A Brief History of Engine Company No. 1 of the Sayre Fire Department

Engine Company Number 1 is Sayre’s pioneer fire company having been founded in the 1870s under the name of Wilbur Hook and Ladder Company Number 1. Early in the 20th century No.1s was disbanded as the "Wilburs" only to be reactivated a few years later as Engine Company Number 1. It has continued under that name to the present time.

No.1s is one of five fire companies that have served the Borough of Sayre of which two predate the 1891 incorporation of the borough. Prior to incorporation Sayre was a part of Athens Township. No.1s was organized September 20, 1879 as E. P. Wilbur Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 and received its charter September 20, 1889. The other companies of the Sayre Fire Department have been:

Robert A. Packer Hose Company No. 2, organized in 1886

Robert H. Sayre Hose Company No. 3, organized in 1893 and incorporated March 21, 1893

Howard Elmer Hose Company No. 4, established in 1897 (still active)

J. E. Wheelock Hose Company No. 5, started December 5, 1898. (still active)

No. 1s has had only five different pieces of fire apparatus in its long history. The first "truck" was a ladder wagon which required a span of horses for hauling it to the scene of a fire. It was purchased by Robert A. Packer and presented to the Wilburs in December of 1882. At the time Col.Packer was serving as President of the fire company. "Horsepower" for the Hook and Ladder was provided by horses that were also used in street repairs and other borough work. Once being alerted to a fire the horses were quickly returned to the fire station and hitched to the hook and ladder wagon to respond to the fire scene. At least during the earliest years of the 1900s the horse barn was located just off the alley opposite the Borough Hall on W. Packer Ave. near the rear of the Presbyterian Church. In 1908, with the completion of the present Sayre Borough Hall and Fire Department Headquarters, No.1s moved into its new truck room complete with a manure pit and hay loft. They also occupied their allotted suite of rooms on the east side of the second floor of the Town Hall.

No.1s next apparatus initiated a revolutionary improvement as it marked the change from horses to motorized horsepower - a 1916 American LaFrance pumper costing $8,000. The manufacturer’s data sheet stated it was delivered January 5, 1916, weighed 10,400 pounds, could reach speeds up to 60 miles per hour, had a pump capacity of 750 gallons per minute, had 2 three gallon chemical extinguishers, a 40 gallon chemical tank with 200 feet of hose, 1,500 feet of water hose, and 3 nozzles. It somehow developed a nickname of "Old Huldy" and served as Sayre’s first response vehicle for twenty-three years. In 1938 it was replaced but held as a second and reserve pumper beside its successor. Old Huldy was the first fire apparatus on the scene of the terrible Robert Packer Hospital fire in 1933.

On January 25, 1938, No.1s received its third fire truck, another American LaFrance made combination vehicle referred to as a Quad and powered by a Lycoming engine. The 12-ton Quad combined four fire fighting needs into one vehicle. It had a pump with a capacity of 500 gallons per minute, a hose bed with 1,400 feet capacity of 2 1/2 inch hose. It carried a full compliment of 265 feet of heavy wood ladders including a fifty foot ladder in two sections. The booster tank had a 150 gallon capacity. In addition a large quantity of various fire fighting tools and supplies were available on trays and mountings. This truck cost $8,775. By the time the Quad was retired it had logged nearly 14,000 miles of pumping.

No.1s long history of service to Sayre saw its next upgrade in apparatus in the summer of 1966 when its third American LaFrance manufactured vehicle was delivered. This followed a long study and much discussion between No.1s and the borough council. The result was an 85 foot aerial ladder with a 750 gallon per minute pump. This type of truck was referred to as a Quint - having the four major functions similar to the old Quad but with the addition of the aerial ladder. This fire truck was purchased for $43,000 and weighed 18-tons. For many years after 1966 this Quint of Engine Company No.1 was the only aerial ladder in Bradford County and Tioga County, New York. As such No.1s responded to many mutual aid calls throughout the area in addition to its primary service area of Sayre Borough.

Today (2001), nearly 122 years after No.1s was founded and 75 years after it was reincorporated, the fifth fire truck is in service. This is a $438,000 100-foot KME (Kovatch Mobile Equipment) Aerialcat which was delivered and placed in service in June of 1996. As with its predecessor this is a quint. Amongst the unique features of this vehicle are first and foremost a 100 foot aerial ladder which for rescue purposes can be lowered so the tip of the ladder can touch the ground. Also at the tip of the ladder is a 1250 gallon per minute remote controlled nozzle. Other features of this 36-ton vehicle are a 1,500 gallon per minute pump, 400 gallon water tank, full compliment of ground ladders, hose bed with a capacity of 800 feet of 3 inch hose, breathing air system, and 6 passenger cab.

Written records for studying the early history of No.1s have not been located but secondary sources can be found which relate an interesting episode of conflict which did much to shape the structure of the Sayre Fire Department. In 1915 the chief of the Sayre Fire Department was Harry Zeller from No.1s. Under his guidance the fire department was attempting to gain some measure of financial support from the borough budget to help pay some of the operating expenses of Sayre’s newest companies - 4s and 5s. At the meetings of the fire department with the borough council a heated dispute ensued with the council turning a deaf ear to the pleas for help. Chief Zeller stated that the absence of financial support and the cavalier attitude of the borough council seriously weakened fire protection in the borough. This issue led to such frustration that a small fire at the East Side School was ignored by many of the firefighters on the scene. There were no students in the building.

Following the fire a meeting was held of the five Sayre fire companies. A decision was made that the three oldest companies - Wilburs (1s), Packers (2s), and Sayres (3s) - would cease to function and they were immediately disbanded. The Howard Elmer (4s) and J.E. Wheelock (5s) Hose Companies continued but as bitterly dissatisfied companies without any appropriation from the borough council. In essence Sayre had only minimal fire protection.

Now the borough council took notice. At a special executive session it was decided to keep from being intimidated by the fire department by purchasing a pumper and employing a driver. The result was Sayre’s first motorized apparatus, Old Huldy, and the hiring of Claude Nichols who was provided living quarters at fire headquarters. Additional manpower came from "volunteers" who may or may not have been active firefighters. A dormitory was established in the Borough Hall so a group of ready responders were available at night. Daytime help came from downtown merchants and others who may have been available. This filled the gap which had occurred when the three original fire companies were disbanded and until the controversy faded and No.1s was recreated. For the two outside companies that continued (4s and 5s) the borough council eventually provided them with a monetary appropriation and in 1941 began financing their apparatus.

By 1926 the period of transition ended when many members of the former Wilbur Hook and Ladder Company No.1 and others met on May 5, 1926, to reorganize. Many of the "Wilburs" had continued to help man Old Huldy and serve in the dormitory all during this period. Individual members of the Sayre Police Department were amongst the leaders to once again have an organized group of firefighters. In fact, the first three names on the petition to the Court of Common Pleas in Towanda for a charter for Engine Company Number 1 of the Sayre Fire Department were the chief of police, captain of police and a patrolman. President Judge Charles M. Culver ordered and decreed approval of the charter on June 24, 1926, and that decree was recorded in the Prothonotary’s Office on July 13, 1926.

The charter members of the reactivated No.1s were:

Ray Nobles .Paul J. Evans Daniel P. Tierney

Stephen K. Evans Arthur J. Hickey Robert G. Hill

Harold L. Davis John Gallagher.. Harry A. Zeller

George J. Bolton Bernard L. McCabe Ernest L. Mulligan

Chancey V. Zacharias Thomas S. Jordan .James M. Ogilvie

Clarence E. Davidson Walter W. Failey Richard R. Hill

Oscar R. Haverly George F. Wiesing Timothy A. Lynch

John E. Umpleby

 

Immediately a committee to prepare a constitution was established consisting of Harry A. Zeller, J. R. Smith, W.B. Wright, and George T. Wiesing and on November 21, 1927, it was adopted. Working under that constitution for a short time revealed a need for a few changes and the document was revised and adopted on August 26, 1929. The committee for this change was composed of Thomas Davidson, Harry Zeller, Thomas Peters, Edwin Saphar, and George Wilson. It was at this time the company meetings were set, as they are today, for the first and third Wednesdays of each month, originally at 8:00 p.m. but later changed to 7:30 p.m.

Updating the 1929 constitution occurred in 1964 by a committee of Donald Champion, Peter Humphrey, and James R. Nobles. Additional modernization came from a committee that reported its work to the Company on September 12, 1973. That committee consisted of Larry Green, Ted Hinkle, Edward Lutz, Herman Nobles, Elwood Schrader, and Grant Truesdale. Minor changes have been made as needed in recent years but the basic constitution is still the 1927 document with revisions.

The meetings of Engine Company No.1 have been held on the second floor of the Sayre Borough Hall in the "Company Meeting Room." Directly behind this room was the firefighters’ dormitory which was created after the 1915 disagreement between the fire department and the borough council.

The dormitory had five beds. Any member of the Sayre Fire Department could live there but nearly all the occupants were from No.1s. The dorm men were paid a very small amount per month ($21.00 in the mid 1950s) and were obligated to be in the dorm by eleven o’clock each night. A posted code of conduct was rigorously enforced. Only single men were permitted to live there. An exception to this occurred during W.W.II. Many of the young men that would be willing to live in the dormitory were the same ones high on the list to be drafted by Uncle Sam. Therefore, to maintain an adequate first response to a fire any member of the fire department willing to stay for just one night was allowed. There was an active effort to always have the dormitory somewhat staffed. Over the years the number of volunteers living there varied from a full house to just one person but it was not until after 1977 the facility was usually empty. That happened after the death of Joe Kennedy , known as Smoky Joe, and a resident of the dormitory for around thirty-five years. In 1987 the police department’s office on the first floor of the building was fire bombed and the resulting fire caused damage to the second floor rooms of No.1s and the dormitory. In making repairs the dividing wall between the two rooms was eliminated creating a much larger meeting room and ending the department’s dormitory.

The third floor of the Borough Hall was used for firefighting classes, large meetings, banquets, dances, clam bakes, first aid classes, and many other activities of No.1s and the Sayre Fire Department. The "Top Floor", as it came to be known, included a kitchen, card tables, pool tables, and a regulation size shuffleboard. It was made available to many community organizations. Erwin Rudolph, five time world pocket billiard champion, was a member of No.1s and often played on the Top Floor pool tables. After the formation of the Sayre Fire Department Ambulance Corps a small section of the south end of the floor was partitioned off to provide a space for an Ambulance Corps Dormitory that proved to be seldom used and was quickly abandoned.

No.1s spent a large part of its treasury to make the Top Floor usable as it had fallen into a state of terrible neglect and disrepair during the money scarce years of the Great Depression when the Borough Council had no choice but to use its limited dollars elsewhere. The leaky roof of the building caused damage to the Top Floor and its contents. Water even reached down to the second floor. The fire escape on the north side of the building deteriorated and it became a safety concern and required urgent repairs. There were many red tags indicating deficiencies placed on anything having to do with electricity. The repairs and upgrading were all accomplished using No.1s manpower and money.

Most recently the Top Floor has continued in use by No.1s but few community activities take place there as it is forty-eight steps above ground level in an age of elevators (forty-seven steps if using the back steps). From the 1950s to the 1980s, and to a much lesser extent since then, No.1s was very active in participating in firemen’s contests and the hundreds of trophies won in those competitions are displayed there and in the Company Meeting Room.

No.1s was always a major contributor to the Bradford County Firemens Conventions when they were sponsored by the Sayre Fire Department and held in Sayre, usually on or near Labor Day. All these gatherings had highly successful and very competitive pumper, hose, and ladder contests. The parades at the conclusion of the festivities were amongst some of the biggest parades ever held in the entire Valley. Newspaper clippings attest to the size of the parades and the thousands of spectators. During the 1950s to the 1980s a carnival was always part of the convention. These were held in the Desmond St. Park. Once the J.J. Newberry’s Store was built the only open space was their parking lot and several carnivals were held there. The final conventions of the 20th century were held in parking lots south of the Packer Avenue Bridge and to the rear of the businesses on lower Desmond St.

No.1s contest teams were always highly successful and as mentioned before won hundreds of trophies. Winning the Bradford County Firemens Association High Point Trophy was always the goal and was achieved in 1974, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1996, 1997, and 1998. The contest team at one time went by the name of Red Raiders.

A marching unit was also active during the 1960s and 1970s. Bright blue and orange uniforms along with plenty of practice sessions resulted in their winning honors in every parade in which they participated.

Engine Company No. 1 is still housed in the Borough Hall which was built as the Sayre Borough Hall and Fire Department Headquarters according to the records of the bond issue of the time. In fact, a casual survey of the building today shows the unique fire station features of the fire truck room and the hose tower. The drawings of architect Pierce and Bickford from Elmira show how a manure pit was built into the cellar and a hay loft with an outside second floor opening was at the rear of the building. The fire pole presently near the rear of the Truck Room had originally been located more toward the rear northwest corner. At both locations its purpose was for descending from the second floor of the building. Its location was changed in 1938 when renovations were made for the Quad - the 1938 American LaFrance fire truck. The major renovation was the installation of a concrete floor replacing the original wood floor.

Also dating back to the early part of the last century was the Borough of Sayre’s decision to employ a paid driver for the fire truck at fire headquarters with his living quarters to be provided on the second floor. This provided for an immediate response for fires twenty-four hours a day and in conjunction with the dormitory provided a significant firefighting force. The full time paid drivers were Claude Nichols hired in 1915 followed by Roy Haverly. Tommy Peters was next and he also served as fire chief for awhile. In 1941 Herman Nobles was employed by the council and continued until 1976 when he retired. His successor was John Nobles, the current driver and son of Herman.

One of the many jobs of the driver was to activate the alarm system to notify the volunteer firefighters of a fire. For many years this was done from the Truck Room using a magnetotelephone on a direct line to the Power House of the Lehigh Valley Railroad. The employee at the Power House then activated the very loud Lehigh steam generated whistle which at times could be heard as far away as Towanda. Obviously anyone in Sayre could heard this alarm and it was the signal for the volunteers to respond. The code was three long blasts and then one short blast corresponding to the ward of Sayre where the fire had been reported.

When the Lehigh changed the whistle from steam to a mechanical device in the 1950s the effectiveness for alerting the town to a fire was drastically reduced. It was simply not loud enough to be reliable. The solution was the purchase and installation of a powerful coded siren on the roof of the Borough Hall. In addition a non-coded siren was placed on the roofs of 4s and 5s. When a volunteer at home heard the old whistle or later the newer sirens they were only aware of a fire call but had no way of knowing its location. Until the age of radios and pagers each fire fighter had to respond to a fire station where the location would have been written on a chalkboard and posted at the front of their station.

The three fire stations were connected by the same magnetotelephone direct line phone service as connected the Central Station to the Lehigh Power House. It was over this telephone the first volunteer to reach 4s or 5s was able to learn the fire’s location. In addition a telephone pay station was located in 1s Truck Room and only volunteers knew the phone number. One of the police officers answered this phone for the first few minutes after an alarm until a volunteer arrived to take over picking up the receiver, telling the address of the fire, hanging up the phone, and immediately answering the next caller. Periodically the phone number had to be changed as it became too well known and the general public interfered with the ability of the firefighters to promptly learn where they were needed.

With the Borough Hall building being the Central Station another activity took place there after most fires. Toward the back of the Truck Room was and still is the hose Tower Room. This is where the fire hoses were dried after use at a fire to prevent mildew and rotting of the hose. "Hanging hose" was a backbreaking chore requiring several volunteers and some coordination. Two or three men ascended the steps of the Tower Room to a small platform about twelve inches wide and about forty-five feet above the Truck Room floor. In front of them were numerous hooks for hanging the hose and a single fixed pulley system with a rope. At the bottom of the Tower Room were rope slings into which the hose was threaded. Two or three men would attach the slings holding the hose to the pulley system and haul the wet hose to the top of the tower where it would be hung until dry. Water dripping from the hanging hoses would fall into a eight foot pit below a floor opening of the Tower Room. Drying time varied but within a few days the dry hose had to be removed. Taking down the hose was just as tough an operation as hanging the hose. Plus each length of hose had to be rolled and stored in a hose rack. Hose dryers have now replaced all this activity.

Firefighting has always been the primary service performed by Engine Company No. 1. But various other civic activities have also been undertaken. For many years after its construction in 1948 the Veteran Memorial Swimming Pool was an outdoor pool. Annually members of 1s and others cleaned the pool using fire apparatus and hoses. This ended when the pool was enclosed by the Sayre Area School District.

A very cold project was using hoses to flood the Tennis Courts on S. Hopkins St. with water during the winter. The frozen surface was then used for ice skating. Several times over the years No.1s was asked by Sayre Recreation to provided this service. The ice never really formed well. The idea never was successful but No.1s always helped when asked.

Dump fires were a long time problem in Sayre. The borough’s dump was where Riverfront Park is now located. Periodically the huge accumulation of combustibles would burn putting out disgusting odors and smoke. Complaints to the borough usually resulted in the fire department being sent to put the fires out. This took hours, even days and members of 1s were sometimes there around the clock.

Business promotions in downtown Sayre frequently led the merchant associations to call on No.1s and the other fire companies. Free fire truck rides for youngsters were always considered a way to help attract a crowd. Plenty of fire department volunteers were needed to safely perform this job. After 1s acquired their first aerial they were called upon to place promotional banners above the street and occasionally assisted or put up the Christmas decorations in the business section.

Decorating the park for Christmas became a major winter activity for No.1s starting in the late 1980s. The park was Howard Elmer Park. The project started modestly with remnants of the Christmas decorations no longer used by the business association. Progress was made each year as money became available though No.1s fund raising efforts. One fund raiser that was highly successful for several years was the sponsoring at Halloween of a "Haunted House" at the old Blue Swan building on S. Elmer Ave. The admission fee collected by the hundreds of viewers was used to purchase more or new decorations. At this time the value of the decorations run into the thousands of dollars.

The tradition had been to put up the decorations the weekend prior to Thanksgiving Day. The day after Thanksgiving a ceremony of "lighting up" the park took place. Santa Clause arrived by fire truck and after being escorted to his thrown greeted the hundreds of children attracted to the event. Over the years some neighbors to the park and a few other organizations helped in the project making the "lighting up" ceremony a nice community event.

And the greatest venture of No.1s in its long history was sponsoring the Valley Fireworks Show around Independence Day. Other organizations had been the sponsor over the years but one by one each gave up. A Valley-wide business organization was the last to give up sponsorship citing an inability to pay the costs. There were no fireworks for several years. Then No.1s came to the rescue. Under the leadership of Don Schrader and John Nobles a very successful fund raising campaign and pay per carload admission fee resulted in a decade (1990s) of spectacular displays at Riverfront Park. Thousands of spectators viewed the show at the park and additional thousands were able to watch from their homes, Round Top Park in Athens Township, and Waverly Hill west of Waverly and many other places. In any one year this fireworks display was the largest gathering of people in the Valley. Dozens of volunteers from area fire companies helped at the event but the sponsor and coordinator was No.1s.

In concluding this brief history it should be pointed out it has been written in 2001 which marks the third century of service by No.1s to Sayre and the Valley both on the fire grounds and through community service projects. Much more could be added to this written record and will be added as you the reader send or make known additional information, pictures, or artifacts. At the present time you may contact us at Engine Company No.1, P. O. Box 221, Sayre, Pa. 18840, or telephone us at (570)888-9612, or email us at www.engco1@stny.rr.com or, stop and see us when the Truck Room doors are open. We value your help.

For additional information refer to A Century of Memories, Sayre, Pennsylvania and the anniversary editions of The Evening Times from the years 1926, 1941, and 1991, all available at the Sayre Public Library.

The next page begins our pictorial history showing views of fire scenes, parades, and civic activities. The many pictures of fires tell the true history of Engine Company No.1 and its mission of providing fire protection for our community.