(from City of Hermitage Fall 2008 Newsletter)
“New Fire Department Applies for Charter”
This announced the formation of the Hickory Township Volunteer Fire Department. A group of civic-minded community and business leaders, professionals, and hometown citizens recognized the need for a volunteer fire department to protect our rural township citizens and property. An application was submitted to the Mercer County Courthouse with the signatures of Frank Snyderwine, J.R. Wishart, G. F. Setters, Lyle Wing, J.E. Barker and longtime Mercer County Commissioner Lawrence Wilhelm for a chartered fire department.
From this founding group of citizens, and the ultimate granting of a charter by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the charter members elected B.W.O. Dickenson as president, William Poole as secretary and Lawrence Wilhelm as treasurer. Mercer County Judge and township resident Judge Leo McKay drew up Articles of Incorporation establishing the Hickory Township Volunteer Fire Department and Relief Association in November 1938. Even though the township was farmland and not showing any signs of growth, these citizens had a vision for the future. From a humble beginning without money, a fire station or equipment, the hard work began to build the township s first public safety service.
A vacant building located near the intersection of East State Street and North Hermitage Road became the first headquarters of the volunteer fire department. When the Township Board of Supervisors established a formal police department, the building served as both the township s fire and police department headquarters. The building and property were purchased by the volunteer fire department using monies raised from their fund drive efforts.
The volunteer ranks grew rapidly. This gave the new volunteer fire department people power and personnel to go door to door with fund-raising campaigns, conduct social events to raise income, and increase support through local business and personal money contributions to purchase the Township s first fire truck. A second engine was purchased in 1948. Our third piece of fire apparatus was a 1958 Jeep designed, built, and outfitted by the Volunteer Fire Department s membership to serve as a much-needed brush/grass fire truck. The Patagonia Volunteer Fire Department was formed in the late 1940 s by several members of the Hickory Township Volunteer Fire Department and residents of the Patagonia District. They received their charter in early 1950 and purchased their needed fire equipment.
The start-up objective of the Patagonia Department was to insure all areas of the Township had full fire protection. Patagonia s first fire station, like Hickory Township, was an old garage on Crawford Drive that is no longer standing. After a few years of operation, the Patagonia fire fighters raised sufficient funds to purchase property and build their present station on Superior Street now designated as Patagonia Station #2. These two independently chartered volunteer fire departments presently form the City of Hermitage Department of Fire-Rescue and work as a team to provide fire protection, rescue, and emergency management services to our growing city. It is important to note that the fire fighters of these two organizations are true volunteers and receive no monetary payments or benefits for the services they provide to the City. Back to old Fire Station #1 on East State Street. The Department remained in these cold and damp (winter), hot and muggy (summer), cramped and antiquated quarters until 1968 when the Township built and occupied a new building on North Hermitage Road.
Property was found and purchased for a third fire station to be situated at the intersection of Mercer Avenue, Maple Drive and Morefield Road now called Fire Station #3. Fire protection apparatus now included ten (10) major pieces of fire equipment including pumpers, water-tenders, brush trucks, rescue squad trucks, and an aerial truck.
In 1976, as our Township continued to grow, another fire department milestone came about. Our new township building needed additional administrative and police department space to provide government services to our citizens and growing community. Five acres of land was purchased by the Township at the intersection of Highland Road and North Kerrwood Drive. Construction began on the new Central Fire Station #1 and emergency services training grounds. In 1978, upon completion of construction, the facility was leased back to the volunteer fire department and since then has been the home of the Department s administrative offices, meeting rooms, fire equipment, and training center.
The year 1983 is one for the history book as the Township met the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania s population requirements to become a city. A citizen referendum was held and passed by the voters establishing the Third Class City of Hermitage. With this change came the Department s name change from the Hickory Township Volunteer Fire Department to the City of Hermitage Department of Fire Rescue.As fire service demands increased and the short space issue arose again in 2001, the volunteer department membership came to the call and constructed the Department’s Emergency Services Building (ESB) on the Central Station property on Highland Road. This building is complete with a conference room, bunk room, kitchenette, and training amenities and houses the Departments Hazardous Materials Response Truck, Heavy Rescue Truck, Emergency Management Support Equipment, and 40 Special Operations Command Trailer.
The headlines today would read a little different than 1937. Today, your volunteer fire fighters and equipment respond to an annual average of 800 to 1,000 emergency calls and citizen requests for assistance. Quite a difference from the old days when 25 grass and field fires were the norm and the big emergency event of the year was the unfortunate farmers barn burning. Today your volunteer fire department and fire fighters are a breakaway from tradition and public perceptions. The public perception of the volunteer fire fighter as the individual that drives or rides on the big red fire trucks in the parades and hangs out at the fire station when there is nothing else to do has dramatically changed. Today s fire fighter must be physically capable, highly trained, skilled, and motivated to serve in many emergency job tasks such as rescue techniques, hazardous materials abatement, and operate high-tech fire apparatus and equipment. The City of Hermitage is extremely fortunate to have members with these qualifications among the ranks of the Hermitage and Patagonia Volunteer Fire Departments. The Department remains balanced in preserving the tradition of our country s volunteer fire departments which serve and provide fire and emergency services to the majority of communities in our great nation, but works to change the public perception of the volunteer fire department.
Who would have thought in 1937 that a small rural Township would expand into a Third Class City of 18,000 residents, over 8,000 addressed structures and 125 miles of roadway encompassing 25 square miles. Fire and emergency services are still provided on a daily basis by an all-volunteer cadre of dedicated citizens serving as fire fighters that represent their respective departments with pride and enthusiasm. The Department s growth projects and financial planning to meet future needs remain managed by the volunteer department s elected executive administrative officers. These officers work in close concert and with the support of our elected city officials and city appointed administrative staff.