Vintage: These magnificent machines powered Chambersburg's early fire departments, US
The US’ Chambersburg Fire Department dates back to 1780. At the time, to extinguish fires there was a bucket brigade, a group of personnel that threw water on the flames. It often wasn't very effective, as fires usually already spread too much to be subdued. It was during the early 1800s that hand-drawn apparatus was being used to manually pump water through the fire hose, directed by the nozzle man. It was an improvement in conquering the fire.
Some of the other equipment used during those days were hand-drawn hose reels to convey the fire hose to the scene of the alarm; the hand-drawn hook and ladder, which was used to transport ground ladders of different lengths, as well as axes, buckets and other hand tools used in fire fighting.
The next huge step for apparatus in the department was the introduction of the horse-drawn steam fire engine. The first horse-drawn steamer for the department arrived in Chambersburg in 1871 and was used by the Friendship Fire Company No. 1. The Good Will Fire Company No. 3 in 1893 placed into service a La France steam fire engine, which was used until circa 1920.
Last but not least was the Cumberland Valley Hose Company No. 5 who in 1903 placed into service a La France steam fire engine. It saw regular service until 1925 when the company became motorised and the steam fire engine was retired. The steam fire engine is still owned by the fire company after all these years.
Now that you're aware of the hand and horse drawn apparatus that was used by the department the time came in 1911 when the Chambersburg Fire Department became motorised. The Friendship Fire Company in 1911 placed a new American La France Combination Chemical Apparatus into service. This piece carried a chemical solution in its tank that was used for fire suppression. This “Magnificent Machine” also carried a small amount of fire hose, a ground ladder, axes and other necessary tools. This piece of apparatus was retained by the company until 1944 at which time it was donated for the scrap drive during World War II.
The 1911 American La France was replaced in 1930 with a new American La France combination city service truck. The city service was equipped with a small pump for fire fighting and also carried a complement of ground ladders, fire hose, helmets, coats, various hand tools and fire extinguishers. This unit was used until 1952 before being replaced.
We now take a look at the second company in the department to become motorised. The Junior Hose and Truck Company No. 2 became motorised in 1917 when the company placed into service a Seagrave chemical engine and a Seagrave ladder truck with a 65-foot automatic ladder on a turntable. It proved to be a great improvement for fire suppressions and rescues and was considered quite an improvement for ground ladders.
The Seagrave chemical engine was replaced in 1936 with a Ward La France service truck, which faithfully served the department for many years and was replaced in 1965 with a Peter Pirsch 1 000 gallon per minute pumper. The Seagrave ladder truck after 23 years of service was replaced in 1940 with a new Peter Pirsch 85-foot aerial ladder truck.
The Good Will Fire Company No. 3 in 1921 placed into service a new American La France 800-gallon-per-minute pumper. It served the town well and answered many fire calls before being replaced in 1953.
A very unique opportunity presented itself in 1921. Good Will member HB Mc Ferren had a carriage and automotive business on South Third Street behind City Hall in Chambersburg. When the company received their 1921 Hurlburt chassis from Harrisburg they selected Mc Ferren and his skilled employees to build the necessary body for the new service truck.
The Hurlburt service truck was retired in 1940 and bought by a local businessman. HB Mc Ferren's work was so impressive that within a short time he would have the opportunity to build another piece of apparatus for the Good Wills.
You see, the Chambersburg Hospital's motorized ambulance had seen better days and with the vision of some of the Good Will members, they had seen the real need for a new ambulance that would be used in the community. Through the interest and leadership led by Russell B Kyle, the company purchased a 1925 Garford motor chassis and had Mc Ferren and his employees construct a body that was capable of transporting four patients at one time. This was the first ambulance in the Chambersburg Fire Department and it was operated by the Good Will Fire Company. The company went on to purchase its second ambulance in 1933.
The Franklin Fire Company No. 4 was organized on 8 December 1903. The company for many years had used a horse-drawn hose wagon and the time had come for the Franklins to become motorized. It was in 1920 that the company had a Ford chassis fitted with parts from previously used horse-drawn apparatus within the department.
This small piece of apparatus was later given to the community of Scotland for use. The Franklins second piece of motorised apparatus arrived in Chambersburg in 1925 as they placed into service a new American La France 600-gallon-per-minute pumper. This piece of apparatus had served the company well for many years and today it can be seen on display at their quarters at West King and North Franklin streets.
Members of the Franklin Fire Company saw the need for rural fire protection and without haste in 1933 they proceeded in purchasing a Ward La France pumper. The first call for the new rural fire service was on 4 July 1933 and by 1941 the Ward La France was replaced with a Pirsch community pumper and also a Pirsch community service truck.
A number of citizens in the north end of Chambersburg had an interest in organising a fire company and it became a reality on 15 October 1877, when the Cumberland Valley Hose Company No. 5 was organised. This company's first piece of apparatus was a four-wheel hose reel; in 1903 they purchased a La France steam fire engine and then by 1915 they also had a horse-drawn hose wagon.
It was in 1925 that the company became motorised with a new American La France 600-gallon-per-minute pumper, nicknamed “Old Mike”. In 1947 a Mack 1 000-gallon-per-minute pumper was placed into service. The company has retained both of these pieces of apparatus, which can be seen on display at the Chambersburg Volunteer Firemen's Museum on Broad Street. When you compare the fire apparatus of today and of yesterday you can only say that they were some “Magnificent Machines.”
ML“Mike” Marotte III is an author and historian who writes about Franklin County History. Read more of him at www.vintagefranklincountypa.com.
Source: Public Opinion Online, Michael Marotte III