In August 1932, the first meeting of Reliance Hook & Ladder Company No. 1 was held in the garage of Mr. George McIllhenny in Boothwyn, Pennsylvania. The company was chartered in 1932 with Peter B. Lythgoe, President.
Members of this young unfounded and unequipped fire company worked endlessly trying to supplement their organization with the proper facility and apparatus.
From the beginning, working out of McIllhenny’s kitchen or carting items from their own kitchen, the wives of the company worked to supplement their funds. Besides preparing chicken dinners and oysters suppers, the women made cakes for “Strawberry and Peach Festivals”. For a small fee those attending were entitled to all the fruit, cake and ice cream they could eat.
Eventually, the organization acquired ground on Fifth Avenue in Boothwyn. A two-bay wooden framed structure, approximately forty-five feet by sixty feet, with a very small kitchen, was built for approximately $4,000.00.
The first piece of equipment purchased by this young company was the old hard tire Hook & Ladder, which had been discarded by the Moyanmanysing Fire Company in the City of Chester. Looking through the history, the Hook & Ladder was not in service very long.
The first pumper was a 500-gallon per minute Chrysler Hale pumper and a Buick pumper with a 100-gallon per minute pump.
The firehouse was not used specifically for the company’s convenience. It also served as a facility for the community.
In the early 1940’s Rev. Calvin Harrah, Pastor of the Bible Presbyterian Church, Unaffiliate, of Boothwyn, held services and Sunday school in the engine room of the structure. During this era, the men and women of Reliance were able to raise funds to purchase a new 1949, 500 gallon per minute Mack pumper with a 500-gallon tank capacity for $20,000.00 dollars.
During the 1950’s, Mr. Lowe of Boothwyn organized the Chester Teenage Club. Every Wednesday night, a meeting was held and immediately following, a dance. As for the adults during this same period, every Saturday night for a $1.00 donation, they could dance to the music of Charlie Wolf’s three-piece band.
As the year’s advanced, Reliance’s Auxiliary continued to supplement the company funds. Homemade vegetable soup was sold in the winter months on Saturdays.
Residents would come with pans, jars, etc. to be filled with delicious liquid. Another annual event was the Calendar Party. These consisted of making table decorations, favors and cakes to celebrate various major holidays. Tickets sold for a nominal fee. The patrons took home the different favors, which were at their place settings. Penny parties were also a source of fund raising.
With the growth of the community it was necessary to purchase another pumper. With low funds, the company bought an old Pepsi truck and with the talent of the men, they converted this truck into a small pumper for brush fires and non-building fires.
As the years went by, the new officers and members decided to take the company in a new direction. With block parties at the Firehouse and carnivals at Berdoll’s Field (Currently Wendy’s), they Company was able to raise enough funds to purchase a 1975 red Pierce Mini-pumper. At a Company meeting the floor voted to change the colors of the equipment to Yellow and to renovate the Firehouse. In 1979 the Company purchased a Class A-Pierce pumper with a 1,000 gallon a minute pump with a 500 gallon reserve tank of water. This was the first new Class A pumper since 1949.
Since the company was a Hook & Ladder Company and they did not have a Ladder truck, one was purchased in 1978. This was a 1953, 85 foot American LaFrance from Syracuse, New York and a 1948 used Pumper from the City of Chester. So, at this point in time, Reliance Hook & ladder was doing good, with two new pumpers, one Ladder, one mini pumper, all new gear, hose and attack lines.
January 5 th , 1980 @ 5:14 AM, the a Box alarm sounded for a working building fire at Fifth & McKay. George McVeigh, Joe Nyce, Larry McMaster and Wilfred Smith were first on the scene with our Firehouse engulfed in flames. The Mini-pumper was already out on the ramp and no one was behind the wheel and it was burning. The members were going to try and push the brand new pumper outside but the ladder behind it was an open cab and fully involved. As the day went on, more and more members were gathering at what was left of our station. They talked about how it took 30 years to save for a new pumper and now it was totally gone after only six months. Reliance now had to start over.
Starting over was easier said than done. With heavy hearts the members and spouses met at the Boothwyn Fire Co No. 1 on Sunday, January 6, 1980. With the officers at the time, Bill Brauer, President, William Eller, Vice President, Willard Whiteman, Secretary and Wilfred Smith, Treasurer, sat for hours with the membership deciding how they could get back in service. Knowing that they could never duplicate the 1949 Mack, which pumped 750 gallons a minute with a 500-gallon tank, the 1953 American LaFrance 85 foot ladder truck, the 1975 Ford Pierce Mini Pumper which pumped 325 gallons per minute with a 260-gallon tank and finally, the 1979 Ford Pierce Pumper which pumped 1,000 gallons per minute and had a 500 gallon tank, yet they still knew that needed to replaced what was lost.
Bill Brauer and Wilfred Smith were given the job of organizing and running the rebuilding fund for the Company. Within a short period, a trailer was donated. This was placed next to the charred ruins of their beloved firehouse.
Not having any equipment of their own, the men of the Company fought fires alongside of fellow firefighters from the local companies in the area.
The brotherhood and fellowship of firefighters was expressed in many ways. Eventually, through many donations of apparatus and money from businesses and fire companies in the tri-state area, they were supplied with sufficient equipment to fight fires on their own.
Norristown Fire Company allowed Reliance to keep the trucks in their facilities. When they acquired the third truck, a makeshift plywood shanty was constructed at the site of the old firehouse. While the men of Reliance were fighting fires, the women of Reliance reorganized also. Prior to the fire only a handful of long-time members comprised the Ladies Auxiliary. After the fire, many new members joined. The Ladies Auxiliary increased to 25 women. The local companies in the area offered their halls for use.
Women of Reliance began doing their job like the women did in 1932. Activities were geared to the new generation. A Fashion show was held at Ogden Fire company, Beef and Beer dances were held at Boothwyn Fire Company and penny parties were held at Linwood Fire company. Bowling parties were held at Brookhaven Lanes (now Pep Boys). In 1981 elections were held selecting Shirley Smith as President. Meetings were held in Shirley’s home for a period of time. Meetings previous to this were held in the trailer.
Eventually the trailer was moved to a new site on Mill road off Chichester Avenue. It was placed on part of the 190 acre tract of land that in 1807 belonged to the Kerlin family. This would be the new home of Reliance Hook & Ladder Company No. 1. The land was covered with trees. The men cut and cleared the land in bitter cold weather and the wood was sold for firewood. The trailer was the only cover on the site that provided warmth for the weary workers, but they still persevered.
History repeated itself. The women did their share by making hot soup, chili and coffee at home and tramped through the mud to deliver the warm meals to the men.
When funds were sufficient, building blocks were bought and foundations were poured.
This was done during the bitter cold weather. At times, fires had to be build around the pans of mortar to keep it from freezing. Slowly a four bay apparatus room and combined hall and large kitchen took shape.
The members used their ingenuity by clearing a picnic area, which was used to prepare barbeque chicken that was sold. The area also supplied a spot for crab feasts. This area was used for several years by local and surrounding organizations for picnics.
Chief Wayne Minner and the members of the company went looking for our own trucks.
Pennwyn Fire Company had a 1961 pumper and a 1966 Ladder for a reasonable price, so the Township would have a Ladder for covering our Schools, Industries and at times offer assistance to other fire companies, including the State of Delaware. So, in 1981, Reliance purchased a 1961 Mack pumper and a 1966 Mack Ladder from Pennwyn Fire Company for $61,000.00.
A little over five and one-half years since the tragic fire, the Company dedicated their mortgage free building and their new fire truck (still be financed). This dedication is a perfect example of men and women volunteers working hard and unselfishly to serve and protect their community.
As the years went on, the Company under took the project of building a Banquet Hall.
The hall was designed to seat five hundred people. With no outside help, and with our own limited funds, we started to build a 100’ x 100’ hall. With our funds being limited, we were only able to complete half of the hall. To obtained more funds, the 1961 Mack pumper was sold for $1,000. In 1987, we purchased a 1979 pumper with a closed cab from Wisconsin.
Work continued on the Banquet Hall as funds became available until it was completed in 1990 to seat 250 people. At this time the Company had decided to try its hand in the catering business and at the same time provide fire protection to the Township residents.
In 1992, the ladder failed inspection so the Company had to make a decision to either repair the Ladder or try to purchase another Ladder. After two years of discussions and fund raising, the Company voted to purchase a 1994, 95’ E-One Tower. For their hard work, unlimited hours spent at the firehouse and dedicated to the Reliance Hook & Ladder Fire Company No. 1, Wilfred Smith and Shirley Smith were presented with a plaque, which is mounted on the side of the Tower 61 in their honor.
With this type of debt for our new Tower, we had to finish the other half of the Hall. In 1995, with the hard work of its members, this was accomplished to seat a total of 500 people.
In 1998, we sold our 1979 pumper to a broker in Florida and in 1999, we purchased a pumper from Claymont Fire Company. In 2001, we sold our Seagrave pumper to a fire Company in Texas. With our only pumper left in the station being a 1985, we needed to start looking a replacement. We looked a 2002 Pierce Squrt Pumper, but with a price tag of over $490,000.00 dollars, the Company decided to look for a used Squrt at a more reasonable price. Yardley fire Company was selling their 1991 Squrt. We submitted a bid and received a call from Yardley that our bid was accepted.
Reliance Hook & Ladder has had a lot of ups and downs over the past seventy years, however, we are committed to the tradition of the Fire Service and as we seat here tonight in the “Phoenix” Banquet Hall, celebrating seventy years of service, look around and see for yourself, the dedication and hard work that has gone into making Reliance proud to serve the residents of Upper Chichester Township.