History

The History of the Cherryhill Township Volunteer Fire Company 
 
In the early part of 1951 there were three disasters that led to the organization of the Cherryhill Township Volunteer Fire Company. In the early part of the year there were two fires that destroyed barns owned by citizens of our community. The third incident involved the death of William (Bill) Ray. Mr. Ray was killed when an explosion occurred and burned him.  It was the result of these disasters that led to a meeting on May 11, 1951 at the Penn Run Grange Hall. Thirty-five men gathered to discuss the feasibility of organizing a fire company to protect life and property in our community. Although founded in 1951 the company was officially chartered in 1953.

In attendance at that first meeting on May 11, 1951 was James Jack, chief of the Indiana Fire Association. Chief Jack served as a consultant to the men and gave many good suggestions. One of his suggestions was to elect officers for organizational purposes. The following is a list of the first executive officers of the fire company.

President              Perry Vensel
Vice President      Elmer Joyner
Secretary              Kenneth Conrath
Treasurer              William Glassford
Trustee                  Elmer Joyner
Trustee                  Waldo Brown
Trustee                  Dale Fyock
Trustee                  Ralph White
Trustee                  Harry Widdowson

  
    
 According to Richard (Dick) Fyock, a founding member, the first line offices were appointed. The first fire chief was Albert Smith. To help raise money each man donated $5.00 at this first meeting. Future meetings were held at the Penn Run School until the fire station was built. The first meeting at the new station was held on April 11, 1956.
    
The first equipment purchased by the fire company was a four cylinder navy surplus pump that had a capacity of 500 gallons per minute. The pump was hauled to fire calls by Perry Vensel’s truck until September 1951 when the company purchased a 1935 Chevy from the Homer City Fire Department. The pump was then mounted on the front of the Chevy. The Chevy was housed at Shaffer’s Bus Shanty. The unit remained there until construction of the fire station was completed in 1956.
 
The fire station was built on ground that was purchased in July 1954 from Arch Stewart. The cost of the property was $75.00. Mr. Stewart returned the $75.00 as a donation in September of 1954. The ground was located in the Penn Run Swamp and required many tons of fill in order to bring it level with the road. Funding for the new building came from donations. Most of the donations came from community members who purchased a block for $1.00. Some of the members bought trusses with their own money. The original station had a social hall and a one-room engine house. Many additions have been added since and the current station has the original social hall, social room, office, additional restrooms, and houses four apparatus. In the mid 1980’s the fire company purchased property across the street from the fire station. An agreement with the United States Postal Service led to the building of a new post office on fire company property to serve the residents of our community. In 2008 land that adjoined the original property and was known as the former greenhouse property was purchased. Two buildings acquired in the green house property transaction were renovated and serve as a small group meeting room and storage building for the fire company.
 
(Below) 1935 Chevy and 1959 GMC. Notice original station house
in background
   
The first new engine purchased by the fire company was a 1959 GMC. The company received the engine in December 1959 and the engine remained in service until it was sold in 1990. The cost of the new engine was $11,878.44. Money to buy the engine was provided by a one-mil tax the township imposed on its citizens.  Once the engine was paid for the tax ceased. In 2006 the fire company voted to buy a new rescue-pumper the cost of the new unit, a Spartan built by Keystone Fire Apparatus, was $374,000.00, quite an increase from 1959. To pay for the new rescue-pumper the fire company secured a 2% loan from PEMA, partnered with the township supervisors for an annual contribution, solicited community donations, and relied on their bi-annual gun raffles and other major fund raisers. Additionally, in November of 2013 the membership voted to purchase a fast attack engine with a Compressed Air Foam System (CAFS). The decision to acquire CAFS was based on projecting the types of strategies and tactics, as well as, the materials and products that we will contend with over the next 25 years.  Keystone Fire Apparatus was awarded the bid to build the unit at a price of $242,000. The new fast attack engine was placed in service on March 29, 2015.                                                                   (Below) CAFS Equipped Fast Attack Engine

Dispatching of the fire company in the early days was quite an adventure. The company was dispatched using a siren donated by the Civil Defense and mounted on a pole behind Paul (Bill) Fowler’s home. The siren was eventually moved to the roof of Joyner’s Store. A switch was placed outside the store and could be activated by anyone who needed the fire company. The alarm was then written on a chalkboard for the responding firefighters. The siren was eventually moved to the roof of the fire station and equipped with a flexi pulse. The flexi pulse required the firefighters to reset the switch at a specific time in order for the siren to stop. Many stories have been told about the siren not being reset and continually blowing while the fire company was at a call. The siren could be activated from the store or the fire station. A direct phone line between the store and the fire station was utilized to communicate the alarm type to the fire company. This system remained in place until the fire company purchased a base radio in 1977. After 1977 the fire company was dispatched by the Indiana County Emergency Management Center. Although the fire company was being dispatched by the Indiana County Emergency Management Center, the fire company utilized a phone chain to communicate alarms. The reason the phone chain was utilized was some of the firefighters lived outside the range of the siren. Thus when an alarm was received, the ladies auxiliary members notified each other and called the firefighters on their lists. This system continued until the fire company purchased pagers in the mid-1980’s
     
There were a few interesting and humorous stories regarding communication in the early years.  One of the favorites of the "old timers" involved a practical joke that developed when the company received their first mobile radio. The radio was installed in the 1959 GMC and was equipped with an eight-foot antenna. In order to get the engine in and out of the station someone had to bend the antenna. One of the first known jokes was to key the radio when someone was holding the antenna which gave that person quite a shock.  Another favorite story involved how       the company received mutual aid in the early years. The Indiana and Clymer Fire Departments assisted the fire company regularly. In order to acquire the assistance of Indiana a line officer would call by phone and give the password. If the password was correct the Indiana firefighters would provide mutual aid. If the officer gave the wrong password the company would be left to fight the fire on their own.  The "old timers" could not recall an incident in which they gave the wrong password.  They did recall cell phones did not exist and finding a telephone close to the scene was at times a challenge. In 2011 the Cherryhill Township Volunteer Fire Company was the lead agency in a Federal Assistance to Firefighters Grant regional application to aid in a regional upgrade communications project.  This project included equipment to switch from low band to high band emergency radios to increase efficiency and inter-operability between departments and other emergency providers.  Our grant application was successful and twenty-six fire departments in Indiana County and bordering stations were able to acquire a total of $1,000,000 to make this project a reality. 
    
In 1962 the firefighters purchased the first set of personal protective equipment. If a member wished to acquire this equipment, they had to purchase it with their own money. The equipment consisted of 3/4 high boots, helmet, and a firefighting coat. The cost was $21.00 for the boots,$14.23 for the helmet, and $20.75 for the coat. In the early 1970’s the fire company provided the firefighters protective gear with the exception of boots. In the late 1970’s the fire company purchased three sets of modern bunker gear. These were assigned to firefighters who were designated interior firefighters. If these men were unavailable other firefighters could use the gear, assuming that it would fit. By the early 1980’s the company purchased top of the line protective gear for all members. This practice still exists today. A full set of personal protective clothing costs over $2,500.00 today. Every member is issued a standard firefighting helmet, firefighting coat, firefighting pants, boots, firefighting gloves, nomex hood, safety glasses, brush fire helmet, nomex coveralls, rescue gloves, and a spanner wrench. In 2016 the fire company was awarded a Federal Assistance to Firefighters Grant to purchase new personal protective equipment for all our members.

    

Training in the early days was a result of a collaborative effort between local fire companies. The fire companies would conduct a training session and invite the other departments. It was first noted in the minutes of our company meeting from March 1955 that formal fire training would be held in Indiana using Indiana’s equipment and college classrooms for study purposes. Many of the veteran firefighters credit the formation of the Indiana County Fire School Weekend that began in the late 1970’s as the catalyst of additional firefighting skills and increased personal safety. Our desire and pride relative to training is reflected in our participation in the state certification program. Fire companies that have over 10% of their members certified Firefighter I receive a decal to display on their fire units. We currently have eleven members certified Firefighter I. Firefighter I is a rigorous certification program that requires a firefighter to demonstrate their firefighting competence through hands on and written tests. We also boast over 90% of our members as certified Department of Health Vehicle Rescue Technicians. This certification includes demonstrating practical skills competencies and passing a written exam. In November 2012 we initiated our QRS squad.  The QRS squad is a medical squad who hold minimum certifications of EMT or higher and perform patient care until medic units arrive on scene. The founding members of our QRS squad include Tim Mihoerck, Jim Barber, Zac Trimble and Cliff Clawson.  Tim Mihoerck was appointed by the chief officers to be the first QRS coordinator. Jim Sadler succeeded Tim as QRS coordinator in 2014.


 

(Below) Participants patiently wait to partake in the annual turkey

super feast. Circa 1984

  In order to acquire adequate equipment and training the fire company has conducted many  fundraisers. One of the most popular was the annual Turkey Supper. The first of these was held in       1958. The supper was truly a community effort. Volunteers in the community would cook the turkeys or prepare other food items. This preparation took weeks. On the day of the turkey supper,       the women would serve the meals while the men would park the cars, clean the dishes, or anything the women told them to do. The children would clean the tables and serve the desserts.           Unfortunately, due to the declining health of many of the organizers and participants the turkey suppers were suspended. The last Turkey Supper was held on September 25, 1993. At its height     the Turkey Supper served 1300 supporters. The last Turkey Supper was held in extremely inclement weather and served 270 supporters. Another popular fundraiser has been our weekly bingo     games. The fire company began bingo in 1973. Regular games paid $5.00 and specials paid $6.00. If you were lucky enough to win the jackpot, you took home $50.00. The first games utilized     an old birdcage that was rotated in one direction then reversed, which caused the ball to drop. The caller did not have a microphone so he simply yelled out the numbers. Our bingo games are       much more advanced today and pay out a little better. You can experience our bingo every Wednesday and Saturday night.  Current fundraisers conducted by the company in addition to bingo     include a Daytona 500 Party, Spring Gun Raffle, Fall Gun Raffle, Cash Bash, and Comedy Night.
 
  In addition to the Turkey Supper and bingo games the Fire Company hosted an annual Community Celebration the first held in 1974. The celebration was a four day event and at various times     included a bicycle decorating contest for kids 12 and under, a teen record hop, benefit auction, parade, flea market, corn party, bingo, carnival rides, battle of the barrel, rolling pin throwing contest, pet parade, horse shoe pitching contest, two man cross cutting competition, midget tractor pull, and live entertainment featuring the Penn Run Senior Citizen’s Kitchen Band in 1974, 1975 and 1976, Watchmen's Quartet in 1974, The Country Travelers in 1976. For a while the community celebration returned in the 80’s but eventually was eliminated. In 2010 the community celebration returned  as our company served as host for the 6th annual Indiana County Firefighters Convention. The convention included a carnival, various firefighter contests, flea market, parade, poker run, golf tournament and great food and entertainment. Groups that performed included: Jukebox Express, Jammin’ Jim, DJ Second Chance and the band 7 Mile Run. The fire company will again host the Indiana County Firefighters Convention in June 2017.
 
Another notable event in our history includes the formation of the Ladies Auxiliary in 1970 . Because we have had many men that wanted to support the fire company and not be active firefighters we created a social member status in the 1990's,  The auxiliary and our social members support the fire company in numerous ways and have been paramount in providing family oriented and safe activities for the children of our community. The notable activities organized by the auxiliary and our social members today include the annual Easter Egg Hunt, Halloween and Christmas Parties, as well as, hosting an annual blood mobile and serving as a collection site for the Care and Share program. The auxiliary also prepares all the food for our various fundraisers such as the Daytona 500 Bonanza, Gun Raffles, Cash Bash and Comedy Night.
 
(Below) Karen Markel our first female firefighter for a picture
that appeared in a local news article about female
firefighters in Indiana County
  The membership of Karen Markel in 1980 was another memorable event. Karen was our first female firefighter and one of the first in Indiana County. We currently have thee female firefighters Bobbie Sue   Clawson, Chris Welker and Allison Dixson. Also in 1980, John Rainey was accepted as the first Junior Firefighter of record, although the minutes mention a formation of a Junior Program as early as 1962     and it is  believed our current president, Jerry Dick, was the first member accepted prior to his eighteenth birthday. Many of our current active members have started in the Junior Firefighter Program.
 
  In 2001, our station was dedicated in honor of Richard G. Fyock. Often referred to as Dick or Pap, he was a charter member of our organization and the first member to have 50 years of active service.   During his tenure Pap served as fire chief, fire police captain, fund drive committee chair, IRP, and led many business and fire related committees. Pap passed away July 10, 2011 one  year to the day that   he served as grand marshal for the Indiana Fire Chiefs Association parade in Penn Run
 
  On October 14, 2011 the membership recognized Jerry Dick as the second member to obtain 50 years of active service.  Jerry is the longest serving president of our organization.  Jerry has served as an     assistant fire chief, fire police captain, fire captain, treasurer, and as the chair for many committees. In 2016 Jerry marked his 55th year of active service to our company.
 
  The fire company began with the determination of men and women who had a  vision and the determination to see it through. The “old timers” told many         stories about their accomplishments, disagreements, good times, and bad times. The company has experienced many leaders that changed the course of     our company. However, our mission to protect life, property, and the environment has never changed.
 
 
 (Right) Dick Fyock for article that     
 appeared in Indiana Gazette 2001
 
 

Information for The History of the Cherryhill Township Volunteer Fire Company obtained from the following sources:

Penn Run 150th Anniversary Book
Interviews with Richard Fyock, John Filler, Charles Lydic and K James Zack
Minutes and Recorded Events in the Fire Company archives
First written by Jody Rainey in 2003 and revised by Jody Rainey in 2011, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2017.

                                                                                             


The program from the 6th Annual 2010 Indiana County Firefighters Convention hosted by Cherryhill Township is attached below

 

 
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Ron Peterson,
Nov 2, 2011, 12:57 PM
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