For 100 years, the Fairchance Volunteer Fire Department has been providing service to the community.
“It’s an honor for any fire department to be around for 100 years,’’ said William Bailey, president. “It shows what they’ve accomplished and that we are still functioning. It’s a tribute to the people who built this place.’’
He added, “This is not just our anniversary but the community’s as well. They’ve been here to support us.’’
The Fairchance Volunteer Fire Department is proudly commemorating its 100th anniversary this week as it hosts the 73rd annual Fayette County Firemen’s Convention on its grounds at 31 Pittsburgh St.
The convention begins with a memorial service at 4 p.m. today at First Baptist Church that honors firefighters throughout the Fayette County who have died this past year. Other events include Monday, bucket brigade; Tuesday, hose laying; Wednesday, tug-of-war/truck pull; Thursday, battle of the barrel; Friday, gear scramble; and Saturday, parade at 4 p.m. The convention will begin daily at 5 p.m., with competition at 6:30 p.m.
Fairchance VFD will celebrate its anniversary in conjunction with the convention by providing entertainment, games and food. There also will be a car show at 10 a.m. Saturday and fireworks at 9:45 p.m. Monday and Saturday nights.
Bailey, Ray Graham, assistant secretary, and Robert Miller, who is the second oldest member of the fire department and served as chief during the 1970s, were among firefighters who recently sat down to talk about the anniversary.
“A lot of us have 20 years on average. We don’t let them quit,’’ Miller said with a smile.
According to a history, the Fairchance Volunteer Fire Department filed for a charter on a certificate of incorporation on March 15, 1911, with the Robert C. Umbel, president judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Fayette County.
Fifteen names were inscribed on the charter: Emerson W. Cooley, H.W. Ward, William O.D. Hickel, Ray L. Havner, Frank Williams, Minor G. Dunaway, Edward G. Kaiser, Milton M. Darby, Charles Humbert, Ray D. Nixon, Warren G. Dunaway, David R. Sechler, Ewing Humphreys, Guy Deffenbaugh and Lewis G. Walker. The first board of directors included Williams, Havner, Ward, Dunaway and Kaiser.
Fire chiefs who served the department included Troy Huber, Rufus Barkley, Buck Shanaberger, Albert Kapalko, Ken Walters, Raymond Swaney, Gerald Swaney, Jim Miller, Ferdinand “Ike’’ Goisse, Keith Goisse, Harry Swaney, Robert Miller Sr., Dan Thompson Sr. and Dan Thompson Jr. Raymond C. Eicher is the current chief, and the firefighters said Eicher does own a Dalmatian, a breed traditionally known as a fire department mascot.
The history also noted that Robert A. King served as dispatcher for the fire department for 40 years.
In the early years, the firefighters used a hand-pulled hose reel cart to douse flames. The vehicle, which is pictured on a commemorative T-shirt with other fire trucks used by the department, consisted of a cart with two big wheels and a hose in the middle.
“It was almost like the bucket brigade,’’ said Miller.
The department bought its first motorized truck in 1917. Today, Fairchance VFD operates a 1,000-gallon-per minute pumper, a 1,250-gallon-per minute pumper-tanker, a brush truck and a medium-duty rescue/air truck.
The department’s immediate service area includes Fairchance Borough and parts of Georges Township. It provides mutual aid for Smithfield, Collier and Haydentown volunteer fire departments. Fairchance VFD averages between 130 to 150 calls a year, including firefighting and search and rescue.
“Anybody who needs help, we help,’’ said Miller.
How far do they travel to offer help? Department officials have saved a citation from the citizens of Wheeling, W.Va., granted in May 1936 for their assistance with flooding in the city on March 18, 1936.
During the early years, the volunteers were alerted to fires by the ringing of a church bell.
“You had signals for different neighborhoods,’’ Miller said.
In 1922, Fairchance Borough purchased a fire siren that was installed on the Frederick Milling Co. building, the history explained.
But Miller noted, “If the siren didn’t blow, we went by the firemen’s houses and blew a horn.’’
He said that happened as recent as the 1970s, until firefighters began using pagers. Bailey said that firefighters now respond within five minutes of receiving a call.
The history recalled the department was housed in the Fairchance Borough Building after it was built in 1938, until the department was moved into its new building on Pittsburgh Street in 1975 on 22 acres of land donated by the late Charles Guthrie. Members noted the amount of ground is helpful as a landing zone for medical helicopters.
“Our new home was erected in 1970 with our social hall. The apparatus and fire department operations left the borough building for the last time and began here in 1975,’’ the history stated.
The department’s property includes a fire station and social hall with two banquet rooms, which were renovated in the fall of 2009, as well as sleeping quarters for the ambulance corps.
Miller said, “Ninety percent of this was built by volunteers.’’
The department uses the social hall for training. The community uses it for parties as well as a meeting place for Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts. The building also has been used in emergencies.
Bailey said, “We have used our halls for emergency shelter during the big snow last year. We housed people who were without power for one to two weeks. They were able to shower and our ladies provided meals.’’
The history also noted, “The fire department has a wonderful ladies auxiliary that helps with fundraising with the needs of the department.’’
Fundraising is an important function of the fire department as it pays for gear and equipment. The department estimated that gear for one firefighter costs about $2,400, while fire trucks start at $200,000 and average between $300,000 and $350,000. The department explained a first-line truck has to be no more than 25 years old.
“The fire department won’t survive unless you do fundraising,’’ said Miller.
Bailey said, “We have a great community. They are always attending our fundraisers and participate in our fund drives.’’
“The fire department had a band from the 1930s until the 1960s,’’ the history reported. “Tony Chess was the director of this large marching band that played at the firemen’s parades, Memorial Day parades and military funerals. Popular in the tri-state area, they won many awards’’
In addition, the history reported, “We have always been known for our street fairs, held at first in the Railroad parking lot, then several years on DeForest Avenue and then on our new grounds here since 1975. Community Days are usually held during the July 4 holiday week with fireworks. We have also hosted many Fayette County Firemen’s Conventions and the Western Pennsylvania Firemen’s Convention. All of the visiting firefighters always enjoy coming here to our meetings and enjoy a good time of fellowship and fun here at Fairchance.’’
In 1948, the fire department started an ambulance service with the members trained in first aid and other life-saving techniques, according to the history.
“The service continues today with three advanced life support medic units with emergency medical technicians and paramedics giving quality patient care to those called upon in their time of need,’’ the history said.
The ambulance corps also provides for four other departments.
Today’s firefighters recalled the work of those who came before them and those who continue to help their community today.
“It’s a lot of sacrifice with your family — getting up in the middle of the night and praying that God keeps them safe,’’ the members said.
Miller noted that firefighters have to undergo extensive training, including how to work with chemicals.
But fire departments also are more successful at fighting fires today.
Members noted that in the early years, firefighters couldn’t go into a building but stood outside and sprayed the building with water. Today, equipment such as air tanks allow firefighters to go inside buildings to fight the fire.
In addition, the advent of bigger trucks that can hold more water and the availability of water lines in rural areas also contribute to the success of fighting fires.
For the firefighters, the department is more than than a place to go when a call comes through. Members can often be found at the department at night, sitting on folding chairs in the summer and playing cards in the winter.
“We’re like one family here,’’ said Bailey. “We stick together when it counts. There’s a lot of pride here.’’
For more information on membership or how to support the Fairchance Volunteer Fire Department, call 724-564-5070.