The history of The Red Lion Fire department or, Leo Independent Fire Engine Company No. 1 is also history of Red Lion areas as a community. The growth of population and business brought with it a corresponding need for growth and explanation of fire protection capabilities. To cover these changing needs over 100 years, Leo Fire Company has grown from a single piece of hand-drawn apparatus housed in a wagon shed to seven pieces of apparatus housed in a modern building.
Growth continued through the 1890’s in Red Lion, prompting the citizens to discuss among themselves the need for some form of organized fire protection. On the evening of September 20, 1894, these citizens under the direction of Chief Burgess R. Neiman met for the purpose of organizing a fire company. E.E. Roser was elected President, and C.E. Meyers, Foreman. The new company then formed committees to obtain a charter, construct bylaws and “secure a place for keeping a hose carriage and hose, and to secure some sort of alarm.”
Citizen donations produced $136, which was used to secure a secondhand hose carriage from Goodwill Fire Company of York and 150 feet of hose. A joining fee was fixed at $1 and monthly dues of 10 cents. The members also voted to name themselves the “Independent Fire Company”, but in October that was modified to read “Leo Independent Fire Engine Company No. 1.”
1st Fire HouseIn November of 1894, Borough Council resolved that the hose carriage become property of the company for as long as the company remained in organization. The lower portion of Maurice Bicking’s shop was rented at $10 per year to house the hose carriage and supplies. Near the end of 1894, a steam engine was purchased from the LaFrance Company by the borough for $1,100.00.
The company’s first mascot was a greyhound dog presented by a Henry Getz of York. It was placed in the care of Dan Spangler.
In 1895, the July Fourth Fireman’s picnic was held, which became an annual community event in which outside companies were sometimes invited. This picnic was the main fund-raiser during the first 50 years of the company’s history.
2nd Fire StationIn 1928, Mrs. Nettie Moody, Catherine Meyer’s daughter, died leaving a large trust fund that was to be used toward establishing a hospital in Red Lion. This money, with its accumulated interest, was used in 1969 to help finance the building of the combination Leo Company Fire Hall and Visiting Nurse Association on the corner of West Broadway and North Charles Street.
In 1904, after a seven-year search, the company purchased a site for a building First Avenue and Railroad Alley. This lot was purchased from Elija J. Miller at a cost of $1,500. The company resolved to build a 28 by 60 foot, two-story building at a cost not to exceed $4,000. The building was completed in February 1905, and conveyed to Borough Council who agreed to pay all interest, taxes and upkeep expenses on the building. This was Leo’s home-to-be for 65 years. The building that housed the fire company on this lot is still standing today.
In 1907, the fire alarm committee reported that several of the area churches agreed to ring the church bells in time of fire. The company also appointed C.E. Mate to oil the newly installed fire hydrants and remove snow during winter months.
A volunteer firemen’s Relief Association was finally formed on December 13, 1913, with J. Benton Warner elected as president. A disability fund was started with all members of the fire company eligible provided that they pay $1.10 in joining and 50 cents per year in dues.
In 1916, Leo Fire Company hosted the convention of the Fireman’s Association of York County with a parade and other festivities. Nine members were fined $1 for not appearing and marching in the parade. Here others were exonerated due to sickness, and one other because he could not find his cap. Fines were again issued to members who did not appear in the Hanover parade the following year.
A test of the existing water system in 1916 revealed many hydrants flowing insufficient water for the steamer. This resulted in the first upgrading of the water system and a gradual increase in the number of hydrants in town.
Leo Fire Company acquired its first piece of motorized apparatus in 1919, when the borough purchased and gave to the company a 600 G.P.M. American LaFrance pumper at a cost of $11,000.
Red Lion was permanent headquarters for the LOCAL BOARD FO DIVISION No. 2, County of York, State of Pennsylvania during World War I. Offices were opened at the Leo Fire Engine House, July 30, 1917.
The decade of the 1920’s was one of expansion of functions for the company members. Borough council gave the fire chief the authority to send fire apparatus to neighboring towns without first contacting the Chief Burgess for permission. Five members were appointed to “act as police during fire or where the engine is tested,” thus forming the first fire police brigade in the company’s history.
In 1921 discussion was held on improving the present alarm system with the electric motor siren to replace the church bells. In May the company purchased its first breathing apparatus, two army-surplus gas masks.
By 1925 wiring was completed in the new siren alarm system. After passage of an ordinance permitting it, the wires for this system were strung from the electric and telephone poles. A siren and platform were installed on the roof of the engine house.
In 1928, six additional army-surplus gas masks were purchased, along with new coats and boots. Also, that year, by a vote of 9 in favor and 15 against, it was decided not to form a Ladies Auxiliary.
In 1928, Mrs. Nettie Moody, Catherine Meyer’s daughter, died leaving a large trust fund that was to be used toward establishing a hospital in Red Lion. This money, with its accumulated interest, was used in 1969 to help finance the building of the combination Leo Company Fire Hall and Visiting Nurse Association on the corner of West Broadway and North Charles Street.
The first underwriters evaluations of Leo Fire Co. was done in 1930. The findings were that the company had 50-60 active members, with engineers ready at all times, and 2,200 feet of hose, of which 600 feet was less than 2 years old. The most serious drawback was that there was only one motorized piece of equipment. The other apparatus had to either to pushed by hand to local calls or loaded on a truck as the chemical wagon was on December 28, 1930, when it was needed at a barn fire in Winterstown.
Red Lion Borough celebrated its 50th Anniversary during the week of June 7-14, 1930. June 7 was designated as Fireman’s Day and invitations were sent to all county companies to attend a parade and other competitions which were held on that day. Red Lion was the scene of another parade the following year, as Leo Fire Company hosted the 931 York County Fireman’s Associations Convention, with Howard Sheeler serving as president of the Association.
Throughout 1931, discussion was held on expansion and modernization of the existing building, but this was later tabled and a committee was appointed to look into purchase of a motorized chemical truck. Borough Council was notified of the company’s wishes and agreed to allot $3,500 for a new piece of apparatus.
In September of 1931, it appears that the prohibition era finally hit Red Lion. A resolution was passed at the company’s meeting that any member of the company “under the influence of liquor, loafing around the engine house was to be arrested.
There was also a sad note in October of 1931, with the death of Dr. J.M. Hyson, who had been the founder of both Red Lion Borough and Leo Fire Co., and had been treasurer of the company and continuously since the creation in 1894.
The early 1930’s saw an increase in the number of fire calls outside the borough, where lack of adequate water was a major factor. Notices were printed and sent to farmers, asking them to dam creeks or build ponds so that suction hose could be used to draft at any fires they might have.
By late 1934, the apparatus committee finally made a report to the company. Rather than get a new chemical wagon, the committee recommended the purchase of a 500 GPM Seagrave pumper with a 100 gallon booster tank and an additional 650 feet of 2 ½” hose. The company approved the purchase at a cost of $5,500, and authority was given to the trustees to pay for the apparatus upon proper acceptance.
The Seagrave pumper arrived in March of 1935, and was stored in Chief Roth’s garage due to lack of room in the engine house. The purchasing committee went to the Borough Council and secured permission for the sale of the chemical wagon and the hose carriage to make the necessary room. The hose carriage was purchased by Feigler Bros. for $6 and the two-wheel chemical wagon was subsequently sold to the New Bridgeville Volunteer Fire Co. and is now on display in the York County Fire Museum.
Raymond Roth devoted much of his time to the Leo Independent Fire Co. and was its Chief from 1934 to 1970. Mr. Roth passed away in March of 1980.
In November of 1939, a service vehicle was purchased from D.E. Stetler Co. for $600, and a foam generator was placed on this piece of equipment, along with two Indian tanks and a pyrene extinguisher. Later a resuscitator was also added.
During 1940, Leo Fire Co. entered into formal fire protection agreements with Chanceford, North Hopewell, and Windsor Townships, with a specific tax percentage to be given to the fire company for this service.
Because of this expansion of territory, it was decided that a third motorized pumper should be purchased. In October 1941, the company accepted delivery of a 500 GPM Seagrave pumper with a 100 gallon booster tank, at a cost of $5,957.75. Borough Council provided $2,500 with the remainder paid by the Fire Co. and a loan from the Relief Association. The old 1900 LaFrance steamer was sold for $130, and the hand-drawn ladder truck was dismantled, with some of the ladders placed on the pumpers.
Soon after World War II was declared, Red Lion, like most other municipalities, instituted a war emergency program. Chief Roth held several classes on extinguishment of incendiary bombs, and what was expected of the town’s citizens. The borough was divided into three zones, and one pumper was to be sent to each zone in the event of an air raid. Also, 12 three-man crews were formed to respond in personal vehicles or the service truck to extinguish small fires. New alarm boxes were installed in outer areas of the borough, and small auxiliary sirens were placed in areas where the large siren could not be heard clearly.
In April 1944, while responding to a chimney fire, the 1935 Seagrave failed to negotiate a curve on Burkholder Road and hit a tree. One firefighter, Ralph Doll, was injured and received the $10 a week benefit from the Relief Association. Some repairs were done locally to make the pumper driveable, then it was driven to the Seagrave factory in Columbus, Ohio, for permanent repairs, which were completed by the following December at a total cost of $1,771.70.
During the period of hostilities, the fire company contributed to the war effort by investing approximately $8,000 in Liberty Bonds, and Christmas packages were sent to all company members serving in the armed forces abroad.
The 1939 service truck was replaced in 1948. A Dodge chassis was purchased from D.E. Stetler for $1,253, and a custom body was built on it by Central Body and Equipment Co., of Lebannon for $2,441.25. This unit was placed in service in September 1948 with the old one sold for $1,235. At this time the company first purchased 1 ½” hose for use as attack line.
In 1950, the Fireman’s Picnic was discontinued. This has been the primary fund-raiser since the company was organized. Door-to-door solicitation became the main source of funds from that time to the present.
A committee was formed in the fall of 1950, to look into the purchase of a new pumper. They soon recommended the purchase of a 500 GPM Seagrave with a 300 gallon booster tank. A motion to seek bids from other manufacturers failed due to lack of a second. By an 11 to 7 vote, this pumper was to have a seven man closed cab with a heater/defroster instead of the traditional open cab. Total cost of this pumper upon arrival in 1951, was $14,437.47, paid for by the Fire Co. At this time the 1919 LaFrance was placed in storage.
Two-way radio equipment was first purchased in February 1952. Single-channel mobile radios were placed in three pumpers, the service truck, a base station, KGB-980 was installed in the engine house, and a portable unit. This equipment was purchased and paid for by the fire company at a cost of $3,600.
In May of 1955, a Ladies Auxiliary was formed, and continues to function today, providing the Fire Company with much invaluable assistance in fund raising, food preparation and other important functions. The members were wives of the active firefighters. This was originally required for being a member. As years went by and some of the members became older and their husbands were no longer firefighting, they would drop out of the organization, but you could still belong to the Auxiliary. Within the passing of years, the membership was dropping off and it was decided that the membership could be open to other members of the family to join. Presently, the membership is open to the public.
Homemade subs and ham and cheese sandwiches were a huge fundraising event. There is a strawberry social held in June that continues to this day held during the monthly fire company meeting. The firefighters prepare chicken for the bbq’s at which the Auxiliary provides baked goods for sale. The Halloween Parade is a time for the Auxiliary to prepare and sell food as a fundraiser. The ladies were always there when there was a big fire. Depending on the time of day, they would make soup, sandwiches, eggs, etc. and take to the scene along with drinks. There was also an Annual Craft Show in the fall. The money earned from these projects is donated to the fire company for the purchase of new equipment and new gear for the firefighters. An annual event for the Ladies was their Christmas Party held at a local restaurant, and they played games and won prizes.
By 1955, Leo had become a leader in fire protection in our area. Its efficient fleet of equipment that year consisted of three pumpers and a service truck; all equipped with 2-way radio communications.
The old army surplus gas masks, along with the firefighters’ all-purpose masks, were replaced with self contained canister-style Chemox masks in 1957.
In 1958, the contract with Chanceford Township was changed from a tax percentage to $250 a year. This was done because Chanceford Township was also contracting with New Bridgeville, Airville, and Felton for fire protection. Also, Winterstown Boroughand North Hopewell Township did not renew their contracts due to the creation of the Winterstown Volunteer Fire Co.
On January 13, 1959, a natural gas explosion and fire occurered in an apartment on East High Street in the rear of what is now B&B TV and Appliances. A resident of the apartment, Eleanor Bailey, died in the blaze becoming the first fire fatality in the borough’s history.
A committee was formed in August of 1962, to purchase a new pumper. In June of the following year, a 750 GPM Seagrave with a 500 gallon booster tank arrived and was accepted by the members at a cost of $23,517.60 paid by the fire company. The 1935 Seagrave was given to the Borough Highway Department for flushing storm sewers. In 1979, this pumper was purchased by Joe Devilbliss of Fawn Grove, and has been restored to the original condition.
In 1965, due to new rules promulgated by the Office of the Auditor General, all active firefighters were considered members of the Relief Association, eligible for benefits without a separate vote. Collection of dues was also discontinued.
With firefighting becoming more complex, and the number of emergencies increasing each year, the need for bigger and more sophisticated equipment arose. Fore the type of equipment needed, larger headquarters were also needed. The mid 1960’s brought about discussion of a new building. By 1967, Leo Fire Co. W. Broadway Stationagreed to pledge $10,000 to a new fire house if it were to become a reality. Land, located on the northwest corner of West Broadway and North Charles Street, location of the Nebinger School, was purchased from the Red Lion Area School District for the sum of $1.00. This committee persuaded the local school board to deed the Nebinger School property at Broadway and Charles Street to Red Lion Borough for the purpose of building a fire station. This committee, along with interested citizens, canvassed borough residents, businesses and industry, acquiring pledges and donations to construct a building. Demolition of the former school building began and plans were rapidly begun for a new building to house Leo Fire Company on the upper level and the Visiting Nurse Association on the ground level. The building was completed at a price of $208,000.00. Leo Fire Company solicited the citizens and businesses of the Borough for approximately $94,000.00, with another $75,000.00 provided by the V.N.A. from the Moody Estate which had money set aside for a medical facility in Red Lion. The remainder of the financing was supplied by the Borough. This structure was financed by citizen and business donations, fire company donations, and contributions from the VNA, who shares the occupancy with the fire company. This building was dedicated August 11, 1969, and given to the Borough of Red Lion, debt-free, for $1 to maintain for 75 years. Almost immediately after occupying the building, a committee was formed to look into the purchasing of new apparatus.
During this period, change also occurred in the dispatch an alerting procedures. In August 1968, 25 Instalert tone activated monitors and a tone encoder were purchased by the fire company, marking the first time any device, other than the audible sirens, was used to alert firefighters. In August of 1970 the company joined the county-wide communications network. Prior to creation of this system, all fire calls for Leo Fire Co. were received by street box or by telephone manned by volunteer company officers. In 1972, 64 calls were received by phone, 45 through County Control, and 21 from alarm boxes. By 1974, this changed to 90 from County Control, 51 by telephone, and 13 from alarm boxes (most of which were industrial malfunctions). By 1976, 145 alarms were from County Control, 27 from alarm boxes (all but two of which were malfunctions) and only 17 by telephone. This, in six years, the county communications systems had become the fastest and most efficient way to summon firefighters in Leo’s coverage area.
In February of 1970, a new service truck was purchased at a cost of $21,911.65. This unit consisted of a Ford chassis with a Gertenslager body. All brush equipment was then placed on the 1948 Dodge. The new service truck was equipped with Survivair breathing apparatus, replacing the Chemox masks.
The 1919 American LaFrance had been taken out of storage and placed in the new station when it was first occupied. In August of 1972, this pumper was sold to Mr. Howard Foster for $1,555.
A 1,500 gallon, 350 GPM tanker was purchased in October of 1972, at a cost of $14,836.25 increasing the company’s fire protection capabilities in non-hydrant areas.
In April 1973, a used 1971 Chevrolet pickup truck was purchased for $2,600. It was built and equipped as a brush truck at a total cost of $5,114.46, of which $4,000 was borrowed from the Relief Association and repaid six months later. The 1948 Dodge was then sold to Mr. Charles Kelly for $482.50
Beginning on October of 1973, an update of radio equipment began. This included the purchase of four portable radios for use by the chiefs, a new base station to replace the original unit placed into service in 1951, new multichannel radio for each truck and the Chief’s car, additional tone activated monitors and most recently, 33 pocket pagers which allow the active men to be alerted even though they are not at home.
A committee was appointed in November of 1973, to study the needs of the company for any future apparatus. The order was placed for the purchase of another new 1,000 GPM pumper in February of 1974. The new Seagrave pumper was received in August of 1975 at a cost of $54,266.00 (unequipped) of which $40,00 was loaned by the Relief Association for four years at 3% interest, being the first diesel powered apparatus in the company’s history and the first cab forward style with jump seats. Among the unique features of this unit was a deluge gun and front mounted suction to reduce manpower requirements at large fires. The 1941 Seagrave was sold to Mr. Joe Devilbliss for $750 and is now owned by Mr. Paul Mueller of Bel Air, MD.
In January of 1974, a trailer fire in Frey’s Trailer Court on East Broadway resulted in the second fire fatality in the borough’s history, caused by careless smoking.
By the end of 1976, the service truck was equipped with various tools and became a York County-certified rescue truck. Also in 1976, a new 100 watt base station was placed in operation, replacing the one purchased in 1952, which was sold to the New Bridgeville Fire Co.
Following a year long period of negotiations, Leo Fire Co. and Windsor Township were unable to reach an agreement on an extension of the contract for fire protection. After expiration of the old contract on January 1, 1977, response into the township was limited to rescue calls only.
Throughout early 1977, discussion was conducted on the need and practicality of Leo Fire Co. purchasing an aerial ladder, such equipment not readily available in the area of York County. In May 1977, a 1950 American LaFrance 85-foot aerial truck was purchased from York City for $10,000. This unit was later repowereed with a 6V-53N Detroit Diesel at a cost of $13,500.
In July 1977, in conjunction with the Boy Scouts of America, Leo Fire Co. sponsored Explorer Post #609 for persons age 14 through 18 with an interest in firefighting. This had been a source of firefighters to the company through the late 1980’s.
By the end of the 1970’s all apparatus had been equipped with two-channel 33.90/33.88 radios, except the 1951 Seagrave. Portable radios were placed in all units except the tanker, and are carried by the three chief officers. Motoral “Minitor” pagers were issued to the firefighters in addition to an Instalert or Plectron monitor.
In April of 1977, the city of York offered a 1951 American LaFrance, ’75 aerial truck for sale. Leo Fire Company was the successful bidder with a bid of $10,000.00. The truck was completely restored to new condition by the volunteers. A new diesel engine was installed along with the latest firefighting equipment. Leo Fire Company is proud of the fact they have a unit for approximately $31,000.00, equal to one that would cost in excess of $150,000.00 new.
Following acceptance of a contract by both parties in March of 1979, Leo Fire Co. was once again providing fire protection to about 2/3 of Windsor Township on a first or second due basis.
In June of 1979, it became necessary to replace the tank portion of the tanker. An 1800 gallon stainless steel tank was installed at a price of $24,000.00 by 4-Guys, Inc.. Also included was a 450 G.P.M. pump and a 2100 gallon fold-a-tank for quick dumping a supply of water. The truck can also be used as another pumper on a hydrant if necessary.
The Relief Association purchased a Mako air bottle refilling station in July of 1979 at a cost of $10,849.
In 1980, a used police cruiser was acquired from Red Lion Borough, and converted for use as an officers vehicle. Later in the year, a Lukas rescue tool and accessories were purchased and placed on the Rescue Truck. The fire police brigade was reactivated in 1980 after having been disbanded in the mid-1960.
In early 1981, 1,500 feet of four inch hose was purchased with various adapters. Along with Humat hydrant valves, the four inch hoe increased speed in hydrant hook up and water flow. This hose was placed on the 1975 Seagrave. The 1 ½” hose has been gradually replaced with 1 ¾” hose and automatic nozzles as primary attack line.
The 1950 American LaFrance aerial responded only to reported structure fires within Red Lion Borough or when specially requested when first placed in operation. As additional equipment was installed, the unit became much more versatile and responded as second-out piece on all incidents except those which were single engine calls. In March 1981, a committee was formed to investigate the possibility of rebuilding this aerial ladder or replacing with a newer model. In June 1982, the committee recommended purchase of a new 100 foot Seagrave rear-mount aerial ladder to replace the American LaFrance. The Seagrave aerial arrived and was placed in service March 1983 at a total cost of $193,823. $75,000 was loaned to the Fire Co. by the Relief Association for the purchase at a 3 ½% interest rate for five years.
In August 1982, an additional 1500 feet of four inch hose was purchased and placed on the 1963 Seagrave. This purchase gives Leo Fire Co. a total of 3,000 feet of hour-inch hose. An evaluation of the hydrant system in the borough was then conducted which allowed pre-planning for the use of the best hydrants with a large diameter hose.
A heat detector system was installed in the fire station by Stewart B. Shaffer& Sons in November 1982.
In 1983, Leo Fire Co. was granted permission by the FCC for the use of 33.58 as a third radio frequency for mobile units. All mobile and portables were equipped with this frequency by the end of 1983. In October, the American LaFfance aerial was sold to the Rochester, Michigan Fire Dept. for $15,000.
In 1991, Leo Fire Company, along with fire companies from Dallastown, Yoe, Spry and Jacobus formed the York Township Fire and Emergency Association. This organization was conceived to improve fire protection in York Township.
The year 1991 also saw the purchase of a computer system to improve record keeping and business functions of Leo Fire Co. This system is constantly being added to and improved, thus has greatly increased the efficiency of administering fire company business.
In 1993 the Ladies Auxiliary was dissolved and became Leo Enterprises. Their primary function still today is to raise money for the fire company use by holding Chicken BBQ, Bingo’s and various fund-raisers and supporting the firefighters in anyway they can. There are 10 active members in this branch of Leo.
Engine 34 was purchased in January of 1996 for $320,000.00 unequipped. A Simon duplex Salisbury with a 50 gallon class A foam system, a 1500 G.P.M. pump, and a 500-gallon tank.
Tanker 34 was purchased in March of 1998 for $120,379.00. This International/Four Guys has a 2,000 gallon tank and a 500 G.P.M. pump.
January 1999 brought forth the purchase of the new Ford F-550 brush truck, purchased for $114,400.00 featuring a 300 gallon water tank and a 500 G.P.M. pump. This piece responds for R.I.T. and as a Brush mini-attack.
2000 was the birth of R.I.T (Rapid Intervention Team) at Leo, working diligently with local station 54, Stewartstown to merge as one team forming SOG’s. Training still continues and Leo is proud of this accomplishment in the fire service.
The Chief’s vehicle, Command 34 was purchased in January 2003 at a cost of $40,000 which was needed after the previous Command was totaled when a tree fell on top of it while at a scene during a storm. It has an Odessy command system with a radio system set up for Command purposes. The Command is also equipped with an AED and is certified as a Q.R.S. unit.
In 2002 a Truck Committee was researching the purchase of a new Aerial Apparatus when it was discovered that the floor in the existing building was not strong enough to support any additional weight of Newest Additionnew equipment. The purchase was put on hold and a Building Committee was assembled in 2004. The purchase of the adjacent property was made and the house was razed. Kinsley Construction began the erection of the new 5-bay building to house fire equipment. In 2005 the existing property and new property were merged onto one deed and placed in the Fire Company’s name. Completion of the new building was done in September 2005. Cost of this project was $695,000.00. Plans for the existing building are to renovate and use as fire company offices, lounge and a social hall for the community and volunteers. The V.N.A. still resides in the lower portion of the existing building.
In 2004 a Truck Committee was put together to pursue purchasing a new Aerial Apparatus. By early 2005 a decision was made to purchase a demo model KME 95’ Mid-Mount Aerial PlaTruck 34tform Truck. By mid-May delivery was made at the price of $605,000.00 (unequipped). A Hurst Tool was purchase and donated by Leo Enterprises for the new Truck for $4,700.00 and additional tools were purchased by the Fire Company for a total of $9,800.00.
Leo Fire Company prides itself in the fact that it has grown to be one of the largest, best equipped and busiest fire departments in York County, and still remains a completely volunteer company, with approximately 20 active members, thus reliving the citizens of Red Lion of a tax burden.
Leo Fire Co. has always enjoyed generous support from the citizens of this area. We are proud of the fact that for 111 years we have provided fire protection as NON-PAID VOLUNTEERS at very little cost in tax dollars to the citizens. This history reveals that over time, the greatest portion of fire equipment was purchased with monies not coming from borough tax dollars. This cannot be said of any borough of comparable size in this area.
Red Lion Fire Company, “Ever Willing Every Ready”