At the turn of the century, the citizens of Rockledge looked to the Pennsylvania Fire Company for fire protection. The company was housed on Fillmore St. in the city of Philadelphia, just at the border of the two municipalities. At the time, the company provided fire protection for Fox Chase as well as the Borough.
On the evening of March 6, 1903, a meeting was held at what was then the Northeast Shrine Club (where the First Union bank now stands). Burgess Charles Nahm called the meeting for the purpose of discussing the ways and means of establishing a fire company that would be propriety of the Borough of Rockledge. A total of twenty-nine men present at the meeting showed a willingness to become members of the fire organization and voted unanimously to do so. They agreed to organize under the name of the Rockledge Volunteer Fire Company No.1 of Rockledge, Pennsylvania. An election was held to fill the positions of the Company Officers, a Captain of the fire fighting force and a Board of Directors. One week later the company met again to establish the company’s by-laws. The first Board of Directors meeting was held on Monday evening, March 16, 1903 and they established the finance, property, entertainment, audit and building committees. At the end of March 1903, The Pennsylvania Fire Company, which had been dissolved, presented their apparatus and equipment to the Company.
Since the original firehouse was located within the borders of Philadelphia , it was necessary to find a new home for the newly established organization. An offer for a firehouse site came in May of 1903 when Mr. Earhardt offered a Sylvania Ave. property for $350.00. His terms were $50.00 down, and the remaining when they found it possible. The balance was to carry a 5% rate of interest. The entertainment committee then planned a fair to raise money for the purchase of this property. At the May 1903 meeting of the company, the members decided to postpone the chartering of the company since its own financial and organizational problems did not warrant the court expenditure at that time. The company had received an alarm bell when the Pennsylvania Fire Company disbanded. However, since they did not have a firehouse on which to mount it, the fire company temporarily mounted it on the Rockledge Toll Gate Building . Water supply was one of the major problems facing the company and a committee was appointed to get this very essential fire-fighting element to the borough through a water system utilizing fire hydrants.
Financial problems continued to stifle the progress of the new company until an anonymous donation of $50.00 was received. Money had been coming in slowly and now the company had money for the down payment on the lot. With this newfound enthusiasm they also decided to apply for a charter. At the June 1, 1903 meeting, Captain Schlett reported the Rockledge Vol. Fire Company had answered its first call. The alarm was a defective chimney at the home of Harry Sheetz, at 139 Central Avenue . Also at this meeting, plans were submitted for a firehouse. The building was to be 14 feet wide and the labor was to be mostly voluntary. Although the firehouse was not quite finished, the ladder truck was housed in it on July 4, 1903.
The July 6, 1903 meeting of the company was held at the Northeast Shrine Club. At this meeting, the Fire Company was officially chartered in the State of Pennsylvania . Also at this meeting, the secretary was instructed to place a public notice of thanks in the local paper for the support given by the residents to the Fire Company. The building continued to progress, insurance and other organizational problems were solved and the treasurer was bonded for $1000.00, receiving an annual fee of $3.00.
The Fire Company made progress in many areas during 1904. They installed an alarm for signaling a fire and made a deal with the electric company to lease the upper "retiring room" for a term of 5 year at $24 annually.
In 1905 and the following few years, the fire company explored many ideas and took several steps to help themselves financially and organizationally. To solve some of their financial problems, they petitioned the school board and the borough council to have their building exempt from assessment. They also resolved to raise the monthly dues to 25 cents per month, effective January 1906. This is still the amount of dues paid by the Fire Company members to this date although they are now collected annually. At one point in 1905 the treasury dropped to 11 cents. Also, in that year the members worked out a reciprocation of assistance agreement with the city fire department when the need would arise for additional fire fighting equipment and men. This agreement proved beneficial to both parties as it often took another city company a long time to arrive in assisting Chemical #5. Also, members from the city company assisted in designing the fireplug layout for the borough.
In 1906, the members seemed to become more aware of the need to plan for the future expansion of the borough. They realized that its hand drawn apparatus was rapidly becoming obsolete, and the members urged the purchase of a combination truck and chemical unit at the cost of $1,100.00. John Schlett, in later years, commented "Isn't it a shame that back in the old days when we had to drag those heavy wagons through the streets over ruts and bumps, through sheer muscle; now that we have powerful trucks with engines to do the brute work, the streets are smooth as glass". The members of the Fire Company began to look for a larger permanent building during this time. Many of the company's actions were governed by this plan for a new building and no major improvements were made to the old one.
In January 1908, a committee of five was appointed to devise a plan whereby our company could build its own firehouse. At the company meeting held on November 1, 1909, the final plans for the new firehouse were presented by the building committee. They called for the purchase of a lot at the corner of Park Avenue and Huntingdon Pike for $500.00 and the sale of the site on Sylvania Ave. of $450.00. They also called for a loan for the building construction for $1,200.00 at the interest rate 5.4% with shares for $10.00 being sold to interested parties bearing 5% interest. The committee reported that construction would be started as soon as the weather permitted. At the next meeting, the members suggested many changes so that the cost could be lowered. A motion was made to rescind the approval for a $1,200.00 loan in lieu of one for $2,400.00, which was approved. On April 10, 1910, the company agreed to sell its property on Sylvania Avenue to the Philadelphia Electric Company and accepted the bid of Grant Irwin to construct the new firehouse at the cost of $4,375 with the occupancy date scheduled for August 1,1910.
The dedication of the new building was highlighted by a large parade on October 8, 1910. The parade marched through the streets of Rockledge and Fox Chase with 33 members of the Rockledge Fire Company in their newly adopted uniforms along with members of other companies representing the Independent and Pioneer companies of Jenkintown, Abington, McKinley, Edge Hill, Glenside, Cheltenham, Oreland, Old York Road , Oconto and Chemical #5 of Philadelphia . Many companies brought along their bands and their ladies auxiliaries. On the evening of the dedication, the Fire Company gave a ball at the Rockledge Opera House, which was largely attended and climaxed a memorable Shortly after the dedication of the new firehouse, the company experienced one of their biggest fires. On Saturday afternoon, November 5, 1910, a fire was reported at the Magerson Mill (which later became Infanta Mills, also the scene of one of the largest fires in the Borough in later years. The McKinley Fire Company and two companies from the City of Philadelphia assisted the Rockledge Fire Company. The blaze took several hours to control and endangered several homes before it was brought under control. Poor water pressure and the crowd hampered the fire companies, as most of the community witnessed the event. At the company meeting following the fire, the company officers were authorized to spend up the $500.00 for the replacement of damaged and lost equipment and to further equip the company with needed tools. Mr. Margerson showed his appreciation to the company by sending them $50.00 and 100 cigars (a courtesy that would truly be appreciated by some of the current members of the force).
During the decade following the occupation of the new firehouse, the company progressed in many areas. One of these dealt with the protection of the firemen in case of an injury or death while in service to the Fire Company. In July of 1908, the members organized a relief association that established a fund to pay the insurance and sick benefits to its members. Also, this association became entitled to funds from the state, paid yearly and based on the insurance premiums paid by the community.
The Fire Company also entered into mutual aid agreements with several of the surrounding communities - an arrangement that continues to this day. These agreements called for the dispatch of men and equipment to any of the communities in the time of a fire that the town could not handle with its own equipment and manpower. This is an important concept in fire protection, as few towns can afford to maintain all the equipment necessary to battle large fires. In the 1915 rating of the borough's fire protection, the Philadelphia . Engine Co. #56 was listed as an auxiliary fire company upon request.
For some time, the need for larger quarters had become increasingly apparent, and in 1953, ground was broken for a new fire station at 505 Huntingdon Pike. Members of the Fire Company, working at little or no cost to the organization, largely handled the construction of the building. The company also realized the need to replace its 1928 Seagrave pumper, which had served the company well but was showing its age. So, in 1953, the company purchased an American la France 750 GPM pumper for a total cost of approximately $16,000.00. The new truck arrived before the completion of the new station, and since it was too large to be housed in the old station, the Huntingdon Valley Fire Company allowed it to be kept in their fire station at night. During the day it was left in the uncompleted new station.
Completion of the new station did not come without incident. One day a concrete truck, fully loaded with cement was parked in the station while unloading cement into the basement. Apparently the floor had not fully cured, because all of a sudden the floor caved in, depositing the truck into the basement. The truck had to be cut apart in order to be removed and to this day a piece of the barrel remains imbedded in the floor.
1953 also marked the 50th anniversary of the Fire Company. To celebrate, the Borough and the Fire Company hosted a Firemen's Parade on September 5, 1953. Thirty-five companies participated along with various bands and floats. The fire equipment was judged for its cleanliness and appearance, and the Horsham Fire Company emerged as the Best.
During the first fifty years of the Fire Company's existence, many events happened which should be noted although they do not all pertain to the physical fighting of a fire. They do, however, influence the effectiveness of the Fire Company. Some of the instances are humorous today. Thus follows some excerpts from the minutes of the Rockledge Volunteer Fire Company No.1
The Company held its annual banquet, charging $1.00 per plate.
A player piano was purchased from Wanamaker's for $195.00.
A Victrola was purchased for $75.00
Memorial Day Committee reported that trees would be planted at Rockledge and Fox Chase Schools in memory of Miss Winchester and two men from Fox Chase who the supreme sacrifice during the World War."
The old ladder truck had been sold for the sum of twenty-five dollars
The chief reported that papers collected had been sold for the sum of $40.00 and that the old ladder truck had been sold for $25.00.
Anniversary banquet was held "with an all night performance" at the cost of $1.50 per ticket.
May 1921 The Auto Committee purchased a REO Triple Combination truck
Section 4 of the new by-laws stated the "each apparatus shall carry a crew consisting of 2 nozzle men, 4 hose men, and a plug man, beside the chauffer and officer."
The refinancing committee reported that Borough Council had raised the Fire Company's appropriation to $600.00 a year, enabling the company to clear its debts.
A siren was purchased and installed.
The Company decided that a system of signals would be worked out for blaring the siren to locate fires in and out of the borough.
A committee studying a new apparatus reported that Borough Council would donate nothing on the financing of it. After much discussion, a motion was made and seconded that the secretary write Council asking that they use their best efforts toward placing a 3 mill tax for fire purposes. (In November, 1974 the voters of Rockledge approved a 3 mill tax for fire purposes.)
At this meeting, the Fire Company went on record as favoring the plan for the Borough to remain an independent borough.
The ladies auxiliary presented the company with 25 silver dollars commemorating the 25th year in the building.
Mr. Holtz, of the Second Alarmers Assn., stated they were ready to form their organization and the company members voted to donate a bell for their apparatus and a fire extinguisher.
Mr. Ott reported that the company had formed a softball team, which was in need of bats and balls. $5.00 was approved for the team expenses.
Chief Harper asked for a suspension of the age limit on "active members during the war", sighting the lack of man power during the day
1942 President Miller reported that the Defense Council had blacked out the firehouse
Mr. Godfrey discussed obtaining Bomb Insurance for the protection of the property and fire trucks. The company voted to obtain this insurance for $19.28.
On the 4th of July 1957, the Fire Company was a victim of a freak accident. In the morning the company participated in the annual Independence Day Parade. In the early evening the company was to participate in a similar parade in Bethayres. While enroute to this parade, the main ladder of the Mack began to rise causing the truck to flip over, injuring 5 men. Fortunately, the worst injury was a broken arm, but the truck was a total loss. Later in the year, the company purchased a 1941 Hale City Service Truck, which was in use until 1966. In 1960, the fire company purchased a 1960 American la France , paid for by Fire Company dances. In 1967, the Fire Company purchased an American la France city service ladder truck from the Beach Haven Fire Department. In 1971, the company took delivery of a new 1000 GPM Imperial pumper. It was the first diesel-powered truck for the Fire Company. It cost approximately$32,000 and was the pride of the Company.
In 1972, the Fire Company had one of its busiest years ever. One major achievement was the introduction of Sunday night Bingo, which, until recent history, was a major source of income for the Fire Company. Also in 1972, the Fire Company spent 3 consecutive days in service helping several communities recover from the disastrous floods that accompanied hurricane Agnes. In 1973, the Fire Company was planning a replacement vehicle for the 1950 ladder truck and in April of 1974, delivery of a new rescue truck was received. It was placed into service a few months later as most of the equipment installation was performed by the company members. The cost of the truck and equipment was kept to $16,500.00
In 1973, the Fire Company reorganized its softball team, and entered the local firemen's league. The league consisted of teams from local fire companies who competed in two divisions, with playoffs and a championship round held each year. The Rockledge Fire Co. softball teams were in the playoffs each year from 1974 through 1978 and were the league champions in 1974,1975 and 1977. The team sponsored a Beef and Beer each year to raise its funds for uniforms, league fees, insurance and equipment.
Another major fire occurred in the Borough on January 19, 1973. A fire from which the occupant of the building had to be rescued from the roof destroyed Sayers Office Machines. In that same year, a fire hit the Breeze Printing Company; an old, established business in town that at one time printed the town's weekly paper. The fire started in the pre-dawn hours and was also fought by the Rockledge, McKinley, Jenkintown and Huntingdon Valley Fire Companies.
Until 1976, the Fire Company had only one fire fatality in its history, but on February 3rd at 6:00 A.M., a major fire struck a home at Fox and Loney Streets. The fire gutted the home and took the life of 68- year-old John Tansey. Men from Rockledge, McKinley and Huntingdon Valley Fire Companies fought the blaze in the bitter cold. The entire community was deeply saddened by the tragic event that served as a grim reminder that fire can strike anywhere, and at any time.
Saturday, March 25, 1978 saw the Fire Company respond to another major fire. This time the Blaetz Brothers Printing Company suffered major damage in the early morning fire. Not only was the building heavily destroyed but all the ballots and election supplies for the upcoming Montgomery County Primary were destroyed. Six firemen were treated at Holy Redeemer Hospital for minor injuries suffered as a result of the fire. Assisting Rockledge in the battle were; McKinley, Independent, Pioneer, Bryn Athyn and Huntingdon Valley Fire Companies and the Second Alarmers of Willow Grove.
In 1978 the Fire Company, after many years of hard work paid off its last remaining debts on the firehouse. This happiness was short lived. A few months later the Fire Company had to take a $22,000.00 mortgage to finance the needed facade construction and interior repairs.
Also in 1978, the Rockledge Volunteer Fire Company #1 celebrated 75 years of service to the community. An anniversary parade was held on Saturday October 14,1978, at 1 P.M.
1987 marked the year the Hook and Ladder Room transformed from social hall to catering hall. The bar was no longer open Sunday afternoon for social members and the hall was being rented for family events. Most importantly, business was picking up. The time had come to replace the aging green tile floor and dark brown paneling that had been greeting guests for the last 35 years. It was decided to decorate the hall to conform with other catering halls. The green tile floor was replaced with a new shinier light color and the paneled walls were replaced with painted drywall painted that was a light open color. The drop ceiling was also replaced. One idea was to replace the long bar with a small portable bar for added sitting room. It was decided to keep the permanent bar as it is today.
Of course, with all construction projects, things will go wrong. The hall is a little unique. Since it sits under the apparatus room, the ceiling to the hall must support 50+ tons of fire trucks and equipment. It was tested and found to be adequate for the current equipment but needed to be reinforced to meet the future need of modem firefighting equipment. Steel girders were added to the cement ceiling to satisfy this requirement. The old steel folding chairs were replaced with more comfortable chairs and the long 8-foot tables were replaced with round tables for a more welcoming feel.
In the later nineties, with hall rentals increasing, other updates were needed for future quality. The multiple hollowed out refrigerators that stored the beer were replaced with a walk-in refrigerator big enough for any party. To meet present and future health requirements, the kitchen was remodeled with a three-station sink and separate hand washing station. A new professional oven with a 6-bumer top was installed, along with a contemporary fire suppression hood and vent. The kitchen is complete a complete facility that satisfies the needs of caterers and hosts. Plans are in the works for a bathroom downstairs for persons who have a difficult time using the stairs to the current bathrooms.
Today, the Hook and Ladder Room is an important and vital link to the health of the fire company. It generates the largest proportion of the fire company's operating budget. The hall is constantly booked, all weekend long, for months in advance.
In 1993, an underground Sunoco APLUS tank leaked gasoline into Rockledge's sewer system. The company was first called to Park Ave but they were able to trace it to the source at the APLUS station. The company spent a full day on the scene, flushing out the sewer system.
The last couple of decades have seen the Borough of Rockledge grow to full capacity. There remain only a few open lots along with some playgrounds on the north and south sides. During this time, many challenges face Rockledge Fire Company in regards to the large industrial buildings and daycare centers in the community. Residential single-family dwellings surround most of the large buildings in Rockledge. With this in mind, the fire company systematically developed preplans on the bigger buildings in Rockledge and worked with area daycare centers to develop escape plans.
One of the buildings preplanned was located at 27 Jarrett Ave. Located in the center of town, Infanta Knitting Mill was a three story hosiery factory, measuring 90' x 180'constructed of all brick walls with structural steel supports and heavy timber flooring and roof. In 1985, the mill closed it doors. Being surrounded by residential homes, any plans for conversion of this property met with heavy protest by residents. Consequently, the building sat abandoned and started to deteriorate. Faced with many obstacles, including oil soaked floors, lack of water supply, exposures and the fact the sprinkler system was no longer being maintained, the fire company updated the preplan in 1992. Expecting a worst-case scenario, a meeting was held with mutual aid companies that would respond in the event of a confirmed fire.
February 13th 1995, shortly before 1:15 PM, children across the street at the Holy Nativity Nursery school were practicing an indoor fire drill. One preschooler, wearing a plastic junior firefighter helmet, looked out the window toward the mill and yelled, "FIRE!" At 1:15 PM, with temperatures below freezing and winds blowing 10-15 miles per hour, Montgomery County emergency 911 center received multiple calls of a mill fire. Stations 9 (Rockledge) , 4 Cheltenham and 8 ( Huntingdon Valley ) were dispatched to 17 Jarrett Ave. Rockledge Deputy Chief saw heavy smoke two blocks away. Knowing that since neighbors reported the call, the wrong address had been dispatched and therefore the automatic dispatch per the preplan was not activated. The deputy immediately requested station 200 (McKinley). Upon arrival of the first engine, the fire company was presented with fire blowing out the 2nd and 3rd floor. Within 10 minutes, the second (Stations: 11, Bryn Athyn; 850,860 Jenkintown; 95 Hatboro) and third (station 500 Roslyn; Eastern Montgomery County Large Diameter Task Force: Oreland, Fort Washington , Wissahickon, Barren Hill, North Penn, Horsham and Colmar ) alarms were struck.
There were a total of four aerial streams, seven deluge guns and six hand lines in service to protect the exposures and extinguish the fire, totaling 12,000 gallons per minute. It was necessary to evacuate seven houses. Two houses were on either side and the others were directly across the street. The fire was placed under control in 3 1/2 hours.
The fire destroyed the mill. Engine 9-1 lost four lengths of supply line, which melted in the street (the line was charged at the time). A two car garage, next to the mill, containing a car was lost. The house on the right side of the mill had smoke damage and a two- story barn was damaged. Houses across the street suffered melted siding and cracked windows. No one was injured and no homes were lost.
The company currently owns three apparatus: a 1981 Supthen, a 1999 KME and a 1992 Rescue Ford Saulsbury. The Sup then 1250 GPM Pumper was delivered and housed in January of 1981. It carries 500 gallons of water, ground ladders, and 1,000 feet of 5" hose. It also carries 6 men. The Supthen got a $3,000.00 overhaul on its electrical system in January of 2003. This included a new strobe light, new wiring, new lighting, and moving the turn signals from the side to the front of the truck.
The 1999 KME 1500 GPM Pumper carries 1000 ft of 5-inch hose as well as a single set of ground ladders: 26ft., 14 ft. and 10ft. long. It also carries up to 9 men, enclosed. It was housed October 17, 1999.
On October 10, 1993, a Housing and Muster was held in the Ackers Hardware parking lot for the new "905", the rescue truck. The committee started looking in 1985 for a truck to replace the 1974 G.M.C. Fire Rescue Vehicle. A special committee spent many hours evaluating the needs of the company. After drawing up specifications and sending them out to manufacturers, a proposal from Saulsbury Fire Apparatus Company of Tully, New York was accepted. The 1992 Ford Saulsbury Rescue Type Vehicle was delivered on March 8th 1993. After several weeks of installing equipment and training drivers, the new truck was placed in service on April 28th 1993. The Saulsbury can carry 8 men enclosed and is equipped to serve as a command post when in service. It also contains first aid equipment, heavy rescue equipment, an Automatic Defibrillator (AED), a 30 ft 6000 watt light tower, a 20 K Watt generator, a 4 bottle Cascade air refill System, and rechargeable gas detection meters that detect four different types of gases.
In recent years, the Fire Company was fortunate enough to purchase equipment for the Saulsbury that would upgrade their rescue capabilities. In the year 2000, the "Jaws of Life" was purchased from the Huntingdon Valley Fire Company. In 2002, a State grant allowed them to order upgrades for SCBA. A grant, facilitated by State Rep. George Kenney, also allowed the company to purchase a Thermal Imaging Camera. The camera displays a black and white image. Heat is represented in intensities of white, and varying degrees of black represents cold. In a smoke-filled room, the hand- held camera allows a firefighter to find a person. It also can be used to determine where a person has recently walked. For example, the firefighter would be able to the footsteps of a child who has walked into a closet to hide from a fire. The camera is also useful in displaying heat or fire within a wall.
In 2002, the Saulsbury became one of only six trucks in Montgomery County that are certified for rescue by the State of Pennsylvania.
At present the fire co. has 52 active force members and 153 company members - 50 of which are Life members. Financially, the company is doing well. It is not as dependent on fundraisers as it was in the past. It now gets approximately 40% of its income from Borough appropriations. The other 60% is obtained from hall rentals and fundraisers such as Pancake Breakfasts', Shrimp Nights, and Beef & Beers.
Last year was the best financial year the company has ever had. It received over $83,000 in Federal and State grants (about 50% from each). In prior years, the most the company ever received was $10,000.
Although fire protection and prevention are the priority for the Fire Company, let it not go unnoticed that there are plenty of occasions for fun, laughs and socializing.
The firehouse itself is the hub of the community. A member is always welcome to stop by, socialize, watch T.V., play ping-pong or playa game of pinochle with anyone else that may happen by.
The Ladies' Auxiliary, which was organized in the 1920's as a social group, provided a chance for the "significant others" of the membership to get together and enjoy each others company. The ladies sponsored social gatherings, ran the canteen at Bingo games and threw the annual Christmas Party for the Active Force. Over the years, the Ladies' became more involved with the operations of the Fire Company. They raised thousands of dollars over the years from many fundraisers that provided the ability to supply the firefighters with equipment that was needed to do their job. The Auxiliary was dissolved in the 1980s.
The Active Force meets Thursday evenings to train and sharpen their skills. For the past four years, they have put these skills to the test by competing in an event known as the "Firefighter's Challenge". Approximately 12 local fire companies, including Huntingdon Valley and all of the Cheltenham companies, attend this competition. It takes place on the first Sunday following Fire Prevention Week. It consists of timed events that involve climbing ladders, dragging hoses, and running an obstacle course wearing a complete set of gear. Other events include an Iron Man competition as well as guarding an apartment and a house during simulated fires. The last event of the day is always a stretcher race.
Another annual tradition for members is the "Turkey Bowl". For many years, they get together with a local Fire Company on Thanksgiving morning to playa game of football.
A classic radio moment in the company's history occurred when responding to a garage fire at the Hathaway house on Sylvania Avenue . The Rockledge Imperial Pumper stopped down the street to lay line and connect to a hydrant. A McKinley fireman, seeing the truck stop up the street, hailed the Imperial over the radio saying "Yo, Rockledge! It's down here!" Steve Neri of Rockledge replied, "Holdonhoney. We're coming. We're coming."
On the night of a Cheltenham "boxer shorts" party, Rockledge got a call. Firemen attending the party showed up wearing only shoes, shorts and ties. (At the time, the members did not use bunker pants, just long coats.) With their long coats on, these guys looked like they were wearing nothing underneath. One of the other members, not knowing about the party, looked at his companion, jumped off the truck and said, "I'm not riding with him!"
In this year, 2003, the Rockledge Fire Company celebrates its 100th anniversary. They are proud of the past and look forward to another 100 years of dedication to the citizens of the Borough and surrounding communities.