisor Don Riley from the Office of the Town Historian

John Stickever joins the case

John Stickever, photo from his obituary New York Daily News, February 22, 2017
Butanone. (2022, November 8). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butanone

16×9 – Lost in the Flames: Legacy of historic Holiday Inn fire

Part 1 – A deadly blaze engulfs a Holiday Inn in upstate New York more than 30 years ago, claiming the lives of 7 Canadians. Investigators called it an arson but never caught the criminal responsible. Part 2 – Thirty years after the fire, a deadly arson remains unsolved.

16×9 Program on Global News From Canada

John Stickever joined the FDNY in 1959 and was assigned to Engine Co. 231 in Brooklyn. He became a fire marshal six years later. Durning Stickevers first 37 years as a fire marshall where he investigated numerous fire scenes where some were arson, and some were just accidents. In 1978, John Stickever, a New York City Fire Firefighter was just promoted to the rank of Supervising Fire Marshall in July 1978 and was an Investigator who specialized in arson and “essentially wrote the book on fire investigation training,” which is linked below. Mid-week following the fire on November 26, 1978, is when then Greece Police Chief Gerald Phelan contacted Commission Augustus Anthony Beekman of the New York City Fire Department to see if the City could send someone to help the Greece Police and Greece Ridge Fire Department to examine the Holiday Inn fire scene. It was Commissioner Augustus Anthony Beekman who called Stickever at home and the commissioner said he was the one who was selected to head to upstate New York to help with a case in Greece, NY.

When Stickever arrived he started to have firefighters clear the floor and in front of doors and other areas in the hotel, he began to notice things that the Greece Police and Greece Ridge did not see at the time of the fire which stood out to him. Stickever concluded that an accelerant of some kind had been used in starting the fire and declared it arson and the ten deaths were now ten murders. Stickever with his knowledge found burn patterns, and damage to the kickplate on the fire doors, and when the results came back from the labs, they found traces of Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK) otherwise known as Butanone was used as an accelerant which made the fire grow quickly in the stairwell, and with the winds at 2 A.M. were at about 10 miles an hour out of the North which help spread the fire quickly through the hotel, with that information both Stickever and then Assistant Monroe County District Attorney Crane, during in 1978 knew it had to be someone with the knowledge of MEK. In 1978 Stickever and then ADA Crane believe that someone would have to have knowledge of MEK and firefighting skills to know that MEK according to ilo.org a website that has information on all different types of hazmat chemicals notes under PHYSICAL & CHEMICAL INFORMATION that the Physical State and Appearance is a colorless liquid with a characteristic odor from ILO and WHO 2021. The other types of accelerants would have been easily found but because MEK was used as the accelerant it made it more difficult for the firefighters to fight the fire. If the chief of Greece Ridge had requested the airport chemical fire truck from the airport which was a carbon dioxide, dry agents, or alcohol-resistant foam-based fire suppression agent in its tank would have halved the time for the first responders that day, but no one knew what accelerant was used to start it.

According to an interview Stickerver did with Crime Beat TV’s 16×9 – Lost in the Flames: Legacy of historic Holiday Inn fire and aired April 30, 2012, on Global News a division of Shaw Media Inc., in Canada, he remembers the interview one Greece Ridge firefighter said on the news and the body language of that firefighter on video, it set off some signs that were a sign that Stickever could tell that he was the critical suspect because during that interview that firefighter said he was driving towards the My Apartment Bar when he called the fire in. Stickevers pushed for the state to give marshals “police officer” status so they can enforce just like the police officers but with the ability to issue tickets, fines, fees, and official notices on properties that violate fire codes, fire safety, or other aspects of a building that would make the fire marshals not want to give okay to open the building or had to close the place down until it was brought up to code to ensure that it was safe for the public to enter said structure with that state approved this the bill that created and gave the power to create a program on fire investigation and arson in every municipality in New York State you can read the bill along with the supporters and documentation by reading the New York State bill jackets – L-1979-CH-0225 by clicking the link here to see the full text of that bill https://nysl.ptfs.com/aw-server/rest/product/purl/NYSL/i/f6d59c1f-e1a7-405a-9359-6f4fe1deacd8

Here is a link to the article that was written by John Stickever in the Federal Bureau of Investigation Law Enforcement Bulletin in 1986 that describes the way he does arson investigations https://books.google.com/books?id=d_dcT71FVsUC&lpg=PA1&ots=auNtB2w7hF&dq=john%20stickever%20new%20york%20city%20fire%20department&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=john%20stickever%20new%20york%20city%20fire%20department&f=false

Phalen’s Arson Taskforce

Phelan formed a special arson task force, operating a command center out of the Pop-Lar Motel down the road from the fire site. The team of 23 local and state investigators conducted more than 400 interviews in the days after the fire. They settled on five “persons of interest,” but didn’t have enough evidence to bring charges against anyone. The two main suspects were the Greece Ridge firefighter who had radioed in the fire and a man who “had lived in two apartments that had caught fire, then, using insurance coverage, moved temporarily to the Holiday Inn. However, he had a confrontation with a staff member shortly before the fire, and was booted out of the hotel.” Monroe County Assistant District Attorney Crane along with his boss Monroe County District Attorney Lawrence T. Kurlander was given a list of 5 persons of interest and 2 main suspects that the Police gave to them as the possible suspects but without enough evidence from the fire scene and testimonial from guest, hotel employees, and people who lived around the area, it made the District Attorney office hard to pin a person to be held accountable for a change in one count of first-degree arson and ten counts of murder from the fire as well.

Here is what the New York State’s statute says Arson in the first degree from New York Laws › Penal Law › Part 3 › Title I › Article 150 > Section 20:

N.Y. Penal Law § 150.20 Arson in the first degree.
  1. A person is guilty of arson in the first degree when he
intentionally damages a building or motor vehicle by causing an
explosion or a fire and when (a) such explosion or fire is caused by an
incendiary device propelled, thrown or placed inside or near such
building or motor vehicle; or when such explosion or fire is caused by
an explosive; or when such explosion or fire either (i) causes serious
physical injury to another person other than a participant, or (ii) the
explosion or fire was caused with the expectation or receipt of
financial advantage or pecuniary profit by the actor; and when (b)
another person who is not a participant in the crime is present in such
building or motor vehicle at the time; and (c) the defendant knows that
fact or the circumstances are such as to render the presence of such
person therein a reasonable possibility.
  2. As used in this section, "incendiary device" means a breakable
container designed to explode or produce uncontained combustion upon
impact, containing flammable liquid and having a wick or a similar
device capable of being ignited.
  Arson in the first degree is a class A-I felony.
Postcard of Pop-Lar Motel, 2976 Ridge Road West, circa 1960 from mcnygenealogy.com
Assemblyman Roger Robach (right) with Governor Hugh Carey (center), 1979, from New York State digital archive

Assemblyman Roger Robach, who represented Greece, co-sponsored a bill in 1980 requiring hotels and motels with more than 30 rooms to have smoke detectors in every room and in hallways. It passed unanimously in the Assembly and after it was passed by the Senate was signed into law by Governor Hugh Carey.

Although an open case, it had laid dormant until 2010 when the Greece Police department, first under Chief Todd Baxter and then under his successor Patrick Phelan, gave new life to the investigation. Everything was reexamined and witnesses were interviewed again. They concluded that the firefighter was the arsonist. The Greece PD submitted its report to the Monroe County District Attorney in 2015. At the same as Cheif Baxter began his investigation, the Canadian Government want more answers from the hotel fire as well because this was an international issue and yet to date, the Canadain Government and the families of the seven Canadians that lost their lives have not gotten any answers and are left in limbo they wish this case could be solved.

Press release from the Greece Police Chief Patrick Phelan
After the fire, in 1978, courtesy of Matthew Pillsbury RRFD

The District Attorney’s office, however, was not convinced that there was enough evidence to prosecute anyone. In the years since the 1978 fire, the science of arson has evolved and she didn’t feel that it was still conclusive without a doubt that it was even arson.

So, the families and friends of ten souls lost in that fire may never see anyone brought to account. The Holiday Inn Fire of 1978 was not only the deadliest fire in the history of the Town of Greece but in all of Monroe County.

Front page of the Democrat and Chronicle, November 27, 1978, clipped from newspapers.com

Thank you for joining us today. Next week we pay tribute to “the greatest generation.”

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Bicentennial Snapshot No.36: Centennial Celebration of North Greece and Ridge Road Fire District

North Greece 100 Years Service Patch
North Greece 100 Years Service Patch
Greece Ridge / Ridge Road Fire District 100 years
Greece Ridge / Ridge Road Fire District 100 years
Greece Bicentennial 200

Today we are spotlighting the two Greece fire districts that are celebrating their centennial years and they are the North Greece Fire Department and the Greece Ridge/Ridge Road Fire District

Bucket Brigade from Monroe Historical Society

As a rural agricultural community in the 1800s, there was no formal fire brigade or fire department in Greece. Fires were common “in an era when most buildings were made of wood, when candles and fuel lamps provided lighting, and when wood stoves were used for cooking.” Bucket brigades fought fires. Water was taken from whatever source was nearby—streams, lakes, ponds, or cisterns—and a line of men formed to pass the buckets from one man to the next until it reached the fire. It was an ineffective way to fight a fire.

In 1890, John Fetzner of Fetzner Carriage shop and Peter Knipper, owner of the Falls Hotel, (we told you about them in Snapshot 16), imported a chemical fire wagon from France. They stored the fire wagon in a shed on the hotel property next door to Fetzner’s carriage shop making it readily available to serve them and their neighbors. The apparatus was on a wheeled carriage base and had to be pulled by volunteers on foot. A chemical reaction between sulfuric acid and a premixture of sodium bicarbonate in one tank propelled water in the other tank through a hose; it could create a stream of water up to 30 feet high. This is the oldest piece of fire equipment in Greece, and one of the oldest in Monroe County. It is on display in our museum. You can read the full interview on how Society acquired the fire wagon from Bud Steeb by Kay Pollok.

Journey of the Fetzner Knipper Fire Wagon Story an Interview with Bud Steeb
Fetzner-Knipper fire wagon photo by Bill Sauers
Clip 3: Call for Service Map from Future of the Fire Service in Greece Evaluating the Existing Conditions in and Considering Options in the Town of Greece, June, 2020, prepared for: Barnard Fire District, Lake Shore Fire District, North Greece Fire District and Ridge Road Fire District by the Center for Governmental Research
Call for Service Map from Future of the Fire Service in Greece Evaluating the Existing Conditions in and Considering Options in the Town of Greece, June 2020, prepared for Barnard Fire District, Lake Shore Fire District, North Greece Fire District, and Ridge Road Fire District by the Center for Governmental Research

The Town of Greece does not have a centralized fire department; there’s no GFD on the back of our firefighters’ turnout coats. Rather the town is served by four separate fire districts: North Greece, Ridge Road (once called Greece Ridge), Barnard, and Lakeshore. North Greece and Ridge Road (once called Greece Ridge) have three stations, Lakeshore had three stations but decommissioned the station near in Braddock Bay Heights area, and Barnard has only one, which makes nine total in the town. Some calls may receive mutual aid from other fire districts they are Hilton, Spencerport/Odgen Fire, Gates Fire, and the City of Rochester, depending on the type of assistance that is needed.

North Greece Fire District

North Greece 100 Years Service Patch
North Greece 100 Years Service Patch

Founded June 1922

In June 1922 the Carriage and Blacksmith shop once owned by Lewis Combs became North Greece Fire District's first firehouse and the town’s first fire station and their…

North Greece Fire Station, 1926
North Greece fire department testing Pierce Arrow truck, circa 1928, from the Office of the Town Historian

…Pierce-Arrow truck was the first motorized fire truck in the Town of Greece. This is their centennial anniversary.

In 1958, North Greece added a second Station on Latta Rd at Mt. Read Boulevard. Up until the mid-1980s, the fire district had an all-volunteer force.

Dedication ad from the Greece Press, July 24, 1958
Station 1, the 1960s, the Office of the Town Historian

The North Greece Fire District Headquarters were moved from Station 1 at North Greece and Latta to Station 2 at Latta and Mount Read in 1970.

In 1983, a third station was opened on English Road.

North Greece Fire District Station 3
North Greece Fire District Station 1 North Greece and Latta Roads, 2022, photo by Bill Sauers

Encompassing more than 27 miles, today, the North Greece Fire District serves the largest geographic area in the town and a population of about 41,000. As of January 2020, the district had 45 career firefighters and 33 volunteers.

Between 2016 and 2018 they responded to an average of 3,539 calls per year; 62 percent were EMS-related. [1]

Fire at Harris Dairy Farm, English Road, 1938, from the Office of the Town Historian
North Greece Fire District Headquarters, 2022, photo by Bill Sauers

In 2019, the Insurance Services Office (ISO) rated the North Greece Fire District at a 2 which places it in the top 3% of fire departments in New York State.

Greece Ridge / Ridge Road Fire District

Greece Ridge / Ridge Road Fire District 100 years
Greece Ridge / Ridge Road Fire District 100 years

August 3, 1922

The Greece Ridge Fire Department, now Ridge Road Fire District, was established on August 3, 1922. It was first located at 2550 Ridge Road West, the northwest corner of Long Pond Road and Ridge Road. The building was shared with three businesses on the upper floor: H. A. Herrick Civil Engineer and Land Surveyor, J.V. Gallagher Realtor Real Estate Insurance, and A.R. Koerner Contractor Builder. At the back of the site was Buchman’s Dairy then a Walgreens and now an Orvilles Appliance store.

First Greece-Ridge Fire Station at 2550 Ridge Road West, circa 1924, courtesy of Bill Sauers
RRFD fighting a fire at Fetzner’s Garage, 1969, from ridgefire.org

By the way, Peter Knipper and John Fetzner also helped found this department.

Like North Greece, the Ridge Road Fire District is celebrating its centennial.

Long Pond Road sign, 2022, photo by Bill Sauers
Long Pond Road sign, 2022, photo by Bill Sauers
Helmet of A.R. Koerner - 2015.03.01
Helmet of A.R. Koerner - 2015.03.01

In 1922, A. R. Koerner besides being a building contractor became the first Fire Chief of the Greece Ridge Fire Department (Ridge Road Fire District). He served as Chief from 1922 to 1939, encompassing three different town administrations: Frank J. Mitchell from 1922-1927, William F. Schmitt from 1928 - 1933, and finally Gordon A. Howe from 1934-1939. Gordon A Howe was the Town Supervisor from 1934 to 1960. A.R. Koerner's chief helmet was received into our collection in 2015 and has been on display since with the chemical fire wagon that is pictured at the beginning of this snapshot.

Like North Greece, Greece Ridge started with a Pierce-Arrow fire truck which was built in Buffalo, NY.

1st motorized apparatus 1924 Pierce Arrow pumper
1st motorized apparatus 1924 Pierce Arrow pumper
Amelia & Frank Siebert, courtesy Kathy Gray via Facebook

In 1930 Frank Siebert, a co-founder, and volunteer with the department became the district’s first paid firefighter. The firehouse was remodeled and included an apartment for Siebert and his wife and children.

Amelia & Frank Siebert (Kathy's Great-Grandparents) with Jack - Kathy Gray's Father, courtesy Kathy Gray via Facebook
Firefighters are pictured here in front of the 1922 Pierce Arrow pumper, celebrating their 3rd Annual Field Day. The Greece Ridge Fire Department was incorporated on August 3, 1922. The first firehouse opened in 1924 on the corner of Ridge Road and Long Pond Road. Office of the Town Historian.

He was on duty 24 hours a day, with about 8 hours off per week. He was assistant chief and later chief commanding volunteer operations during fires.  He and his wife continued to reside at that apartment above the station at least until 1953 and most likely until his retirement in 1959 at the age of 79. Frank and A.R. Koerner are in this picture to the left but without notes, on this picture, we are not sure who is all in this picture.

As the population of Greece soared, so did the demands on the department. A new firehouse was opened in 1962 at 1299 Long Pond Road. It is the district’s Headquarters. Today the district serves a population of 27,000 in an area of just under 14 square miles.

Ridge Road Fire Station, 1299 Long Pond Road, 1967, courtesy Bill Sauers
Stoneridge Station, 2020, photo by Bill Sauers

The Stoneridge Station (Station #2) was opened in 1971 and was renovated in 2001, while

Headquarters of Ridge Road Fire District
third district station at 2300 Ridgeway Avenue opened in 2007 - Matthew Pillsbury, RRFD Historian

The third district station at 2300 Ridgeway Avenue opened in 2007.

Quint 250 parked outside at Ridge Road Station #3 on Ridgeway Ave

A hallmark tradition of the Ridge Road Fire Department, begun in 1935, is that their fire trucks are white rather than the traditional red or even yellow.

Frank Siebert and the Volkmars, Democrat and Chronicle, October 8, 1962, photo by Gordon Massecar

It is often a family affair for Greece residents who answer the call to fight fires as it was for this Greece Ridge family. At the dedication of the new firehouse in 1962, three-year-old Stephen Volkmar receives a salute from his father Chief at the time John Volkmar, his grandfather, former chief Alfred Volkmar, and his great-grandfather, none other than Frank Siebert. Although the Ridge Road fire district started as a volunteer company, today it does not have any active volunteer firefighters and has not had any for the last 20 years.

You can read more about the Volkmars as well as the Fetzner and Knipper families in the Society’s Pioneer Families of the Town of Greece available in the gift shop.

Pioneer Families of the Town of Greece by Marie Poinan, and Joann Ward Synder

In 1947, Ridge Road responded to 52 alarms; in 1959 it answered 126 alarms. Between 2016 and 2018, the district had an average per year of 7,390 calls for service, 68% of which were EMS calls. [1]

RRFD is the only one of the four districts in Greece and one of three in New York state to be accredited by the Commission on Fire Accreditation International, CFAI. The District first achieved accreditation in 2005, and again in 2010, 2015, and 2020. In 2017 it also received a rating of 2, from the Insurance Services Office (ISO) which places it in the top 3% of fire departments in New York State.

With all the training and resources that these firefighters do on a daily basis from doing routine inspections of fire systems in every business, drills, learning new techniques to battle fires, rescuing you from a motor vehicle accident, providing assistance to medical facilities for lift assist and other services they provide, could not prepare them to save ten guests at the Holiday Inn on West Ridge Road, from the town's deadliest fire at the Holiday Inn in 1978 even though the hotel had some of the fire prevention systems in place and yet it failed and Ridge Road Fire District had the equipment to fight the fire and resources to rescue the guest from the hotel and fire companies within a 6-mile radius of the hotel came to assist Ridge Road Fire District to get the fire under control, we will dig a little deeper next week into the Holiday Inn Fire.

We at the Greece Historical Society & Museum would like to congratulate the Ridge Road and North Greece Fire Departments on Celebrating their Centennial anniversary.

Thank you for joining us today.

Citations

[1] source from Future of the Fire Service in Greece Evaluating the Existing Conditions in and Considering Options in the Town of Greece June, 2020, https://www.cgr.org/greece-fire/docs/GreeceFireStudyBaselineOptions.pdf

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Bicentennial Snapshot # 25 Hotel De May

Bicentennial Snapshot No 25 - Hotel DeMay

This week we finish looking at the hotel of many names at 3561 Latta Road. It started out as the North Greece Hotel in 1908, then went by the name Moerlbach Hotel, back to the North Greece Hotel, followed by the Domino Inn and Cosmo Inn during Prohibition, the Corner House Hotel post-Prohibition, until it finally and lastly became the Hotel De May in 1946.

How many ate at Hotel De May, for Ray’s birthday, for the restaurant anniversary, or at the end of baseball season picnic in the parking lot? Some of you may have parked here when you had to respond to North Greece Station One to put out a fire or even just operate the desk and work overnight to handle the fire calls, car crashes, brush fires, or routine fire inspections. 

Raymond Archibald De May was born on 17 March 1919, in Rochester, New York. His father, Jacob Jannis de May, was born in Holland and immigrated to the USA at age 3. Both his father and his mother, Stella Lovisa Miller, were 35 when Ray was born. They lived in Rochester’s 21st ward. Ray graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology with a degree in management and then went to work for Kodak for eight years before getting into the hotel business. He married Irene in 1941.

According to the U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007, Irene Marie Reiser was born on 03 May 1916 in Rochester, New York to parents Frank J Reiser and Cecelia Bertzman. Her parents immigrated from Austria to the United States. Based on the United States Census, 1940, Irene Marie Reiser and Raymond Archibald De May met while working at Kodak. Irene Marie Reiser married Raymond Archibald De May in 1941.

In 1946 Ray and Irene De May purchased the hotel property and building. It took the De Mays nine months to remodel the entire property, starting with modernizing and redecorating the interior to make it livelier for patrons to enjoy live music and dancing on Fridays during the winter. The De Mays upgraded the kitchen to a 1946 state-of-the-art kitchen, completely fireproofing the kitchen separately from the rest of the hotel and dining area.

Raymond installed a new 49-foot bar, enabling more patrons to sit at the bar. He could better display the different kinds of whiskey, vodka, wine, sherry, port, brandy, rum, gin, tequila, hock, vermouth, absinthe, rye, beer, ale, champagne, cognac, and saké. These were laid out in a way that Raymond felt best encouraged customers to buy lots of drinks.

Most bars and restaurants that serve a wide assortment of alcohol-based products would have a selection of what the industry calls top-shelf items. These are your higher-end priced beverages or have better ingredients, compared to your mid-tier and low-tier drinks. They did serve some of the local brews from the Genesee Brewery and others that survived prohibition.

This rough, not-to-scale hand-drawn sketch by Bill Sauers, circa 2016, shows the layout of the first floor of the DeMay Hotel. As for a ladies’ room, it probably had none for Women before the De May’s purchased the property and upgraded the plumbing. They added a ladies’ room just at the end of the bar before heading to the Ballroom / Banquet space. The men’s room was your old school trench on the edge of one wall and ran the distance of the wall with partitions for privacy, they also had some Water Closets (aka toilets) if a gentleman needed to use one. On the door was a silhouette of what appeared to be that of Clark Gable at a publicity photoshoot at MGM in 1938.

DeMay ad Greece Press 1946 November 14
DeMay ad Greece Press 1946 November 14
DeMay floor Plan sketch drawn by Bill Sauers, circa 2016
DeMay floor Plan sketch drawn by Bill Sauers, circa 2016
Ray DeMay behind the bar
Ray DeMay behind the bar
Clark Gable's MGM Publicity Still 1938
Clark Gable’s MGM Publicity Still 1938
Hotel De May dance ad Greece Press 1947 January 2
Hotel De May dance ad Greece Press 1947 January 2
DeMay Hotel Greece Press 1948 September 23
DeMay Hotel Greece Press 1948 September 23
DeMay's Beer Night ad
DeMay’s Beer Night ad

Based on the text of an ad in the Greece Press on January 2, 1947, the was a men’s bar. The first line on the right is “Always a Lively crowd at DeMay’s,” in the middle of the ad, it says “Western New York’s Largest Dance Floor”, followed by “Our Cocktail Lounge and Bar” and then finally it says “Where Good Fellows Get Together.” seemly to indicate it was a Men’s only bar and cocktail lounge. The woman or spouse accompanied a gentleman to the hotel but on Fridays and Saturdays from 9 pm to 1:30 am would be served drinks in the dining area or dancing in the ballroom area.

In 1948 Raymond A De May and the Hotel were charged with being a public nuisance. Raymond De May was arrested on September 10; the warrant was for maintaining a public nuisance and creating an environment that negatively affected the neighbors that lived around the Hotel De May. He was arraigned before Justice W. Arthur Rickman. Raymond pleaded not guilty to the charges and the case was adjourned to September 13, and then adjourned a few more times until the case was settled out of court.

Here is a link to the current wording of the town of Greece, NY Nuisance Law on the Town of Greece’s ecode360

Chapter 144: Nuisances

In the following years after the charges were settled out of court Ray, Irene, and their hotel would be at the heart of the North Greece Community.

Fire at Hotel De May

DeMay Fire D&C 12-19-1953
DeMay Fire D&C 12-19-1953

Hotel De May was almost destroyed by a fire that started in the hotel’s coal bin, on December 18th, 1953, it took North Greece, Greece Ridge, and Barnard Fire departments to put out the blaze. There was damage to a kitchen and rooms overhead the southwest wing of the hotel. Luckily no one was injured in the fire. Even though there were 2 1950s Seagrave pumpers and a 1950s Mack Fire Truck from North Greece Fire Station. The manpower of the North Greece Fire Department was not enough to put it out. That is why Assistant Fire Chief Raymond asked the chief to call for mutual aid from Greece Ridge and Barnard to assist with the fire discovered during dinner time around 5:30 pm at the hotel. It appears that the Fireproof kitchen was not completely fireproof as Ray and Irene thought it was. The total damage and repairs cost the hotel suffered was $ 4,500. The $ 4,500 they had to rebuild the southwest wing and repair the kitchen and bring it up to the Town of Greece’s building and fire codes of 1954.

Annual Events Held by Hotel De May

These are the most common Events that the Hotel De May hosted:

In October it was the annual steak dinner to mark the hotel’s opening; the annual dinner was a six-course steak dinner that ran from 1 pm to 9 pm and cost $ 6 per person according to this ad to the right in the Greece Press printed in the September 19, 1968 paper.

Every March they would celebrate Ray’s birthday and they served corned beef and cabbage for free. The bash started at 7 pm and they had an orchestra for dancing from 9 pm to midnight. As seen in this ad in the Greece Press paper on March 13, 1969.

DeMay Hotel annual steak dinner, Greece Press 1968 September 19
DeMay Hotel annual steak dinner, Greece Press 1968 September 19
Raymond A DeMay Birthday ad Greece Press 1969 March 13
Raymond A DeMay Birthday ad in Greece Press 1969 March 13

Raymond A De May’s role as a civic leader

While operating the hotel, Ray got involved in the North Greece Fire Department and served five years as an assistant fire chief. Since he owned the hotel across the street, he let the firefighters park their cars in the hotel lot and also let them park the trucks in the lot sometimes as well. Ray was a life-long member of the New York State Fire Chiefs Association.

Ray was photographed conducting a bike safety program for kids in the North Greece Area in which members of the North Greece Fire Department took part. He fastened reflectors to spurs of kids’ bicycles to help make the bikes visible to drivers at night. The attached article shows Ray installing the reflectors on David McCarroll’s bike at North Greece Fire Department Station 1. The Bike safety program also took place at 5 other points in the town besides North Greece Fire department at 3552 Latta Road; one was probably at the town hall or at Greece Ridge at the Ridge, another one was held at Barnard Fire Department, and then 3 other locations where most of the population of Greece was located during the 1950s.

Ray was also a member of the Greece Volunteer Ambulance Corps. (GVAC), which has since been disbanded in the last few years due to the four fire companies changing providers to Monroe Ambulance and the rising cost of Emergency services which the volunteer corp could not afford anymore.

50s 2 seagrave pumpers with Mack
In this picture, you see two 1950s Seagrave pumpers with Mack parked in the De May Hotel Parking Lot
Greece Volunteer Ambulance Corps Equipment, 1970s, from the Office of the Town Historian
Greece Volunteer Ambulance Corps Equipment from circa 1970s, from the Office of the Town Historian

Raymond’s Connection to Baseball and Softball

DeMay Hotel North Greece softball league 1970 July 9
DeMay Hotel North Greece softball league 1970 July 9
DeMay Picnic G Press 9-2-1971
DeMay Picnic G Press 9-2-1971

Each year Raymond would sponsor a very competitive men’s softball and baseball teams, as well as a junior league for boys aged 7-12 that lived in the North Greece area. At the end of the season, the De Mays would host an annual picnic for the members of the junior softball league and the little league baseball players. They also let the North Greece Playground youngsters join in as well as their parents and friends. The De Mays wound up serving 500 plus people each year with free hot dogs (more than likely the hot dogs were Zweigles brand hot dogs) and soft drinks could have been either Coke or Pepsi or a local soft drink vendor.

Hotel DeMay Softball Shirt
Hotel DeMay Softball Shirt

Raymond’s Battle With Pneumonia

In 1974 at the age of 55, Raymond passed away at Rochester General Hospital fighting a battle with pneumonia. According to his obituary in the Democrat and Chronicle, he was survived by his wife, Irene, and Raymond’s last living brother Robert J. de May (1922–1984), and his wife Ruth Marie Stillman (1918–2020).

Raymond A De May Obit DandC
Raymond A De May Obit DandC

Irene De May Takes over Operations

In the neighborhood around Hotel De May, Irene was known as Mother De May, that because she would take in boarders who had nowhere else to go, those who worked as migrant workers at the nearby farms, and in 1991 she opened the hotel for those who needed a place to stay warm while they did not have electricity, heating oil, wood or other heating sources to keep warm during the 1991 Ice Storm. More on the 1991 Ice Storm to come later in a future snapshot on Extreme Weather that affected the Town of Greece.

Irene De May kept the tavern and Hotel running until her death in 2000.

Irene De May, 1977, courtesy of Gina DiBella
Irene DeMay, 1977, courtesy of Gina DiBella

The Fall of Hotel De MAY

Hotel DeMay Latta Rd 2007 with sign
Hotel DeMay Latta Rd 2007 with sign
Come What DeMay tee shirt
Come What DeMay The tee shirt

The hotel sat empty for many years; those who cherished this historic building hoped it would be restored to a functional community asset. However, developers were more interested in tearing it down and replacing it with a (Crosby’s) gas station and convenience store.

Gina DiBella led a grassroots movement to convince the town to preserve it and make it into a functional hotel, restaurant, and party house again or take on another form of business even if it was not used as a restaurant, hotel, or party house. The group had a slogan printed on shirts that read “Come What DeMAY this Hotel Stays!”

But the grassroots movement could not sway the town board and supervisor that the De May Hotel could return to life and in Early 2017 the Town approved the demolition in favor of a Crosby’s Gas station with a Dunkin’ Donuts attached. The demolition of Hotel DeMay occurred on November 17, 2017. Still, to date, nothing has been built on the site. As of this post, the current value has dropped from nearly $ 250,000 to $ 50,000. Below is the current information on the lot according to Monroe County Records for the parcel; the last table is from propertyshark.com which says it was sold to another property broker or developer, but no records are available to verify this information only the property details, lot size, and current tax and land value have been verified using the Monroe County Tax assessment page.

At Least one part of the Hotel DeMay lives on it is the 49-foot bar that Raymond DeMay installed at the hotel, which survived demolition, and has a new home at the My Apartment bar on West Outer Drive off of Mount Read Blvd. Other “parts” of the Hotel DeMay also live on at The Stutson House. Several hotel room doors were used to make the bar at that location. You can still see the room numbers on the bar panels (doors).

The Landmark Society of Western New York named the Hotel DeMay to it’s Five to Revive list in October of 2017 here is what they wrote:

“The Five to Revive is a list that calls attention to five properties in Western New York that are in need of investment. They are considered significant historic aspects of our shared built environment whose redevelopment can become catalytic projects for the neighborhoods and communities that surround them.”

“The irreplaceable historic resources listed in Five to Revive become priority projects for Landmark Society staff and programs. The Landmark Society works collaboratively with owners, municipal officials, and developers to facilitate investment and foster rehabilitation so that these structures can again play an active role in their communities. Five to Revive selection criteria include: architectural/design integrity, historical significance, degree of endangerment, potential catalytic impact, and likelihood that inclusion on list will help facilitate a positive outcome.”

Unfortunately, we never had a chance to work with The Landmark Society, owners, municipal officials, or developers and The DeMay became the first and (to-date) only building named to the Five to Revive to be demolished.

Demolition of Hotel DeMay 11-17-17
Demolition of Hotel DeMay 11-17-17
DeMay Bar
DeMay Bar

Property Details

Property Address:3561 Latta Rd, Rochester, NY 14612
County:Monroe
Parcel ID:44.40-1-1
School district: 264001 – Hilton

Lot Size and Property Type

Acreage:0.75
Frontage:274
Depth:119
Property Class: Vacant Land Located in Commercial Areas (330)

Current Tax and Land Value

Tax year:2022
Property tax:$ 1,973
Land value:$50,000
Market value:$50,000

Reported Last Sale of Lot

Sale date:8/9/2019
Sale price:$595,000
This is not referenced from Monroe County records this record is from propertyshark.com
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