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DENA REEDY Review Staff
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The Ephrata Pioneer Fire Company is celebrating 125 years.
"We are not just celebrating our anniversary," company President Jim Kiefer said. "We are celebrating our connection with the community."
Kiefer said the fire company enjoys a good relationship with the community.
"We have a strong presence in the community," he said. "We provide excellent emergency services, have an open house every year and have an intense fire prevention program, to name a few," Kiefer said. "We also do a lot of things behind the scenes that no one knows about and the community reciprocates by contributing to the fire company."
Kiefer said the fire company "values that relationship greatly" and in honor of it and the anniversary, there will be a parade Sept. 17, set to depart from in front of the Ephrata High School at 1 p.m. and will travel to West Fulton Street. From West Fulton Street, it will then go west to West Main Street. Once on West Main Street, it will travel east to the square in downtown, before turning right onto South State and traveling back to the station.
Kiefer said there are several fire companies and bands participating, including Ephrata middle and high school bands, along with bagpiper James Freeman.
"We are asking everyone, and especially those along the parade route, to display the American flag," he said.
Following the parade, Kiefer said everyone is invited back to the station for food and drinks.
A special bell will also be dedicated after the parade near the marquee.
The fire company was chartered on Sept. 17, 1888, according to Kiefer. The department, which is strictly volunteer, has about 50 members and responds to about 300 calls a year.
The company is always looking for more volunteers.
"We are always looking for those interested in finding out more about us," Kiefer said. "If you are interested in volunteering, visit our website at: ephratafire.org."
It’s important to remember where you come from.
"The Ephrata Pioneer Fire Company recognizes its past and appreciates its past and former members, as well," Kiefer said. "We would not be where we are today without them and we look forward to the future."
The history of the fire company is recorded on its website, the following is a brief outline on how the fire company received its charter.
The first recorded fire in Ephrata occurred in the late part of 1700, when enemies of the Seventh Day Baptist of the now known historic Ephrata Cloister, attempted to destroy their foes buildings by burning them down. However, with two large fresh water springs on site, the Cloisters were able to control the fire. Then a shift in the winds pushed the fire back to the arsonist buildings, burning them to the ground.
During this period of time, the only form of firefighting in existence was known as a bucket brigade. In the 1800s when a fire was discovered, an "alarm" was sounded. This alarm was made by suspending a split locomotive wheel in a frame and striking it with an iron hammer, the sound of which could be heard for great distances. When this alarm was sounded, there was no way for community members to know where the fire call was, so if you heard the alarm, you ran outside and looked into the sky to see the smoke or fire, or you watched where others were running. These community members grabbed the nearest bucket usually made of wood, but some of the nicer ones were metal, and proceeded on foot to the scene of the fire. Usually by the time the fire was discovered and help could be summoned, it was too late to save the original building so efforts were focused on the surrounding areas. Water was thrown on the exterior walls and roofs of the nearest buildings to cool them down and hopefully prevent a fire. In this time period all properties either had fresh water wells or rain water cisterns equipped with a hand pump. Two men pumped the water out of these wells into the awaiting buckets. Then a line was formed from the well to the building they were trying to save and the buckets were passed down the line. By the end of the line there was usually very little water left in the bucket, because of spilling and leaking from the wooden buckets. Thusly, making the efforts of the community members almost fruitless, if there was any extra help, men would run into the burning building and throw whatever salvageable goods they could find out windows and doors and community members would move them away from the buildings.
The need soon arouse for a better solution to fighting fire. Some influential community members stepped forth to protect the town of Ephrata, and a hand pump was purchased. This hand drawn, hand pumped equipment carried with it two large buckets of water and hose. This allowed three people to prevent fire spread. Two were used to pump the handles which siphoned water from the attached tanks and then pushed it out the hose, guided by the third member of the team. As technology advanced, three community members stepped up and laid the ground work to the modern day fire department. D.R. Hertz, J.R. Mentzer, and C.S. Yeager, three prominent members of the community, formed the original fire department and housed a steam fire engine in 1874. These three men chose to name Ephrata’s first fire department after Pennsylvania’s oldest fire department, S.J. Ettla No 1, which was named to honor Harrisburg’s best fire fighter. And so Ettla Fire Department was formed. The members furnished the money to buy the steam fire engine which cost $1,000. This new engine was housed in a small wood building to the rear of 40 W. Main Street (or Eitnier & Hoffman Funeral Home, now the current A&J Furniture Store).Then in 1880, the department moved into a small building built to the rear of a two-story brick school house. This was advantageous because the school bell could be used to alarm the volunteers of a fire. In 1884 as the city of Ephrata grew, the services provided by this department also grew. Ettla Fire Company held two town fairs in 1884 and 1885, using the proceeds to purchase a two wheel hose cart for an unknown price.
On Sept. 17, 1888, Ettla Hook and Ladder Company was granted a charter, and became an official fire department under the guidance of Chief Hose Director M.G. Mentzer and President H.C. Gemperling. The Ettla Hook and Ladder Company housed its apparatus and equipment in what is loving referred to as the Ettla house. This was a small one room wooden garage to the rear of what was Sprecher’s Hardware Store, the current home of The Funniest Toy Store. At some point in time the title Chief Hose Director got shortened to the now used term chief. This highest honor was held by the very best fire fighters of that time. As the years past the leadership changed. Superseding Chief Mentzer was Chief G. Groff (1889), Chief W.D. Gates (1890). Chief H.H. Stroble (1891-1892), Chief C. B. Fisher (1893). Along with the first Chiefs of the department Presidents H.C. Gemperling (1889-1894) was instrumental in the organization of this new department.
In December 2010, R.A. Pettyjohn assumed the role as chief and the department continues to make great strides forward in its protection of Ephrata Borough, Ephrata Township, the surrounding municipalities, residents and visitors alike.
More PIONEER, page A16