Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
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Source: October 1970 Volume 15 Number 4, Pages 61–65

Berwyn Fire Company

Florence Barnes

Page 61

A volunteer fire company is a true American institution drawing its strength and its purpose from the people. It is a stand-by service 24 hours a day to answer an alarm. It offers an insurance policy to property owners for which a very small premium is paid.

With the above idea in mind, in 1892 a group of Berwyn men held a meeting to organize a company to provide fire protection for the community. Some of the men who attended this meeting were William Fritz, Martin Yerkes, John Rowe, George and Frank Kreider, Harry and Jack Seasholtz, James Beal, David Preston, Harry Garber, Franklin Burns, George Fox and Thomas Rogers. The first recorded fire occurred in the Kreider home, which probably prompted this organization. This meeting culminated in a formal organization which was chartered Nov. 20, 1894.

A book containing the Constitution and By-laws of Berwyn Fire Company, dated July 23, 1894 reads as follows in part:­"We citizens of Berwyn and vicinity for better protection of property by fire, do hereby associate ourselves under the name of "The Berwyn Fire Company" and agree to be governed by the following Constitution and By-laws.

Article V-Fines The President, Secretary and Treasurer shall be 'fined' for absence from meeting - $25.00

Chief and each assistant Chief shall be fined for neglect of duty in keeping appliances in order - $41.00

Active members shall be fined for disobeying reasonable orders of Acting Chief in time of fire - $l.00

Attendance upon meetings in an intoxicated condition, using disrespectful language or improper conduct during meet­ing of fire service - $l.00

The above sections were climaxed by a section 5 reading as follows:- "Reasonable excuse may, by vote at stated meetings, be exempt from fines".

At this time, telephones being a very rare commodity, the news of the location of a fire was called through horns.

Page 62

Each volunteer fireman provided his own equipment, which consisted of a leather bucket and a sectional ladder, kept at his own home, and brought with him each time he answered an alarm. The ladder sections were joined at the scene of the fire.

About six months after organization, a lot was purchased on Berwyn Avenue, where a locomotive drive-wheel was set up. The fire alarm was sounded by banging a sledge hammer against this drive wheel, a decided Improvement over the horn system. Shortly thereafter, a small building was erected on the lot on the north side of Berwyn Avenue, between Knox and Bridge Aves, to house equipment. This equipment consisted of a drawn hook and ladder, supposedly horse drawn, but very often, "hand drawn". Franklin Burns records a famous run which was made to Chesterbrook Farm with the hand drawn equipment in 12 minutes. This wagon carried 6 five gallon tanks, leather buckets and several ladder sections.

To replace the sledge hammer and wheel, a bell was con­sidered. David Preston and Harry Seasholtz advertised for a large bell. The owner of the ferry boat "Stockton" answered the advertisement. The two men traveled to Kensington to investigate. The price of the bell was $75.00. They also went to the Fairmount Fire Association to look at their bell. This bell they found to be larger than the first one and the cost was $60.00, so they purchased this one and Jack Seasholtz drove to Fairmount in Philadelphia and from there to the car barn at 8th and Vine Streets, which at that time was used to store horse feed. Jack picked up the bell there and delivered it to David Preston at his shoe repair shop on Lancaster Pike in Berwyn. His delivery charge was $7.00. Mr. Preston cleaned the bell, placed his initials on the baseball sized clapper, and it was placed on the Fire House. The bell was of the type in which the clapper hung free, and was said to make more noise than the tire and sledge hammer.

In 1906 a horse drawn Waterius 350 gallon pumper was purchased, however the Fire Company did not have any horses. These were supplied by three local livery stables. In order to guarantee prompt attention to the fire bell, a $5.00 prize was offered to the owner of the first pair of horses to arrive at the fire House. The town people often witnessed a very spirited race for $5.00 was well worth striving for in the early 1900's. Mr. Teamer, in his notes, informs us that Chris McDonald was usually the winner.

Page 63

In 1917, a giant step was taken when the first motorized equipment was purchased. This truck was a 350 gallon pumper and carried 1000 foot of hose and a chemical tank. The efficiency of first protection was improved, but the stirring horse race competition was eliminated. In 1920 a Model "T" chemical tank wagon was purchased to keep pace with the growing community.

On June 7, 1917, the Ladies Auxiliary of the Berwyn Fire Company was formed and its first president was Mrs. John Chattin; Louise Wilson Delaney, Secretary; and Anna Hall, Treasurer. Since its inception, the Ladies Auxiliary has taken an active part in building up the morale and prestige of the company. The ladies of the early auxiliary earned and present­ed the sum of $14,000.00 toward the building of the present fire house in 1929.

On May 8, 1929, during the presidency of Dr. Thomas G. Aiken, ground was broken for the present fire house, located at 23 Bridge Avenue. Newspaper accounts of the dedication state that it was a "Red Letter day" in the history of Berwyn. William Fritz presented the key to Franklin Burns and Frank F. Walker, Edward J. Redmond, Commander of Dalton-Wanzel Post of the American Legion, presented and dedicated a flag and flag pole. Enlargement for a game room, sleeping quarters and additional vehicles has been added since.

1937 was another milestone for the Company when two new engines were added to the equipment. The dedication attracted 40 neighboring companies who joined in a parade celebration, Frank F. Walker, as Master of Ceremonies and William B. Brosius, Chairman of Fund Raising presented the engine to the Company's president, John Henry Cathcart, S. Paul Teamed, Principal of Tredyffrin-Easttown High School and Attorney, George P. Orr were speakers.

In 1951, the Ladies auxiliary raised funds to provide a much needed ambulance service for the community. Upon delivery of the ambulance, it was presented to the men of the Fire Company and immediately put into service. Through 18 years of existence, the Berwyn Ambulance has developed into an outstanding service organization to the community. It is equipped, with the latest of portable and stationary oxygen and first aid equipment and is on call around the clock, 365 days a year. The ambulance is equipped with 2-way radio home alerting system so each man on call has direct communication from the Fire House Dispatch Center. This has reduced the night time responding time to about 2 minutes from the time of notification.

Page 64

In 1955 with Easttown Township paying 2/3 of the $38,000.00 a Mack 75 foot aerial ladder was purchased.

In 1964, having received approval from the men of the Company, the ladies instituted an S&H Green Stamp fund drive. The purpose of the drive to collect enough stamps and donations to buy a new pumper. This project required many months of hard work and cooperation. By the end of the drive in May 1965, the pumper was put into service.

In April 1968, representatives of Berwyn, Paoli, Malvern East Whiteland and West Whiteland fire companies met to discuss the possibility of creating a Central Dispatching Station for the 5 companies. It was felt by all companies that all the communities could be served more efficiently by coordinating the dispatching service through one station. Berwyn Fire Company agreed to provide the housing for this central station and on June 15, 1968 the Upper Main Line Fire Board went into operation. The radio room in the Berwyn Fire House became a center of attraction as telephone and radio equipment was installed, tying in the member companies. Bill Clark was hired to do the dispatching during the day and Paul Ann operates during day and night when needed. Chip Pyott and Jim Bowman are relief men, so the board can operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All companies in the system are dispatched by a radio tone alert. The dispatchers are responsible for alerting the first and second call companies, and moving cover up companies. In addition to equipment dispatching, the fire com­panies also alerts the Suburban Water Company which takes care of providing extra pressure in the fire plugs in the area of the fire. The Board also has direct alarms for businesses, schools, factories, nursing homes available.

Saturday, May 17, 1969 was another "red letter day" when Berwyn Fire Company celebrated its 75th Anniversary. In the 75th year of the Berwyn Fire Company, the follwing officers preside:- Lawrence Adams, president; Chip Pyott, Vice-president; William Butler, Treasurer; Robert Lewis, Recording Secretary; John Stillwell, Secretary; Frank Kelley, Chief; Alan Riddle, Carl Sachs and Francis McAdoo, Trustees. The Company valuation is approximately $250,000.00. The central alarm system is being used by the 5 Upper Main Line Companies, and due to the lack of man power, to man the equipment, mutual aid is being used to a good advantage.

On the 75th Anniversary in 1969 the Company held a housing and parade, which due to good planning amounted to the biggest parade off its kind ever held in the State of Pennsylvania.

Page 65

Lt. Governor Raymond Broderick was Grand Marshal, followed by Judges of Chester County Court, members of the House of Representatives, Chester County Commissioners, and local Super­visors of both Easttown and Tredyffrin Townships. The Berwyn Fire Company followed with a band and 50 men marching in full uniform. Behind Berwyn's five pieces of equipment and ambulance, there were 119 companies including bands, equipment marching units, and horse drawn antique pumpers. On the grand stand, besides the parade judges, were T.V. and radio personnel announcing the different companies and introducing guests and people of the Honorary division.

Back in the days of organization the names below appear as a partial list of active members;

John M. Rowe, Lewis J. Speakman; Gideon T. Kitner, Noah C. Sinquett, C. Harry Seasholtz, J. M. Thompson, John J. Longenecker, Henry O. Garber, George Fox, Henry T. Coates, W. B. Farley, M.D., T. Elwood Moore, H. M. Crawford, M.V. Yerkes, H. C. Moore, Frank Krider, W. F. Bitler, John H. Seasholtz, James C. Bitler, J. S. Burns, J. W. Potter, V. E. Dewees, L. W. Rogers, W. H. Nuzum, John C. Jardine, Fred. W. Aiken, W. I. McLees, Samuel Cathcart, S. E. Lawrence, Paul A. Megonegal, Frank L. Burns, David Preston, A. G. Aikins, George K. Krider, W. H. Kerr, Phineas Pyott, J. W. Burkey, S.C. Davis, Henry Petery, Edwin R. Paist, F. L. Richards, M. E. Achuff, Wm. H. Lapp, J. W. Lapp, R. G. Beaumont, J. W. Potter, Wm. E. Bradley, Harry G. Armstrong, Victor A. Lobb, George V. Johnson, Tom Swain, Edward S. Watson, Victor J. Hess, Samuel H. Tompkins, W.F. Smurthwaite, Wilson A. Bean, Wm H. Boyle, W. G. Armstrong, Robert H. Armstrong, James Aiken.


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