William Knickerbocker watched as a Cortland landmark, the 120-year-old Squires Building known as the clocktower building, burned in April 2006. He couldn’t save it.
But he helped make its replacement that much safer when it was completed in 2009.
“I was really moved emotionally when they demolished the clocktower,” he said. “I fought that fire and it was just a long day. It was a tough decision to take down.”
He recalled the memory Thursday, his first day of retirement after serving at the department for 25 years, where he was a deputy fire chief for several years and the code enforcement director for 10 years.
On Wednesday, a dispatcher went over the air to thank Knickerbocker for his service, firefighters lined each side of the walkway to the front door of the main fire station and saluted Knickerbocker as he left. Department officials said he’ll be remembered for being the sports guy.
“It was typical to hear Bill say, ‘did you see that game last night …’” a news release from the department said.
Firefighter Travis Marshall spent one year working with Knickerbocker in the Code Enforcement office and said safety wasn’t just Knickerbocker’s passion, it was his life.
“One thing that will always stick out about Bill is that it was all about life safety — making sure the student housing was safe, making sure the restaurants and business were safe,” Marshall said.
Knickerbocker joined the department in 1994. Before that he was a code enforcement official in Chenango County and a member of the South Otselic Fire Department, where he had served as chief for several years, according to the release. He has certifications in code enforcement, fire instruction, hazardous materials, fire investigation and as an emergency medical technician.
During his tenure in the code enforcement office, Knickerbocker saw several laws enacted, including the vacant building ordinance that passed in 2010 and required vacant buildings to be put on a list and owners to pay fees as an incentive to get the building back to being used.
“It helps maintain the property,” he said, and a maintained property is a safer property.
Although Knickerbocker has retired from the city’s department, he hasn’t left the fire safety business altogether. He is now working part-time in Chenango County as a county fire inspector.
“I’ll be home every night, it’s kind of a vacation,” he said.