A big birthday for Citizens Volunteer Hose Co. of Harrison Township

| Monday, March 18, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Citizens Volunteer Hose Co. of Harrison Township has the motto “100 Years and Still Going Strong.”

After a century of service, it's hard to doubt that moniker.

The fire department and emergency management service celebrated 100 years with a banquet at River Forest Country Club on March 2.

The department was officially chartered on April 7, 1913.

Citizens Hose now has eight modern, well-equipped vehicles in its fleet. That's a far cry from the start when the department had a four-wheel cart with one 50-gallon bucket and a 25-foot hose.

“The bucket reminded one of an old hot water tank,” said Tony McCall. “They'd put soda in the tank with a little bottle of acid to create pressure.”

Many of the fire departments in the area now served by the Highlands School District are called hose companies.

“In the beginning, the departments were mainly hose wagons, and the name remained,” said current Citizens Hose president and EMT supervisor Jim Erb.

McCall said the department got its first motorized fire truck in the 1920's. Firefighters had two wide running boards on the side of the vehicle.

McCall, 97, is the department's longest-tenured member, now in his 77th year of service to the organization.

“Tony was directing traffic as recently as three years ago. He's an amazing guy,” Erb said.

“There were so many brush fires, the township commissioners paid us a dollar for the first hour of service,” McCall said. “You'd have to grab a tag at the fire house before you could get paid. After a while, there were so many brush fires, the commissioners said they couldn't afford it.”

McCall joined the force in time to help with the aftermath of the 1936 St. Patrick's Day flood that damaged much of the Valley's low-lying areas.

“Natrona was completely flooded up to the railroad tracks,” McCall said. “(Funeral director) Rusiewicz shuttled people out of there with his hearse.”

The following year, Citizens Hose started the Allegheny Valley's first ambulance service with the hearse.

These days, members all have in-home radio monitors, beepers and cell phones when they need to be notified of an emergency.

In the old days, a firefighter would alert everyone with a sledgehammer pounded on a knob that would make a ball rise and ring a loud bell at the top of a column, much like the Strongman Game seen at carnivals.

In December 1974, the department's most challenging day occurred. That's when a fire took place in its hall, then located where old Route 28 split in Harrison's Birdville section.

Despite the fire, the company continued with its fire and ambulance service uninterrupted.

Citizens Hose's headquarters is along Burtner Road, site of the former Birdville Elementary School.

In an era where some fire companies have a shortage of members, Citizens has a roster of 39 active members, nine paramedics and 13 emergency medical technicians.

A good way to start the second hundred years.

George Guido is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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