Lower Swatara Fire Department

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Lower Swatara Fire Department

Lower Swatara Fire Department

The Lower Swatara Volunteer Fire Department was conceived in the minds of several civic-minded township residents during the early months of 1956. They saw the need for a fire department as the township was starting to grow in population and building was accelerating at a rapid pace.

The first meeting was held February 25, 1956 at the Lower Swatara Township Building for the purpose of organizing a volunteer fire department.

The first officers elected were: 
William P. Smith, President & Moderator 
William H. Cain, Vice President 
Edward C. Boyanowski, First Vice President 
Robert J. Toporcer, Sr., Secretary 
Samuel J. Huffman, Treasurer

Two offers of land were received and a committee was appointed to survey the sites and determine how the imposed restrictions might hinder future operations. Several months went by and in July 1956 the Fire Department voted to accept the land donated by Mr. J. S. Messick. It was located adjacent to the Lower Swatara Township building and in the center of the township. The title to the tract of land was secured.

In October 1956, our solicitor applied for a charter under the name of the Lower Swatara Volunteer Fire Department.

Early in 1957 a building committee was appointed to secure plans and coordinate a fund raising campaign. In June 1957 a recommendation was made to start a Ladies Auxiliary. The Auxiliary was started and was a big credit to the department. Additional land was purchased from Mr. Messick in April and July 1957. Building plans were secured and the original building was started September of that year. The building was ready for occupancy and the first meeting was held in the new structure January 10, 1958. Mr. William P. Smith was elected in 1958 as the Department's first Fire Chief after serving two terms as President.

A Fireman's Relief Association was organized in 1958 with the officers of the Fire Department serving as the officers in the Relief Association. Their first fire truck, a 1922 Hahn, was purchased for three hundred dollars, which put the Department in the fire fighting business. The Fire Police were organized and authorized to act as a separate unit.

The Department required additional fire equipment and in January 1959 purchased a 1936 Ford Fire Truck for five hundred and fifty dollars. An authorization was made for the expenditure of an additional one thousand dollars for other types of equipment such as a portable pump, boots, spanner wrenches, and more. Training in fighting fires and first aid was needed and a fire school and first aid course were started. Schools were held Wednesday with the two courses alternating every other week. During those formative years, finances were critical. By holding dances, horse shows, chicken barbecues, car shows, raffles, and with the financial support from the township, the membership managed to pay the bills.

During 1961, a tanker truck was obtained to be used as a water carrier and the Hahn Fire Truck was sold.

The first Christmas party was held in 1961 for the children of the township residents. It was a big success. The Department decided to make it an annual event and each year since then, the children have visited Santa Claus at the firehouse. This tradition is continued today by the current auxiliary.

In February of 1962, the department started a Sparkie program to train young people in Fire Prevention. In 1963, the department paid off the mortgage on the building and purchased their first new fire truck. Specifications were submitted and the order was placed with American La France Corp. to build a pumper on a Ford Chassis. The new truck was dedicated in May 1964 and the Department again went into debt with an eighteen thousand dollar mortgage against the Department's assets. The 1936 Ford pumper was sold in 1963 with proceeds applied to mortgage.

The Department suffered a big setback with the closing of Olmsted Air Force Base as quite a few of the members had to move from the township and those remaining had to work even harder to carry on the objectives of the Fire Department.

In May 1966, a committee was appointed to prepare a long range plan for a new building as the building was no longer adequate for their program or to house equipment. An architect was contacted and preliminary plans were received from him in September 1966. The Department's finances were evaluated and the decision was made not to build at that time.

The tanker truck in use was not in the best condition. To be sure that there would be a good serviceable tanker truck for fire protection, specifications were prepared for a new truck. Purchase of the new truck was approved early in 1967 and the tanker truck was received and placed in service in September. The old tanker truck was sold and the company was now operating a 1964 Ford Pumper and a 1967 Chevy Tanker, which had a 1,500-gallon water capacity.

After each fire they had a problem drying hose. This was quite a problem as hose was draped everywhere and it would take several days for it to dry. It was decided to purchase a hose dryer. This created another problem, where to put the hose dryer - so a temporary storage area was built alongside the building to house it.

When Penn State Capital Campus was established in the township, the Department was requested to furnish the necessary fire protection to the portion of Olmsted Air Force Base still under federal control. As each year passed, the lack of storage space and space for social activities became more apparent, so the building plans were dusted off once more. However the finances, once again, were not adequate to undertake a building program. It was decided to start a separate building fund and save all the money possible, over and above the operating expenses. The goal was established at forty thousand dollars.

Throughout the period of 1957 to 1968, training was conducted in Fire Protection, Fire Fighting and First Aid. The courses were approved by the State of Pennsylvania and conducted by certified instructors. In May and June, a course in Radiological Defense was added.

Mutual Aid agreements were entered into with fire companies of the surrounding communities to have additional equipment and manpower available to fight large fires or other disasters. In May of 1970, the Department decided to join with the Dauphin County Fire and Radio Network for communication services.

In early 1971, the building committee reported that the building was very inadequate and in need of major repairs, such as a new roof, which had been repaired many times but still leaked. In addition to this, walls were deteriorating and cracking. The architect was instructed to secure bids for a new building to be added to the rear of the existing structure and to correct all deficiencies in the old building. Bids were received and were all rejected as being too high. It was decided to look into the possibility of erecting a metal building.

Preliminary plans were drawn up. Fire Department members and various builders and contractors were invited to sit down and discuss the plans and costs. Additional land had to be purchased from the Messick family to erect the size building wanted. A special meeting in May 1972 approved construction of the building and approved applying for a loan not to exceed seventy thousand dollars. Contract agreements were entered into with John W. Stalnecker, builder & contractor of Annville , Pennsylvania , to construct the building.

In September 1971, the Lower Swatara Ambulance Association was organized and authorized to operate under the Fire Department charter and to house their ambulance in the firehouse.

In 1972, the Highspire Fire Company offered to donate their old squad truck to the Department as they were going to purchase a new one. The offer was accepted and with a new paint job and minor repairs, Lower Swatara was now the owner of a serviceable 1963 Ford Econoline truck which was used to carry the portable pump, portable generator and light, various other equipment, in addition to being used as a personnel carrier.

June 1972 was the time of the big flood. The Fire Department members were on duty 24 hours a day for several days maintaining communications between township officials, emergency shelters and civil defense. The members pumped cellars and secured emergency medical and water supplies. They maintained traffic control, secured food, clothing and shelter for flood refugees. They also alerted and evacuated personnel in the Swatara Creek area, thereby saving lives that may have been lost had they not been evacuated. They evacuated the Jednota Flats area, in which the waters rose higher. The cost to the department in equipment lost and/or damaged was approximately five thousand dollars.

The building project was to be done in two stages, so as not to interfere with activities and also to be able to house equipment. 

In September 1972, construction was started on the Engine Room portion of the new building. A delay was encountered in obtaining the required heating units due to Hurricane Agnes, but it was finally ready for use after Christmas 1972. The first meeting was held in the new engine room in January 1973 and all other activities were now transferred to the new structure. The old building was demolished and construction was started on the new social hall. Building progress was quite rapid and the general contractor was finished, with minor exceptions, in May 1973. 

In 1974, ideas were brought together about the possibility of purchasing a medium to heavy-duty rescue truck. Route 283 was only open a couple of years and the majority of the Department's accidents were on 283. At the same time, the Department was aware they were outgrowing their 1965 Ford Econoline Van.

After going to different fire companies around the area to get ideas on a Rescue truck, ideas were finally put down on paper. Hamerly Custom Productions of Hamburg was given the contract for building the Rescue truck. In February 1975, Lower Swatara 's Rescue truck went on the assembly line.

In June 1975, the Rescue truck was received and following a couple months of training, it was placed into service. There was a great deal of pride around the Lower Swatara firehouse concerning how their Rescue truck was set up. A 250 gpm (gallons per minute) mid-ship pump and a 200 gallon booster tank was also placed on the unit, along with a 6 cylinder cascade unit capable of filling 42 SCBA cylinders, 6,500 watt Onan generator, (4) 500 watt quarts lights, 5 ton winch and compartments to put equipment into.

During the times of Hurricane Eloise in September 1975, the firehouse was used again as an evacuation center. The station was manned 24 hours and day for 4 straight days. Many cellars were again pumped out in the Jednota Flats and surrounding areas.

The company was also called upon to battle a fire in the Jednota Flats in three feet of water. There aren’t too many times when a firefighter comes off an engine and stands in three feet of water. Usually a fire engine has to lay out anywhere from five hundred to one thousand feet of supply line at the scene of a fire. To get water to fight the Jednota Flats fire, all the firefighters had to do was drop a suction hose into the water.

In order to keep pace with progress in the fire service world, specifications were drawn up for a new fire engine in the latter part of 1977. The specifications were sent to Hahn and Mack for bids and the contract was awarded to Mack Fire Equipment of Allentown in the amount of eighty-two thousand dollars. The piece was delivered in May 1978. After thorough testing, pumping, and driving the engine, the Department accepted and put the Mack into service.

The engine consists of a CF-style cab with one thousand mid-ship pump, seven hundred and fifty gallon booster tank, eight pre-connects, and a deluge gun capable of flowing one thousand gallons per minute. It was really put to the test during the height of the Walter’s Furniture Store fire in the borough of Middletown in the summer of 1978. The Mack complimented the Department’s 1964 American LaFrance seven hundred and fifty gpm pumper, 1975 Hamerly rescue, and the 1967 Chevy tanker.

During the turmoil of Three Mile Island the Department was placed on standby, along with other area fire companies, in the event that something serious did happen at the nuclear power plant. Evacuation maps were handed out to residents by firefighters and Township police officers. Again the station was fully manned for seventy-two hours.

1981 marked the year of the Department’s 25th Anniversary.

The Anniversary Committee was:

Denny Gallagher
Larry Hickrnell
Eric Shambaugh
Brenda Shambaugh
Joy Byers
Rose Parfitt
Samual Demey
Christian Demey
Richard Wilkins

Special Committee members who helped with the special events were:

Samual Huffman
William Cain
John Berger
William Smith

In 25 years, the Lower Swatara Fire Department had become thefastest growing and most progressive fire department in the area.

In 1982, the Department sought to improve its water flowcapability with five-inch supply lines. Richard Wilkins was the FireChief at the time and asked for donations from area businesses. With thehelp of John Arnold of Arnold Fuels, Tom Washburn of Aero Oil, RogarManson of R.L. Mason Garage, and Old Fellows of Middletown (nowMiddle-Town Home), the department was able to purchase close to twothousand feet of hose and necessary adaptors. This upgrade was driven bythe lack of fire hydrants close to Arnold’s Fuel Farm or Aero Oil; theclosest hydrant was at Fulling Mill and Highspire Roads.

In Late 1982, a committee was formed to replace the aging andrusting 1964 Ford American LaFrance. After meeting with several vendorsand manufacturers, it was decided to purchase a Sutphen Pumper, whichwas to be mainly a hydrant/supply engine. There were no bells andwhistles on this engine, and no generator. It specks included a Hale1,500 gallon per minute single stage pump, five forward cross lays andtwo rear lays, and a 500-gallon booster tank. The engine cost to theDepartment was 134,000 dollars. In November 1983, the American LaFrancewas sold to the Eulah Volunteer fire company in Eulah, South Carolina.

This was the first time in twenty years that the departmentwent with a 500-gallon booster tank. The deciding factor was a trailerfire in Brookside Trailer Court. When the Wagon arrived there were threetrailers ablaze. The wagon crew sort of stood back and amongstthemselves said, “You take this one, that one, and the other one.” Apositive water source was established and after all the major fire wasknocked down, the Wagon only had a quarter of a tank left.

In the firehouse, the dayroom/office was enlarged and separatedinto two rooms. (There was no day room until the mid-to-late 80s.)Firefighters now had a place to hang out without disturbing any officerstrying to do paperwork. At the time, the Lower Swatara AmbulanceAssociation was still housed in the fire station. The Ambulance paid forthe extension with the work being done by the Fire Department membersand ambulance personnel.

The water tank of the 1967 tanker was starting to show its age,In the late 70’s, the inside of the tank was cleaned and sand blastedby John Lutz in Rheems. This is also when the paint scheme was changedto yellow and white. Over Time, the front and rear barrel plates startedto weaken. On a couple of occasions the end plates punched out into aconvex shape verses a concave shape. Around 1984, a deal was made withFruehauf Corporation, which had a trailer plant in the township, tobuild a new tank body for the 1967 Chevy chassis.

The pump was upgraded to a 350-gpm pump with a single 2 and ahalf discharge on each side and a 12 inch dump with a 2 inch jet assist.This configuration was used well into the early 1990’s.

In 1987, a committee started making plans to replace the 1975GMC/Hamerly Rescue. The department looked at total turnkey manufacturersand buying a chassis from one vendor and the rescue box from another.Mack wanted too much for a new “CF” chassis, so American LaFrance, Hahn,Pemfab, and Spartan chassis were considered. All were shot down and theDepartment ended up with a used “CF” engine that ran as FDNY Engine 82in the Bronx, New York. (This is the same engine that Dennis Smith wroteabout in his book “Report from Engine CO. 82.” He did run afew calls on this engine, but was transferred out of Company 82sFirehouse) The department contracted with Interstate Mack to do therefurbishing and chassis extension and Ranger Fire Apparatus wascontracted to build the rescue box. The committee wanted an aluminumextrusion style rescue body and Ranger built a well-constructed rescuebox. As time went on with this rig, there were many costly repairs doneto the power train and the PTO driven generator. In hindsight it wouldhave been cheaper to build a totally new chassis.

Moving into the 1990s, the department tried following its 5-10-15 year plans. The 1967 Chevy/Fruehauf tanker was showing its ageand again a committee was formed. There was no question as to thechassis manufacturers, (Mack). The committee looked at several tankerbody manufacturers, took what they liked from each one, and thencompiled their own specifications.

Four Guys Manufacturing out of Meyersdale, Pennsylvania, wasawarded the contract. With both manufacturers set up in PA, theDepartment was able to capitalize on its two percent loan. The tankercommittee was able to travel to the Macungie Mack plant and literallysee the chassis on the assembly line. When they arrived, theengine/power train and frame rails were already assembled and aboutthree hours later they were able to see it come off the line and go intothe dyno-room. Taking an over-the-road Mack “RS” chassis, beefing upsome of the electrics, adding a 500-gallon Class “A” pump and a2,500-gallon stainless steel tanker body with three Newton pumps, wewere able to dump 2,500 gallons in a little over one minute and twentyseconds.

In 1996, the Department applied for a State Grant to purchase land to build the new firehouse. The Central Pennsylvania Easter Seals Society Camp Harmony Hall has been sold and parts of the property were being subdivided. With the help of Representative Chick Tully, theDepartment received a grant in the amount of $140,000 to purchase fiveacres of this land. The total purchase price was $165,000.

The Lower Swatara Fire Department was always been safetyconscious and is always looking ahead. The fire-line officers had lookedinto putting an enclosed cab extension on the 1984 Sutphen butdiscovered this would be too expensive to do because of the front axlerating. It was not long after this that an engine committee was formedto replace the Sutphen. Four Guys, E-One, Seagrave, Swab, and Piercewere considered. In considering what should go into the new engine,committee members looked at the wagon. Here was an engine that was builtin 1978 and was ahead of its time then, and was still a “war Wagon”almost twenty years later. A Seagrave fire engine was finally chosen.The committee assembled an engine with a 2,000 gpm 2-stage pump, aPneumax 200 cfm compressed air foam system, Class A and B foam system,750 gallon booster tank, and a rear intake/discharge.

The Seagrave was first put to the test on the Hardee’s fire inthe Borough of Middletown. Laying in from Main and Catherine Streets,Engine 59 supplied its firefighters with compressed air foam (CAFS) forfire attack. Until then, the fire held the upper hand due to the greaseinvolved with the burning structure, but the CAFS successfully knockeddown the blaze. The Seagrave was the first engine off the productionline, and the first in Dauphin County capable of supplying compressedair foam for fire suppression.

The Department has grown by leaps and bounds from 1999 until now. Chiefs’ vehicles were purchased and, through a grant, the safetyhouse and the “stuffed” talking fire chief and his little car used infire prevention programs. The mid-1990’s brought the “Marine Division”to the Fire Department with the purchase of a water rescue boat andtrailer.

In 2003, the Wagon was refurbished at the Swab Wagon Company.Cabinet and body degradation was repaired, and Engine 59-1 wasrepainted. The pump intakes were changed to 6-inch, increasing the pumpcapacity from 1,000 gpm to 1,250 gpm.

One of the most significant projects in the Department’shistory is the construction of a new fire station on Fulling Mill Road.After many committee meetings, and input from the Township andrepresentatives of the business community, plans were developed by SGSArchitects, Inc. for the new structure. Triple H Contractors wasselected as the primary builder and on a very rainy October 28, 2006,ground was broken for the new station. Among the many dignitaries inattendance were the Department’s first president and fire chief, WilliamSmith and his wife Thelma. As with most major construction projects,problems were experienced during the building, from the pouring of thefooters on March 14, 2007, to the issuance of the Use and OccupancyPermit on January 17, 2008, but all were overcome. On January 19, 2008,operations were transferred from 800 Oberlin Road to 1350 Fulling MillRoad. Although many individuals provided significant time and effortduring the planning and construction, Building Chairman Chris DeHart’scommitment and coordination were the driving force to make the dream areality.

A little over fifty years ago, a group of men took a bold stepforward and decided to provide fire protection for their families,friends, neighbors, and businesses. Over the years the emergencyvehicles changed from simple fire engines capable of pumping water tomore specialized vehicles that were needed to meet the constantlyincreasing demands placed on the fire service. Now, in addition tofighting fires, our firefighters must provide medical care, performvehicle extrications, provide for technical rescue, contain and controlhazardous materials spills and releases, assist during nuclear powerplant emergencies, and many other unrelated emergency tasks, ifsomething bad is happening and no one else knows what to do, they alwayscall the fire department.

The fire station has grown as well. Originally just a garage tohouse the fire engine, needs have expanded to require a station thatcan house the apparatus, provide space for training and meetings,storage of equipment, a facility for fund-raising, an evacuation center,offices to process and store ever increasing demands for documentation,and areas to comply with more and more regulations, laws, and mandatesfrom the federal and state governments. To view the department as itstarted and to view it now, it’s impossible not to be impressed. It'strue that significant financial assistance has been provided throughtaxes, grants, and support from our elected officials, but the countlesshours members must devote to fundraising to be able to get theapparatus, equipment, gear, and training needed to serve the communityis staggering. Add to that the hours, days, and weeks of training toobtain the courses, knowledge and certifications needed (and frequentlyrequired), it is easy to see that out firefighters’ commitment to thetownship is total. The Lower Swatara Volunteer Fire Department is andshould be justifiably proud of what they’ve accomplished in the past,what they are doing for the community in the present, and the promise oftheir exceptional service in the future.

Company history provided courtesy of:

John E. Berger - Historian, 1956-1973
Dennis W. Gallagher - Historian, 1974-Present

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