FIRE DEPARTMENT HISTORY:
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE FREEDOM VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPARTMENT
February 10, 1954
Annual Banquet (Speech given at the %0th Ann. of the Department)
February 10, 1904 a body of men gathered together in the borough of Freedom to talk over and discuss about forming a fire company to protect the town from the loss of life and property in the borough of Freedom. The first President of the group or fire company was Mr. H.H. Gerheim; first Secretary was Mr. Gladden. These men had a clothing store for men where Dr. J. H. Boal has his office.
The building was destroyed by fire about 3:00 AM in the month of March, 1928, and if you recall it was bitter cold. First chief was Mr. Charles Volhart; Mr. Volhart ran a barber shop at the corner of Eighth Street and Third Avenue where the Christmas tree stands year after year.
Some time after being organized the body purchased hand hose carts for the town and placed them at different parts of town; one at Eighth Street; one on the East End; and one on the West End of town, and were placed in small buildings, and the men that lived at each end had their Captains and Lieutenants for each hose house.
Later on they purchased a wagon which was driven by horses owned by Mr. W.H. Hammerly who ran a livery stable on Third Avenue, near Seventh Street, which was torn down, but the lot is still vacant.
Later on they purchased harness which hung to the ceiling of the building; then when the alarm would sound Mr. Hammerly or some other fireman would take the team around to Eighth Street to the building, back the team under the harness, drop the harness down, snap it on the horses, and away they would go to answer the alarm.
The first alarm they had was a rope on the outside of the Presbyterian Church to the bell. They would tap the bell of the church; then later on they got an engine bell from the Railroad they would ring; then they got an engine tire of which they took a piece out of the tire to make it louder. After that, they purchased the big bell which now hangs in the Lutheran Church belfry, which is still being used every Sunday for Sunday School and Church.
One time they bought the corner lot at Third Avenue and Seventh Street where Billotto’s house stands at the present time, in order to put a building and fire station at the corner, which was never done; so they sold the property again.
In the year 1912, they purchased an American LaFrance fire truck which was motor driven and the first motor driven fire equipment in Beaver County. The members at that time got a lot of enjoyment taking the motor driven truck to other Valley towns, and giving the firemen of the departments and members of Council in the different towns of the Valley a ride in the fire truck.
Do not recall what year the Brockway truck was purchased through the Freedom Oil Works Co. at the time. The Oil Works offices was down at the corner at the over-head bridge at the lower end of Third Avenue.
In order to pay for the equipment, they would hold carnivals ans strret fairs on Eighth Street and Fourth Avenue where Glotfelty’s house and garage now stand. There were two large trees there, and when they had street fairs, they would put paddle wheels on these big trees and sold the paddles for $.10 a game in order to raise money.
The Department years back would clear as much as $2,800.00 in a week’s time on these street fairs. After they built houses at Eighth Street and Fourth Avenue, they would hold these street fairs and carnivals up where the playgroud now is on Eighth Street.
The Borough building and Fire Department was at that time where the American Legion building now stands. In the early 1920’s, the Borough bought the building which was known as the Lewis Building. After the purchase, the Council and Fire Department moved from across the street to where they are now located.
In the fall of the year 1924, the siren was purchased by the Fire Department and placed on the top of the building. After being installed by Mr. Donaldson, the electrician, the firemen were placed at different parts of town to test out the siren, but it did not work the first time; so it was gone over the next day, and it worked alright. Purchase price and installation was around $600.00.
In the fall of 1927, the firemen went on record to purchase another fire truck. After several different representatives from different fire equipment companies made calls, it was decided to get another American LaFrance. The new truck was delivered in April, 1928 to the Department.
The money was raised by a house-to-house canvas by the mebers of the Fire Department, and it was paid off in three month’s time, instead of three years as the agreement was called for. The first American LaFrance that was motor driven fire equipment in the county, as stated in the first part of the brief history, was allowed $500.00 toward the new truck which cost $6,500.00 at that time.
Then in 1935, the little Ford chassis was purchased through the Ford Motor Sales Company in Beaver. A man by the name of Mr. Laney was the agent and cost the Department around $600.00, and the members did most of the work themselves. They took the body and other equipment from the Brockway truck which was later sold to the Borough and used as a stone truck for W.P.A.. The little Ford truck was finished late in 1935, and early 1936, and was finished not long before the big flood in March, 1936 at cost around $3,500.00, chassis included.
During the flood, the members of the Department had very little rest or sleep for that week as the firemen acted as police and watched the business houses and tenant houses to see that nothing was stolen or molested from any place or lost only by flood damage, which amounted to thousands of dollars during the 1936 flood.
The Ladies’ Auxiliary worked hand in hand with the Fire Department to feed the men who were brought in to clean out the cellars and stores of business houses that were in the flood district. In this flood, if the river had risen one more foot, Third Avenue would have been covered from one end to the other, which had between sixteen and eighteen feet of water on Third Avenue.
In the big flood of 1936, the water was within three steps of getting on the second floor of this building at that time.
The firemen lost heavily during the flood as lots of the firemen’s records were lost from the water rising so fast, that they did not have time to get everything out of the reach of the water.
For years back, every time the water came up and would cause a flood, the firemen were always on hand to help anyone that needed help. They would help the business places to move things to higher ground; remove the motors and things from the cellars of the flood district of 1936. In the flood district the people were taken from the second floor windows of their houses in boats with firemen in charge. At the same time, it was tough on the firemen – but they seemed to enjoy it and have a good time with it. Just the same, many a fireman’s wife at that time was left a widow as she did not know when the men were coming home, so they would make sandwiches and coffe and take it down to them to eat. Lots of times the men would go home, take a bath, put on clean clothes, and go back down to do more work. The Good Man from Above must have been with them, as no one took sick over the head of the flood.
In the fall of 1941 or early 1942 a committee was appointed to see about getting a station wagon, which was purchased through one of the committee members for the sum of $425.00, which is better know to the firemen as the “Green Hornet.”
Ladies and Gentlemen – at this time we will pause for a few moments and give a little time to the Ladies Auxiliary, which has been a great big help to the F.V.F.D.. They have been organized for about or in the neighborhood of thirty-five years or more. They disbanded at one time, but in a few years reorganized in September of the year 1924. Some of their charter members are present at this meeting with us this evening. So why not have the Ladies Auxiliary rise and give the ladies a big hand, as they have been going strong and have helped the Fire Depertment in many ways. For instance, they would serve suppers, hold parties to raise money, have lunch stands at the fairs, and at the end of the year or at Christmas time, which has been done for years, the Ladies Auxiliary would make a donation to the Fire Department of %200.00; sometimes more and sometimes less, but never less than $100.00.
Now that we have paid our respects to the ladies Auxiliary, we will turn the meeting over to the Master of Ceremonies to call on one of our older members, and the only charter member living, before we go on with the brief history of the Fire Department.
Mr. Charles Mails, the only charter member living, is here with us this evening. Mr. Mails was placed on the honorary list a few years back on account of his age and years of service. Mr. Mails was very active when he was younger and was a good man to have around the Fire Department, and could always be depended upon when around.
The Freedom Fire Department at one time had decided to try to make a go at investing in property, but failed, so to say. The Department at one time undertook to take the old William Penn Club; the sold it to the F.V.F.D. in the neighborhood of $6,000.00; later on the Fire Department sold it to the Freedom S.O.I., which is still occupied by them at the present time.
In 1948, at one of their meetings, a committee was appointed to get details in regard to prices on a new fire truck, so different representatives were called in and explained the different equipment and prices to the committee members of the department. Mr. Laris of the Ford Motor Sales Co. of Ambridge was the lucky saleman, as he sold the chassis for the new truck which was agreed upon in April, 1949. Mr. Laris had sent to Chicago to the Darly Equipment and Truck Co.; the truck was delivered back to the Department in Freedom for the sum of $10,000.00 in the month of September, 1949. This truck is now located on the first floor of the City Building.
The F.V.F.D. has bought their own boots, coats, uniforms from their treasury, which is kept up from carnivals, street fairs, baseball raffles and other activities.
The membership of F.V.F.D. at present consists of 41 members on the active list, and about ten honorary members, so you can see the Fire Department is carried out and operated at very little expense to the citizens of the Borough of Freedom.
Lots of credit is to be given to the active membership, as they respond to the alarms when sounded regardless of night or day, or the hour, and all kinds of weather. They buy mostly all of the equipment that is owned by the department for the protection of life and property in the Borough of Freedom.
THE Borough Council is to be given due consideration from the membership of the F.V.F.D. as Council gets the fire hose, secured over-head doors for the truck room, two new sirens just of late, and many other things we need.
The Fire Department carries insurance on all their members through the foreign insurance companies, which pays 2% to the fire companies through the borough’s hands for insurance sold in the borough of Freedom. This insurance does not cost the members anything.
The dues of the members are $.25 a month or $3.00 a year. Ten cents of this $.25 is paid into the Firemen’s Relief Assn. a month or $1.20 a year.
The firemen’s life is very dangerous at times and very hard to get insurance for the members of the department unless you pay an awful price for insurance to the insurance companies.
There are very few of the older members left in the Department at the present time. As they got older, they would drop out or move away from the borough. Today our enrollment list pf members average from six weeks, to one year, two years, up to thirty-two years of service on the active listof the department.
The Fire Department is no different than any other organization. It has its ups and downs just the same. It had a different principle than other organizations, as when you go into the Fire Department, you go in with the understandingthat you enter the department to save life and property of your community at all times; and at times a very thankless life you live while being a fireman. If anything happens, the average person calls for the Fire Department – it is the first thing that comes to their minds.
We have had some very bad fires in the borough of Freedom since being organized, and had to call for help from the surrounding communities, with very little expense to the Borough Council and to the Fire Department at any time.
Freedom Fire Department, since its organization, which was fifty years ago this date, has had no loss of life from injuries, and am almost certain to say that only four or five firemen have been injured seriously. They all recovered. There has only been one loss of life of a child from fires in the fifty years of this organization.
In the fifty years’ time, the F.V.F.D. has only had six Fire Chiefs.
In the last few years, fire schools have been organized for the benefit of the firemen to learn the new method of fire fighting, which is still conducted in almost every state in the United States.
So Ladies and Gentlemen – we’ll close with many thanks to friends, Ladies Auxiliary, and members of the Fire Department for taking up your time and putting up with the reading of the brief history and summary of what has taken place in the department since its organization fifty years ago.
I turn it back over to the Master of Ceremonies of the evening