In the first years of the 1900's the town of Paoli was nothing more than a crossroads village on the Philadelphia-Lancaster turnpike (now Route 30). Centered on the intersection of Valley Road and Lancaster Avenue, the town was a rest-stop for weary travelers in need of supplies from the general store or accommodations at the historic General Paoli Inn. However, Paoli was beginning to experience a transformation. The Pennsylvania Railroad had a yard and offices located just a few feet from this intersection, and with the success of train travel Paoli was becoming a bustling hub of commercial and residential activity. During this time fires were fought by bucket brigades of farmers, storekeepers, railroad workers and town residents, while newly formed fire companies in Berwyn and Malvern would rush in to lend assistance. In 1904 a tremendous fire swept through the General Paoli Inn completely destroying the beautiful pre-Revolutionary War era structure. The stark stone chimneys and blackened timbers of the wreckage apparently fueled the idea for the creation of a local fire company.
During the winter months of 1908-09 sixteen townsmen met to forge out a charter that would become the foundation of the new fire company. These men included:
George W. Kohler (President), Robert F. Matthews (Vice-President), J. Harvey McAllister (Secretary), J. Harvey Dewees (Treasurer), Edward F. Brackens (Chief), Clarence Wagar, George R. Sinnickson, Robert Holmes Page, John G. Eachus, James J. Rowe, Rev. Horace A. Walton, William B. Glisson, Benjamin F. Whitson, William M. Hunt, Edward B. Hoge, and Alfred B. Groff.
Without a charter the men were unable to proceed as a fire company, but they were anxious to investigate, test and consider steam or power driven fire pumps being manufactured then. A few years were to pass before the first practical motor driven fire apparatus was to appear. A boosting hand was offered by the Paoli Town Association which was selected as trustee in the purchase of firefighting equipment, and a combined committee of firemen and Association members was appointed to investigate the purchase of a firefighting apparatus. The committee was charged with selecting an engine at a "cost of not more than $2,000." On April 12, 1909 a decision was made to purchase a horse-drawn, one-cylinder gasoline Waterous pumper from Waterous Fire Engines in St Paul, MN at a cost of $1650.
The engine was received on July 7, 1909 and was proudly pulled by hand through Paoli by the enthusiastic group of firefighters. On July 24, 1909, complete with brass band and prominent speakers, the members held their first housing. Firemen from the neighboring communities of Berwyn, Malvern, West Chester, Wayne, Bryn Mawr, and Bridgeport participated. Without a dedicated firehouse yet, the engine was housed at Dewees and Brackens, a local coal and feed business on West Central Ave. owned by charter members Harvey Dewees and Ed Brackens (who was also the first Chief). Horse teams to pull the engine when needed were supplied by Ed Brackens or John Eachus. On some occasions, the member simply pulled the engine by hand.
A Home of Our Own
In September 1909 a small lot was purchased along Lancaster Pike to become the first Paoli firehouse. The total cost of the property was $1,350 and was paid for by generous contributions from the community, especially Robert Matthews who provided the entire down payment of $150. A small house at the rear of the property was remodeled early in 1910, complete with a telephone and a three room apartment for a permanent houseman. Soon afterwards, Tom Miller, a retired Philadelphia police officer, was hired as the first houseman.
Meanwhile, the charter was completed and signed by each of the founding members on October 1, 1909. This historic document was then submitted to the Chester County Court for approval, and on November 13, 1909 Judge Joseph Hemphill signed it; thus officially marking the creation of the Paoli Fire Company.
With a fresh charter, a new pumper and a small station house the member of the Paoli Fire Company were able to recruit other townsmen to join their noble cause. By the end of 1909 the membership ranks had swollen to 72. The following year the total reached 106!
Dawn of the Automobile
By 1911 the number of automobiles was rapidly increasing and it became clear to the men of the company that motorization of the fire apparatus was the wave of the future. The Waterous pumper had given good service but valuable time was often lost getting to a fire. This problem was compounded by the fact that the company was being asked to cover an ever increasing area. A young Paoli physician named Robert C. Hughes joined the company and demonstrated the advantages of motorized response. At the sound of an alarm, Dr. Hughes would race to the firehouse in his Metz touring car, pick up a chemical extinguisher or two and dash off to the fire. In many instances he was the first fireman on scene and he was often able to keep the fire in check until the pumper was brought on location. After seeing the effects of a more rapid response, the company purchased a Locomobile motorized vehicle and mounted the Waterous pump and a hose bin onto the chassis. It was a homemade job but nevertheless, the members were proud to be motorized.
A few years later life in America was interrupted by World War I and several member of Paoli Fire Company went off to Europe to fight. During that time the older member carried on the effort. By 1920 the fund-raising efforts had paid off and it was decided that the time had come to purchase a better piece of fire apparatus. The Conshohocken Fire Company offered a Simplex Motor truck for sale. It was purchased and delivered to Hale Fire Pump Co. in Conshohocken who contracted to equip the truck with a new model, direct motor-driven fire pump. This became Paoli's first motor pumper.
A Time to Grow
While the new apparatus was being outfitted additional ground had been purchased on the Pike in order to expand the firehouse. A new fire station would be built from the ground up and it would include the United States. Post Office that was being moved from the train station. The new building would cost $31,000; the largest financial burden ever undertaken by the company. On a beautiful spring day in April of 1921 the cornerstone of the building was laid. With much ceremony and fanfare the house was opened. The principle speaker J. Hampton Moore, Mayor of Philadelphia, declared, “I trust that these firemen may ever do their duty and stand as a shield and protection to the people of Paoli. May their number increase and may their courage never grow less." The Paoli Fire Company finally had a permanent home.
Over the next several years the firehouse not only functioned as the firefighting station but also as an entertainment center. Very two weeks the auditorium was converted into a motion picture theater and the "flicker of the flapper" was a big town event. This also helped the company because all proceeds went into the company treasury. In addition the facility saw use during dances, socials and cultural programs.
In 1923 Paoli Fire Company received its first township contribution for fire protection. Willistown Township's board of Supervisors voted to provide a payment of $80 as a donation to the fire company. Because of the variety of funding, in 1925 the company was able expand its Fleet. That year two new trucks were purchased from Hale Fire Pump Company. One was a new motor-driven pumper and the other a chemical truck-hose wagon combination. With new apparatus came necessary expansion of the firehouse. This was followed in 1939 by the purchase of a second pumper and a refitting of the old one.
During World War II the shortage of young men was acute. Ninety-two members served in the armed forces during the conflict. Unfortunately two men did not return from duty. These men, Francis Maher and William Lapp, will be honored forever.
A Modern Fleet
The 1950's brought several changes to the fire company that was necessitated by changes in the community's emergency service needs. A 1950 Mack pumper was added to the company's fleet in order to assure the availability of an adequate water supply at a fire scene. The need for a four-wheel drive vehicle to fight brush fires prompted the acquisition of a 1956 Dodge Power Wagon. A 1954 Dodge panel truck was donated to the fire company and was used to carry rescue equipment to the scene of auto accidents. The 1950's also saw the inauguration of the fire company's ambulance service which was provided by a 1941 Buick, a 1953 Cadillac, and a 1959 International Harvester.
Further growth of the community resulted in the expansion and updating of equipment during the 1960's. The need for larger, more efficient pumpers led to the purchase of Mack pumpers in 1962 and 1966. The field truck was destroyed in a fire and was replaced by a 1962 Dodge Power Wagon. Lacking funds to buy a badly needed elevated platform truck, the fire company made arrangements with the Snorkel Corporation to convert the 1950 Mack pumper into a ladder truck at a modest price. This became Paoli Fire Company's first elevated platform apparatus.
Firefighting Goes High-tech
The permanent firehouse/auditorium served dutifully from 1921 - 1972 and had brought the Paoli Fire Company from its early days into the second half of the twentieth century. However, during the later part of the 1960's the company (under the guidance and direction of Chief Les Hughes) realized the need for a larger building to house the modern equipment that would be necessary to meet Paoli's growing demands for emergency services. Property was eventually purchased at 69 Darby Road and the present firehouse was built in 1972. Today the firehouse is no longer a social center for the community. It is a highly functional building which allows for the storage and maintenance of several pieces of sophisticated emergency equipment and which provides appropriate training facilities for the highly advanced business of protecting lives and property.
As time progressed equipment was replaced and newer more specialized trucks were brought in that offered a greater range of emergency service responses. These included a 1976 Pierce 85' Snorkel platform, a 1980 Pierce Tactical pumper, a 75' Pierce Quint, and a 1992 Pierce rescue pumper.
The Next Millennium
As we move into the next millennium, firefighting apparatus continue to advance in design and function. In 2001 Paoli Fire Company purchased a 2000 model Pierce Sky Arm 105' Tower Ladder to provide greater capability than ever before. Likewise, the 1992 rescue pumper was replaced in the fall of 2003 with a new Pierce Dash rescue pumper, and the 1993 Pierce Saber pumper was replaced in 2005 with a new Pierce Dash pumper-tanker that carries 3000 gallons of water. Each of these changes follow in the long history of firefighting apparatus which allow the men and women of Paoli Fire Company to provide the best emergency services to Paoli and the neighboring communities for years to come. The Paoli Fire Company recently has celebrated 100 years of Neighbor's helping Neighbors'.