History of the Keystone Fire Co. No. 1
On March 27, 1907, a group of 29 men met in the I.G. Leinenger Hall on South Wyomissing Avenue to discuss the organization of a fire company. A committee was appointed to draw up a constitution and by-laws. Mr. C. T. Scott presided at this meeting and Mr. J. A. Lesher recorded the minutes.
At this meeting the following men were elected as officers to conduct the business at any future meetings: President, Fred E. Shilling; Recording Secretary, Irvin A. Bright; Financial Secretary, A. M. Harding; Treasurer, Oswin F. Kroyer, Trustees were C. M. Yetter, W. S. Miller and Harry Hain. All men present at this meeting were made charter members.
On April 10, 1907, the name Keystone Fire Co. #1 of Shillington was adopted. The first meeting of the Keystone Fire Co. #1 of Shillington was held on April 17, 1907. At this meeting the constitution and by-laws were approved and Mr. William H. Palm was elected the first Fire Chief of the company.
May 1, 1907, a charter was granted and on June 5, 1907, the Keystone Fire Co. #1 of Shillington was incorporated.
On July 5, 1907, a lot was purchased from James G. Lash for $256.00 as a future site of a fire house. The lot was located on the northeast corner of New Holland Avenue and 4Th Street. The lot size was 40’ X 197’ 10”. This lot is part of the lot presently 211 – 213 New Holland Avenue.
Over the next few years the meetings were held at various buildings in the area. By October, 1907, meetings were held in the C. Y. Yetter Cigar Factory. December, 1908, found the meetings held at Historic 3 Mile House, present site of M & T Bank on Lancaster Avenue. In August, 1909, the meetings were moved to the William H. Palm Tin Smith Shop. At this meeting there was a motion to sell the property at New Holland Avenue and 4Th Street to Borough Council to build a town hall and fire house, however, the land was not sold and a fire house was not built at this time.
The first piece of equipment was a hose cart donated by the Washington Fire Co. of Reading on September 20, 1911. It was housed in several barns in the area and was dedicated on Thanksgiving Day, November 1911. This apparatus was returned to the Washington Fire Co. when the company purchased its first piece of apparatus in 1919. For sometime it was displayed at the Berks Historical Society.
In an effort to find a more suitable site for a fire house the property at New Holland Avenue and 4Th Street was sold on August 31, 1912, to Harry O. Moyer and Leonard G. Hain, known at that time as Hain & Moyer Real Estate Co. In the same transaction a lot 44’ X 132’ at the southeast corner of Catherine and South Sterley Streets was purchased from Annie and Leonard G. Hain and Harry O. Moyer for $1,100.00. On April 19, 1913, an additional 10’ X 132’ was purchased for $200.00 to enlarge the site. Work was begun and a foundation was in the ground when it was decided to sell. This was done on September 24, 1917, to Sammuel Curley for $1,100.00. This property was the past home of Dolfin Sportswear Co. & the present home of Mifflin Valley Reflective Apparel.
By February, 1917, the meetings had moved to the public school building on Lancaster Avenue. A total of 78 men were inducted as new members at this meeting.
On September 16, 1919, a motion was made to purchase a Triple Combination Chemical and Hose Wagon from Howe Fire Apparatus Co. for $3,015.00. The disposition of this apparatus is unknown. The apparatus is pictured at left.
On October 1, 1919, a brick building in the rear of 39 South Wyomissing Avenue was rented from Howard Remp to house the apparatus and use as a meeting place. The building was rented to the fire company for $6.00 a month.
On February 2, 1921, the company purchased their first siren on a trial basis and by August 3, 1921, the first fire alarm boxes had been purchased & installed. Fire alarm boxes remained in the Borough until the 1960’s.
On February 15, 1922, a lot was purchased at 38 South Sterley Street from William A. and Mary Edna Rhodes for $1,071.00, the lot size being 45’ X 185’. Construction began late in 1923 and was completed May 1, 1924, at a cost of approximately $30,000.00. Dedication of the new fire hall was held on May 24, 1924.
Between 1924 and 1931 the fire hall was used for many activities such as school graduations, basketball games, rifle range, dances and quoiting. In 1931 bowling alleys were installed at a cost of $6,000.00. This building served as our fire house and social quarters until 1971 when a fire damaged the interior.
In July, 1923, a charter was granted for Volunteer Fireman’s Relief Association of Keystone Fire Co. of Shillington.
On July 18, 1924, the Ladies Auxiliary of the Keystone Fire Co. #1 of Shillington was organized. The group was reorganized on August 18, 1943, and has since contributed greatly to the growth of the fire company in both donations and services rendered. In 1961 the Ladies Auxiliary purchased the fire company’s first radio base station which was located at the fire house. The original licensed call sign was KCX-349. The Ladies Auxiliary actively supported the company well into the 1980’s.
Our community began to grow so the need for better fire protection grew. Recognizing this need, the Borough aided the fire company and in August, 1925, purchased a 1925 Seagraves 750 gallon per minute pumper at a cost of $12,700.00. This truck was later sold to a saw mill in Brecknock Township where it powered the mill for many more years.
Again in September of 1932 the Borough added a 1932 Seagraves 600 gallon per minute pumper at a cost of $6,795.35. The members kept this truck it show condition well into 1980’s. It was a trophy winner at many parades and musters throughout the region. As parts became more and more scarce for a 1932 Seagrave custom pumper the members worked diligently to keep it running. Most notably, John Althouse a machinist by trade custom manufactured a clutch for the truck. As the 1990’s approached, the struggle to keep the truck in show condition began to overwhelm the members and it was decided to sell the truck to a private collector in Newtown, PA in early 1990’s.
A Uniform Rank was organized in 1940. This group was very active and participated in many parades in the County.
In February, 1946, the social room of the fire company was renovated at a cost of $21,000.00.
In 1948 the fire company played a large part in organizing the first Shillington Days celebrations. As best recalled, the Fire Company manned a Penny Pitch in the early Shillington Days which is now called Community Days. The fire company has since moved into the Hot Dog business and still proudly serves the best grilled hot dogs on the midway.
In 1948 the fire company instituted the first burning of the greens. The photo is undated but still strikes many memories. The firefighters continued to collect Christmas Trees well into the 1990’s. The greens are now mulched instead of burned. The company hosted an annual banquet after collecting the greens as a thank-you to the members.
In 1949, the firemen canvassed the town for funds for new apparatus. They realized $6,870.00 towards this end by October of 1949. The fire company donated $2,000.00 to the fund which had grown to $10,191.60 in November, 1949. By January, 1950, the fund was at $10,798.83.
On March 1, 1950, Borough Council ordered a 1950 Seagraves 750 gallon per minute pumper. The truck was dedicated on August 12, 1950, at the Shillington Days celebrations. In the 1970’s the hood and top portion of the cab were painted safety yellow. This truck served until its replacement arrived in 1982. At that time the Borough sold it to the Western Berks Refuse Authority. The truck is pictured in its original paint scheme close to delivery. The company was put in contact with a subsequent owner after the turn of the century and pictures of the truck with a red paint scheme were mailed to the company.
On December 1, 1954, the Kindt Funeral Home donated a service car to the fire company to be used as an emergency wagon. The “emergency wagon” carried portable pumps and was parked outside the fire station as the Sterley Street property had only two apparatus bays.
Also in 1954, the borough ordered radio equipment. At the time, fire calls were answered by an answering service that would remotely activate the Borough’s sirens to notify the fire-fighters of a call. The first member to the station would then call the answering service and learn the location of the call.
In January, 1956, the members decided to have someone serve as chaplain. Mr. Charles J. Hemmig was appointed as the first fire company chaplain. Mr. Hemmig acted promptly and conducted the first memorial service at the February meeting. A total of 96 men were honored at this meeting.
In May, 1956, two of our members brought honor upon themselves and the fire company when Mr. Howard Keffer, Jr. and Jack Beilhart received the Giles Foundation Award for bravery and heroism while in the act of duty. These men saved a woman from a burning home at 200 N. Sterley Street. They were the first to receive this award outside of the city of Reading.
On January 2, 1957, Mr. Hemmig conducted the first installation of officers in the history of the company.
In 1957 the borough purchased still another Seagraves 750 gallon per minute pumper at a cost of $22,096.00. It was housed on July 13, 1957, with a fire fighting demonstration. Although delivered in traditional all gray with gold leaf lettering, safety yellow was added to the hood and top portion of the cab in the 1970’s. This pumper was in service until 1992 when it was sold to a group of private collectors in Georgia. The truck is pictured in its most memorable gray and yellow color scheme.
During the mid 1960’s the company purchased gear sized to fit the members. Prior to this time the company’s gear was stored on the apparatus and was not assigned to each member. Long time members report there were many fires where a size 9 foot was crammed into a size 8 boot because that was all that was left on the truck. After this purchase most members had gear assigned to them. The members however had to reimburse the company for the gear. The first sets of gear cost: $ 30 for a coat, $ 15 for boots, and $ 15 for a helmet. The members that were issued gear repaid the company one dollar a week until they owned the gear.
Over the next couple of years the fire company continued to grow and prosper. On March 11, 1967, a 1961 International truck was purchased from J. C. Gordon for $1,600.00. This truck was to become our first rescue truck. The Shillington Rotary Club donated $3,000.00 to underwrite the cost of the truck and equipping over the next 3 years. Cost of the truck equipped was approximately $5,000.00. This truck was propane fueled and was the first fire apparatus equipped to cascade (refill) air tanks in Berks County. The Fire Station could not accommodate all the companies’ equipment and the international sat outside the station with a heater inside the truck to keep it warm in the winter.
Because of the growing amount of fire equipment, we soon outgrew our old engine house. So, on March 29, 1968, a lot 125’ X 90’ at 221 Catherine Street was purchased from the Mobil Oil Corporation for $3,800.00 to build a new engine house. This is the present site of the engine house. On October 10, 1970, a bid was accepted from George R. Rubright, Jr. to build the new engine house. Building price, $48,000.00.
Then on the morning of July 2, 1971, a fire hit the fire hall at 38 S. Sterley Street, gutting the interior. The fire was termed electrical and the loss mounted to $212,000.00. At this time the equipment was moved to the Catherine Street address. Monthly meetings were held at this location also. This photo of the City of Reading Snorkel battling this blaze with the 1957 Seagrave still hangs on the wall of the Fire Station. This day will never be forgotten by the members that live through these trying times.
On January 5, 1972 a motion was made to rebuild the Sterley Street building and to use it as a Social Quarters. A building committee was appointed. By October, 1972, all bids were in. Low bidder was Cyrus J. Ecker for $180,448.00. By September, 1973, the Social Quarters was opened for bowling. By the end of 1973 the building and contents had a value of $342,000.00.
On April 5, 1972, a committee was appointed to purchase a new rescue truck. In February of 1974, delivery of a 1973 Chevrolet chassis with a Boyertown Body specified by the membership was made. The vehicle un-equipped cost $13,000.00. With an additional $2,000.00 and 2,000 man hours, the interior of the truck was custom designed and constructed by the members and was made ready for service. The estimated value of the fully equipped rescue truck was $25,000.00. This truck served until 1989 when it was replaced by a new rescue truck. The Orangeville fire company in upstate PA purchased the truck.
On June 28, 1975, the 1975 Seagraves 1250 gallon per minute pumper arrived. This was the first pumper the Borough purchased that pumped more than 750 gallons per minute. This was also the first diesel powered apparatus. The purchase price of this apparatus was $53,785.00. This truck proudly served the company until the arrival of the 1999 Seagrave when it was sold to a fire apparatus broker in the southern part of the country.
On August 28, 1976 the Keystone Fire Company housed both the 1973 Rescue Truck & 1975 Engine, dedicated the new Fire Station and the re-built Social Quarters.
On July 28, 1982 our 1982 Seagraves 1250 gallon per minute pumper arrived. The Borough purchased this apparatus for $120,143.00. The pumper was housed on May 14, 1983. This truck continues to serve the Borough in front line service.
In January of 1985 a fire was reported in the 300 block of East Broad Street during the early morning hours. Fire Fighter David Yoch located a woman inside the burning home. She was taken from the scene to the Reading Hospital. Unfortunately, several days after the fire the woman succumbed to injuries sustained during the fire. This is believed to be the only death attributed to fire in the borough since the creation of the company.
In May of 1987, a committee was formed to write specs. for a new Rescue Truck. This was to be the third Rescue Truck in the history of the Fire Company. On January 5, 1988 the company took delivery of a 1988 Volvo/Sanford Rescue Truck. This apparatus was purchased by the company for $135,000.00. The Volvo/Sanford remains in service as Rescue 67 and boasts a 20KW generator, large stash of Rope Rescue equipment and various technical rescue supplies. The company primarily uses the truck to transport its Rapid Intervention Team. The truck responds to a large portion of structural fires in southern Berks County.
The company purchased the home adjacent to the fire station at 9 South Wyomissing Ave in March of 1988 for $ 47,000.00 The company enjoyed rental income from this property for many years.
In March of 1990 the Ladies Auxiliary officially disbanded.
In 1992 after realizing limited use of the company’s third pumper, the 1957 Seagrave was sold. It was replaced with a retired borough police car. This unit was given the radio designation “car 67” and was used to transport additional fire fighters to emergencies and training. The original “car” was a blue Ford. It was later replaced with a newer retired police car that was white with a blue stripe. The cars served the company well but were later replaced with a pick-up truck that provides additional capabilities.
The company began the process to renovate the Catherine Street fire house in November 1994. Offices and a lounge were added to the second floor of the fire house. A classroom, Air filling room, and Kitchen were added to the first floor. This renovation was completed in July of 1995 at a cost of $91,000.00.
In September 1995 the fire fighters & social members split into two separate organizations. The fire fighters would continue to be known as the Keystone Fire Company No. 1 of the Borough of Shillington, the social members formed the Shillington Social Club. The Shillington Social Club would continue to operate at 38 S. Sterley St. under a long term lease with the Keystone Fire Company. In 2006 this split was completed when the Shillington Social Club purchased 38 S. Sterley Street from the company for $165,000.00.
In 1996 a Long Range Rescue Committee was formed to assess the fire company’s future needs for rescue equipment & a vehicle to transport the specialized rescue equipment. After many months of looking at equipment & vehicles, the committee recommended that the fire company approach the borough about moving the purchase of the 2000 engine up one year & purchase a rescue pumper to improve the safety & welfare of the fire fighters of the borough. The equipment that would be removed from the rescue truck would provide the room needed for the additional technical rescue equipment required to improve the safety of the personnel & the services provided to the community.
Firehouse magazine, one of the top publications in the industry, awarded the company a 1996 Heroism Unit Citation for a rope rescue of a hunter stuck in a tree in Robeson Township.
In 1997 the company’s by-laws were revised. The company no longer holds business meetings monthly but now meets quarterly to allow more time for training the members.
In 1998 the company purchased the first thermal imaging camera in Berks County. The camera is used to see through the smoke of a fire. Thermal imaging cameras are now common throughout fire departments.
In 1997 a committee was formed to write specifications for a new rescue/pumper. This truck was delivered in May of 1999 at a cost of $365,000.00. The truck boasts a 1500 gallon per minute pump and 500 gallon tank. It is also equipped with a generator and scene lighting. The truck can carry eight fire fighters to an emergency. This truck substantially changed the operations of the company as the auto extrication equipment was moved from the rescue truck to the new engine. This allows the company to initiate fire and rescue operations from one truck. The truck was housed and dedicated in memory of K. Scott Yetter. Scott was vital in the planning of the truck but succumbed to cancer just prior to its arrival. Scott’s signature is displayed on both sides of the truck.
In 2001 a committee was formed and a Ford Pick-up truck was purchased and put into service formally known as Squad 67 but after the company number change, it became Utility 36. This F-350 is four wheel drive and carries a portable generator and lighting. The cost of the truck at delivery was $ 35,898. In 2006 additional compartments were added to the truck to carry first aid equipment, oxygen, and an AED. The trucks primary mission is medical assists. Also it tows a Hazardous Response Trailer for the Berks County Emergency Management Agency and is used for day to day non-emergency fire company business.
Since 2003 the company has employed a part-time employee weekdays. This employee supplements the daytime fire fighting force and accomplishes day to day tasks freeing time for the volunteers to train. The employee is also assisting the fire chief with codes enforcement and inspection issues throughout the Borough.
In the latter part of 2006 the property at 9 S. Wyomissing Ave. was razed at a cost of $12,000.00 to provide parking around the station. This was necessary as the Gas Station to the rear of the firehouse was sold and the gas station lot would no longer be available for overflow parking.
On June 5, 2007, we celebrated 100 years of service to the Borough of Shillington. Careful planning, wise spending, and diligent fund raising have positioned the company to continue operations well into the twenty first century.
In March of 2009 the Company was approached by the Parkland Fire Co. of Bucks County to see if we were interested in a Trench Collapse Trailer.After a lengthy discussion & a road trip by the Chief Officers at the December meeting the Fire Company membership made the Parkland Fire Co. an offer of $10,000 for the trailer & contents. The trailer was placed in service in September of 2010 after a few equipment modifications & additions & members completed training & exercises.
In March of 2011 the Company & the Borough switched from having a full time employee during the day to creating an incentive program for the members to man the station during the daytime hours.
In April of 2011 the Fire Company began rennovations on the Fire Station. This project will provide the members with Bunkroom & Show/Lockeroom facilities. Once completed members will have a place to lay down during long stand-bys. These facilities will also allow the members to better man the station during inclimate weather.
In March of 2013, the Fire Company used grant money to purchase a new program called Iamresponding. This program allows firefighters to call a toll free number which then shows that they responded on a TV screen that is placed in the engine room. This program offers a variety of features but the key feature is knowing how many guys are showing up to an incident. It will enable us to quickly identify if assistance is needed or if we can handle the incident with the firefighters responding.
In May of 2013, the Fire Company started on another project in the station. All the old light fixtures, insulation and ceiling tiles were removed from the engine room. More efficient insulation, better lighting configuration and new ceiling tiles are being put in to make the station look more presentable while also reducing heating expenses.
On June 7th 2013, the Fire Company received $427,500 in grant money to for the purchase of a new Rescue Engine. This new engine will replace the 1982 Seagrave engine that in currently in service.
In July of 2014, the Fire Company recieved the 2014 Seagrave Engine and placed it in service. This apparatus will be first out the door for any fire related call in the borough as well as mutual aid.
FIRE CHIEFS OF SHILLINGTON
William H. Palm 1907 – 1911
Issac Leininger 1912 – 1916
William H. Palm 1917
Calvin Rhoads 1925
William H. Palm 1926 – 1929
Ralph “Mugs” Killian 1930 – 1934
Earl “Caddy” Miller 1935 – 1944
Charles J. “Kutz” Kurczewski 1945 – 1956
H. Marvin Bitting 1957 – 1958
Edward M. Squibb, Jr. 1959 – 1990
Larry Whiskeyman 1991 – 1996
Bruce Squibb 1997 – 2001
Scot L. Landis 2002 – 2012
David Bentz 2013 - Present