Montgomery County Fire Station 11 / EMS Squad 355
Area and Programs
Located in the corner of Montgomery County (PA.), beside the northeast border of Philadelphia, independent Bryn Athyn Borough (population 1100) was first settled by members of the Church of the New Jerusalem. Among them was John Pitcairn, founder of Pittsburgh Plate Glass (now PPG Industries). As a result of its unique history the town now houses one of the world's finest private stained glass collections at the Glencairn Museum, a medieval-styled cathedral, several castle-size mansions, a high school (the Academy of the New Church), and Bryn Athyn College. Together with many single family dwellings and a business park, these facilities comprise the Bryn Athyn Fire Company's (BAFC) primary fire protection district.
In addition to fire coverage for Bryn Athyn Borough, BAFC also provides Basic Life Support ambulance services to Bryn Athyn and the surrounding township of Lower Moreland (population 20,000). As part of this commitment BAFC engages in numerous public outreach and education endeavors. We believe that injury prevention and public health promotion are the best ways to prevent unnecessary injury and death in our community. Overt the last year BAFC offered various first aid and safety classes free of charge to community groups such as the Boy Scouts, posted regular safety messages in the local newspaper, and visited local schools to promote child safety. Our company has an ongoing smoke detector program that provides free advice, detectors, or batteries to those in need and annually hosts a fire prevention or safety oriented open house. Each summer BAFC offers teens a one-week emergency services summer camp session through the Academy of the New Church. Additionally, the fire company offers regular assistance to local police departments through our provision of lighting and medical/safety personnel at weekly DUI check points. It is our hope that our support of this proactive police endeavor will help reduce the number of roadway injuries.
Integration of Emergency Services
Believing in an integration of the emergency services to provide the highest level of service to our communities, BAFC actively promotes the training of its members as both firefighters and emergency medical providers. One of the few joint fire and ambulance operations in the county, BAFC uses its medical and fire resources together as much as possible to provide the highest level of service possible. This is especially useful for incidents such as vehicle accidents, where an Engine and Special Service unit can support ambulance operations by providing fire protection, lighting, fluid cleanup, and additional personnel to make lifting and moving as easy as possible on the patient. Additionally, our ambulances respond to every fire scene to provide immediate first aid to victims as well s fireground rehab for firefighters.
Mutual Aid – Fire, Ambulance, and Police
The Bryn Athyn Fire Company strongly believes in answering any call for help, including those from other public agencies. Over the years BAFC has developed numerous mutual aid agreements, the most extensive of which is with our sister department, the Huntingdon Valley Fire Company (Montgomery station 8) of Lower Moreland. In addition to Lower Moreland the company is regularly assigned to box alarm assignments in Southampton and Feasterville (Bucks County stations 2 and 1), as well as working fires in Willow Grove (10), Hatboro (95), and Rockledge (9) as the Firefighter Assist and Search Team.
The company's ambulances are also involved heavily in the mutual aid system and provide coverage during busy times to Abington, Willow Grove, Cheltenham, and occasionally, Bucks County. We regularly receive mutual aid from the Second Alarmers Rescue Squad (353) and infrequent ambulance mutual aid is received from Cheltenham (358) and Bucks County squads.
Additionally, BAFC is available to local police agencies 24 hours a day for assistance with problems such as minor roadway spills, small tree limb removal, and emergency lighting, and is a participating agency in the Eastern Montgomery County DUI Task Force, providing lighting and safety services to 8 different Police Departments. In turn, BAFC receives mutual aid from the Bryn Athyn or Lower Moreland police departments on every call. Often arriving ahead of ambulance and fire crews, the police assist through such actions as providing lifesaving CPR interventions using Automatic External Defibrillators or the evacuation of houses around a fire building.
HISTORY OF THE BRYN ATHYN FIRE COMPANY
Fire protection in Bryn Athyn was first organized on September 16, 1916 as the unincorporated "Bryn Athyn Fire Company No. 1". On this date, a fire siren was put into place, to be tested every Saturday at 12 o'clock noon. The organization was formed as a result of several major fires in Bryn Athyn, including the Cathedral carpentry and modeling shed fire ($25,000 loss - a large sum in those times), and a house on the Cairnwood Farm. Note that the Cairnwood Farm has been the scene of three more major fires - a serious fire at the Cairnwood Stable on Huntingdon Pike in late summer in the 1930's; a barn (with a prize horse fatality) in November, 1974; and a large house in August, 1991. The Company began with a 48 horsepower 1910 Pierce Arrow automobile, which was donated by Mr. Raymond Pitcairn and converted by Company personnel to a chemical truck, with two large soda acid tanks (not unlike the 1916 American LaFrance fire truck from Merchantville, NJ, displayed at the borough's recent 75th anniversary celebration). A committee of the Company recommended purchase of a pumper and chemical apparatus, at an estimated cost of about $4,000. An additional major expense considered in the first year was $500 for self-starters for the apparatus. The original station was a garage behind "Glenhurst," at 3095 Huntingdon Pike. At 7 a.m., February 13, 1917, the Bryn Athyn Fire Company No. 1 moved into its permanent home, the building next to the Academy of the New Church Power House. 1992 marks the 75th anniversary of this move.
In its first year, the Fire Company received donations and pledges to make the necessary apparatus purchases. The Pierce Arrow was equipped with chemical equipment, and another Pierce Arrow truck was equipped with a Hale 500 GPM rotary pump, 500 feet of 2 1/2" hose, and boots, coats and helmets for the active fireman. The self-starters were omitted for lack of funds, requiring drivers to be assigned to start the apparatus and run it daily. Upon its move into the new firehouse, the Fire Chief was Edwin Asplundh, First Lieutenant Raymond McGee, and Second Lieutenant Fred Finkelday. The first President was Mr. Edward C. Bostock. Mr. Bostock replaced Chief Asplundh in 1917, as Mr. Asplundh advised he was not available in Bryn Athyn during the daytime. There were 28 active members. It is interesting to note that today, there are 33 active firefighters, with 65 total active members.
Little more than a year after its incorporation, the Company faced the largest incident in its history. Early in the morning of December 5, 1921, a Northbound passenger train leaving the Bryn Athyn Station on the Reading Railroad Newtown line missed a signal. It ran head on into a Philadelphia-Bound express train at the "Bryn Athyn Cut," a spot on the rail line that ran between two rock cliffs that had been cut for the railroad. Twenty seven were killed on that morning, and 70 injured. Most of the injuries were as a result of the ensuing fire, which spread quickly through the wooden rail cars of the time. This accident was widely reported throughout the United States. Emergency equipment from numerous surrounding communities assisted. Ironically, at 8:13 a.m. on Saturday, March 14, 1964, another Reading commuter train bound for Philadelphia derailed at almost the same location. Emergency apparatus from Huntingdon Valley Fire Co. and the Second Alarmers of Willow Grove assisted Bryn Athyn units with the five people that were injured in this accident. Fortunately, there was no fire in this incident. It is interesting to note that several of the railcars involved in the 1964 derailment had been purchased by the Reading railroad as a result of a ban on wooden railcars following the 1921 accident.
November, 1948, yet another serious fire struck Bryn Athyn. A fire significantly damaged the upper floors and roof area of Benade Hall on the Academy campus. Fire apparatus and ambulances from 18 departments fought this fire, testing the newly formed Third District.
1968 brought about delivery of a Hahn custom pumper. The cost of this 1000 GPM unit was just under $30,000. When this pumper was replaced in 1989, it was sold to Beaverdale Fire Company, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania. Also delivered in 1968 was a GMC light/utility truck, which was the last all-red truck purchased. This truck was later sold to a fire company in Texas, and replaced by a 1981 Pierce/GMC 4-wheel drive special service, purchased at slightly under $50,000. This vehicle was equipped with a 15 kW generator and four 1500 watt floodlights mounted on the box. It operated as a light/power/salvage/EMS first responder/command post unit. In 1978, the F.W.D. was replaced with a 1250 GPM Hahn pumper, our first all yellow truck. This pumper was purchased from the J.B. Hunt Company for just under $90,000. J.B. Hunt was the same company that sold the Company its Ward LaFrance pumper in 1947. The 1968 Hahn, was replaced by the 1989 Duplex/Quality 1500 GPM pumper at a cost of approximately $183,000.
In May, 1993, a new special service unit was ordered from PL Custom Body/Rescue 1 on a Freightliner to replace the 1981 vehicle. Cost was $160,000. PL Custom was chosen due to the positive experience we had with our 1991 ambulance, as well as the relative closeness of the factory (Manasquan, New Jersey). The new vehicle was delivered in February, 1994 and is equipped with a 20 kW PTO generator, powered by the vehicle's engine. It has a light tower equipped with 6000 watts of floodlights, extending 30 feet in the air. There are also two 1500 watt tripod floodlights mounted on the rear of the truck that can be utilized either mounted on the vehicle, or portable. The truck also has an air cascade system (four 6000 psi bottles) which can fill air bottles on the scene (a first for BAFC!), and a heater/ventilator unit for confined space rescue/ vehicle extrications. Previously, we needed to fill our bottles from another company, or utilize a permanently mounted cascade in the station. Many roll-out trays were utilized in the construction of this vehicle to make it easier for firefighters to remove heavy equipment. The vehicle is painted yellow, with white and red striping to add some traditional fire vehicle colors. On September 1, 1993, the 1981 special service was sold to Bradfordwoods Volunteer Fire Company, near Pittsburgh, for $29,001, $1 more than the asking price! In September, 1994, Fire Company members traveled with the new Special Service truck to the Pennsylvania State Fireman's Association parade in Erie, and were awarded the best appearing and equipped Special Service unit at the state parade!
Significant incidents in more modern history have included: the golf ball factory explosion and fire in Meadowbrook, June, 1962; fire and explosions at the Asplundh Tree Expert Company in Huntingdon Valley, October, 1965; the Unity Supermarket fire in Huntingdon Valley, August, 1967; the Lower Moreland Intermediate School fire, October, 1967; a house/apartment fire at 2711 South Avenue, Bryn Athyn, January, 1970; the Lehman Church fire in Hatboro, December, 1971; the Panelrama store in Feasterville, November, 1974; sending a pumper to Trenton to pump for 32 hours during their water crisis in September, 1975; a 6-alarm fire at Mr. Plywood store in Feasterville, March, 1981; a 4-alarm fire at the Somerton Springs Ballroom in Feasterville, October, 1981; the train vs. gasoline tanker accident in Southampton, January, 1982; the dynamite removal incident in Feasterville, June, 1983 (in service 16 hours +); the Vo-Tech School horticultural building fire in Willow Grove, June, 1986 (covered another building fire for Willow Grove during this incident, then later assisted at the scene); a lumberyard fire in Bristol Township, February, 1987 (overhaul detail); the C building fire at Bethayres Valley Apartments, Huntingdon Valley, March, 1988; the Perkasie conflagration, June, 1988 (overhaul detail); a stolen SEPTA bus involved in a chase ending in Lower Moreland, causing 4 accidents involving 13 cars with 16 injuries in January, 1989; the Adcock pool chemical warehouse fire, August 1989; a supermarket fire on Easton Road, Abington, May, 1991 (5" hose assist); and a barn fire near the Borough line in Willow Grove, November, 1991 (laid 1/2 mile of 5" hose in a total 1 1/3 mile relay).
Discussions of replacing the firehouse have been a serious topic at fire company meetings since the 1960's. It was not until 1982 that plans began in earnest. Mr. Kent Cooper, an architect from the Bryn Athyn community, volunteered to draw up plans for the facility. From these plans, the project was pitched to governmental officials and the community in general. The fire company had been saving funds for years towards the project, however, additional funding was needed. A committee of representatives from the Borough, the Fire Company, and the Police Department was formed to guide the project. Presentations were made, and door to door campaigning done to garner support for the project. More than 90% of the $1.1+ million dollar cost of the project was on hand or pledged when construction began. The building was designed to meet the functional requirements for the next 50 years, anticipating future needs for fire and ambulance, police and Borough organization.
Following the building dedication, interest in the Company climbed. Over 20 new members joined the Company during the year following the dedication, requiring a significant effort in the area of training. To improve ambulance service during the daytime in the summer, an experiment was conducted during 5 weeks in July and August, 1992. A firefighter/EMT was leased from SATS, Inc. of Willow Grove for 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays. This time period was chosen as several Company members have seasonal occupations that do not permit them to be available during the daytime during warmer months. The experiment proved successful, reducing EMS response times by approximately 3 minutes. The program was continued for the Summer of 1993 starting May 10 through Christmas. With the program in place, the ambulance was on the scene of a response within 10 minutes 91% of the time. Prior to the program, the 10 minute response time was only met about 75% of the time. This time is critical if lives are to be saved.
At the end of October, 1995, the Willow Grove Fire Company began experimenting with a concept that was started in other parts of the country in the late 80's, but had not yet spread to the Philadelphia area - the Firefighter Assist and Search Team (FAST). This is a unit that is assigned to house and building fires, and stands by to provide backup personnel to rescue any emergency personnel who find themselves in distress. The Bryn Athyn Fire Company was chosen to provide this duty with Special Service 11 for all calls in Upper Moreland Township. This significantly increased our fire workload.
Shortly thereafter, the Enterprise Fire Company of Hatboro also embraced the FAST team concept, choosing Bryn Athyn to provide this pioneering service. In addition, we were again surprised to find that although there were no ice storms in 1995, we finished the year with 823 EMS calls, 1 shy of 1994.
Another important milestone implemented in 1996 was the creation of Fire Company scholarships for our members. We had been saving since 1988 to fund these, and the Samuel Croft II scholarship fund was set up for a $500 award to a graduating high school senior, and the Andrew R. Klein fund was set up for a $750 award to a college student. The first awardees were Daniel J. Norman for the Samuel Croft II scholarship and Michael J. Morton for the Andrew Klein scholarship.
In 1997-98, State Representative Roy Cornell came through for us again with a $20,000 grant to purchase a thermal imaging camera for our FAST team. We became one of the first companies in the area to own this technology, and the first to have a camera with wireless remote video transmission capability allowing officers outside to monitor through a TV/VCR what the camera was seeing inside. The camera, an ISI Vision2, was delivered in May, 1998. The camera was utilized four times in the first week we had it, including at two working fires, one smoke investigation, and at a car accident involving a overturned stolen car to verify that there was only one occupant.
1998 brought a change that hadn't been seen for many years. R. Scott Cooper decided to step down as Chief after serving 16 continuous years in this position. C. Kristopher Smith was elected to fill Scott's spot. Kris decided that due to the management needs of the EMS side of the business, to appoint Kenneth Schauder as Chief of EMS Operations, another first for the Company.
When the year ended, we found we had responded to 191 fire calls (a record high), which included 21 working structure fires in 7 different municipalities (likely another record). During the year, daytime manpower problems resulted in BAFC running an engine with Huntingdon Valley Fire Company on all of their weekday calls from 0600-1800 hours. This contributed to the fire call volume.
The call volume increases, and impact on members' families resulted in a decision in 1999 to expand on a previous experiment the Company had conducted. An additional paid person was added from Memorial Day to Labor Day, providing a 2nd FF/EMT in station on Mondays and Fridays, and covering a large part of Saturdays and Sundays. This assisted in dealing with volunteers' vacations, etc.
Since the early 1960's, it was apparent that more space was going to be needed to fill the expanding mission of the Bryn Athyn Fire Company. With the advent of ambulance service in 1964, and the increasing size of fire trucks to carry the equipment needed to deal with diversifying hazards, as well as to properly protect the members, space and safety in the building had become prime concerns of the company.
When discussions about widening Huntingdon Pike and "sinking" it through Bryn Athyn were held, an effort was made to incorporate building a new firehouse where the Academy Central Plant Operations office is now located. Floor plans were drawn, but the project died along with the plans for the Pike.
In the 1970's, the problem expanded as the fire trucks being made in that era would not fit into the existing station. In 1978, an addition had to be built to house the latest pumper and delay the need for a full scale building project.
Finally, in February 1982, the Fire Company presented to Borough Council a detailed report on the short and long term needs of the agencies which used the fire house and borough complex. With Borough Council's approval, then- Borough Council President Hyland Johns appointed a committee charged with resolving the problem.
And so began a ten year effort to identify the solutions, choose the most appropriate one, and implement that solution to its fullest. Today, we sit in the building which best solved the problems which faced the Borough, although it wasn't easy.
Early in the project, Kent Cooper was hired as the architect for the project. Kent drew many plans for the facility, addressing several approaches to the project. Some of the approaches included: tearing down the existing station and rebuilding; building a new station on a new site; using another structure in the Borough and modifying it to meet our needs; and the solution that was picked - an addition to the existing facility and extensive renovations.
The two obstacles to this plan were: negotiating a lease with the Academy of the New Church (the landowners), and of course, funding. While Borough Council negotiated with the Academy, the Fire Company addressed the funding issue.
In 1987, Bob Asplundh and Phil Smith, two well-known citizens of the community, were approached by the Fire Company to co-chair the fund-raising efforts. Each was given a financial goal, and working with block captains and fund-raising teams, exceeded their goals. The final cost of the project approached 1.2 million dollars, of which only $90,000 had to be financed - truly an outstanding job by all involved!