History of the Northampton Township Volunteer Fire Company (as of 2014)
Long before the housing development and the shopping centers, Northampton Township was a community of farmers, with the village of Richboro as its hub. The potential for property loss or death from fire was low.
Even so, a group of concerned residents gathered in 1914 to charter a fire company to serve the township. They called it the Richboro Fire Company No. 1.
One hundred years later, the Company has grown into the Northampton Township Volunteer Fire Company that serves a population of over 40,000 people. Today, the company responds to 1000 Fire, Rescue and EMS calls a year.
Many of the early history records have been lost though time, however, we do know that before 1914, the Southampton Fire Company (now Bucks County Station 2), formed in 1909, provided the Richboro area with fire protection. When residents needed assistance, Walter Yerkes and Walter Finny of Southampton would hitch two horses to their pumper and rush it to the township line at Bristol Road and Second Street Pike.
There, Stephen Gill and J. Milton Luff would meet them with a fresh team of horses, then drive the pump to the fire. There it would take several men to hand operate the pump.
By 1913, a series of bad fires made the Richboro residents realize that they needed a fire company of their own. Lloyd Wilson’s farmhouse on Second Street Pike had been on fire and so had John Gill’s in the center of the village.
The residents really became aroused when a fire broke out in the chimney of McCool’s White Bear Hotel. Walter Yerkes rushed the pump to Bristol road where Milton Luff met him. Miraculously, the hotel was saved.
Soon after, a group of men met above the horse shed beside the Black Bear Hotel, the usual meeting place for village affairs. J. Milton Luff, Fred Turner, William Nolan, Will and Joseph Cramer, Thomas Bubeck, George Cramer, Neal Knorr, Howard Hunter, John Bell and William Wendig, Jr. were the first to organize a fire company for Northampton Township.
Late in 1913, the former Richboro School house on Second Street Pike went up for public auction. The fire company authorized Milton Luff to bid up to $500 for the property. Bids, however, soared high above that mark. Undaunted, Luff purchased the building for $750.
The members remodeled the school to house their equipment that consisted of a Howe Hand Pump mounted on a horse drawn chassis. The pump required six men on either side to operate it. A kerosene powered pump soon replaced it. Elementary classes continued upstairs until completion of the new school building in 1917.
In May of 1914 a Charter for the Richboro Fire Company was drafted. It contains the clause: “No intoxicating liquors shall be furnished to or used by its members, in any form, on the pretext of social, friendly intercourse or entertainment, or for any other reason by this corporation.” This is still enforced today.
On June 3, 1914, the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas approved the incorporation of Richboro Fire Company No. 1
About 1915, Milton Luff purchased a Republic truck to pull the fire company pump, dispensing with the horses. From 1915 to 1918, the members were very active introducing minstrel shows and dinners to their list of activities to help pay for equipment.
In 1918, the fire company had its first motor driven apparatus with the purchase of a Ford chassis. Members mounted the kerosene pump on it. By the early twenties, a Hahn chassis with a motor drive Hahn pump replaced it.
The first fire company carnival was organized in 1924. It was a huge success clearing $1,100. This was a fund-raising tradition which lasted for many years, although in several years it was decided not to hold in in lieu of other events.
In 1927, eleven women, mostly wives of the firemen, formed the Ladies’ Auxiliary. Mrs. Harry Walker served as President for the first two years.
Earlier, the fire company had purchased the corner lot on Second Street Pike and Newtown-Richboro Road from Mrs. Ellen Cornell for $500. By June 6, 1927 bids were formally being taken for construction of the new firehouse.
The contract was awarded to Robert LaRue of Wrightstown, and the completed building was turned over to the fire company on February 1, 1928 at a cost of $13,000. Later that same year, an engine room was added for about $6,000.
In those days, because of the limited number of fire companies and the distances between them, the Richboro Fire Company traveled as far as Bethayres, Somerton, Hatboro, and Pineville to give mutual aid, however in June, 1933, after responding to a fire in Bethayres, the members decided to limit the pumper to fires in Trevose, Southampton, Newtown, Lingohocken, Ivyland, and Hatboro.
The following year, the fire company responded to seven calls, with a fire loss of $3,000. By 1935, property loss was down to $2,500 with 10 calls for the year.
During the war years, members rounded up 10 buckets and filled them with sand to protect the firehouse in the event of a raid. Citizens also acquired funds to purchase a louder siren for the roof of the firehouse. The company placed the old siren in Churchville. This siren no longer operates.
Fire company ties to the Richboro School continued. On March 29, 1948, a fire broke out at the Richboro Elementary School. Eighteen fire companies fought the fire, some of which had to draft out of the creek on Almshouse Road near Second Street Pike. The fire hall was offered to the school for class space at a rent of $7.50 per week.
During the 1950’s, weekly fire hall dances, bingo, and the carnival helped to raise money. Members also purchased a portable pump unit to pump out cellars. The cost was $10 for the first three hours and $1.00 per hour after.
As the population began to rise in the 1950’s, so did the number of fires. The fire company had 18 calls in 1958, the total jumped to 46 in the 1959.
By 1960, it was becoming evident that a new firehouse was needed. The trustees however rejected the idea of selling the firehouse in 1961, but agreed to begin looking for a new site. They also recommended building a substation in Holland to keep up with the population growth.
In 1963, George Noe’s barn at 169 Rocksville Road became available and the fire company rented it for $1.00 per year as temporary housing for a field truck.
At the May meeting in 1963, forty-one members voted to change the name of the fire company to its present name, Northampton Township Volunteer Fire Company. By now the company was responding to over 100 calls per year.
The Atlantic Refining Company purchased the old firehouse in 1964 for $60,000. Settlement was made in April of the same year between Township Supervisors and Herbert Luff for 10 acres of land, the site of the present Richboro firehouse (Station3). The supervisors agreed to lease the land to the fire company for $1.00 per year for 99 years.
Plans moved along in Holland and in September of 1966, the current Holland Firehouse (Station 73) at East Holland and Old Jordan Roads was dedicated. An engine and a field truck were housed there.
In 1967, Vietnam hit home with the news that Bob Scott, then an eighteen-year-old member, had been killed in the war there. The Radio Room at Station 3 is dedicated in his honor.
The company progressed and purchased two new engines from the American LaFrance Company in 1968 and 1970. These trucks remained the workhorses of the company for more than the next ten years.
In early 1974, Kathy Kay became Northampton’s, first female firefighter. Daughter of member Jack Kay, she had helped with fire communications since she was 14.
By 1975, minstrel shows and carnivals were no longer effective to meet the cost of protecting the growing township. In 1976, the Township passed a referendum to charge a fire tax on Northampton residents for fire protection. The State of Pennsylvania also stepped in by providing funds for firefighter safety equipment.
The Fire Company’s first Ladder and Rescue trucks were purchased in 1976.The ladder truck was a Mack 75 foot Aerial Scope and the Rescue truck was a Ford F-600 four wheel drive truck.
As the population increased around the Holland area, two additional full size bays were added to the Holland Station in 1978 at a cost of $60,000. In 1981, a new Mack 1250 gallon per minute (gpm) pumper truck with a 500 gallon water tank was purchased.
A Cascade Breathing-Air system and compressor were installed in 1981, supplementing the original system mounted on Rescue 3. This system allows the fire company to refill empty air pack cylinders at the station and a fire scene.
In 1987, a new 1500 gpm two-stage pumper manufactured by Emergency-One with a 500 gallon tank was purchased.
In 1989 the fire company took delivery of four new pieces of apparatus: Two new E-One 1500 gpm state of the art pumpers with 500 gallon water tanks; one 2000 gallon Ford chassis tanker truck; and a Ford F-350 light rescue truck.
As the population continued to grow, the number of rescue type calls grew as well. In 1996, the fire company retired the Ford F-600 rescue truck and purchased an E-One Heavy Rescue truck still in service today. This truck has multiple pieces of rescue equipment including the Jaws of Life.
In 1998, the fire company was proud to open a brand new fire station(Station 83) to serve the Churchville and Ivyland sections of Northampton Township. Station 83 located at Hatboro and New Rds. was dedicated in June 1998. This property was obtained from the U.S. Navy and was part of the closed U.S. Naval Air Development Center.
In 2001 the original ladder truck was replaced, a new pumper was purchased for Churchville Station 83 and in 2004 a combination Pumper/Rescue truck was added to the Holland Station 73. This new combination piece provides both firefighting equipment (water, hose etc.) and rescue equipment such as the "Jaws of Life."
With a growing demand for Emergency Medical Services in the Township, in 2009 the fire company trained and qualified approximately 20 members as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT’s). The Pennsylvania Department of Health certified the fire company as a Quick Response Service (QRS). When the service is logged up, you may see a fire truck responding with an ambulance to a medical emergency.
Daytime responses have always been a challenge due to the fact that many members leave the township during the day to work. In 2009, Northampton Township in partnership with the fire company applied and received a 5 year federal grant to hire the Township’s first 4 career firefighters. The firefighters work during the day and supplement the volunteer firefighting force Monday through Friday.
We have made progress much progress in 100 years due to the dedication of the citizens of Northampton Township past and present. The fire company strives to keep up with emergency service technology. Hazardous Materials Response, Marine Rescue, High Angle Rescue, Confined Space Rescue are just a few of the specialties the fire company handles.
In addition to the fire and rescue responsibilities, the Fire Company has a group of members known as Fire Police. The Fire Police provide scene security and access control to all types of emergency incidents. The Fire Police may be the first responder you see when approaching an incident. Take their direction as they strive to keep you and the responders safe.
The accelerated growth Northampton Township and the ever growing call volume require our apparatus to be replaced with updated equipment on a strict schedule.
Volunteers are always needed. It’s a job that requires skill and training. The fire company provides all the necessary training (180 hours to start), protective equipment and a great atmosphere of camaraderie. The fire company is a great place to find the satisfaction of serving your neighbors and friend in a very important way.
Training continues in station. Northampton township firefighters drill every Monday night, maintaining a level of proficiency that ranks among the best in the county.
A Northampton firefighter gives upward of 50 hours of time in a typical month. The only reward they receive is the satisfaction of a job well down and the challenge of helping others in their moment of need.
In 2014, we have approximately 75 active firefighters in 3 stations, with 10 Fire Police officers, and 10 support service members responding to Fire, Rescue and EMS calls. Volunteers are a commodity in short supply. If you feel the challenge, come out and join us.
Adam Selisker-Fire Chief (member since 1980)
Matt Sklodowski-President (member since 1990)
Some friends of the Fire Company
March 31, 2014