History of the Lower Providence Township Volunteer Fire Company
The passing years have had many seemingly insurmountable obstacles crop up to hinder both the start and growth of the Company. What has been accomplished has been done so only through the close harmony and understanding of the "idea of a fire company in the Township" by a few dedicated men along with the co-operation of the residents and industry of the Township Company, but its members are known as leaders in providing service to those in need of assistance. There is no personal glory attached-- they are simply volunteers.
Since 1949, the Lower Providence Vol. Fire Company has been at its present location at W. Ridge Pike and E. Mt. Kirk Ave., Eagleville. The Company has made great strides since that day in October 1945 when a group of residents met for the first time at the Level Road School House.
Among the leaders at that first meeting was Mr. John Shinners. Others to whom the Company is greatly indebted were Samuel Heyser, who a month later was elected its first president, and Ira Robbins, who was the first Fire Chief. At this first meeting Mr. Shinners outlined the aims of the group and the importance of having a fire company in Lower Providence Township.
At the time the Company was organized, it offered fire protection and service to an area that covered more than fifteen square miles and less than ten thousand people. Today, the Company serves more than twenty-three thousand, five hundred people plus an ever-growing industrial population.
In 1958 the Company established a station in the Audubon area known as Station #2. This station was later dedicated in 1964 to the late Assistant Chief Henry Rhoades. This station was placed in Audubon because of the growth of that area and the farsightedness of the then Company officers. Plans for additional stations in other areas of the Township were also being considered. Although plans never developed for additional stations throughout the township, the Audubon station has just undergone major renovations, including a three bay garage to house additional apparatus.
In October 1945 the first formal meeting was held with about twenty interested residents of the Township in attendance from which the first officers were elected. There being no treasury to start with, Mr. Shinners donated $100.00 with others contributing to bring the initial total to $180.00. .
One of the first pieces of apparatus the company placed in service was a 1934 Brockway purchased from the West Manayunk Fire Company (now Belmont Hills Fire Company). (In later years this truck went to the Superior Tube Company of Collegeville for in-plant fire protection. It was then given to the Worcester Fire Department when that organization was started.) Also in 1946 another apparatus (new) was ordered. It was an International chassis procured from G.L. Sayre and was received in January of 1947. Mr. Ira Robbins and Mr. George Keyser Sr. then took this chassis to the Oren Fire Equipment Company of Roanoke, Virginia to have the tank and body built and installed. After this an order was placed with Mr. Earl Brooks for the necessary accessory equipment for the truck. Including $5,000.00 for the body and tank, the total cost of the new pumper came to about $18,000.00.
Now that the Company had the apparatus, a search was started for a permanent place to put a building to house the equipment since it was then being kept in temporary quarters. When the general public heard of this search, there was a lot of opposition. Many remarks were heard such as, "we do not need a fire company", "outside fire companies would take care of the Township", "there would be nothing but drinking and gambling at the firehouse", "residents of the Township could not support it", etc. These remarks did not deter those early members and a committee decided to contact the Middle Department Association of Fire Underwriters for their opinion and suggestions on the best location for the firehouse. That Association recommended a location in the area of Eagleville Road and Ridge Pike. The only ground available at that time was the sixteen acres owned by the Krebs estate, but the price was so far beyond the capital means of the Company that it could not be considered--a most discouraging development.
Mr. Shinners indicated that he owned sixteen acres at E. Mt. Kirk Ave. and Ridge Pike and would be willing to sell the Company one acre for $1.00; an offer that was promptly accepted. The sun was shining again and immediately arrangements and plans were made for the "firehouse". One of the members, Elmer Gray, drew up the plans for the building at no cost to the Company. Bids were solicited for the new building with the best price coming in at $35,000.00. The committee felt this price was much more than the Company could afford, and, after securing bids for the block and brickwork, decided to do the rest of the work using the talent of the membership. Special credit must go to Joseph Simon for the electrical work, Harry Miller for the painting, George Keyser, Sr. and John Patterson for the concrete work, and Thomas Lord who supplied the roofing materials at cost along with two men to help put the roof on the building. One of the big problems was the laying of the concrete floor in the engine room. As sometimes happens, the concrete refused to co-operate. It was poured at five o'clock one evening and not finished off until eight o'clock the following morning. It just would not set up. The members did all the carpentry work and the grading around the building was done with equipment loaned by Harry Roediger. Of tremendous help with the entire project was the co-operation of many of the industries and business establishments of the Township who either sold needed items at cost or made outright donations.
In May 1948 as the firehouse was nearing completion and the time approached when the Company would need a siren, the Board of Trustees obtained one from the Montgomery Hose Company of Norristown. The firehouse was completed in February 1949 at a cost of $23,000.00- a saving of $12,000.00 over the original bid price. Over the ensuing years there has been much discussion concerning the need for enlarging these quarters to take care of the growing needs of the Township. Committees have come and gone. In 1968 another committee was formed under the chairmanship of Robert Keyser to formulate plans for expansion. To the original building there has been added three new bays for apparatus plus a hall capable of seating two hundred comfortably for a banquet. In addition, the front of the original building was remodeled with the installation of three doors for the Company's vehicle instead of the original two. These additions were made at a cost of approximately $90,000.00. The additions to the original building were designed by Mr. Lyle Boulware, a renowned architect who is also a resident of the Township, with construction being done by Richard Kelly Builders of King of Prussia. The Company is especially indebted to Mr. Boulware for the services he rendered. In 1987 further expansions to the station included a drive through bay, two additional bays, a second floor and administrative office space. This is what you see before you today.
By 1947 a Ladies Auxiliary had been formed and in a fashion that only the ladies can display, has been a vital cog in the growth and activities of the Company with their fund raising ventures. Mr. Shinners who owned the fifteen acres behind the new fire station, approached the Company in January, 1949 and offered to lease the entire plot to the Company for $50.00 a year. The Company immediately accepted this offer. In 1950 Mr. Shinners again approached the Company With an offer to sell the ground to the Company for $10,000.00. Again, the Company immediately accepted the offer. Part of the agreement of sale was a verbal stipulation and understanding "that all the ground would be used by the fire company in particular and the community in general, subject to the fire company conditions and requirements and that at no time should any portion of this plot be sold or leased unless the fire company had no other way to pay its debts."
In September 1946 the first badges were received and given to the members' also at this meeting a gift of $100.00 was presented to the Company on behalf of the Norriton Fire Engine Company of East Norriton Township.
In January 1947 the Lower Providence Township Volunteer Fireman's Relief Association was formed to provide insurance for members who might be injured in the line of duty. Today this Association also provides funding for training and equipment providing safety for firefighters.
Faced with a need for funds the Company, over the years, has resorted to numerous fund-raising activities. Heading the list were bingo and card parties with the first one being held in March 1946. Other activities were oyster and ham suppers, horse and dog shows, baseball tickets, automobile raffles, and, best known of all, the annual Firemen's Fair.
The Fair, which has grown to be one of the largest of its kind in eastern Pennsylvania, was first started in the summer of 1946. It was held on the grounds of the Superior Tube Company through the courtesy of that company's president, Mr. Gabel. While the Fire Company was given the use of the ground at no cost, it had the obligation of leaving the property in the same condition after the fair as it was before the fair. At times this was no small matter. One year it rained so much that the Fire Company had to" plant over two hundred pounds of grass seed after the trucks and trailers finished tearing up the grounds. The mud was pretty bad. One of the members pressed into service to assist in getting the vehicles out of the mud was the then General Assembly member, late Lt. Governor of the Commonwealth, Lloyd H. Wood. One humorous aspect of the Fair was that the yearly announcement of the fair dates brought some measure of good feeling to the area's farmers. They were certain that they could expect five to seven days of rain. They were probably more often right than wrong.
After the acreage at Eagleville was obtained, the Fair was transferred from the Superior Tube grounds to Eagleville. Over the years since then, numerous Improvements have been made such as" a refreshment stand, pavilion, and office have been built; light towers have been erected, etc. Through the years there have been many changes in the Fair. At one time the Fair was held for eleven days, but due to an ordinance enacted by the township, the company had to adjust to a six day Fair, which has proven to be very successful. Several organizations have been to our Fair with their rides and booths but the company has been hosting the Majestic Midways organization for the past several years.
Currently in addition to the annual Firemen's Fair, the company has continued to pursue activities for raising funds to help operate the company. Included in the activities are hoagie sales, chicken barbecues and pig roasts. The company also participates in an annual fund drive.
June 1957 saw the beginning of two-way radio operation between the firehouse and the apparatus. Prior to this time the Company had to rely on one-way radio using receivers on the Montgomery County Police Radio. Until August 1993, the Lower Providence Fire Company relied on the County Low Band radio system for all vital communications. At times, traffic on these frequencies made communicating difficult or impossible and often left firefighters inside of buildings with no communications with chief officers or apparatus due to heavy countywide radio traffic. Although we are still dispatched by the county, a new VHF system was licensed and installed to provide Lower Providence Fire Company with exclusive frequencies to utilize uninterrupted by other county departments. The system consists of a base repeater at Station I, new high band mobiles, base radios and hand held radios. All engines are equipped with cross band repeaters to connect our system to the county system when needed. This proves vital when working on mutual aid calls. All mobile radios are equipped with a channel that is interfaced to a telephone line at Station I. Calls can be initiated from any apparatus to any telephone system. Lower Providence Fire Company currently uses this equipment on all incidents. Communications with incoming apparatus, interior fire fighters, other fire officers and the two stations was greatly improved.
The Fire Company held annual Christmas parties for the children of the Township with the first party being attended by over three hundred. Each child received an orange and a gift from Santa Claus, a part played by the late Barney McCarraher. Each year the attendance at these parties increased until the Company was forced to discontinue them due to a lack of funds.
For the past several years the fire company has traveled throughout the township escorting Santa Claus while visiting neighborhood children. The company has also recently sponsored a Family Christmas party for Fire Company members and Ladies Auxiliary members and their children. Each child is given a small gift paid for by the Ladies Auxiliary.
In the course of the Company's existence there have been eighteen presidents' Samuel Heyser, Raymond Ramsey, George Keyser, Jr., Hugh Frederick, Philip Ackerman, Harry Miller, James Granger, Robert Gross, Ed Lochner, Earl Coleman, Craig Keyser, Ron Kenwood, Vince Dureka, William Wilfong IV, David Rittenhouse, Steve Makowiak, Jackie Rittenhouse, and current president Matthew Sibley.
Fourteen Fire Chiefs have served the Fire Company. They were Chief Ira Robbins, Chief George Keyser, Sr., Chief Robert Gross, Chief Robert Keyser Sr., Chief William Wrick, Chief Dennis Taque, Chief Harry Miller, Chief Carl Langheim Sr., Chief Carlo Graffeo, Chief Ron Kenwood, Chief William Wilfong IV, Chief Steve Makowiak, Chief Bryan McFarland, Chief James Alexander and current Chief James Lentz.
Twenty people have served the Company as Chief Engineer over the years. They were Burke Pechin, George Keyser, Sr., Joseph Simon, John Patterson, Joseph Staub, Robert Ziegler, Robert Taque, Pat Tomaselli Sr., Steve Makowiak, William Beideman, Robert Betton, Mark Yakscoe, Robert Sparks, Ronny Hoy, Bruce Errington, Ron Fridley, Carl Daywalt Jr, Butch Langheim Jr., Kyle Lochner ,Charles Miller Jr, and current Chief Engineer Mark Yakscoe.
In January 1979 the fire company voted in its first female active member, Jackie Rittenhouse who is now the company's current vice president. 1979 also brought the first female officer, Charlotte Stott who served with the Fire Police.
In 1966 the Company along with the fire companies of Collegeville, Jefferson, Limerick, Lower Frederick, Oaks, Perkiomen, Schwenksville, Skippack, and Trappe met and formally organized the Lower Perkiomen Valley Fire Protection District, a chartered corporation. The purpose of the organization was to provide the best possible fire protection to the residents of the Perkiomen Valley.
With the changing of the company's response from "LP" to "53", came the first five inch hose in 1978. This later enabled the company to become part of the Western Montgomery County Large Diameter Hose Task Force in October 1990.
In Chronological order the company has put into service the following pieces of apparatus:
· 1934 Brockway pumper previously mentioned
· 1946 Oren pumper built on an International chassis with a 600 GPM Hale pump
· A 1400 GMC gallon tanker built by the members, equipped with a 250 volume pump (This pump was put on an International chassis several years later)
· 1940 Ford with a Hale 500 GPM skid pump purchased from the Barren Hill Fire Company
· 1957 Ford with a Hale 500 GPM skid pump
· 1962 Hahn 750 GPM pumper built on a Ford chassis with Hale pump
· 1968 Hahn 750 GPM pumper built on an International chassis with a Hale single-stage pump
· 1972 Hahn 1000 GPM pumper built on a Ford chassis
1973 AMC General “Deuce and a half” with a 300 GPM pump and 600 gallon tank.
· 1976 Hammerly Service Truck (cascade, lights, and generator)
· 1978 Pierce pumper 1750 GPM Waterous Pump built on a Hendrickson chassis with a reel (renovated in 1991).
· 1982 Pierce 750 GPM pumper (Hale) built on an International chassis, 4-wheel drive
· 1986 GMC Pick-up with Utility Box, 500GPM (Hale) Skid Pump &150 gallon tank.
1989 Sutphen 1250 GPM pumper (Hale)
· 1989 Saulsbury Rescue Truck built on a Duplex chassis
· 1994 4-Guys 1750 GPM pumper built on a Sparten Gladiator chassis (Hale)
· 1982 Mack/ Bakerscope 75’ Tower Ladder.
· 2000 KME Quint with a 75’ aerial, 1500 GPM pump.
- (2) 2002 KME Engines with 1500 GPM Hale pumps & 750gal tanks. Currently known as “Pipeline 53” and “Squad 53”.
· 2006 Spartan/ Allain 95’ Aerialscope.
- 2008 GMC Box Style Truck, Currently known as “Traffic 53”
- 2012 Ford F-150 Pick-up Truck, Currently know as "Utility 53"
- 2017 Sutphen Engine with 1500 GPM Hale pumps & 750gal tank Currently known as "Engine 53"
- 2018 Sutphen Heavy Duty Rescue - 20' Walk Around box with walk up rear steps. Currently known as " Rescue 53"
- 2018 Chevy Silverado HD - Pick-up with Snow Plow and 500 GPM Skid Pump (200gal tank & 5gal Foam). Currently known as "Field 53"
- (2) 2020 Ford Expedition SUV's, Currently known as "Car 53-1 & Car 53-2"
- 2020 Pierce Ascendant 100' Tower Ladder. Currently Known as "Tower 53"
(Bold) - These vehicles are currently in service
With the acquisition of a 1967 International Station Wagon, which was put in service for the Fire Police, the Company made the decision to change from the traditional red trucks of the fire service. Since the Company colors were green and white, and since white is a readily visible color, the vehicle colors were changed to a green and white color scheme with the exception of the 1946 Oren pumper and the 1982 Mack Tower Ladder.
In 2017 with the purchase of the new Sutphen Engine; Committee Members made a presentation to the membership to change from the non-traditional Green and White to an even more non traditional Black over Green, this change was accepted but the change has evoked much comment; most of it favorable.
(Information provided by the 1995 50th Anniversary booklet)