The year was 1950. At the time, the community of King of Prussia was truly in its infancy, in fact, estimates placed the residency at only a few hundred, a far cry from the 200,000 plus people who visit Upper Merion Township each day in the 1990’s. This was a changing time for the community as traditional farmland began to give way to the demands of modem transportation, business and industry. Even before the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the Schuylkill Expressway completed construction, the boom in residential commercial and industrial construction began. The small village around the intersection of Gulph Road and DeKalb Pike (now known as Routes 363 and 202), surrounded by extensive farmland, suddenly began to blossom into one of the most heavily populated areas of Upper Merion Township and suburban Philadelphia.
One of the most impacting incidents driving the need for a fire station in King of Prussia occurred in April 7, 1950. On that fateful day a grocery store, operated on DeKalb Pike near Gulph Road, caught fire and was destroyed. Upper Merion Township had two other volunteer fire companies at the time, located at the south and east sections of the township, which at the time were more populated and more active. Unfortunately, the other two fire companies were delayed as a freight train crossed DeKalb Pike at King Manor, creating a significant delay in arriving at the fire. Forty-five days later, on May 25, 1950, a public meeting was held in the township hall. That evening, in the building known as Stewart Fund Hall, a fire company to be known as the King of Prussia Volunteer Fire Company was formed.
The grocery store fire and introduction of a high-speed highway were but two of a number of issues that warranted better fire protection and faster response for the northern and western portions of the Township. The foresight of ten brave men in 1950 saw a community rapidly developing. A community which would cry out for help from time to time, in need of persons to protect life and property. The late William E. Wills, then Upper Merion’s Tax Collector, was instrumental in presiding as Chairman in the organizational proceedings. The original name presented was the King of Prussia Colonial Village Fire Company, which was rejected in favor of the official name still used today – THE KING OF PRUSSIA VOLUNTEER FIRE COMPANY.
Ten individuals were selected as charter members and following an explanation of the requirements to start a fire company by attorney Anthony L. Differ; William E. Wills, Arthur Loughlin, Salvatore Mazerle, Earl G. Teany, William Anderson, John W. Brennan, Lewis Granger Jr., William Hayden, Edward Mathis, and Norman Sperry proceeded to sign the charter commencing the activities of the King of Prussia Volunteer Fire Company.
The first officers elected were George Santoro – President; William Ross – Vice President; Burton Davis – Recording Secretary; Elwood Bickhart – Treasurer; G. Raylston Ayres -Financial Secretary; John Brennan – Fire Chief, and Clarence Bean – Chief Engineer. These were the leaders who guided the organization through their many obstacles during those formative years, as with any volunteer group in that era. The problems they faced then getting volunteers, obtaining and maintaining fire-fighting equipment, and housing that equipment – remain the key concerns of volunteer organizations today.
Early meetings were held in Ed Mack’s garage, then located at the intersection of Gulph Road and DeKalb Pike. Mack operated a service station which was later razed when Route 202 was widened and the turnpike was extended. The present “Chili’s” restaurant is on the site of Ed Mack’s’ garage. Shortly thereafter, the station was moved across the street to a garage owned by Miss Jean Supplee, in an area now occupied as a parking area for the Plaza at King of Prussia.
The interest and work of Miss Jean Supplee was quite noteworthy and dates the first woman member of the organization to well prior to the better known women’s entry into the fire service in the ’70’s. When the fire alarm would be made, she would sound the fire siren and then start the fire engine and get it ready for the responding driver and crew. Ms. Supplee was also instrumental in the initiation and support of the Ladies Auxiliary of the King of Prussia Volunteer Fire Company, organizing it along with Frances Pasquale. That fire siren was obtained from Harmonville Fire Company and placed upon Wilson’s bam to alert firefighters. Sometime during the harsh winter months, the potbelly stove, which provided heat for the engine room would go out. The fire engine was so frozen on one occasion that it had to be towed to a nearby garage to thaw out. These were hard times for a young and struggling fire company. As the fire company considered expanding its operation, a new Chief Salvatore Mazzerle was named.
It took time to ultimately obtain ground to build the first official fire station, obtaining that land from William Walker. Then, in 1952, the King of Prussia volunteers, themselves, began erecting the original fire station on Allendale Road, adjacent to the turnpike. The first meeting in that building was held on May 19, 1955. In 1955 Lewis Granger, longtime township employee took the reigns as Fire Chief leading the fire company for four years.
These early years were focused on people, equipment, operations, and facilities; just as they are today. Firefighters were not yet abundant so recruiting was necessary. Operations were a major concern with the officers coordinating training with other nearby fire departments to hold joint training to improve firefighting operations. Equipment came slowly. The first fire engine was purchased at the cost of $18,000. Built on a 1950 L- 190 International chassis by TASC, the engine had a 750 gallon water tank and a 500 gallon per minute Hale fire pump with a body manufactured by Maxim motors of Middleboro, Massachusetts. The pride of the fleet for many years, this pumper, known as “Old Number One” would serve the township very well into the 1970’s. It remained in service “on loan” to the Elk Lake Volunteer Fire Company in rural northern Pennsylvania, until it returned to King of Prussia in 1992. It is housed today in the Allendale Road station as a reminder of our beginnings.
Between 1955 and 1957, the fire company added two more pieces of equipment. The first was an all purpose truck. Built on a Ford chassis, “Number 2” was donated by Tose Trucking Company of Bridgeport. This former delivery truck was converted into a fire truck by the members of the fire company with the assistance of James Keil and Lew Granger. A body built for the truck which included a 250 gallon water tank, a portable pump, a 150 pound dry chemical system and compartment to carry hose and various tools. The second piece was a boat donated by the Bridgeport-Upper Merion Lions Club and used by the fire company for water rescues on the Schuylkill River and at the various quarries located throughout the township. The boat was towed to the scene by “Number 2” and also was called upon to assist other fire companies.
In 1959 the fire company added their third truck, an International chassis vehicle with a body built by TASC of New Jersey. The truck was equipped with a 750 gallon per minute pump and 500 gallon water tank. This unit was equipped with a 150 foot long, one and one-half inch hose line that was connected to the pump which was one of the first such equipped units in this area. The truck was known as “Number 3” and later when Montgomery County Communications began to handle dispatching of the fire companies, it became known as “47-23”.
No fire company is worth its weight if it cannot to its job when needed,and all fire companies have their history of great fires. It didn’t take long for King of Prussia to meet those great challenges. The first response was to a trailer fire in the Valley Forge Homes area. Then, unfortunately, in July 1950, less than sixty days after forming the fire company, they had to respond to their own Fire Chief s residence to quell a fire. The fires then only got more frequent and larger in size over the years. 1962 was a most devastating year as a major fire struck the George Washington Motor Lodge along Route 202, as one wing was destroyed and a patron of the hotel was killed in the fire. Major fires would strike this facility every five to seven years until it was razed in the mid-’90s. That same year, 1962, saw a major fire strike the Tanglewood Apartments on Prince Frederick Street, destroying numerous units and forcing residents to other homes. 1967 saw a major fire in the Grant’s department store in the Valley Forge Shopping Center. The 1980’s became the next major period of growth for the community and a major era of problems for the fire company. It started in 1978 with a fire in Stouffer’s Bakery along Hansen Access Road where a 75-foot high cold storage warehouse was set ablaze bringing fire fighting forces from throughout Montgomery County to help out. A few years later on New Year’s Day, many of those same fire companies returned to help King of Prussia’s volunteers battle a stubborn blaze which destroyed the World Life and Health Insurance Company’s headquarters along DeKalb Pike. Just two years later, even more fire companies responded to assist in the “great gas line spill” as a Sun Oil Company gasoline transmission pipeline ruptured spewing hundreds of thousands of gallons of gasoline into our storm sewers, forcing quick and decisive action to prevent the gasoline from exploding. The late eighties saw a number of large fire losses, the most spectacular of which was the burning of 80,000 square feet of roof covering material on the Plaza at King of Prussia complex. As we moved into the nineties, major incidents included a tour bus accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, with most of the 40 passengers requiring EMS assistance or assistance in exiting/being extricated from the bus; a major Christmas Eve fire at the Plaza of King of Prussia complex; two significant fires within 30 days at the George Washington Motor Lodge; a major church fire; two simultaneous hotel fires; one at the McIntosh hotel Extinguished by a single sprinkler head in ten minutes, and one in the Sheraton hotel at the Valley Forge Convention Center which took five hours to extinguish and overhaul and had over 40 guests treated by EMS. In 1997 the 175 firefighters from 19 organizations fought the largest brushfire in the history of Valley Forge National Park, started by a model rocket.
Part of any volunteer fire company is its social consciousness and ability to combine friendship, needed work, and having fun while doing it. This type of camaraderie has been evident in King of Prussia since its origin. A social room for firefighters to gather, socialize, discuss the business of the organization, relax, train, and enjoy themselves can be recalled back to the period the apparatus was housed on the Supplee property.
The volunteers were also very active at fund-raising then and now. Spaghetti dinners, pancake breakfasts, raffles, “Country Style Minstrel Shows”, and door-to-door fund raising were prevalent, and the need to raise funds continues today. Present fund-raising chairman Doug MacEchem has now computerized the annual fund drive operation and is responsible for generating the funds for mortgage payments and building maintenance. Most interesting is the make-up of the fire company. Students, craftsmen, laborers, business owners, police officers, engineers, accountants, corporate executives, educators, retirees, all work together for the common good – a safer community.
The social aspect included picnics in Walker Field and an annual banquet. The annual banquet has since become a celebration which includes individual awards for service, the most coveted of which is the “Fireman of the Year” award where previous awardees choose the recipient. Other awards which developed over the years include the Chief s Award, Attendance Award, President’s Award, Rookie of the Year Award, Fire Police Award, and Chief Engineer’s Award. A small award indeed when one considers over 30,000 man-hours are expended by the group annually to provide emergency services.
A major difference between those early days and today is the method in which volunteers are notified. In the mid-50’s, the “modem” method was to report a fire by telephone to the police station. A police officer would activate the fire siren for 10 “cycles” and bells would ring in individual firefighter’s homes. If not enough members would respond, the siren would be activated again. The original siren was removed and replaced with two sirens, one at Jones’ Machine Tool Works and another at Crow Creek Sewage Disposal Plant. These were later replaced by a single siren located at the Allendale Road fire station location. During construction of the present Allendale Road station, the siren was removed. It was refurbished and in June, 1991 returned to the roof of the new fire station. Today, however, the modem technique of alerting firefighters is by a radio paging system Fire calls are received by dialing 911 which is answered by the Montgomery County Emergency Communications Center and through the utilization of computers and radio frequency transmission a tone and voice alert is activated which tells each firefighter of the type and location of the problem. Each firefighter carries a small electronic pager on his or her belt for this purpose allowing them to be notified in a broader area and with more details than just using a siren. In 1994 this system was enhanced with computer printouts received in each fire station providing basic incident location information along with cross street, pre-plan and related details which can be taken by responders onto the apparatus as they respond. As we entered 1997 technology advanced even further with this detail now provided onto alpha-numeric paging systems which provide more detail better range, and enhanced capability than voice paging systems.
1959 was also a transition year for Chief as Edward Silcox took control of the fire company. In the late 50’s and early 60’s, the Plaza at King of Prussia as well as the development of houses, apartments, and industrial buildings brought new and unique challenges to the fire company. More people were coming to live here, shoppers wanted to “see and shop at the mall’, businesses liked the access to roadways, and with this came more emergency response problems. During this time, there were also many community activities in which the fire company took part – block parties, bringing Santa Claus to see the kids, open house during fire prevention week, and those traditional public service calls for the “cat stuck in the tree” (even a $5,000 prize bird stuck in a tree). Calls to which we still respond today. This was the dawning of the “Santa Run” where each Christmas Eve, firefighters put Santa Claus atop the fire engine and bring candy canes to the children of King of Prussia.
Another area of continuous activity has been meeting and training drills. Conducted every Tuesday evening, members gather to learn new techniques, talk over problems and how to solve them and how to improve the service being provided. In 1962 came a new ‘ladder truck”. A 75 foot long fire department aerial ladder manufactured by Grove Crane Company was placed on a GMC chassis and TASC fire apparatus body. This unit was needed to provide access to the new and larger buildings and provided the ability to flow water from above many fires. Equipped with a 250 gallon water tank and a Hale high- pressure fire pump, “Number 4” was purchased for $36,000 and also carried an assortment of ground ladders.
In 1964, the fire company chose a new Chief in Rankin Taylor. Under ‘@, the department continued to move forward. Formerly Chief Engineer and later in the ’70’s becoming Fire Marshal of Upper Merion Township, became very influential in the growth of the fire company and in fire protection of the township. Under Rankin as Fire Marshall the township adopted and advanced building and fire codes to enhance fire protection and more safety for firefighters. 1965 saw old “Number 2” replaced by a Jeep 1/2 ton pick-up truck. The members added a 250 gallon water tank and a portable pump. In addition, running boards were added to the sides where portable water tanks (2 1/2 gallons each) were carried; and a tailboard was added for firefighters to ride on. In 1968, the fire company expanded the Allendale Road station with two fire-engine bays, specifically to accommodate the arrival of a new custom-built Hahn 750 g.p.m. pumper, purchased for $43,000. A far cry from the cost of the 1996 pumper bought for $260,000. In 1969, the fire company received its Hahn pumper. Built on an International C08190 chassis, it had a 500 gallon water tank, 28 inch deep compartments over the wheel wells for the storage of air bottles, and complete air packs. The other special feature of this unit was the pre-connected hoseline configuration above the pump panel. This design helped firefighters get hoselines filled with water to the hose faster. A common tool today, it was one of the first designs of its kind in the area.
The 1970’s saw not only another change in leadership but prolific expansion in the community. Ken Steinmetz took the reigns of Chief in 197 1, starting a tenure that would last over 18 years. To meet the needs of the growing community, the fire company purchased two additional custom pumpers in 1975; a 1,000 g.p.m. Sanford and a 1,500 g.p.m. Ma@ Following major vehicle failures, the Maxim replaced “Old Number I”. This was the first automatic transmission fire engine for the King of Prussia Fire Company. In 1976, the Sanford arrived being the second automatic transmission vehicle. While ordered in 1974, the Sanford (known as 47-23 during its lifetime), it did not arrive on time as unanticipated labor problems beset the manufacturer. This vehicle was designed with many of the features mentioned in the earlier vehicles and also included two pre-connected high-volume deluge guns and a pre-connected 2 1/2 inch hoseline for dealing with larger fires.
The early seventies also found the fire company exposed to a new type of response vehicle rescues. A Dodge Power Wagon was purchased and converted to provide needed equipment for both brush fires and vehicle rescues. Modified with a “Boyertown” truck body, this was further modified to hold a “cascade system ‘bringing breathing air to the fire scene. The compartments also allowed the firefighters access to carry various tools including, the “Jaws of Life”, of which we have four today. In the late seventies, the demand for this type of service warranted a new and bigger vehicle to serve this purpose.
This, coupled with continued expansion of the community resulted in the need for an additional fire station to be built along Beidler Road. In 1979, this second station was constructed at a cost of $90,000. Both stations were then and continue today to be financed and maintained by contributions of the residential and business community. In the 1970’s, the Industrial Fund Drive handled by the business community provided substantial funding to support these efforts. In 1980 a new rescue truck arrived and provided the needed equipment and space to properly serve those who needed our services. Built on a Ford chassis, the truck was constructed by Liberty Fire Protection of Bridgeport, PA. This vehicle featured new techniques such as an electric motor to power the “Jaws of Life”, more space for new advances in rescue equipment, a generator and more powerful lighting units and a foam system to control flammable liquid type fires. In the late 1970’s the fire company purchased another piece of apparatus, a 16-foot walk-in van from the Tose Package Delivery Company. The van was then modified by Liberty Fire Protection to include cabinets for various equipment and bench seats for firefighters; and also served as a communication and command vehicle at incidents.
The 1980’s brought even more potential fire problems to the community. High Rise buildings rose from the ground, more apartments appeared, the Court at King of Prussia was added to the Plaza, the advent of hazardous materials and more industrial buildings enhanced the need for better and more extensive fire and emergency response capabilities. This meant more training, new and different equipment and more and more emergency responses. What could be easily counted in the fifties, emergency responses would close in on two per day by the end of the ’80s and three per day to the turn of the century. This meant less time for fundraising, less time for public relations work, and related activities. In 1982, a “Fire Board” was created by Upper Merion Township. In 1984 the township Board of Supervisors also created a “fire tax”. This fire tax resulted in Upper Merion Township now purchasing all major fire apparatus for Township Fire Companies as well as major capital expenditure items, e.g. 5-inch fire hose, computers. Also, during the 80’s, funding for the fire companies increased, but not enough to allow firefighters to be relieved of fundraising activities. The fire company must still generate income through its social club and residential fund drive to pay for the stations, station maintenance, and miscellaneous expenses. The 1980’s also brought the fire company into the computer age as a comprehensive computer system was obtained to manage information, save time, effort, and help officers better manage the department. The 1980’s also saw the first actual female “firefighters”, a tradition which continuous today. 1984 brought the arrival of a custom built Hahn 1500 gallon per minute pumper; and in 1987 an LTI 100 foot long custom-built ladder tower arrived. The LTI was the first 100 foot ladder-tower with a closed-type sedan chassis (all firefighters ride inside on seats) ever made. The unit cost was $419,000. Also in the 1980’s the fire company obtained its first Fire Chief s Car to better enable the Fire Chief to establish a command area and an incident command system at the scene of an emergency. A replacement vehicle was obtained in 1988 and was complemented in 1992 with a Jeep Cherokee which serves an even expended capability of radio and telephone communication. Under Chief Steinmetz, a duty crew was established in the ’70s where firefighters stayed overnight in the station, volunteering their time, to provide a quicker response when needed. Ken was also instrumental in developing the officers of the fire company today. It was under his guidance, that younger members were encouraged to join. These younger members, today’s leaders, still provide the kind of leadership and thought process that Ken so capably introduced.
Also during the 1980s, Montgomery County Community College began a fire science curriculum, with as many as eight King of Prussia firefighters enrolled in classes and one member an instructor in the program Typical of the dedication of the volunteer fire fighter, they did this on their own time, with their own finances to simply better protect the citizens of Upper Merion. In addition several members went on to advanced fire protection college programs at Delaware Technical and Community College and the University of Maryland. Today, several of these students are employed in the field of fire safety as well as continuing to serve as volunteer fire fighters. Our desire to learn still exists with members traveling nationally to learn new equipment, techniques and procedures. This now includes an annual trip to the National Fire Academy for classes. It was at one such national event the Chief Steinmetz had the vision of need and application of a ‘ladder-tower” in King of Prussia.
In 1988, Chief Steinmetz retired, turning over the company to Gary Touchton. Chief Touchton, along with President Ted Reigh, Board of Trustees Chairman Joe Morris, Steward Ken Thorpe, and Ladies Auxiliary President Dee Dee Reigh undertook the challenge of building a new main fire station at the Allendale Road site. In 1989, the King of Prussia Volunteer Fire Company demolished their old building and through Cutler Construction Company, with the daily guidance of Trustees Carmine Fiorentine and Bill Daywalt Sr., constructed a modem fire station with final construction costs of $1,200,000. Paid for with residential and commercial fund drive contributions coupled with social room donations, the station faced numerous obstacles, yet provides us a state of the art facility to operate from. During the construction process, an unbelievable series of events affected its completion. The apparatus had to be housed outside during a significant portion of the construction period, with construction delays forcing this longer than anticipated. Then came the real problems. First a heavy, rainy period caused flooding behind the firehouse in the area that the trucks were staged. Fortunately, the trucks were out on emergency calls when the water rose, or they may have been surrounded by floodwaters as was the construction trailer used as a temporary fire station office during construction. Then came the tornado of 1989! Since the trucks were to remain outside in cold weather, firefighter Joe Groff built a temporary structure around the trucks to keep some heat inside and the cold weather out. Affectionately called “Fort Joe Groff’, it held up through an early heavy snowfall and a very unique early cold spell. Chief Engineer Bill Kreitz and Joe Groff would take turns starting the fire engines in the middle of the night to assure they would be ready to use when needed.
The station wasn’t the only new undertaking in the 1980’s as a new 4-wheel drive brush truck was added to the fleet. Built on a Ford chassis by Liberty Fire Protection, the vehicle is used for field fires and related emergencies in off road situations. In addition, the unit typically responds with Emergency Medical Services units in severe weather situations to assist in adverse roadway areas and with additional manpower. The advent of hazardous materials problems (approximately 10% of the calls responded to) warranted new equipment and in 1988, the 1968 Hahn pumper was refurbished and put into service as a spill control unit with specialized equipment and of course, specialized training had to be given to the personnel responding. The refurbishment of this vehicle also brought about a major change in the fire company as the traditional color of red was changed in favor of a black over red color combination and gold accent reflective striping; for distinctiveness. Coupled with reflective lettering and highly visible lighting, this makes the fire apparatus extremely unique on the highway.
The 1990’s continue to see community growth as motels continue to crop-up, more buildings are planned, and more people visit our town: all of which contribute to the fire problem As a result, a new heavy rescue truck was obtained in 1990. The rescue truck is a one-of-a-kind futuristic vehicle, planned for expansion, yet serviceable the day it arrived. Custom built by Emergency One at a cost of $239,000, the unit is flexible enough to serve the community for many years. The company averages one rescue response per week varying from vehicle extrication to extrication from machinery, to high-angle rescues, to residential rescues, to trench rescues, to confined space rescues, to unique one-of-a-kind entrapments. In 1995 the rescue truck was named BEST APPEARING AND EQUIPPED HEAVY RESCUE at the annual Pennsylvania Firemen’s Association meeting and parade in Lebanon, PA.
The King of Prussia Fire Company was not without its share of national notoriety as well. As early as 1962, FIRE ENGINERING, magazine ran a cover photo of the fatal George Washington Motor Lodge fire, as well as a two page story. In 1972, a national report prepared by the President’s Commission on Fire Prevention and Control included a photo of a fire in Bob Mohan’s King of Prussia residence, as he and his daughter grieved over their loss. In the 1980’s a number of visibility items occurred. FIREHOUSE magazine, a tabloid with a circulation of over 100,000, ran an article about the Sun Oil pipeline leak, complete with photos. ‘Me magazine also included short stories about major losses seven times in their “FIREWIRE” section which gives one paragraph statements of what’s burning in America. The King of Prussia Fire Company has also been included annually in the Volunteer Run Survey complied by FIREHOUSE magazine. In 1989, King of Prussia ranked 39th in the country in emergency responses by a volunteer fire company. Statistics demonstrate that our responses are greater than several cities with fully paid fire departments such as Fargo, ND, and Charleston, SC to name a few. The fire company also received unique notoriety as they were chosen to represent the “American Fire Service” in the 1987 Constitution Day Parade, as our ladder-tower rolled through the streets of Philadelphia witnessed by over 500,000 parade attendees and millions on nationwide television.
Our new fire station was one of thirteen featured in FIRE CHIEF magazine in 1990, highlighting our use of sprinklers, alarm systems, and the problems of building a new station where an old one existed. Our major fires have been featured three times on the cover of TBE VOICE magazine and in 1990 the fire company hit the small screen as a national fire video company, FIREQUEST, featured the King of Prussia Fire Company’s Safety Officer program We have also gained notoriety by two members being actively involved in regional and national activities spreading what we know and do to the rest of the country and bringing what they know and do, back to King of Prussia for implementation. Former Assistant Chief Paul Carney has served for many years on the Montgomery County Fire Board with responsibilities at the Montgomery County Fire Academy. Paul has served as well as the Chairman of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (LAFC) Volunteer Committee and has run the IAFC Eastern Division annual fire training programs. Deputy Chief Bill Jenaway also served in such activities being chairman of the LAFC Risk Management Committee, Chairman of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Risk Management Committee, Director of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors and writing and speaking on the positive, successful aspects of the fire company for national magazines and at national conferences. Lieutenant Jim Gallagher followed Bill’s lead and conducted presentations at the Fire Department Instructors Conference as well. Bill Jenaway went on to serve as President of the Congressional Fire Services Institute in Washington DC and for the Pennsylvania Fire Service Institute; making King of Prussia known to legislators and fire association executives. Mike Santillo Sr. served a unique role as well, when he spent several weeks as part of a team in Bosnia (Russia) repairing fire apparatus in what was then Sarajevo. Under both firearm and mortar fire, Mike and his team of GOPHRS repaired fire apparatus as part of a UN initiative.
In May of 1990, the company hosted the National Conference on Fire Prevention and Education, at which representatives of 23 states and Canada attended a four day conference here. 1992 saw the fire company play host to “Tour La France” a traveling nationwide display, which involved 20 pieces of antique fire apparatus manufactured by Figgie Corporation. 1993 saw the fire company play co-host to the National Industrial Fire and Emergency Management Conference and Firemania, held at the Valley Forge Convention Center. The fire company also received “Honorable Mention” by the Firemen’s Association of the State of Pennsylvania’s Fire Prevention Committee in 1992 as a result of the release of a children’s workbook developed by several firefighters and their children. In 1996 the fire company received recognition as a ‘Tire Safe Station” by the IAFC’s Operation Life Safety evaluation group. In April of 1997, the company hosted the National Volunteer Fire Council’s spring meeting, at which representatives of 41 states, numerous corporate sustaining members, state and national fire service figures, and political personnel attended a three day conference here. 1997 also the fire company recognized in the PENNSYLVANIA FIREMAN magazine for its detectoring, alarming, and sprinklering of fire stations. In the year 2000, the company looks forward to hosting the annual convention of the Firemen’s Association of the State of Pennsylvania. These events are captured in memorabilia format, adorning the halls of the company’s meeting room, crew room and chief s office.
Under Chief Touchton, the fire company made significant organizational and operational advancements. Not only was erection of the new 11,500 square foot station completed, but needed equipment enhancements occurred, standard operating procedures were created and implemented, supported the development of an alternative and futuristic organizational structure, and during a study by a team of consultants, many of our operational aspects were commented on as “state of the art” and ‘model-like”. During Gary’s tenure the safety officer concept was implemented. As Gary left office, a safety survey was conducted by the fire company insurance carrier, which found the fire company safety practices to be useful implemented well and more effective that corporations who had adopted similar level safety programs. Gary was instrumental as well in recruitment and retention initiatives, implementing an incentive plan, in late 1996 orchestrated a township wide mass-casualty incident drill; and teamed the fire company with Lafayette Ambulance Squad and University of Pennsylvania Medical Center flight operations (PennStar) to create a billboard “Don’t Make Us Your Designated Driver” supporting their Trauma Prevention Program During Chief Touchton’s tenure, a 1993 KME 1,500 g.p.m. pumper was placed in service, replacing the 1975 Sanford which was sold to Elk Lake.
In 1996 saw the fire company hit two new milestones. A 1996 KME 1500 g.p.m. pumper was received replacing the Maxim as 47-21 and was housed at the Beidler Road Station. In 1997, Dr. William F. Jenaway was named the eighth Chief in the history of the King of Prussia Volunteer Fire Company. Bill also assumed the role of Chairman of the Upper Merion Township Fire and Rescue Services Board. Under Bill the organization lowered its minimum age to encourage membership recruitment, the organizational structure introduced two years earlier was brought into full implementation, and running procedures with mutual aid companies were addressed to reduce liability exposures and enhance operational capability. In 1999 a new GMC Suburban Traffic unit was put into service and the start of many recognitions to members of the fire company with frank Glauner beingin named the FASP Charles Pentz Fire instructor of the Year, Jim Gallagher received the same award in 2000 along with the FASP life Saving Award being awarded to Darryl Bacchi, Robert Meals and Richard Volpi. In addition in 1999, the fire company was recognized by the State Fire Commissioner’s Voluntary Fire Training Certification for having 10% of the membership meeting national training standards. At the 1999 State Firemen’s Convention in Greensburg, PA the fire company marched through the streets along with a 200 piece marching band unit with the result being a 3rd prize and the start of the fire company marching unit.
The turn of the century, in 2000 the fire company celebrated it’s 50th Anniversity. During this year, the fire company was the first all-volunteer fire service agency to become accredited by the Commission on Fire Service Accreditation and played host to the 127th Annual Convention of the Firemen’s Association of the State of Pennsylvania. Some 700 attendees occupied 13 hotels for four days as firefigghter from the commonwealth invaded Upper Merion. In 2001, Chief Jenaway was named “Volunteer Fire Chief of the Year” at the annual conference of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the fire company received and put into service a new 2001 Chervolet Tahoe Chiefs Command Vehicle and in 2002 a new EVI spill control / hazardous materials vehicle.
In addition, Dr. William F. Jenaway was named the eighth Chief in the history of the King of Prussia Volunteer Fire Company. Bill also assumed the role of Chairman of the Upper Merion Township Fire and Rescue Services Board. Under Bill the organization lowered its minimum age to encourage membership recruitment, the organizational structure introduced two years earlier was brought into full implementation, and running procedures with mutual aid companies were addressed to reduce liability exposures and enhance operational capability.
In 2003, William C. Daywalt Jr. became the nineth and current Fire Chief of the King of Prussia Volunteer Fire Company. In February of this year, the fire company saw a devasting fire strike the Beidler Road Fire Station. the fire orginiated from within one of the two fire trucksin the station. Unfortantely by the time the firefighters responded to the alarm, the fire station and trucks were engulfed in fire. This incident led to the re-construction of a modern day 3-bay fire station at the same location which was re-dedicated to the company’s deceased members on November 4, 2004. Also during this year Past Chief and current President Dr. William F. Jenaway received the FASP Robert Miller Firefighter of the Year Award. In addition, the fire company received and placed into service a new American LaFrance LTI Tower Ladder and 1,500 GPM pumper.
In 2004 & 2005, the fire company received and placed into service a 1,500 GPM American LaFrance top mount pumper and a new E-One Heavy Rescue truck with a full compliment of various rescue tools to perform operations in the fields of vehicle rescue, structural collapse, trench rescue, confine space rescue and high-angle rescue. The King of Prussia Volunteer Fire Company received official recognition from the Office of the State Fire Commissioner for having personnel who met or exceeded nationally recognized training standards. The fire company and the fire commissioner’s office have verified that 50% of the membership met these standards.
In 2006, the fire company became re-accredited by the Commission of Fire Service Accreditation and is still the only all-volunteer fire service agency to achieve this recognition. Safety Officer and Fire prevention Coordinator Robin K. Ross received the FASP William Phillips Fire Safety Educator of the Year Award for her dedication to managing the fire company’s award winning Fire Prevention and Life Safety Education Program. This year marked programs 10th stariaght year for being one of the top programs within the State of Pennsylavnia. The King of Prussia Volunteer Fire Company hosted a free program from the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation called “The Courage to Stay Safe…So Everyone Goes Home.” All area fire company personnel were invited to attend. Over 150 people, from 30 area fire companies, attended the class held at King of Prussia Fire Company on Tuesday evening, January 31, 2006. The program promoted the courage to do the “right thing” in order to protect yourself and other firefighters and ensure that “Everyone Goes Home” at the end of the day. Two Pennsylvania State Fire Academy instructors focused on the need for fundamental change in order to prevent “line of duty deaths” in Pennsylvania and throughout the country by outlining the 16 Life Safety Initiatives compiled during the National 2004 Firefighter Life Safety Summit held in Florida. Every attendee received a PA State certification for the class and received an “Everyone Goes Home” black wristband to show support for firefighter safety and the 16 Life Safety Initiatives upon completion of the class.
In 2007, the fire company honored the passing of their lifelong mentor, past Assistant Chief and current Chief of Adminstration William C. Daywalt Sr. Chief Daywalt received fatal injuries during a fire that occurred in single family dwelling. Chief Daywalt was a true hometwon hero and was the father of current Fire Chief William Daywalt Jr. The fire company Chief daywalt lifetime commitment to serving his community by dedicating the American LaFrance Tower Ladder in his name. Chief daywalt was the Assistant Chief with the fir company for over 38 year and served up to 2004 as the Assistant Chief in charge of Ladder Company Operations. The fire company also dedicated a brick in his memory in the Walk of Honor at the National Fallen Firefighter Memorial Park located within the National Fire Academy in Emittsburg, Maryland.
In 2008, the King of Prussia Volunteer Fire Company received official recognition from the Office of the State Fire Commissioner for having personnel who met or exceeded nationally recognized training standards. The fire company and the fire commissioner’s office have verified that 75% of the membership met these standards. The fire company became a contributed member and honored our deceased members by purchasing a brick in the Walk of Honor at the National Fallen Firefighter Memorial Park. Also during this year, the fire company was recognized by the PA Dept of Health and Montgomery County Department of Public Safety for meeting training and equipment standards for the Advanced Level Rescue Operations. The Vol Rescue Service Recognition program in PA is to provide statewide standards of rescue service equipment, personnel training and staffing, communications, reporting, and operations.
In 2009, the International Association of Fire Chiefs has recongized the King of Prussia Volunteer Fire Company’s Fire Prevention and Life Safety Education Program at the Fire Rescue International Conference held in Dallas, Texas. The fire co was one of the seven recipients to receive the US Safety Engineering Award for Excellence. In addition, Fire Chief William C. Daywalt Jr. was confirmed by the Commission on Professional Credentialing (CPC) that awarded him the professional designation of “Chief Fire Officer” (CFOD). Chief Daywalt is one of only 660 CFO’s worldwide. The process includes an assessment of the applicant’s education, experience, professional development, technical competencies, contributions to the profession, and community involvement. In addition, All applicants are required to identify a future professional development plan.
In the half-century of existence, the fire company has made greater strides than organizations many times their length of service. The difference boils down to people. Their energy, desire to grow, expanding their learning horizons, giving our experience to others and working together to achieve something, has made this group great. This personal hard work and dedication of members past and present has created this success which is there to benefit those who live, work, worship, and leisure in the King of Prussia Area.
Where do we go from here? You will make that part of history. Every day our community changes and with every change, the fire company must be ready to meet any situation to mitigate hazards, save lives, protect property, and educate the citizenry and our political leaders regarding the problems we face. We encourage you – our customer – to visit the fire stations and talk with firefighters to learn more about how and why we are here to protect you.
by Dr. William F. Jenaway with Jack SchoRenberger, William Daywalt Jr., Jack Brennan, Lew Granger,
Rankin Taylor, Paul Carney, Gary Touchton and Carmine Fiorentine