New Stanton Volunteer Fire Department History
There are approximately 30,050 fire departments in the United States today with about 786,000 volunteer firefighters, representing 69% of the total number of firefighters. Although volunteerism has declined in the past decades, the department maintains a membership of about 45 firefighters. Of the 2,500 fire departments in Pennsylvania, Westmorland County has about 100 departments and about 120 separate fire stations. Ben Franklin is considered to be the first volunteer firefighter, starting the first volunteer fire department in the city of Philadelphia in the early 1700s. Our history is much more recent: New Stanton, now a Borough since 1971, was the seventh (of thirteen fire departments) to be started in Hempfield Township in 1950.
On April 17, 1950, a group of concerned citizens, led by temporary officers J. Paul Calhoun, Chairman, Meade R. Stoner, Secretary and Timothy L. Wian, Treasurer, met at Stoner's Restaurant to discuss the organization of a much need fire department. The group met again on January 7, 1951 to discuss the creation of a nominating committee for permanent officers. On January 28, 1951, the first election of officers occurred and in May of that year, the group purchased a 1928 Seagrave 500 gpm fire engine from the Mt. Pleasant VFD. The communities of Old Stanton and New Stanton caused the group to eventually decide to call the new organization The Stanton Volunteer Fire and Relief Association, a more encompassing term for the new response area. Neighboring firefighters and organizations were looked upon for guidance and insight. The legal requirements for incorporation were met and on August 10, 1951 the Department received their non-profit charter from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The signers of the charter included: Richard A. Theis, J. Paul Calhoun, David Hower, Timothy L. Wian, Emilian N. Plesz, Dick W. Rhea, Hurley W. Watson, David K. Blair, Chalmer W. Eisaman and Frank E. Poorman.
The early history of the Department was rough and uncertain. A central facility was needed to house the fire apparatus and provide a meeting place. The idea grew into a “Community Center” serving all the residents with a focal point to hold town meetings, social events and fund raisers. Property was purchased in the Wabash Park Plan of lots and plans were developed for a one-bay station and social hall. Ground was broken in April 1952 with the efforts of the executive committee of: Richard A. Theis, President; William Thomas, Vice President; Meade R. Stoner, Secretary; Chalmer W. Eisaman, Treasurer; J. Paul Calhoun, Dick W. Rhea, and Hurley W. Watson, Trustees; Timothy L. Wian, Fire Chief; William Hixson, Captain; David Hower, First Lieut.; and Thomas Tobin, Second Lieut. Funding was secured with a loan of $6.000. from Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Theis. The new community landmark was dedicated on November 21, 1953. The New Stanton Senior Women’s Club was instrumental in helping with the early plans and funding. The mortgage was satisfied on October 1, 1956. The new building was a social hall and fire station that would serve the growing community of New Stanton for years to come.
The early efforts of the volunteers were to provide fund raising activities to augment firefighting equipment. The Seagrave engine survived a freak hurricane that destroyed the first 'fire station,' a one-vehicle garage loaned by Mr. Harry Smith, [operator of Smith's Rest Nest Motel] in August of 1951. This led to the start of the new building in April 1952 and the fire department 'moved in' later that year. Early in 1956, the group realized the need to replace the 1923 Seagrave fire engine with a more modern vehicle. A committee was formed and the search led to the John Bean manufacturing facility in Lansing, Michigan. A 1957 Ford chassis was purchased from Walt’s Ford dealership in New Stanton and in early May 1957, a crew delivered a new 1957 500 GPM triple combination pumper to the small village. Also at this time, the Pennsylvania Highway Department (now Penn DOT) was laying plans for Interstate 70 and needed some of the land owned by the Department for a cloverleaf. The Department negotiated and received $9,000. for several parcels. This had a major impact on the ability to purchase the 1957 fire engine. It’s interesting to note the Department was fighting for their very existence at this time as the highway department also wanted the building land for the new interstate highway. Ironically, with the construction of the new interchange 1,600 feet west, the department is not able to "reclaim" this lost land.
Modernization, however, has its growing pains. The new vehicle was larger and heavier than the 1923 Seagrave and necessitated the erection of a two-bay garage attached to the rear of the existing building. This all-volunteer effort, led by President William I. Hauger, Jr. and Trustees J. Paul Calhoun, John Hilewick and Robert Klingensmith, now enabled the Department to add a squad vehicle for a growing inventory of equipment. The first squad was only a single rear-wheel vehicle and soon became overloaded causing the purchase of a new dual-wheeled, GMC Rescue squad in late 1961. Now, more men and equipment could be carried safely to a slowly growing number of alarms. This purchase marked the organization’s first efforts as 'emergency first responders,' a concept that would not surface in the American Fire Service for many years to come!
With the newest vehicle addition, the membership was well into a new era and an expansion program of the existing facilities (the movement of the kitchen from the present storage room to the now empty one-bay truck room and the renovation of the hall with a new look paneling and lowered ceiling. Efforts to serve the community continued through the annual Christmas treats for the young children and the Easter sunrise service breakfasts for our older residents. See a short video segment of one of those services below from 1955.
As the membership and the community grew, so must the building, and in the mid 1960’s the group erected a third addition, the present two-story clubroom and storage area, again with the volunteers, but also some paid, professional help. Surely the Department would be able to now fully serve the community with a totally complete two-bay truck facility and social room for the membership. With two new vehicles, the 1960’s was a slower decade of growth as no other expansion was experienced.
Again, rapid growth of the community into a motel complex serving the highway hub of Western Pennsylvania, forced the volunteers to look for another triple combination pumper and in January 1970 took delivery of a new Ford/John Bean 750 GPM pumper at a cost of about $23,000. The Department was now faced with a two-bay facility for three vehicles, an awkward position for a group that is to mobilize within seconds to answer the alarm. This new triple-combination engine and the other two vehicles served well until 1975 when the group saw the need to replace the 1962 Squad with a more modern vehicle. Saulsbury Fire Equipment from Tully, NY delivered a modular, light rescue unit on a one-ton Dodge chassis in May 1975. The new vehicle provided much needed support for the ever-growing first responder concept (and alarms) the Department was experiencing.
Paralleling the growth of the new Borough, the membership realized the 1957 fire engine would need replacing and took delivery in September 1977 of a diesel-powered 1,250 gpm engine from the FMC Corporation at a cost of $77,000. The recent construction of larger buildings in the new Borough and expanded housing spurned the expansion of the Departments fleet. The newer engine was larger than its predecessor, just as it was to the 1923 Seagrave in 1957. This new arrival pressed the two-bay facility to its limits. The three units were literally squeezed together, requiring an angular parking situation that was very dangerous, and at the very least, very awkward.
Given the need for more garage and hall space, the building was expanded and remodeled again in 1985 with a new 5,000 square foot social hall, kitchen and four-bay truck garage. With the increasing number of transportation incidents, the Ladies Auxiliary purchased an AMKUS hydraulic rescue tool system for use in vehicle accidents. Additional growth in the borough and limited manpower to raise money for much needed equipment, caused the firefighters to ask borough council to enact a one-mill property tax in 1996 to purchase a new 1999 KME 1,500 gpm rescue pumper at a cost of $311,000. The steady tax income has also allowed the borough to purchase a second engine, a 2007 KME 1,500 gpm unit at a cost of approximately $277,000. The 1969 Ford was finally retired, after 30+ years of service.
More recently, the department [with the continued assistance of New Stanton Borough Council] was able to purchase a used, 2000 KME 75 ft. Firestix from the Benton, SC Fire Department for $70,000. Dubbed Truck 25, the unit is reportedly only one of seven 75 ft. Firestix manufactured by KME. The 1975 Light Rescue was repurposed into Brush 25 about ten years ago. Since then, the nearly 40-year old unit was replaced with a 2015 KME Brush/Tactical unit on a Ford F-550 chassis for approximately $155,000. See more details on the Apparatus page and some photos of the previous units.
The Department has experienced a resurgence recently and continues to be successful in its 65+ year history and hopes to continue its long-standing community service for years to come.