Southampton Fire Company No. 1 History
I. The Beginning.
In the years preceding 1909, the Southampton area was hit by several serious fires. A group of young men decided to confront this increasing threat to their community. Consequently they mounted barrels, a hose and a rather primitive pump on an old horse-drawn wagon. The finished product was Southampton’s first fire engine.
With its “fire engine” in place, these young men called for a meeting to organize a volunteer fire company. On December 10, 1909, the first organizational meeting of the Southampton Fire Company was held at Fitzpatrick’s Hall. Records indicate that forty-eight men signified their intention to join the Fire Company. The list included a doctor, a lawyer, an undertaker and farmers.
At this organizational meeting, Oscar Meyer was elected President and Edward Schaefer was elected Chief. Just four (4) short years later, plans were initiated for a building to house the Company. As the Fire Company grew, a decision was made to incorporate. C. Wilson Roberts, a charter member, led the charge and acquired a Pennsylvania State Charter. With this charter, the State of Pennsylvania authorized the Southampton Fire Company to become a public corporation. On July 14, 1913 the charter of the Southampton Fire Company was signed. Initially, there were 88 charter members.
By this time, the old primitive fire engine was insufficient to meet the needs of the Company. As such, the decision was made to purchase a horse-drawn button pumper. This was the Company’s first official piece of firefighting apparatus. The button pumper’s long wooden handles were the key to actuating the pump. By moving the handles up and down, the pump would activate thereby providing water to the firefighters battling the blaze. The button pumper spent many years in service before its retirement. When its call of duty ended, it retired to the Philadelphia Fire Museum. Today, it is displayed in the glass enclosure near the main entrance of the firehouse.
In 1911, the Company supplemented its fleet with a hose cart acquired from the Hatboro Fire Company.
II. Early Members of the Fire Company.
The growth of the fire service, both locally and across the County, can be attributed to the efforts of several of the original members of the Fire Company. Oscar Meyer, the inaugural Company president, was often referred to as the “leading spirit” of the Company. Mr. Meyer’s contribution to the fire service extended well beyond the walls of the Southampton Fire
Company. Mr. Meyer was instrumental in organizing the Bucks County Fireman’s Association and later became its first president. The Association honored Mr. Meyer for his service by presenting the Southampton Fire Company with a brass plaque- a plaque that still prominently hangs on a firehouse wall today.
III. A Volunteer Organization Continues to Grow.
In 1914, a firehouse was built at the corner of 2nd Street Pike and Knowles Avenue, replacing the old Winkler’s Drug Store and Southampton Post Office. The exterior of this firehouse was built by John Ramsey and the interior was completed by the volunteer members of the firehouse.
The Industrial Revolution had a profound impact on the country. Horses, long the backbone of America’s transportation needs, were being slowly replaced by automobiles. In 1916, the Fire Company purchased a Lippert-Stewart automobile to tow the button pumper. This acquisition was followed, in 1921, by the purchase of a Model T Ford-Hale Fire Engine, the Company’s first “horseless” fire engine. In 1928 the Lippert-Stewart was sold to make way for a Hahn 4-Tank Chemical Engine. This engine remained in service and responded to fires in parts of three (3) decades. Along the way it received several facelifts. In 1933 it was rebuilt as a water pumper. Then in 1941 it was retro-fitted with a windshield and electric lights.
Similar to the Hahn, the 1921 Model T Ford remained in service until 1936. It was subsequently replaced by a new Autocar Fire Engine with a 500 gallon-per-minute (“GPM”) Hale Pump, in 1938.
IV. “Sound the Alarm.”
The Southampton Fire Company takes great pride in the fact that it has always been a completely volunteer organization. Initially this presented a unique challenge; namely, how could members be notified that their services were needed? In the time before telephones, televisions and automobiles, church bells were rung to signify a fire alarm. As the population grew, the Company realized that it needed a better way to alert its members. Consequently, a siren was purchased in 1927.
V. The Fire Company During the Era of the Second World War.
Fund raising became more important as both the Township and the Company grew. One of the many popular and effective ways of raising money in the 40’s and 50’s was to host carnivals. The money raised was used to purchase equipment and supplies.
In 1942 the Southampton Fire Company purchased three (3) lots at the corner of Street and Churchville Roads with the intention of using the site to host carnivals of its own. Six (6) years later in 1948, Horace Beans and other members erected a building on the lot. This building was primarily used to store items related to the carnivals.
By 1956, the Fire Company was growing and the original building from 1914 no longer met the Company’s needs. As a result, the original building was sold and ground was broken for a new station on August 6, 1956. This new building, located at the intersection of Street and Churchville Roads, was dedicated on May 9, 1957. This station included multiple apparatus bays, a banquet hall, a kitchen, and even housed both the Upper Southampton Police Department and the township tax collector for a few years. An additional apparatus bay and a new meeting room were added in the mid-1970’s on the building’s west side.
VI. The Southampton Fire Company Comes of Age.
Throughout the 50’s, ‘60’s, and ‘70’s the Fire Company filled this new building with newer and more sophisticated fire trucks, each one loaded with the most progressive firefighting equipment for the time.
In 1957, a Dodge 4-wheel drive army command car was purchased and converted by the members into a field truck. This equipment would permit access to the increasing number of grass and woods fires the Company was being called to extinguish.
The Southampton Fire Company blazed a new trail in firefighting in Bucks County in 1965 when an 85 ft. High Ranger Elevating Platform Truck with a 1000 gallon per minute pump (or “GPM” for short) was purchased. This truck served as both a pumper and a ladder truck and ushered in a new area of fire apparatus in Bucks County. Southampton’s “Snorkel” truck was the first of its kind in Bucks County, and only the second in the entire state of Pennsylvania.
The 1970’s were a decade of change for both the country and the Fire Company. Several old, out-dated trucks were replaced while others were overhauled. In 1974, a 4-wheel drive Dodge Power Wagon was bought from the U.S. Government and rebuilt as a field truck. The following year, a 1967 fire rescue truck was purchased from the McKinley Fire Company. Then, on May 12, 1979 the Company celebrated the dedication and housing of a new 1500 GPM Ford diesel powered pumper, Engine 2-1, to replace the 1959 Ford 750 GPM pumper.
The Hurst Rescue Tool, commonly referred to as the “Jaws of Life,” was purchased in 1973. In 1974 Mr. J.D. Morrissey presented a Chevrolet “Blazer” to the Company for use as an auto rescue truck. The “Jaws of Life” and other rescue equipment were initially carried in this vehicle.
Advances in the automobile industry presented new challenges to the Fire Company. Recognizing the need to effectively respond (and act upon) automobile emergencies, the Fire Company purchased and placed into service a new auto rescue truck in November of 1982.
VII. The Modern Era.
Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, the Fire Company made a habit of updating its Engine trucks in an effort to ensure continued fire protection services were provided to the Township.
In 1983, Sanford Fire Apparatus built a 1250 GPM pumper on a Ford chassis, which the Fire Company put into service in 1984.
By the mid 1980’s, the once state-of-the-art Snorkel was no longer capable of serving the Company’s needs. In 1983, after a brief period of time during which it was decided that modernizing the truck would be impractical, the Snorkel was sold. As plans for a new truck were set into motion, the Company solicited bids from several fire truck manufacturers throughout the country. Ultimately a bid was awarded to Emergency One of Ocala, Florida for an 85 Ft. Snorkel with a 1500 GPM pump on an Emergency One Hurricane four-door chassis. This, Ladder 2, was at the time, our most modern and sophisticated piece of firefighting apparatus.
New trucks were not the only signs of progress. There were also advances in how firefighters were notified of an emergency. In 1959, alarm bells were installed in the homes of active members to supplement the sirens. In 1968, these were later supplanted by radio controlled “Instalerts.” In the event of an alarm, the “Instalerts” would give off a shrill shriek that could only have a special place in the hearts of those members who decorated their home with one of these devices. Undoubtedly, to the delight of the members’ wives and husbands, the “Instalerts” have since been completely replaced by pagers that instantly alert our volunteers to emergencies. The pager emits an audible tone in the event of an emergency. This tone is accompanied by the address and a brief description of the emergency.
Over the years, the Fire Company supplemented its arsenal with various pieces of auxiliary equipment such as hoses, portable pumps and generators, breathing equipment, and resuscitators.
As firefighting technology and equipment became more sophisticated over the years, the Fire Company once again outgrew its quarters. In 1995, a committee was formed to investigate the possibility of renovating or replacing the existing firehouse. After thorough deliberation and consultation, the Company agreed on a plan to renovate the existing firehouse, and work began in May of 1999.
Throughout the construction of this building, the Company was able to provide uninterrupted fire protection services to the community, thanks in large part to the owners of New Age Industries (formerly Double-H Plastics) at 145 James Way in Southampton. The Fire Company temporarily relocated its apparatus to this building for the duration of the renovation project.
Construction on the new fire station was complete less than a year later, and the Fire Company returned to its present home on March 22, 2000. On May 13 of the same year, a ceremony was held dedicating the building to “The past, present, and future members of the Southampton Fire Co. No. 1 in recognition of their unselfish service to the citizens of Upper Southampton Township.”
We reflect with pride and a wonderful feeling of accomplishment on these many years of volunteer service to our community. This Fire Company has worked long and hard to provide the best in training and equipment to protect your home and family in case of fire or other disaster.
This could not have been accomplished without the wonderful support of the people of Southampton and we thank you one and all.