Derry fire department marks 75 years, reflects on changes
Derry Township Volunteer Fire Department Company 1 in Bradenville celebrated its 75th anniversary this year, and the changes the department has undergone since 1938 are striking.
The department started with a savings account containing a grand total of $4, donated by other Westmoreland County fire departments, and rang church and school bells for alarms.
Now, the department has smartphone apps that can generate driving directions and map nearby fire hydrants, Chief Mark Piantine said, along with a fire station housing fire trucks and equipment worth more than $1 million.
“Things have changed in those many years,” Piantine said. “When I started here (in 1974), we wore hip boots, black coats, not-so-good helmets, and we used to put towels around our necks. That was our protection.”
Today, Bradenville firefighters are equipped with high-tech and high-priced protective gear that can cost upward of $10,000 per suit.
The 11 original charter members who founded the department in 1938 met every other week, paying dues of 10 cents per month. The department was accepted as a member of the Westmoreland County Firemen's Association in March 1938.
The group bought property for a fire hall in 1940, but World War II put the department's plans for constructing a fire hall and purchasing equipment on hiatus.
The founding members reconvened in 1946 to kick start the fire hall project. By 1949, the department had started building its fire hall, which was finished in March 1950.
The department didn't get its first new fire truck until 1952, when it purchased a 1952 Ford from Central Fire Truck Sales of St. Louis for $11,696.
Three years later, members bought a squad truck from Latrobe Volunteer Fire Department. These days, Piantine said, the cost of buying a new fire truck can easily exceed $500,000.
The department combined its anniversary celebration and the Westmoreland County Firemen's Association convention in June, hosting a three-day event that featured firemen's olympics, a memorial service, firemen's association meetings, a battle of the barrel, a parade through Bradenville and a fireworks display.
“The big thing for us surviving is the people that support us,” Piantine said. “The people and the businesses that support us — that's what makes a fire department, if you can get the support of your businesses and your people.”
Membership in the department fluctuates, but Piantine said there are generally between 30 and 45 members at any given time.
“It goes up and down with the young men coming in,” he said. “When we got our 2002 engine, we got 22 (new) members in one year. Five years later, out of those 22 members, four had stayed.
“Everybody gets an influx of young men,” he added. “They are very young men, they're gung-ho and they want to go, go, go and go. But as soon as they get married, they go bye-bye.”
The department's workload has risen dramatically over the years. Firefighters from the Bradenville company responded to about 30 calls per year in the infancy of the organization.
The department, which is the first-due department for about 65 square miles of Derry Township, is on pace for more than 500 calls in 2013.
Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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