After relying on the generosity of neighboring communities for their fire protection for many years the citizens of Progress, late in 1927, began to think of a firefighting agency for eastern Susquehanna Township. The results of this thinking was reached on February 6, 1928, when about 150 interested men attended a special meeting called by President Louis G. Orr of the Progress Civic Organization. This meeting, held at the Susquehanna Township High School, was called to organize a fire company, erect quarters for it, and to purchase an apparatus and the necessary equipment to carry out the basic functions of fire extinguishments of the new company. The suggestions were greeted with such nthusiasm and plans were immediately formulated to raise funds through various means to accomplish these ends.
At this same meeting the appropriate motto “Always Willing and Ready” was adopted by the company. Resolutions to erect a firehouse were drawn up by O.E. Good and presented to the new organization on March 12, 1928. A building committee composed of Harvey A. Loser, Louis G. Orr, Joseph E. Hocker, Anthony B. Harlacher, Luther I. Shoop, and James A. Novinger, was appointed to expedite the construction of the firehouse.
On March 17, 1928, with special ceremonies taking place, ground was broken for the new station, on a hexagonal shaped plot, donated by Luther I. Shoop, and Harvey A. Loser. Located on the northeast corner of Short and Cherry Streets.
Work on the charter was completed on April 9, 1928, and presented to the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas. This work was found to be in good order and on April 23, 1928, the courts officially designed the Progress Fire Company as a duly chartered organization.
During the course of construction of the building the Company realized that they had no audible fire alarm and in May 1928, forwarded a request to the Citizen Fire Company No. 3 of Harrisburg for the loan of their clear toned, unused tower alarm bell. This request was granted by the Citizen Fire Company with the proviso “until such time that the Citizen Fire Company has a need for it.” The two story, single bay, cement block structure was completed in the fall of 1928.
The infant organization moved forward with great strides; its impetus gained by enthusiastic local interest. Its’ quarters were nearly completed and with the aid of the newly organized Progress Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary, funds to offset its expenses came in at a steady rate. All that was needed to complete the shape of the organization was a fire apparatus and equipment to finish out the purpose to why the organization had been instituted.
After many demonstrations given the committee charged with purchasing an apparatus by several well-known apparatus builders, the Company late in 1928 awarded the Seagrave Fire Apparatus Company of Columbus, Ohio, the bid for a single pumper. In the late spring of 1929, a 500-gallon capacity, “Suburbanite” style pumper, which cost $6,500 was delivered to the Progress Fire Company. At the same time the Company purchased 1,000 feet of 2 ½ inch hose, which cost $1,400. With the placing of the apparatus and equipment in active service, the residents of the area looked with pride on their civic accomplishment. No longer would the Progress inhabitants have to rely on a neighbor to keep them safe form fire.
Although several of the members had experience in firefighting as members of other fire companies, the great majority of the membership was as new as the Company itself and greeted the work connected with the new organization with great civic pride, and after a training and orientation period, took to their new task very well. One of the first heavy baptisms of firefighting the fledging Company received, was in the early morning hours of October 3, 1930, when they were called to assist the Harrisburg Fire Department fight the disastrous $1,000,000 blaze that seriously damaged the State Education Building. City Fire Officials later commended the Company for the aggressivenessand conduct displayed by its members during their stay at the scene.
For a period of seven years (1928 – 1935), the Progress unit was the last Company east of Harrisburg on Route No. 22, as there were no other Fire Companies in existence during this period from Progress eastwardly to Jonestown, Pennsylvania.
The action of the Progress Fire Company during this time and into the days of Word War II was confined mostly to the rural type of firefighting. Where long runs over unimproved roads in all weather conditions was the rule rather than the exception.
Until about 1944, the populated area of the “Village of Progress” lay generally about two blocks straddling Walnut Street (U.S. Route No. 22). The remainder of Susquehanna Township was predominately farmland with a scattering of individual homes. During this year, with the nationwide building boom beginning to take form, local builders and developers bought whole farms and a steady build up of new residential areas began to take form.
The responsible officers of the Progress Fire Company were aware of what was taking place in their coverage area, and a weather eye was kept on all developments and proceedings.
Finally, with great strides being made in the area build up the members of the Fire Company decided that it had better do something in keeping with the trend of an ever-growing community. A long-range expansion program to cope with these conditions was quietly launched early in 1949 when a new canopy cab type 750-gallon capacity, Seagrave pumper, that cost $16,700 was ordered to replace the Company’s first pumper. This new machine, which was delivered to the Company on November 24, 1949, was constructed more for rural type firefighting, which was rapidly replacing the rural style due to the expansion of the community. After the new pumper was paid off, the members began a steady building of the treasury in anticipation of future Company expansions.
By 1950, the population of Susquehanna Township had reached a mark or 11,081, and was steadily growing, sizable residential area were mushrooming by leaps and bounds. To name a few are the north sector of the Mader farm became Green Acres; the Bonitz farm became Bonneyview; the Ruhl and Bates farms divided by N. 34th street became Park Manor and Wedgewood Hills respectively, the lather having a complete block of two story apartment units. At a later date the east and south sections of the Mader farm became Latshmere Manor. This great building of homes meant an increase in population which caused overcrowding in the schools which in turn was the purpose of a new two story brick high school opened in 1952 at Union Deposit Road and Wood Street. Township leaders looked at this expansion with pride. The Progress Fire Company concurred with them, but they also looked at the situation in the respect that every added structure was a potential fire hazard.
With this expansion showing no signs of letup, the Company officials decided that a new and larger quarters and another piece of mobile equipment was needed to meet the demands these conditions were throwing on the Company.
Early in 1955, a committee was appointed to look for a new location and secure ground on which to construct large and more adequate quarters for the Company. After doing a commendable job of inquiring of ground, some of which was unsuitable, while others that would have been ideal for a location, were not for sale, the committee composed of Robert M. Houseal, Jr., Richard C. Keagel, and Robert P. Zimmerman reported that a 60×125 lot on short street, north of Maple Street,was purchased form Mrs. Spangler (Elizabeth and Lester Holtzman executors) for $2,300. The corner lot of the same dimension was owned by the City of Harrisburg due to a water right technically. The Progress Fire Company purchased a 90×180 ft. lot on the southeast corner of 26th street and Locust Lane form the Kelker Estate for $900, and on September 26,1955 in
agreement with the City officials traded deeds giving the Progress Fire Company a lot
120 ft. of Short St. by 125 ft. lot on Maple Street.
Due to the general build up of the area east of the Township line and gradual
flowing together of communities and operating on mutual aid agreements with neighboring fire companies, the ProgressFire Company in keeping with then modern trend in communications in the fire service installed a two-way radio on the pumper about August 1, 1955, which was tied in on a network with fire companies east and north of Progress and operated from a base station in Lemoyne, Pa. On March 15, 1957 the
Company switched to the newly installed Dauphin County Fire Radio operated from a
base station in Harrisburg’s City Hall.
A previously appointed committee to plan a structure to be erected on the newly
acquired ground had their plans ready for architect Robert I. Weaver of Penbrook, and
on April 22, 1957, a drive for funds among the residents and business people of the
eastern portion of Susquehanna Township and other interested parties was launched. A
loan of $60,000 was negotiated with the Penbrook Bank Company and on
November 15, 1957, the final plans for the one story brick fire station, community
building was approved by the Fire Company. Mr. Weaver estimated the cost at $100,000
and Blouch Bros., contractors, was hired to do the construction work.
The population mark of Susquehanna Township at the end of 1957 stood at
15,960, an advance in growth topped only by Lower Paxton Township,of any other
community in the greater Harrisburg area.
On February 22, 1958, the 30th anniversary of the Progress Fire Company’s founding with appropriate ceremonies, ground was broken for the new structure. Oliver C. Rudy, atrustee since the Company’s institution was given the honor of turning the first shovel of earth. His honors were shared by Robert P. Zimmerman, Company President; Mrs. Roy Reidell, Jr, President of the Ladies Auxiliary and Mr. Harold Sheets, President of the Susquehanna Township Board of Commissioners. Actual work began March 19, 1958.
Because of the conditions existing in the coverage area, the Progress Fire Company deemed it wise to add the second piece of mobile apparatus. This was accomplished on April 15, 1958, when they purchased a 1935 Mack tractor – trailer 75 ft. aerial ladder truck for $1,525 from the City of Harrisburg.(Due to some repair work being done on this piece it was expected to be replaced in service shortly after June 8, 1958). With the acquisition of this better ladder, footage for the larger homes, apartments, schools, and other sizable buildings was gained by the Company.
On February 22, 1966, the mortgage for the present fire station was burned in a fire helmet in the community city hall. Many various guests and Company officials and members were on hand for this important occasion. Much credit was due to the active firefighters at the time for spending many of Saturday nights producing income from teenagers who attended those now nostalgic dances. In a short span of eight years the new fire station was paid for. Completed cost of the building was $138,000.
As the Progress area continued to grow throughout the early sixties by replacing more farmland with single family residences, the addition of a new high school on Elmerton Avenue, various new commercial buildings, Weis Markets and the Progress Plaza to name a few, the need for a second pumper to complement the existing apparatus arose. On February 22, 1966, 38 yearsafter the Company organized, a new Mack, 1000 gallons per minute pumper of the latest design, costing $23,345, was delivered. This machine, Engine 321, was placed in service on March 11, 1966.
The period from 1966 to 1970 was a time of additions and refinements in the firefighting capabilities of the progress fire company. Many new items of need were introduced to the roster of equipment suck as self-contained breathing apparatus, new hose and applications, a power saw and numerous hand tools. A recruitment drive for young active men was undertaken as the older firefighters realized that the Company must continue to prosper and grow in the future. The recruitment drive paid off and, an influx of some twelve young men were brought into the ranks. Keeping in the best tradition, these men were thoroughly trained with aggressive firefighting attitude exhibited by their elders.
As reality properties escalated in price during the late sixties, more and more families became accustomed to calling apartments their homes. Thus, the Township fathers granted permission to build complexes of many family occupancy.Among those built form 1968 to 1974 are Harris Lodge, Brookridge Terrace, Camelot Village, and Governors Place.
Always maintaining a good replacement program and keeping an eye on to the future, the membership voted to replace the aging Seagrave. On November 7, 1971, a new Mack 1000 gallon per minute pumper was added to the Company’s firefighting forces at a cost of $36,600.
The Progress firefighters did yeomen service to the citizens of Susquehanna Township during and after the Great Flood of June 1972. The Company worked hand and hand with their brothers from Rescue and Edgemont, evacuating people during high waters and pumping basements and washing streets afterwards. For three days the fire station housed and the company members fed 125 displaced persons. A total of 500 man-hours were spent during the months of June and July free of charge to the taxpayers of the Township.
October 25, 1974, turned out to be a milestone of sorts in the Company history, when the final phase of social club separation from the fire company became real. On that day,the old fire station on Short Street was sold for $20,000 to the fledging Progress Fire Company Home Association. NOTE: This Association is in no way affiliated with the Fire Company.
As the young men inroads and slowly became officers in the Company, many of then attended fire schools on Lewistown, Williamsport, University of Maryland and the Fire science Program offered at Harrisburg Area Community College. These men learned many modern firefighting techniques presently being developed and employed nationwide. Larger diameter supply hose was introduced, ten new air masks were placed in service and 3M Light Water (a chemical additive to water to combat flammable liquid fires) was acquired. These new additions again bolstered the firefighting capabilities of the Progress Fire Company. Various improvements were made to the fire station such as the introduction of a bunkroom for men to sleep in the fire station, reducing the response time, and a much needed Fire Chiefs office to handle the increased paperwork.
Due to the scarcity of manpower during the daylight hours,the Company fire officers developed an elaborate system of mutual aid based on multiple company responses with neighboring companies. This system gave the Progress Citizenry betterfire protection in the unforeseen circumstance that apparatus would not roll to an alarm or that it would be delayed in responding. This system known as a Phantom Box System was placed into operation in November, 1974, and enables the closet two or three fire companies to respond to a given incident regardless of which municipality they were from. This was the first such system devised in Dauphin County and has worked quite well.
Recognizing the fact that our community needs were getting greater and the height of the buildings proposed and existing was to be three stories or higher, the Company fathers decided that the aging ladder truck should be replaced and retired. On August 8, 1975, a new Mack 75′ Telescoping Platform was placed into service. The cost of the new Truck was $125,630. It has saw outstanding service throughout the Progress Community and neighboring areas.
Since 1973, the Company has been answering over 100 fire alarms a year. 1977 marked the first year with well over 200 fire alarms – 233 to be exact.
Due to the high cost of expenses of utilities, firehouse, and equipment maintenance and replacement equipment aroundthe Township, the Progress and Rescue Companies met with the Township officials early in February, 1977, to discuss the possibility of receiving more tax money to operate with.On May 17, 1977, both companies worked hard to pass a “Two -Mill Fire Referendum” so that more operating money may be realized in the future years. For the year 1978, the Company will receive almost $40,000 in tax revenue, a jump from almost $30,000 from previous years.
Present predictions are that within three to five years,the Township will merge the three existing fire companies into one unified fire department as a result of the referendum. Only time will tell.
The present membership actively answering alarms is approximately 30 men of high caliber and good moral standings. Most men have attended many fire schools and are well versed in the art of firefighting. The average response time on any given alarm is 1.5 minutes, which is one of the fasted response times in Dauphin County.
Over the years of its existence the Progress Fire Company always has done commendable work as a firefighting unit in and around the community. The members have always maintained good equipment and as the trend and the times demanded, new and additional equipment was added, so that at this writing the Company was one of the best manned and best equipped firefighting organizations in the Central Pennsylvania area.
The Progress Fire Company is a self-supporting, nonprofit organization with its finances derived from various affairs held from time to time. An appropriation from the tax monies in Susquehanna Township is allocated each year to the three Township Fire Companies. The amount varies. However, none of these previously mentioned projects or purchases made by the Company could have been accomplished with out the interest, cooperation, and generosity of the good citizens of the Progress area.