Unity Spurs Decade of Progress for South Williamsport, Pa.
To what extent the good is emphasized in a three-company department depends of course on the officers and firemen. In the South Williamsport, Pa., Fire Department the emphasis has been on progress during the last 10 years. These years have seen the establishment of a fire prevention code, an inspection program, a joint fire alarm system, a stress on training, the remodeling of three fire stations, the purchase of two pumpers, a quint and a second squad-rescue truck.
Prior to 1959, fire protection was provided by three independent companies, each with its own alarm system and fire telephone. They are the Independent Fire Company No. 1, Citizen’s Fire Company No. 2, and the First Ward Fire Company. The three companies in 1959 had two 750gpm pumpers, a high-pressure fog pumper, and three combination squad, rescue and equipment trucks.
South Williamsport is just south of Williamsport, with the West Branch Susquehanna River between them. The south limit to the borough of South Williamsport is the side of Bald Eagle Mountain, which parallels the river. The distance from north to south is from 1 to 1 1/2 miles. But the residential and commercial community is from 4 to 4 1/2 miles from east to west. The three fire stations are on the long axis about a mile to 3/4 of a mile apart.
Much of the river bank is diked for
flood protection, which limits the use of the river for drafting. A large area of the mountainside is in Armstrong Township and has no water supply. The township contracts with the South Williamsport Fire Department for fire protection. Under the contract, neighboring Duboistown Hose Company, west of South Williamsport, also participates in fire protection for the township.
In South Williamsport, there are nine public and church schools, eight churches, two shopping centers and more than 100 commercial buildings one to three stories high. The largest industries are the Ray-O-Vac Division of Electric Storage Battery Company, which manufactures flashlight and other batteries, the Keystone Friction Ilinge Company, which makes industrial hardware, and a large cinder block plant. Other industries include a chemical mixing plant, several woodworking shops, a regional dairy, warehouses, a trucking terminal, and three hulk petroleum terminals.
One of the most important steps toward consolidation of the three companies into the present department was taken when the Borough Council, at the suggestion of the firemen, voted to install a consolidated fire alarm system. In the alarm office of the Williamsport Fire Department, a dispatcher now answers one fire reporting number for anywhere in the borough and records the alarm location on a continuous loop tape cartridge. The tape is played back immediately on an
intercom system connected with each South Williamsport fire station and police headquarters.
The dispatcher also sounds a centrally located, air-operated siren. The siren is independent of the commercial power system and will sound during a power failure. The siren is also coded by 43 street alarm boxes, which are tied into local building alarms in schools and factories. The other two sirens are electric and may be started at the station and at a neighboring fire station.
As a backup for the tape, radios are on all nine fire trucks, and the six senior officers have radios in their personal cars. Each unit responding to a tape message is required to notify the dispatcher and repeat the information received from the recording. This is intended to assure the dispatcher that the correct information was received and that the siren, which the dispatcher cannot hear, worked.
Chief elected by companies
The chief of the South Williamsport Fire Department is elected from one of the companies by all three companies at a joint annual meeting. At the same time, two assistant chiefs are elected, one from each of the other two companies. The chief is the spokesman for all three companies before the Borough Council, and he supervises the expenditure of funds appropriated by the borough and controls the alarm system, including the dispatching of equipment. Through the years, these powers have built up the stature of the chiefs office and have increased the unity of the three companies in the department.
for South Williamsport Pa.
The individual companies still conduct their own fund drives and nonfire fighting activities.
Fire prevention program
Another step taken by the Borough Council to promote progress in the fire department was the adoption of the short version of the AIA National Fire Code. Since passage of the fire code, two hazardous properties were removed, a larger number of homes and fields were cleared of brush and litter, and other minor hazards were corrected. Businessmen and residents are usually cooperative in abating fire hazards, but the fire code gives the firemen a recourse if an individual declines to remedy an unsafe condition voluntarily.
An assistant chief, a captain and a fireman are designated as fire inspectors and have been trained in applying the code. Inspections are concentrated at present on larger buildings and those where the public assembles. Inspectors answer all complaints or questions presented by residents concerning conditions in any building. At present, complaints are averaging several a week, of which less than 10 percent require formal complaints. The others are investigated and settled informally.
To improve training, state-sponsored fire schools are held annually to teach new members proper practices. A two-day department fire school is held annually in the early autumn. Open oil pit, tank, and partition fires are built to train members. Practices are held either at a large commercial building with a local industrial fire brigade or on a practice ground built by one of the companies as a carnival grounds.
The effect of these steps has been to draw together the members of the three companies into a closely knit group. Rather than tolerate hazardous conditions for firemen, the department is doing something to correct them. Firemen also feel they are being prepared for dangerous situations by the training program. These feelings are very important to a department’s morale. Very few volunteers are willing to devote time to preserve an outdated system.
The fireman’s response to these developments is obvious. In the last 18 months, firemen have bought nearly $150,000 in pumpers, 5,000 feet of hose, fittings, breathing apparatus and turnout clothing. Since last March, two 1,250-gpm American LaFrance diesel pumpers were placed in service by the Independent Fire Company and Citizen’s Fire Company, and a John Bean quint with a 65-foot aerial and a 750gpm pump was placed in service by First Ward Fire Company.
Funds for this equipment were raised by the firemen with public assistance and the help of the Borough Council. The council levies a tax for fire protection and makes space available for a fire department office in the municipal building. The council bought the joint alarm system and has recently budgeted money for an air compressor system for the breathing apparatus. In the past, the council bought a hydrant steamer, and provided $2,500 each for the purchase of the two pumpers. Nevertheless, the largest amount of money comes from fund-raising by the firemen, who receive widespread community support.
Explores post sponsored
For some time, the companies have sponsored explorer posts in cooperation with the West Branch Council, Boy Scouts of America. The interest shown by the explorer scouts has assured a regular supply of trained firemen when the explorers reach 18 years of age. The explorers attend training sessions and help keep the apparatus and buildings in good condition. Perhaps just as important, they have interested their parents in fire protection and safety.
Among the projects remaining to be done are the widening of access roads to the Susquehanna River for water supply in rural areas and near large industries and the recruitment of additional firemen.
Among the assets of the South Williamsport Fire Department are the borough councilmen, the supervisors in Armstrong Township, the local school board and a host of other officials willing to help. The same situation exists in business circles and in residential areas. The truth is, it seems that everyone is willing to help. If this does not seem to be the case in other communities, perhaps no one is asking them to help.