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History


Drawing by Julia Longacre of the Friendship Hook and
Ladder Company's First Truck House.

 

The Beginnings

The first meeting of the Friendship Hook and Ladder Company of Boyertown, for the purpose of organizing, was held on May 8, 1882, with six men in attendance. The meeting was held in a hall known as Boyer’s Hall, which is now a part of the upper floors of the D. B. Boyer building at Philadelphia and Reading Avenues.

George Endy was elected as the first president and chief, and Frank Deysher as the first secretary of the company. The motto, “We seek to rescue and to save,” was adopted and the company still uses the motto today.

On July 7, 1882 a release was signed for the Pennsylvania Railroad to ship the first piece of equipment free of charge. The first equipment consisted of a hand drawn hose cart.

 


The original hose cart used by the Hookies. This
picture was taken in 1962.

The first “truck house” of the company was a small shed on Third Street, about halfway between South Reading Avenue and Chestnut Street. The members themselves, in three months, on the present site of the Cumberland Farms Gas Station and Convenience Store, built the first company-owned building, across the street from the present quarters at South Reading Avenue and Warwick Street. The lot itself was leased because of the lack of money to buy it.

The company received a charter of incorporation on February 8, 1889. The second piece of equipment, consisting of a ladder wagon, was built by W.W. Wunder of Reading and was secured in 1896. With the use of the ladder wagon, a racing team was organized and it was the ladder racing team, which spread the reputation of the company throughout the state. The racing team reached its peak when it won the state championship for ladder climbing in a state competition in Philadelphia in 1901. They set a record time of 36.25 seconds and this record was never broken. The ladder wagon remained in the company’s possession until November 6, 1941, when it was sold to an area farmer for $25.

 


The first ladder wagon with the original charter members.

The Fireman’s Relief Association of Boyertown was founded in February of 1902, after this company participated in its first major fire. This was a fire in the bakery of George Carver, the site of which is now occupied and converted into apartments at East Philadelphia Avenue and Jefferson St.

A second hose cart (used) was presented on behalf of the Rainbow Fire Company of Reading by W. W. Wunder, on October 2, 1902, after a building committee of three was formed the month before, to build a new firehouse. This hose cart was eventually donated to the Boyertown Body Works as an antique piece.

 


Picture of the Hookie's second truck house, located
at the intersection of S. Reading Ave. and Warwick St.

 

A New Building

William Find, of Reading was appointed as architect and a new building was built directly behind the original building. An impressive cornerstone-laying ceremony was held on November 1, 1902, when Charles D. Spats, publisher of the Boyertown Democrat, made an address and a Dr. Brunner, of Eshbach, followed with a speech in Pennsylvania Dutch. The sixteen by nineteen inch granite stone was placed in the northwest corner after the following articles were placed therein; a copy of the Boyertown Democrat and Reading papers, a history of the fire company, a list of all who subscribed one dollar or more towards the erection of the building, proofs of coins for the year 1902, a copy of the constitution and by-laws of the company and a copy of the Holy Bible. The same stone was removed from the building and placed in its current location at 10 Warwick Street, along wit a new cornerstone bearing the inscription “1962.” The sealed contents of the 1902 stone were left intact and not opened.

 


A drawing by Julia Longacre showing the second Hookie house
located at the intersection of S. Reading Ave. and Warwick St. (the
current location of Cumberland Farms).


A Tragedy Known Worldwide

The Rhoads Opera House fire on January 13, 1908 remains the most tragic fire in the history of Boyertown. One hundred and seventy people lost their lives. This tragedy first pointed out the shortcomings of the equipment, which resulted in the purchase of a 60-gallon chemical fire truck on August 5, 1909. The first alarm bell on the equipment was also purchased the same year and installed on this truck.

Because of the general state of confusion and panic during the opera house fire, the need in the town for police protection during emergencies was apparent. The company appointed the first fire police on February 3, 1910, with Henry Gruber as the first police captain. The fire police, at first, were restricted to fire call duty only but are called upon today for any kind of emergency or general police duties.

Modern Equipment

Modernization of the times called for motorized equipment and on May 21, 1917 a motorized Seagrave pumper was purchased by the borough of Boyertown at a cost of $12,500. This engine was reported as the first Seagrave engine in eastern Pennsylvania. This engine served the company well for 30 years, before it was donated to the Barto Volunteer Fire Company and served as their first piece of equipment.

The old chemical tank wagon came in for modernization when a used Chadwick car was bought on June 6, 1920 and converted to fire use with the installation of the old chemical tanks. This conversion was done by the Boyertown Carriage Works, free of charge. Improvements were again in order on October 5, 1922, when an International truck was purchased at a cost of $745. This International chassis replaced the old Chadwick chassis. The chemical tanks were later changed to carbon dioxide and pressurized in April of 1934. This truck served the company well until 1940, when it was sold to the Reading Airport for $275.

 


An International chemical truck purchased in 1922 and
used until 1940, when it was sold to the Reading Airport.

The value of the company was again pointed out on May 28, 1926, when fire threatened to destroy buildings of the Boyertown Burial Casket Company. The height of the buildings showed a need for a modern ladder truck, but this would not be realized until twenty years later. Then a new Seagrave 65-foot aerial ladder truck was ordered at an estimated cost of $20,000 on March 7, 1946. This also included a 750-gallon pumper. Because of the material shortages of World War II, delivery was not made on this truck until September 25, 1948 at an actual cost of $19,982. This ladder truck was the pride of the company for 30 years until it was sold to a fire company in Harrisburg to make room for the company’s 1976 Seagrave 100-foot ladder truck, that was delivered on March 23, 1976 at a cost of $85,000 after being in the planning stage for two years.

Fire Police Gain Recognition

The company fire police organization gained additional recognition after the casket company fire, when the borough outfitted the fire police with their first official police uniforms on June 21, 1926. From this time on they supplemented the regular borough police on a part-time basis. They are still used today on special occasions and are subject to immediate call for any emergency by the borough police.

Alerting the Public

In February of 1947, the Tung-Sol Electric Company donated the company’s first tower siren. This was replaced two years later with a larger and louder model at a cost of $360. This siren was used for years. It is now used by the Gilbertsville Fire Company to alert the residents of Gilbertsville.

Prior to the installation of electric sirens, all fires were sounded with the hammering of an old rim from the wheel of a locomotive. This rim was six feet in diameter, nineteen feet in circumference and weighed 950 pounds. The clang from it could be heard over a wide area. Older residents of the area can attest to the fact that there was never a doubt when the “Hooks” alarm was being sounded. The alarm was supported by an iron crossbar extended from the ceiling of the fire steeple. A hammer-like object was fastened near the rim with a long chain attached. The chain, reaching to the first floor, was merely pulled when the alarm was to be given.

New Technology

One of the latest improvements to increase fire-fighting efficiency was the installation of two-way radios on each truck and the purchase to two walkie-talkies in August of 1954. A base radio station for Boyertown and nearby areas was established in the Hookies building. Hookie members voluntarily manned this base radio station for several years, until a community emergency control center was established in borough hall.

The usefulness of the two-way radio system proved itself five months after the installation, for on December 30, 1954 the Hookies engaged in the biggest fire-fighting operation in its history. The fire, fanned by high winds, leveled the L. H. Schmoyer lumberyard and severely damaged several homes. This fire was the work of an arsonist, who was convicted and served prison time for his crime. Fortunately, there were no casualties, but the fire chief estimated the financial loss to be about $235,000.

The company’s first truck to carry additional emergency and rescue operations equipment was purchased on October 7, 1943 and consisted of a used Chevrolet panel truck. This truck was disposed of on a bid of $106 on June 4, 1959, the same day the new emergency truck arrived. This emergency truck had a van-type body built on a Dodge chassis at a cost of $4661. It was used to house and transport such equipment as a resuscitator, emergency lighting equipment with a portable generator, litters, extra hose, boots and coats. This truck was disposed of by bid in 1980 and was purchased by the Bally Goodwill Fire Company. In May of 1980, the company received its latest rescue truck at a cost of $64,000. This was paid for by the Community Development Funds from the Borough of Boyertown.

 


The 1959 Dodge Rescue Truck used by the Hookies
until it was disposed of in 1980.

A Dodge crash truck equipped with emergency tools and a high-pressure water pump was purchased on April 1, 1948, at a cost of $2476.95 and the utility-type body was built by the Boyertown Body Works at a cost of $2640 and donated to the company. This truck served the company for 22 years and was disposed of by bid to the Upper Frederick fire company in 1970. The company’s current crash truck was purchased in July of 1970 at a cost of $14,312.

Engine 15

The old building was sold to pay for the addition of a 1966 Seagraves 1000gpm engine. This was an anniversary model with the long front end and chromed nose. This unit continued to serve until it was replaced in 1986 by a Spartan/Pierce 1750gpm engine. The cost of this unit was $164,000.00. The new engine had a hose bed capable of carrying 2000' of 5" supply hose and 900' of 3" hose. The 5" supply hose was bought and the Ladies Auxiliary of the company purchased all the adapters. It also has an automatic ladder rack and four preconnected attack lines. The unit has a top mount pump panel, which allows the operator to see the entire fireground. The unit is still in service to this day as Engine 15. The 1966 Seagraves engine was sold to a private collector for $3,300.00.

 


1966 Seagraves Pumper. This was later
replaced by the current Engine 15.

 


Engine 15 is a 1986 Spartan/Pierce Pumper. Click on the
image to learn more about the Engine 15.

 

Rescue 15

It became evident in the early 1990's that the company was fast outgrowing the current Rescue Truck. A committee was formed to evaluate the possibility of replacing this unit. The fire company allowed the truck committee $250,000.00 for the replacement of this unit. After nearly two years of searching vendors a contract was signed with Kovatch Motor Equipment of Nesquehonning, Pa. for a 21' walk through rescue vehicle built on a KME MFD chassis. The unit was delivered in April of 1996 at a cost of $249,800.00. The unit has a 20' Wilburt 6000watt light tower, 40kw PTO generator, two 250' electric cord reels, two 100' hydraulic tool reels, and one 100' air tool reel. The unit also has a full command center on the interior with four mobile and six portable radios, cellular phone, and writing desk. For rehab, the unit has a refrigerator, microwave oven and is heated and air-conditioned. Shortly after putting the unit into service the Hurst gas power unit, which runs the "Jaws of Life" that was purchased in the early 1970's, failed and needed replacing. The Apparatus Crew asked the Ladies Auxiliary to purchase a replacement unit and they agreed at a cost of $5,700.00. The KME unit is still in service as Rescue 15. The 1980 Pierce rescue was sold to a used apparatus dealer who subsequently sold the unit to a fire company in Arkansas and still in service.

 


Rescue 15 is a 1996 KME Rescue Truck. Click on
the image to learn more about Rescue 15.

 

Brush 15

In late 1998 the pump on the 1970 Dodge Powerwagon brush unit failed and a committee was formed to check the options on the repairs. It was decided to purchase a drop in skid unit to replace the current pump and tank. Members performed most of the demolition of the old unit and a new skid unit was ordered at a cost of $8,500.00. Upon arrival of the new skid unit both were sent to Borchelt Welding and Fabricating in Boyertown, Pa. to rebuild the unit for the new skid unit as well as the old hose reel and a 3500watt Honda generator. The unit was also sanded and prepped by members for repainting and lettering by Faust Auto Collision in Boyertown, Pa. The total cost to refurbish the unit was approximately $10,000.00 and the unit was put back into service in September of 1999.

 


Brush 15 is a 1970 Dodge Powerwagon modified as a brush piece.
Click on the image to learn more about Brush 15.

 

Ladder 15

Early 2001 it was discussed to form a truck committee to look at replacing the 1976 Seagraves ladder truck. The company granted permission and the committee began the task of writing specifications for a new unit. After over a year of meetings with vendors and trips to look at units it was decided to purchase a Pierce Lance 105' Aerial Ladder. The unit was designed to be used as an "In front" of the fire building truck. Some of the features the unit has are a 25kw hydraulic generator, which supports over 5000 watts of permanent and portable lighting as well as four 200' electric cord reels. The unit also carries over 150' of ground ladders. For ventilation there are two positive pressure and two negative pressure smoke ejectors on the unit powered by both gas and electric. There is seating for eight fire fighters in a climate-controlled cab with heating and air conditioning. There are also four gas powered and two electric saws used for ventilation and forcible entry. There is also a wide variety of hand tools and salvage equipment carried. The unit was placed in service in October 2003 at a cost of over $588,000.00 for the unit less equipment. The unit is designated as Ladder 15.

 


Ladder 15 is a 2002 Pierce Lance Ladder truck. Click
on the image to learn more about Ladder 15.

 

An Investment

In late 2002 the Fire Company was approached by the VFW about possibly purchasing their property, which is adjacent to the fire company property. A committee was formed to look into the feasibility of this purchase and it was decided to purchase the property at a cost of $95,000.00. After the property was acquired the committee was looking at ways to utilize the property and the building. It was determined to do some upgrades to the stone parking lot for additional fire company parking and the committee met with several local realty companies for ideas on the building. Although no usable ideas came from these meetings it was decided to "winterize" the building and use it for storage. After several months the owner of a local dance studio approached the Fire Company on the possibility on renovating and leasing the building for their business. Several meetings were held and it was decided to renovate the building for leasing as a dance studio at an estimated cost of $50,000 for renovations. The project took several months to complete and the dance studio opened in late 2003 with total costs of close to $70,000 for renovations to the building and site to meet today's codes. At the same time this was occurring, it was decided that the kitchen in the existing firehouse needed to be upgraded as the ventilation hood over the grills did not meet code and would not be recertified after November 2003. A contractor was hired and the kitchen was totally renovated with the help of fire company members at a cost of $45,000.00. The new kitchen was inspected and passed the current codes and is operating to this date.

The “Hookies”

Today’s membership in the Friendship Hook and Ladder Co. totals over 2,500 members. The increased membership and the need for more engine room space sparked the plans for a new building late in 1945. The first transaction by the building planners was the purchase of the lot on which was located the Old Keystone Hotel. The price was $35,000. The original sketch submitted by an architect in 1948 called for a capital outlay of $325,000. The original plans were revised and after several days, the present building of the “Hookies” was finally built at a cost of $123,000 with an additional $15,000 spent for new interior equipment.

Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on July 11, 1961, signaling the start of the new building. To keep the costs to a minimum, the members themselves performed much of the work, free of charge. The new building is actually the climax of 17 years of planning. Total project cost was $154,000.

The cornerstone-laying ceremony was held on June 28, 1962. Placed in the cornerstone were a set of 1962 proof set coins, a scroll listing all of the company officers and house committee members, the Bible, a patron donor list of persons who contributed $5.00 or more, a copy of the 1962 by-laws, a company history, and a copy of the dedication book. Also included in the cornerstone were mementos from the building dedication, including a parade badge, a book of matches, and imprinted glass, four issues of the Boyertown Times and an 1886 silver dollar.

 


The current "Hookie House" located on the
corner of S. Reading Ave. and Warwick St.,
in the Borough of Boyertown.

On March 17, 1966, the old fire company building was sold to the Gulf Oil Company for $30,000. The building was subsequently demolished. During June of that same year, the company’s original hose cart was loaned to the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles for display.

To this day, the Hookies continue to service the Borough of Boyertown and surrounding areas. Our dedication and passion shows in all our work, be it public protection, fund raising, or just everyday life. When you hear our siren and look up to see the maroon fire trucks coming, you will know, "The Hooks are coming."

 

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