Among the Buffs

Among the Buffs

Paul C. Ditzel


AFTER 45 YEARS as a fireman, during which time he drove horse-drawn rigs and fought fires from helicopters, Chief George Bertsch of the West Point Military Academy Fire Department plans to retire and become a buff.

Chief Bertsch says he is certain that at 66 he is the only active fire chief who can lay claim to driving horse-drawn apparatus (in Buffalo) to using helicopters while fighting brush and forest fires on West Point’s 16,000-acre reservation.

George estimates he’s fought more than 8,000 fires during his lifetime and is also proud to say he’s never lost a man or had any of his subordinates injured, although he has suffered several major injuries himself.

Aside from his loyalty to the fire service, Chief Bertsch was one of this nation’s most famous track stars and bicycle racers. He has served as an Olympics official and as I write this he is on his way to the Olympic Games in Rome.

George makes a hobby of coaching track and was my first real coach back in the early 1940’s in Buffalo. Even today he keeps in shape by riding his bike around West Point. On a recent holiday he pedaled 56 miles. All of which should serve as some sort of an object lesson to this slightly paunchy ex-quarter miler.

The mails bring the 1960 Edition of The Visiting Fireman edited by Ed R. Damaschke. This comprehensive pocketsized book contains the most complete directory of buffs and buff clubs available and should provide the answer to so many questions posed to this column. The book is available for $1.00 from Ed at P. O. Box 55, Femdale 20, Michigan.

Brer Damaschke also sends along the news that the International Fire Buffs Associates, Inc., have elected the following officers: Edward J. Gill, Chester, Pa., president; Damaschke, secretary; Edward A. Massman, Orange, N. J., treasurer; and the following vice presidents; William H. Perkins, Boston; Julian Forrest, Baltimore; John Ryan, St. Louis; Keith Franz, Milwaukee; Jack Cole, Jersey City; and Harry Haddon, Chicago. The IFBA 1961 Convention will be in Chicago.

Speaking of Chicago, Fire Fan Jeff Schwartz of Engine 78 and Ambulance 6 says that house recently played host to Alejandro (cq) Sanchez, a 26-year-old vamp from lea, Peru. Sanchez is hitchhiking around the world via boat and goat cart and is visiting departments of the 21 nations and 18 states through which he is passing.

Jeff says he is compiling a history on the Paid Fire Department of Chicago from 1858 to 1958 and needs data from 1934 to 1954 because there were no annual reports during this period. “If any of your readers have information pertaining to this era, I shall be more than happy to acknowledge any letters which might reach me,” writes Fire Fan Schwartz, 1032 Waveland Avenue, Chicago 13, Ill.

Fire Buff William E. Selig of 407 N. Pennsylvania Street, Indianapolis 4, Ind., says plans are under way to reprint King’s “History of the American Steam Fire Engine,” at a nominal price. This column is following the progress of this project with great interest and I hope to bring you more details when the book comes off the press.

Eugene Belle, 219 Summer Street, Arlington 74, Mass., is hopeful of buying issues of FIRE ENGINEERING from 1910 to 1945. He also would like to obtain photos and old advertisements for apparatus during that period.

After a too-long period of inactivity, The Third Alarmer, News Bulletin of the Third Alarm Association, is again being published. Editor is Bernard Grandjany, 235 West 71st Street, New York 23. Assisting him will be Mort Greenbaum, Ira Marion, George Meade, and Vince Moses.

First edition of the paper describes how the TAA’ers supplied coffee, doughnuts, sandwiches and a chocolate layer cake to firemen fighting a five-bagger on Staten Island. This accomplishment despite the fact that the fire was 14 miles from the nearest ferry terminal. No wonder New York’s Chief Halligan once said, “If the professional fireman could reach the status of a buff, then he would be the greatest fireman in the world.”

Department of Marital Bliss: In San Francisco, Doc Levin, editor of the Phoenician News, says that when simultaneous second alarms were struck, Phoenician Jerry Snow took in one and sent his wife, Ruth, to the other. Jerry was given credit for the double response on the society’s books.

Not long ago, Baltimore’s 414 Association received a call for coffee service at 11:30 p.m. On the way to 28 Engine to make coffee the buffs saw a sofa and two chairs burning in front of 420 North Broadway. The buffs kept matters under control until Engine 9 and Truck 3 rolled in to hand pump the problem.

Quite a group those 414 buffs:

They attend the Baltimore Oriole and Colt games without fear of missing a fire or being needed on the coffee wagon. Arrangements have been made with the stadium office for a special call for members in the stands. When the stadium’s public address system announces, “Number 298 call your headquarters” the buffs can consider themselves tipped off that duty calls.

Ronald Cohen, P. O. Box 6124, Lakewood, California, is hopeful of buying books, pictures, or anything about the fire service.

That’s about the size-up for this month. Please continue to send your anecdotes and reports to me at 4234 Don Diablo Drive, Los Angeles 8, Calif.

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