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Public Safety : Fire Protection : Excelsior Volunteer Fire Company

Excelsior Volunteer Fire Company

Company History

At the midnight hour in the latter part of July 1891, the shrill whistle of a locomotive announcing a fire threatening the business section of town awakened Bellwood.  Every man who heard the alarm ran to the fire. The fire destroyed one section of the town. A bucket brigade that was quickly formed did valiant work and the absence of wind helped its efforts to prevent the fire from spreading. This fire impressed some of our citizens with the need of an organized fire fighting force. After some preliminary work and discussion a meeting was called on August 11, 1891 at Cornmessers Hall.

The meeting was full of enthusiasm and the group decided to organize a fire department. A committee was appointed to prepare the constitution and by-laws. This committee completed their work and reported to the following meeting. The Excelsior Hook and Ladder Company was formed on October 12, 1891, and the organization was chartered by the state of Pennsylvania.

On September 1, 1891, the company purchased its first fire equipment, consisting of a hand chemical engine and a hook and ladder truck.

March 27, 1894 the members made a motion to change the name of the fire company from Excelsior Hook and Ladder No. 1 to the Excelsior Fire Company No. 1 of Bellwood, Pennsylvania. With the company growing in size on October 2, 1894 the members decided to move up to four pieces of fire equipment and they purchased a hose cart from the Excelsior Hose Company of Altoona for the price of $100.00.

On June 15, 1896, the company granted permission for the company representative to negotiate with the Methodist Church to purchase the old church. The first meeting in the new fire station was held on February 27, 1900.

In November 1898 the Bellwood Light Co. purchased the first fire siren and placed it on their building. The superintendent would blow the siren when needed. At that time the company set codes for fire alarms at different locations in the Borough. The borough was divided into four wards, and out of town fires would be indicated by 7 blasts of the fire whistle.

On March 1, 1903 with the growth of the town and the gravity pressure, fire firemen were encouraged to greater efficiency. A hose reel was purchased and the Borough council bought a hose and ladder wagon. The necessity of more power and speed resulted in the purchase of a team of horses on March 11, 1903. The price for the team was $550.00. During most of the years this wagon was in service, Mr. George W. Wiley provided horses and drive. Horses were housed in the Livery Barn of Harry Clark Cornmesser.

Our Relief Association was granted a Charter on April 27, 1908. During this time a real pumper was a "fireman's dream." A campaign was launched to purchase a Stutz Pumper. The goal was set at $12,000 of which $10000 was pledged and $8000 paid. The Firemen by their own efforts raised the difference and this dream came true. June 1, 1920, the company purchased a 600-gallon Stutz Fire Pumper. This was followed by a Sewart Hose Truck and a Buick Ladder Truck equipped with liquid fire extinguishers. The Firemen at their own expense built these two trucks.

From 1928 to 1938 the Fire Company built their own fire trucks from the vehicles donated to them by the Fouss and Glass Mortuary. The first vehicle was a Buick hearse. The company placed the vehicle in the W.R. Bush barn where they cut the frame apart, lengthened it, and made a hook and ladder truck. The second vehicle donated by the mortuary was a Rockfalls hearse. The company again cut the frame, lengthened, and placed the equipment from the other vehicle on it. Work done on this vehicle was performed at the Bush barn and at the C.C. Keith machine shop on North Antis Street. This vehicle served its purpose until December 12, 1950 when the hook and ladder truck from Bellefonte was purchased. The members built these trucks on their own time.

In August of 1938 the Stewart Hose truck finally gave out and would not pass inspection. At that time the company took a small step back and returned to the use of the old hand drawn hose truck. After informing Borough Council, the council agreed to purchas a chassis rather than the whole apparatus. One year later the company received a General Motors Truck chassis from Lingenfelters Garage for the price of $700.00.

The company took the GMC to Pipers Body and Paint Shop for a body to be added. The cost was $789.37 and by 1941 the company had a new hose truck that they used until 1997 when the truck was sold to Thomas and JoLane Whiteford for the sum of $1005.00. This truck is still used by the company today for special events. This truck is remembered by all of us in the town as our first fire truck ride.

On October 12, 1946, after months of planning, the firemen purchased their first custom built fire engine. It was a Mack powered by a 213 horse power gasoline engine, with a 750 gallon a minute pump, and a 150 gallon booster tank. This engine cost a total of $10,000.00. The company was now operating the 1946 Mack, the 1939 GMC hose truck, and the Rockfalls Ladder Truck.

On April 13, 1950 the Borough Council placed a proposal on the election ballot for permission to build a new building. The voters approved the proposal by one vote majority at the April election. The Fire Company was notified that the trucks would be stored in the Loganbell Dairy for the winter months. The siren was to be placed on a telephone pole at the site of the new building. Mountain City Junk tore down the old hall. The Fire Company stored their relics, records, and small equipment in the John Cornmesser building. During the spring of 1950 the building was a victim of a major fire, with the top floors burning. Both the company and the Borough Council lost valuable property. The Borough Council received bids to construct a new building. The cost of rebuilding was $45,000.00. The cost of plumbing, heating, electricity and concrete apron work totaled approximately $25,000.00. A total cost of the unfinished building would reach $70,000.00. This did not include the finishing of the basement or the borough offices. Borough Water Rents and the Secretary's Office were at the C.F. Wertz residence on North Cambria Street. In the spring the fire trucks were removed and placed in the Borough Shed on North First Street. The building was far enough along to house the truck for winter. In October 1951 trucks were back in the hall.

In September of 1956 the company attempted to start an Ambulance service. A committee was appointed and the fire company gave the ambulance officers permission to house the ambulance in the fire house. The first ambulance was a 1948 Packard, purchased from Bob Irvin International Truck Sales of Alexandria, PA. On October 23, 1956 it was voted to adopt the ambulance association into the fire company. The service later advanced to a 1970 and 1973 Pontiac ambulance, then to a 1980 Dodge Van, and a 1982 Ford Van. With the growing community, in June of 1983 the ambulance service branched on their own and moved to their present location at North Third and Tuckahoe. By April 1, 1996 the ambulance service instituted its paid staff 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

On March 3, 1972 the fire company made another first when they voted to purchase a Mack Tele Squirt. Chief Jack Dunn stated that this apparatus was the first of its type in Pennsylvania. It was a Mack Model 650 diesel engine, cab forward body with jump seats, 500 gal. booster tank, hose bed, a 1000 gpm centrifugal pump, two booster reels, but what made it different was that the 50 foot ladder and prepiped waterway to a nozzle could be operated by one man at the back of the apparatus. A motion to purchase this truck was made by Clair Greene. As he stated, it was time to move into the 20th century. Second came from Joseph A. Whiteford. The cost of this vehicle was $63,000.00. The Borough co-signed the note for $26,000.00 at the rate of 4% interest. On Decemeber 26, 1972 chief Dunn reported that the new truck was finished and two members needed to fly to St. Joe, Missouri and drive the truck back to Mack Inc. in Pittsburgh for final service. This piece of apparatus remained in service till May 2014.

In February 1976 the company sent 23 members to county fire school, the most from any one company.  

In December 1977 with a new egnine on order from Mack, the 1946 was sold to Mill Run fire company for the cost of $3,500.00. On March 7, 1978 a new Mack 1000 gallon a minute pumper was delivered to the station. This engine also had a closed cab and many added features to make it as up to date as it could be for the time. The cost was $71,053.00. The 1978 Mack engine stayed in service until it was replaced with a Spartan Salusbury Rescue/Engine in the year 2001.

In February 1989 with the 1963 engine not getting any newer, the company voted to upgrade and purchase a W.S. Darley Pumper/Tanker for a cost of $179.427.00. The new piece of apparatus was delivered in June of 1990 and is still in service.

In March 1991 the company, feeling that they were outgrowing their station, first talked about the purchase of the South Side School Property. The Fire Company acquired the lot for the new fire station, South First and Boyles Street, from the Bellwood-Antis School District. On April 4, 1998 ground breaking was held for the new fire station. The approximate cost of the new fire station was $300,000.00. Since the completion, fire station has become the social hall for the town. With the cooperation of all the men and women many dinners have been catered.

The new century brought many new ideas to the company. Along with fund raising and training in fire suppression many members felt that we needed to move forward in the ways of rescue. After much more training and working to raise money for specialized tools, the company became a Rescue Company with the purchase of a 2001 Spartan Saulsbury Rescue/Engine, the first one of its kind in the area with a rear mounted pump.

In 2009 through an AFG Assistance to Firefighters Grant the fire company placed into service a mobile breathing air cascade system. This system is mounted in a 16’ aluminum trailer and equipped with a 13cfm gasoline driven cascade compressor. This unit has become a vital asset to the surrounding area, responding to emergency incidents and provides cascade services to fire training programs.

In 2011 the fire department designed and built a Ford F550 Rescue/Squad. As our services increased it became evident to the members the need for a multifunctional unit. The rescue/squad was designed to cover multiple functions including, respond as a second due rescue to support operations and tow the mobile cascade system.

On May 2nd 2014 the company placed into service a 2007 Pierce 105’ quint fire apparatus to replace the aging 1973 Mack 50’ Telesquirt. The 1973 Mack was sold to The Schuykill Historical Fire Society in Shenandoah, PA where it was placed into their museum.

This history was compiled with the help of Robert Bush, Jack Evans, Robert Weiser, Scott Delozier, Thomas Whiteford and many other people who helped in many ways. I wish to thank everyone. Without their help this could not have been completed.