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Youngstown Fire Co. Independence Festival set to debut

Mon, Apr 9th 2018 12:10 pm
Inaugural event to feature Firefighter's Seafood Boil Dinner
By Terry Duffy
Over past weeks, the Village of Youngstown has certainly seen its share of it, with recent news of the Melloni's Market Place closing - coming on the heels of the village's KeyBank branch consolidation.
Now, comes word of another change on the horizon in the village - but a refreshing one. How about a new summertime happening the River Region can really forward to?
How about an Independence Festival?
The Youngstown Volunteer Fire Co. revealed as much this week. Following a four-year lapse that came with the end of its long-popular Field Days, for 2018, Youngstown Fire will return as host of a "major annual community event," Fire Company President Greg Robertson said.
Come Saturday, July 7, the fire company will stage an Independence Festival featuring an elaborate Firefighter's Seafood Boil Dinner at the Third Street firehall.
Robertson reports the event will feature a robust seafood feast, highlighted by fresh, whole, wild-caught Maine lobster along with an assortment of other seafood. To be open to the community, this inaugural affair will offer a unique dining experience for 500.
"When we lost our traditional Labor Day Field Days festival, the Youngstown and Town of Porter community and the fire company itself suffered a blow," Robertson said. "Almost all of us grew up going to the Field Days and we all felt its loss."
He said that, for decades, the Field Days festival was Youngstown Fire's biggest fundraiser and the village's biggest community event.
"No one wanted to see the Field Days die, but given our current demographics it couldn't be sustained, and we just couldn't turn back the clock," Robertson said. "So we had to let it go, and for the last couple of years we have been planning this new event to replace the Field Days. According to our plans, this will be the beginning of what could be the biggest thing for the community to happen to the fire company in my lifetime."
Fire Company Chief Gregory Quarantillo chaired the Field Days affair for several years and, likewise, said he looks forward to the fire company's return with the Independence Festival.
"This is going to be an annual event and we are going to add more parts to the festival in coming years. But for this, our first year back in business, we want to start with only the Firefighter's Seafood Boil Dinner to make sure we don't overload our volunteer members and everything goes smoothly. We've got a lot of work to do to get ready, but everyone is looking forward to getting this celebration underway," Quarantillo said.
Steve Zastrow, a Youngstown Village trustee, serves as chair of the Firefighter's Seafood Boil committee. He said Youngstown Fire, having experienced firsthand the popularity of the annual Lobster Fest offered by the Wendelville Fire Co. in North Tonawanda, saw this as the type of event it could go after.
"We came away impressed," he said as to Youngstown Fire's reaction to the Wendelville Lobster Fest. "They've been very successful (with theirs). They've probably been it doing it around 25 years."
With that, a committee was soon formed of interested Youngstown Fire Co. members, and work began in earnest on this event.
"After weeks of meetings and planning, our menu development committee decided on providing the finest, freshest seafood possible," Zastrow said. "We're gearing everything towards making this a great meal and a fine event. To that end, we've arranged to get the best seafood possible from providers on the working waterfront docks in Portland, Maine.
"We've worked for months to make this the beginning of a festival that will be every bit as memorable and worthwhile for the community and for the fire company as Field Days were.
"Together with the fresh whole lobster that we'll have trucked in that day from Maine, we're going to have fresh mussels, fresh clams, crab claws and shrimp. And we are going to start with 500 people at the inaugural Firefighter's Seafood Boil."
Zastrow added, "We are taking it on ourselves; this is all Youngstown."
Quarantillo said fire company members are getting down to work in a number of areas - one being the cooking equipment. To accommodate boiling enough water for 500 lobsters, firefighters will repurpose large, cast-iron kettles that used to make chicken chowder into lobster boiling pots.
"If you notice, a couple years ago, we removed our old chowder kettles from behind the firehall and stored them away," Quarantillo said. "Now, it's time and we are pulling them out of storage and re-installing them for the new tasks of cooking lobsters, seafood and the rest of the Firefighter's Seafood Boil ingredients."
Noting the work involved in this massive undertaking of dinner for 500, Zastrow admitted that Youngstown Fire does intend to enlist outside community expertise and volunteer assistance to make this first-ever happening a success.
"Yes, It's a lot of undertaking. We're going to ask Niagara University and their hospitality department to see if they have anybody who will want to volunteer and come down and work with us," Zastrow said. "We're going to do the same with NCCC and their Culinary Institute. Our thought is, basically, if we can bring them in, it would help both parties. We could use the volunteers, and they get their kids out in the community, get them involved, as well. We could certainly use the help."
Zastrow said the fire company, foremost, wants this festival to be a success, but also for it to become an event that will grow in the future. Talks of entertainment, a beer tent, an Independence Day Parade - perhaps even a show of hot air balloons - have already been tossed about.
"For this first year, we're just going to have the dinner," he said. "We're going to do all those things in the future years, but we thought we would start with something that we can handle, get not overwhelmed, and that we can execute well. For the first year, maybe two. Then we would add more to the festival as we grow."
Explaining further, Zastrow said, "What we were kind of thinking is, it is going to be the replacement of the Field Days."
He noted Field Days was as much a community event as it was a fundraiser for the fire company. "And we're trying to build that kind of festival for everyone.
"In coming years, we'll probably have a beer tent, we'll bring in bands, and we'll have an Independence Day Parade. ... I'm getting a script for that all written out," Zastrow said, laughing. "Actually, in the back of our mind, we are trying to bring in hot air balloons. I don't know if that's going to work or not, but that's kind of a tentative plan we may want to grow into."
Above all, Zastrow, Robertson and Quarantillo said they see this event as a means of addressing a continuing fire company need: significant fundraising.
Zastrow said Youngstown Fire acquired and renovated its current firehall mainly with funds raised by the company itself through decades of hosting the Field Days as well as weekly bingo games.
"It has served us well for years. We saved money for the last 14 years and just bought a new fire truck for $625,000," he said. "The next truck we buy 15-20 years from now will cost more than that. Now fire truck manufacturers indicate the next generation of fire trucks will be too big to fit into the current truck room and we need major alterations to handle the new trucks."
"We've already spent $3,500 on architectural plans to expand," Robertson said. "Construction costs will be hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe more, and we can't expect the tax-paying citizens of Youngstown and the Town of Porter to shoulder that whole burden alone. Bingo dried up decades ago, and the Field Days are gone.
"We're looking to the future, and the future for the Youngstown Fire Co. and our community starts July 7 with the Firefighter's Seafood Boil."
Tickets for this event are priced at $35 per person, eat-in or takeout. The dinner includes lobster, clams, mussels, sweet crab claws, shrimp, salt potatoes and corn. Salad, dessert and a cold beverage are included in the ticket price.
Tickets are now available by calling 716-745-3324, 716-260-9297 or 716-754-2199. They are also available at the Youngstown Village Diner, 425 Main St., Youngstown, or Greg's Pools, 840 Seneca St., Lewiston. A total of 500 tickets will be sold.
For more information, visit the Youngstown Volunteer Fire Co. on Facebook.

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