The Birth of a Fire Company
Upper Makefield, Pa., develops an idea into a program for fund raising, purchasing apparatus, training volunteers and building a firehouse
There are two ways a new fire company may come into existence. It may be organized as a substation of an existing company or department, or it may start from scratch as an independent organization. This is the story of how the Upper Makefield, Pa., Fire Company was organized.
Upper Makefield Township lies along the Delaware River just below the middle of Bucks County, Pa., 15 to 20 miles northeast of Philadelphia. It is expected to experience serious exurban growth pressures in the next few years.
Fire protection for Upper Makefield had been provided by volunteer companies in four contiguous communities and, to a lesser extent, by a New Jersey company across the Delaware River. However, during the last year or two, it began to be apparent that Upper Makefield could not much longer depend entirely on outside fire service.
The idea of organizing a fire company in Upper Makefield had been around for some time. It had been discussed especially within the Upper Makefield Business and Professional Men’s Association. The earliest discussions proposed inviting the Newtown, Pa., Fire Association to open a substation in Upper Makefield with local volunteers. However, the enthusiasm was limited and the discussions sporadic.
Early last summer the picture changed because a real necessity began to be felt. Because of its previous concern about the problem, the Business and Professional Men’s Association was regarded as the logical group to organize a fire company. Its members voted to provide every assistance but not to be the fire company. From its ranks, an ad hoc committee was formed to explore the situation, and this committee held its first meeting in July 1967. Pro tempore officers were selected, minutes and other records were kept, and the work of organizing the fire company begun.
The first major decision to be made was whether the new company would be independent or a substation of the Newtown Fire Association. After weighing the arguments, the committee decided that independence would be more favorable for obtaining community support. However, they recognized that a close operating affiliation with an established unit could be most helpful during the early years.
After many meetings and discussions with the Newtown Fire Association officers, it was finally decided that Upper Makefield and Newtown companies would, for three years, operate under a formal agreement whereby Newtown would receive alarms and dispatch for Upper Makefield. Newtown would also provide simultaneous backup response varying with the situation. Newtown operated a 240-watt base station which could cover all of the Upper Makefield Fire Company’s area. The arrangement was logical and to the definite benefit of both companies. In addition, Newtown offered the use of its facilities for the 15-week basic fire training school scheduled for last fall.
With the general details of organization and operation outlined, two needs had to be met—personnel and money. The first proved to be no problem. Within three months of the first meeting, 30 prospective members signed up for basic fire training and at least 10 others offered their services.
The Upper Makefield Fire Company was fortunate in having a member volunteer to head its initial fund drive. He relied on two principal ingredients in his program—ideas and organization. These were implemented by getting everyone into the act. Through business associates, he was able to produce a professional fund drive information packet which was hand-delivered to every household in the company area. The packet laid all of the fiscal facts on the line, even to indicating what average family or household response was required. Each household was again visited, and a discussion was held to further explain the aims and immediate needs of the company. Finances were candidly discussed and questions were answered.
Appearance was judged to be important, and each solicitor was requested to dress with that thought in mind. Also, each solicitor was given a fact sheet to help him answer anticipated questions and to assure that such questions would be answered consistently.
A goal of $40 per household was set, and emphasis was placed on the fact that this was an initial capital fund drive with built-in unusual requirements which had to be met immediately. Although the goal was not reached, the fund drive was judged successful with an average contribution level of about $20 per household. Unfortunately, the pressing need for funds dictated that the drive be held between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and there is probably no worse season for us to approach the public for funds.
Also, there was nothing concrete to show anyone, nothing except the story of the necessity for a fire company. It was most fortunate that the idea had virtually the complete support of the business community and other key citizens and that the campaign was carried forward by a team of dedicated doorbell ringers.
At about this time things began to fall into place. First, it was possible to buy a 1949 pumper in good condition from a neighboring fire company. It was felt that some evidence of being was necessary and this proved to be just that. It was displayed at various community functions with a team to answer questions and the fire company became something tangible, more than just idle talk. Next, a home development partnership donated some well-located land for a firehouse. Clearing operations promptly started and a sign notified all that the fire company was coming into being.
Fire school started in October and ran into February, and certificates of completion were awarded to 31 members. Immediately after the basic school ended, all the line officers, elected in January, accepted the chief’s recommendation that they attend an additional 10 weeks of advanced training.
Alerting system used
A communications committee studied the various systems available and inspected installations in several fire companies. Meetings were held with Newtown communications personnel to determine how their alerting and dispatching services could be integrated effectively. A comprehensive report to the company included detailed recommendations as to the type and amount of equipment required for the Newtown base station. The decision to go ahead was made somewhat easier by the offer of a substantial interest-free loan by the Newtown Relief Association. This, plus funds allocated by a community service group, provided alerting monitors for each active member. A Philadelphia newspaper made available some mobile units which needed only to have the frequency changed, and the communications requirements were met.
Fire station planned
Earlier mention was made of the donation of the land for the firehouse, but until May of 1968, the firehouse was little more than an architect’s (a company member) rendition. A building committee, which included the member architect, had been working on plans for a two-bay firehouse with a provision for expansion to four bays, two wide and two deep. The committee visited other firehouses to get ideas and discussed types of construction and materials. Finally, a detailed cost estimate was prepared on the basis of having a contractor do all the work and also on the basis of a contract for only specialized construction areas with the remaining work to be done by the members. The cost of the second approach looked to be about two thirds that of the first.
The company decided to plan on the greater cost figure and, during construction, attempt to reduce that as much as possible by using company labor. Fortunately, Upper Makefield is a community where this approach could be used. Incidentally, two features recommended by the building committee were heartily approved by the membership—a standby power plant and an automatic fire detection system.
Long range financing
Meanwhile, the finance committee explored means of providing the money required. The two committees worked closely so that their efforts were completely coordinated. The result was that, as soon as the membership authorized the building committee to proceed, the finance committee, through a local bank, had developed both a line of credit to permit construction and also a commitment for a 100 percent mortgage at attractive terms.
Equipping the apparatus was carried forward through donations by other companies and prudent allocation of company funds. Serviceable turnout gear and hose have mostly been donated. The JCs donated breathing equipment. Nozzles, forcible entry tools and the like were, and will continue to be, purchased.
Within 10 months, the company developed from an idea to an operating reality and within less than 15 months will be in permanent quarters. New members are joining, and a junior membership program is under way. If there is any formula for success, it might be simply expressed as need plus sufficient dedication on the part of those who believe strongly enough to seek nothing less than complete community support and who are able to demonstrate that this support will not be misplaced.