Lower Southampton Fire Department

By: Susan Brookes

     The Trevose Heights Fire Company No. 1, located at 466 Elmwood Avenue, Trevose, Lower Southampton Township, in Bucks County, PA was formed in 1929 by a group of approximately ten men and their wives who realized the ever-growing need for fire protection in the community.  This group, dedicated to the concern of community safety, met jointly for a while and then formed separate organizations.  The meetings were held at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Walter Beaver of Elmwood and Park Avenues, Trevose Heights, and then at the Siles School Building on Brownsville Road.

     The Company received its charter on July 31, 1931.  The present site of 466 Elmwood Avenue was acquired during that first year of operation (December, 1931).  A wooden building was constructed on the site to house the first two fire engines, a Red Chemical Truck and a Dodge Pumper.

     The chartering members of the Company were: Walter Beaver, Michael Binsfield, Patrick Corr, Charles Creely, Theodore Creely, Elmer Ervin, Wilson Graves (the first elected chief), Andrew Martin, Peter Martin, and Gordon Shires.  These men chose the name "Trevose Heights Fire Company Number 1," for their corporation.  The Company was organized with the mission “to purchase, or otherwise acquire, own, support, maintain, and operate fire engines, pumping machines, hook and ladders, hose carriers, and all other appliances necessary or proper to be used in and about the successful protection of buildings and other property from damage or destruction by fire.”  More importantly, the Company was formed for the preservation of life in the town of Trevose Heights in Lower Southampton Township, Bucks County.

     Several years later, the wooden building housing the fire equipment was torn down and replaced by a cinder block and wood firehouse.  As it had always been since the inception of the company, all work was done by the members of the department who not only donated much of the materials used in the construction, but also their time, hard work and dedication.  Eventually, a small meeting room and kitchen were added to the building.  This was subsequently remodeled into an office and radio room.  In 1949, another addition was built which served as a meeting room and a social hall.  In 1957, restrooms and a kitchen were added to the ever-popular social hall.

     During this beginning period of rapid growth, the Trevose Heights Fire Company No. 1 also started an emergency aid program to serve the residents of Lower Southampton Township.  This new program all began with a discussion that the members were having one day in the local barber shop.  The conversation was based in the belief that there was a need for an ambulance service in the community.  Not long after this conversation, at a regular meeting of the fire company, it was decided by the members to purchase a used 1935 Dodge Ambulance.  So, in 1942, the members’ dream of an emergency aid program came to fruition and the Company began an ambulance service.  As the community continued to grow, more and newer ambulances were added.  Along with the strengthening of the ambulance service fleet, a trailer field unit and rescue boats with motors were added to the Company's response capabilities.  As the firehouse continued to grow, both in apparatus and in members, business meetings became so involved that in 1955 double officers were elected; some officers were responsible for the fire business, and the others were concerned with the rescue squad operations.

     As the workload continued to rapidly grow with both the fire and rescue responsibilities, members began to concentrate strictly on their area of interest so the company decided to split.  In 1958, the Trevose Heights Rescue Squad received its charter, and in 1960 moved to its own location. This addressed the need of both parties to adequately maintain their own daily operations and house the necessary equipment.  Although the organizations did separate, they pledged to stay fully committed to each other and the community that they served. That promise is still upheld to this very day.

     In May of 1964, the Company purchased several undeveloped properties adjoining their parking lot, opposite the firehouse.  The small building (a former summer home) that already existed on one lot was used to house a refreshment stand during the Fire Company’s annual carnival and to store the carnival stands (booths) when they were not in use.  This building was later torn down to make more parking available for the members of the department.

     With continued growth of the Fire Company and the surrounding community, it was decided in 1968 to re-incorporate as Lower Southampton Fire Company #1.  This official name change took place publicly on January 16, 1969 and better reflected the scope of the community now being serving.  Our forefathers would be proud to know, that if you look, you will still see Trevose Heights on some of the Maltese Emblems.  While the name may have changed, members maintained their dedication to ideals of the founding members.

     In the late 60’s, financial times were hard.  In 1966, an old Chevy van that was used to pull the generator trailer for lighting on the fire ground and a very old (1939) pumper truck, nicknamed ‘the old lady’ were sold to keep the firehouse going. There was no fire tax.  The department survived strictly on donations received from various functions including; filling swimming pools, burn-offs on properties, the annual carnival and coin cards that were collected door to door.  Some residents gave a quarter, some filled the card, and others gave nothing at all.  The meeting/social hall was rented out for functions and there was Bingo Night every Tuesday where sandwiches and coffee were sold.

     These activities held the firehouse together and allowed members to raise enough money to purchase the adjoining lot next to Jack Ferhle’s property in 1971.  The old house on this lot was quickly rented out to a member and the garage was used to store fire equipment (hoses, nozzles, fittings, etc.) because the firehouse itself was narrow and packed tightly with vehicles with barely any walking room between them and the walls.  It was so tightly packed that a hole was actually cut in the wall to accommodate the hitch on one truck.

     In 1971 four building lots, across the street from the firehouse and surrounding the parking lot, were sold off to purchase equipment and pay bills.  Though purchases were necessary, the members, with materials they often provided themselves, performed much of the firehouse building and repair over the years.  One such instance was when the Bingo Hall floor, damaged by termites, needed replacement at a cost exceeding available funds.  Members arrived on a Friday evening, cutting 2’ x 2’ squares in the engine room under the Bingo Hall floor, which was 3 or 4 feet higher than the engine room floor.  Wooden beams were bolted together, coated with grease and placed on top of side lying 55-gallon drums.  A pumper truck was used to push the beams into position where support piers could be built under them.  The wall holes were patched and the weary firefighters returned home on Sunday night, accomplishing a task that seemed impossible only days before.

     During those years, financial luck just seemed to be bad.  One step forward, two steps back.  The Special Service truck engine was beyond repair and needed to be replaced.  So the family of firefighters, young and old, once again spent the weekend at the firehouse when a used cab and chassis section was acquired.  The old, but functional, body was removed and lowered onto the ‘new’ chassis.  This truck looked like a tadpole, a name that stuck.  It sure wasn’t pretty but it worked – most of the time.

     One of the darkest moments in the department's history occurred at 10:15 a.m. on September 24, 1974, when the siren was sounded and the alarm was struck for a reported building fire at the Feasterville Fire Station.  To their dismay, when the members arrived they discovered it was the Lower Southampton Fire Company engulfed in raging flames.  Local on-duty police officers were the first to respond and were responsible for saving much of the firehouse equipment including the fire apparatus housed in the station. The fire burned out of control for nearly two hours, and required the service of 12 neighboring fire departments along with the Trevose Heights Rescue Squad.

     The devastating fire, caused by squirrels chewing through electrical wires, was finally extinguished, but caused severe destruction.  Over three quarters of the station, social hall and kitchen were destroyed.  Fortunately, due to the quick actions of the police officers, there was minimal damage to the apparatus.  However, some of the equipment purchased for the new pumper was destroyed along with many records, trophies, and sentimental items.

     The evening of September 24, 1974 was marked by the return of over 400 volunteer fire fighters and rescue squad personnel who enabled the heartbroken members of Lower Southampton Fire Company to erect a temporary station out of what remained from the old building.  At midnight, three of the saved apparatus were housed in a newly constructed temporary station.  The fourth apparatus was housed by the company's' firefighting brothers at Trevose Fire House on Street Road.

     With the help of local businessmen, directed by Jesse Terry (of Jesse Terry Oil Company), plans for rebuilding were soon underway.  The rental house and garage next door were torn down so that the new building could be made wider to provide storage space and ample room for the fire trucks. On April 12, 1975, ground was official broken for a new building - which was completed the following October.  The new building was dedicated on July 17, 1976.  This is the same building used for firehouse operations today.

     Through the late 70’s and early 80’s there were still financial struggles to overcome.  But as the saying goes, ‘that which does not kill us makes us stronger’.  Money may have been low but determination was high.  Failure was simply not an option.  The members made do with the resources they had available and eventually were in a position to be able to begin the necessary task of replacing worn out vehicles and equipment.

     In 1987, the Fire Department purchased its first custom pumper.  This 1987 Emergency -1 by Federal Motors had a 1500 GPM pump, enclosed cab and many more state-of-the-art features.  A year later, a 1988 Special Service truck was purchased and is still in service today.  This truck is equipped as a fire ground support apparatus with air cascade and light tower capabilities, as well as ladder company operations capabilities.  The cab on the Special Service was a twin to the previously purchased E-1 Pumper.  As the company began to approach the 1990's, members realized that as the new trucks continued to be designed they continued to grow in body length.  In 1990, a building addition was completed which added much needed length to the engine bays, along with a storage room for equipment.  This addition is also home to the Air Compressor Room.  The air compressor unit serves as a base station to fill air tanks for the firefighters and fill portable air bottles stored on the Special Service truck that are used to refill these air tanks on fire scenes. This unit serves to provide breathing air not only to our firefighters but is also utilized by neighboring fire companies as well.   In 1992, Engine 6, (a Pierce model) which has a 1500GPM capability and a mid-ship mounted pump, was purchased and added to the fleet.

     Fire rescue and prevention are not the only services offered by Lower Southampton firefighters.  Hurricanes and regional flooding as well as increased recreational activity on area waterways over the last few years have made evident the growing need for improved water rescue capabilities.  To address that need, Swift Water Training began in 2001 for interested members.  In 2002 Marine Rescue 6 became operational with the purchase of a 19 foot, 1999 Zumro Water Rescue boat that can hold up to 10 people.  2005 marked the qualification of the Department’s first Dive Rescue team.  With a starting contingent of 10, growth of this team continues as more members become certified as divers and as ground support/Tenders.  This training and equipment has already proven its value both locally and assisting neighboring communities with evacuations, rescue operations and evidence collection for local law enforcement agencies.

     The vehicles in our current fleet include a Chief’s vehicle (2005 Chevy Tahoe), Special Service 6 (KME purchased in 2008), Engine 6 (purchased in 1992), Rescue 6 (purchased in 2002) and Marine 6 (purchased in 2006).  It also includes a 1996 Utility Vehicle purchased used from a neighboring department in 2003, and two rescue boats (1999 19-foot Zumro and 2004 12-foot Sea Eagle) that are both dive and swift water rescue capable. In December 2007 the Department acquired a used 2003 Ford Excursion to add to the fleet. Along with the fire fighting responsibilities that the station holds; it is proud to be home to highly skilled and qualified ice rescue, swift water and dive rescue teams.  This commitment to both fire and water rescue illustrates the members’ full dedication to the protection and safety of the ever changing and growing community which they serve.

     The Lower Southampton Fire Department (as it is now known) has a history rich in tradition but flexible enough to grow with the needs of the people who count on us in an emergency.  As we celebrate over ¾ of a Century serving our neighbors, the men and women of the Lower Southampton Fire Department would like to thank the residents of Lower Southampton Township for the opportunity to serve the community to the best of their abilities.  Remembering that without the continued support of this community, our Fire House could not have existed and grown for over 75 years.  For that support we pledge our continued loyalty to the safety of the people that we serve.

     When you look back on this history, the lean times, the bad times, and the sad times, you have to also remember all the good times.  The Trevose Heights Fire Company did not have money or new trucks in the early days, but they had something much better.  They had heart, determination and pride - the pride of a lion.  When the fire station burned, these dedicated members rose from the ashes that same night.  There was no break in protection for the citizens of their community.

     Today the Lower Southampton Fire Department is financially in better shape, due to the generosity of our neighbors in this fine community we share, and call home.  Donations derived from our fund drives make possible the purchase of new equipment and the best quality gear to protect our firefighters, the upkeep of a sturdy, community-useful building, and provide the best training around.  And there is something else present.  The current members still have heart, determination and pride.  New members, young members, male or female, old members rich with history– all continue to make the Lower Southampton Fire Department, formerly the Trevose Heights Fire Company, second to none.

     A special thank you goes out to Doris Troester for compiling much of the historical information before 1964.  Her collection of articles and information provided the base of this history.  Thanks also to Joe White, Joe Ott and others who have preserved artifacts and shared stories about the growth of our department through the years.