In the mid-1890’s, soon after the settlement of Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, was founded, the first all-volunteer fire companies were organized to protect the local citizens. The men were strictly volunteer and membership was a source of civic pride. Horses were utilized to pull several pieces of fire fighting apparatus to the scene of trouble. It was not until May 3, 1910, that the Ellwood City Volunteer Fire Department, under the command of Fire Chief William Guthrie – and soon succeeded by Frank C. McKim, officially chartered with the state.
The original City Building on Beaver Street and possibly a location on Lawrence Avenue were used as fire stations until a dedicated fire house was opened – after discussions for several years – on the southeast corner of Crescent Avenue and 6th Street in January 1914. In June 1913 the borough was poised to purchase its first motor-powered fire truck from the Peerless Motor Car Company of Cleveland for $3,500, but I think this acquisition was delayed until at least mid-1914.
It was at this time, with a new fire station and its first motor-driven fire truck, that the department was entering the modern age. An article in the New Castle News of December 1, 1915, alludes to the good fortunes (or luck) of the borough and reads, “Ellwood City has been extremely fortunate of late in not having any bad fires. This has been, in great measure, due to the vigilance of the citizens and the fire fighting knowledge of Fire Chief McKim and his excellent aides.”
In early September 1918 the borough council took a giant step forward when it hired Harry V. Wolfe as the first paid fire department employee. His job was to drive the fire truck to the scene of fires. An article in the New Castle News of September 5, 1918, had this to say about Wolfe’s hiring, ”He has already entered upon his duties and will reside at the fire department building. The past complaint about the truck not always in the best of shape for fires will no longer exist.”
In July 1924 the borough hired Haldine “Pop” Plante, a former member of the Pittsburgh Fire Department, as its first paid Fire Chief. By that time the department had three fire trucks and was evolving into a modern firefighting unit. In 1937 Plante retired and was replaced as Fire Chief by longtime driver Harry V. Wolfe. The veteran Wolfe was burned in an unfortunate accident at his home in April 1940, subsequently fell ill, and died at the age of fifty-four in December 1940. He was succeeded by Chester V. Rodgers, another longtime veteran of the department, who went on to serve as Fire Chief for the next twenty years. By 1960 the department had four full time paid employees and about thirty-five volunteer firefighters. Subsequent Fire Chiefs included Charles E. “Chuck” West from 1960-1970 and Robert G. “Bob” Dambach from 1970-1975.
In December 1977, after a $500,000 grant was received from the federal government, the borough began construction of a new fire station on 6th Street. The station, then under the watch of Fire Chief John P. “Jack” Brest, was built at the intersection with Oliver Street and right next door to the old station. I believe a portion of the new two-story station was in use by December 1978 and it was officially dedicated during a ceremony on June 21, 1979. The following month the old fire station was razed and the property was turned into a parking lot.
Today the Ellwood City Fire Department, led by Fire Chief Rick Myers since July 2012, and is made up of a small team of paid assistants and about twenty-five volunteer firefighters and works in close conjunction with neighboring fire departments to include the volunteer units from Wayne Township, Shenango Township, and North Sewickley Township.
Over the years Ellwood City has experienced its share of fires, but two of the most notorious are probably the National Plumbing Fixture Corporation fire on South Second Street of February 7, 1959, in which the fire-prone facility was destroyed (but rebuilt), and the Elton Hotel fire on Lawrence Avenue of December 4, 1984, in which volunteer firefighters David Martino and Paul Frederick unfortunately lost their lives.
To read an article from early 1912 about the borough preparing to raise money for a new fire station click on: BONDS FOR FIRE DEPT ARTICLE. To learn more about why insurance rates for businesses in Ellwood City were expected to fall in mid-1912 click on: RATES EXPECTED TO FALL ARTICLE. In late June 1913 three Ellwood City councilmen planned to travel to Pittsburgh to pick up a new motor-driven fire truck. Subsequent articles make it appear that a fire truck was not secured until sometime later – perhaps in mid-1914. Anyway, to read an article mentioning the trip to Pittsburgh in June 1913 click on: LEAVE TO GET FIRE TRUCK ARTICLE. To read an article from early December 1913 about a short delay in the grand opening of the new fire station click on: POSTPONE AFFAIR ARTICLE. To read another article about the new fire station and how it will lower insurance rates in Ellwood City click on: WILL LOWER RATES ARTICLE. To read about the upcoming “housewarming” of the new fire station in May 1914 click on: HOUSEWARMING ARTICLE.
Proud members and supporters of the Ellwood City Volunteer Fire Department pose with the unit’s first motor-driven fire truck – and in front of the new fire station on Crescent Avenue (opened early 1914). I believe the vehicle was manufactured by the Peerless Motor Car Company of Cleveland, Ohio. Newspapers reports indicate the borough was about to take possession of its first such modern fire truck in June 1913, but due to various delays it seems this did not actually happen until at least mid-1914 – perhaps as late as early 1915. (c1915) Full Size
Rescue Squad truck of the Ellwood City Fire Department. (1974) Full Size
After several years of debate and delays the the new Ellwood City fire station, on the corner of Crescent Avenue & 6th Street, was opened in January 1914. The property had previously been purchased by the Ellwood City Volunteer Fire Dept and then donated to the borough. (1979) Full Size
The fire station at the corner of Crescent Avenue & 6th Street was in operation until a new fire station was opened next door on 6th Street in December 1978. In July 1979 the old station (shown above) was razed to make room for a parking lot. (July 1979) Full Size
The new Ellwood City fire station opened on 6th Street in December 1978. (Aug 2015) Full Size
(Aug 2015) Full Size
Dave Patterson #
As a youngster I went with my grandmother, Iva Kay Garwig to Friday Night Bingo upstairs at the firehall. This was the beginning of my weekends spent with her. We entered the side door to go upstairs. The engine bays were downstairs and usually manned by Bob Dambaugh, who use to let me hang out for awhile. Next day was double feature day or new movie day at the Majestic. Quarter for admission, quarter for regular popcorn or fifty or seventy five for a super large with a chance of winning a free admission ticket in the box. Usually fellow students worked the candy counter with an adult selling tickets. Just great, great times growing up there.