History of the Washington County Firemens’ Association
The Washington County Firemens’ Association was organized in 1940 with the main objectives, “To promote and unify the fire companies of Washington County and further the standing and interests of its membership, in the betterment of active fire fighting in the advancement of safety-first endeavor, in assisting to conducting schools of instruction, in a unified front standing for the protection of beneficial legislation already secured and the furtherance of other legislation that may be deemed timely and necessary, to show a proper respect to our sacred dead and to provide a death benefit fund for their burial.”
The following members were elected as the first officers on January 26, 1940:
President: August E. Chambon, Donora VFD
First Vice President: W. B. Felter, Finleyville VFD
Second Vice President: F. C. Welch
Third Vice President: Henry Neill, East Bethlehem Township VFD
Secretary: William H. Arnold, Canonsburg VFD
Treasurer: I. C. Sprowls
The officers and membership met monthly at various fire houses to conduct the business of the association. Many topics were addressed to the needs and concerns of the fire service throughout the county.
On November 3, 1952, the association filed for incorporation in the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County as a non-profit organization under “Washington County Firemens’ Association, Inc.” The association was represented by attorney Ralph Peacock of Washington. Prior to the filing, many things had to fall into place and this was a process that took several months as the by-laws needed amended to reflect how the business, Incorporation, would conduct itself. After the by-laws were approved by the membership, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania needed to be notified of the filing for incorporation to see if the name was available. This was approved on September 24, 1952 by the Deputy Secretary of the Commonwealth. While the name verification was being approved by the Commonwealth, several trips to a Notary Public had to be arranged by the officers to swear that the constitution and by-laws were accurate and true, plus various other items. The officers and board members involved in the incorporation of the Association were:
Fred C. Horn, Monongahela VFD
William Foster, Roscoe VFD
Jack O. Powers, East Bethlehem Township VFD
August E. Chambon, Donora VFD
John F. E. Colditz, Allenport VFD
Henry Neill, East Bethlehem Township VFD
Charles L. Weaver, Houston VFD
On September 23-24, 1972 the Association conducted its first weekend fire school in Washington County. This schooling was held at the Washington County Fairgrounds in Chartiers Township. The five classes conducted were Basic Firefighting, Hazardous Materials, Pumping and Hydraulics, Industrial Firefighting, and Officers’ Seminar. The enrollment for this first time fire school in Washington County was 255 students, which comprised of 213 Washington County firefighters, 24 out-of county firefighters, and 9 military (USAF Reserve) students. The enrollment to the fall fire schools kept increasing yearly with other classes being offered. In 1976 the enrollment increased to 401 students taking part in 14 courses. In addition, 4 supplemental weekend classes were conducted which produced 156 students trained. With the increasing enrollment in the fire schools, and the need for a more controlled atmosphere, the officers and membership began looking into the feasibility of purchasing property to erect a facility for those needs. On March 17, 1977 the Association bought approximately 32 acres of rural property located in Chartiers Township, located on State Route 519, north of Houston near the Western Area Vocational Technical School. The area was readily accessible from all areas of the County, with Interstate 79 being within five miles of the proposed facility. Those who were responsible for making this happen were:
Sylvester Frizze, McDonald VFD
David Smith, South Strabane Township VFD
Dale Knight, Valley Inn VFD
Albert Bernardinelli, Cokeburg VFD
Charles Weaver, Houston VFD
A program was put together, with the help of the architect firm Weaver-Weiglarz-Zucker, with Charles L. Weaver Jr. being the lead architect/planner. This plan was presented to State Fire Commissioner Charles (Chet) Henry and Washington County Commissioners Malcolm Morgan, David Gilmore, and Edward Paluso. All were in accord with this endeavor, however funding from the state and federal governments never became a reality. A copy of the plan was also presented to the Chartiers Township Board of Supervisors that also received their blessings. With the property sitting, not being used, it was proposed to look into constructing a burn building. Obtaining structures for the live burn portion of the training was becoming more difficult, and smoke and possible damage to adjacent structures created problems in residential settings.
In July of 1983 the Association officers entered into an agreement with C. S. Church and Associates, an engineering firm in McMurray, to plan and design a burn building that looked like a single family structure. It would be two-stories high, with a basement and attic. On March 13, 1985, a proposal was signed with Gazvoda & Ventresca Construction Company for the construction of the burn building. The burn building was completed in 1989 when the fire proof lining was applied. Since that time several other improvements and structures have been built at the academy grounds for the training of firefighters.
In the fall of 1988 a committee was formed to look into the feasibility of a training tool to teach children what to do in the event of a fire. The committee met with two other groups, Life Underwriters and the Builders Association, and discussed this need for a teaching tool on fire safety for children in the elementary schools. This was in response to the extremely high number of deaths to children as a result of fire. Plans were made for a “Children’s Fire Safety House” and a fund drive was established to help with the cost of this undertaking. The house was designed like a small house with two bedrooms, one upstairs and one downstairs. Flashing strobe lights simulated fire, a smoke machine pumped non-toxic smoke into the sections of the house, and much more. Part way through the project a fourth organization came onboard, Alcoa Aluminum and their aluminum cans for burned children. This venture was a huge success. The Safety House was built, firefighters were trained to run the house, and a slide presentation was created to teach the children prior to entering the house for the live portion of the training. The Safety House was used throughout the county at elementary schools, and by other organizations like the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and local PTAs to teach this very important message.
In the fall of 2003, a committee was formed to look into the cost and funding for a new, state-of-the-art safety house. The new safety house was ordered with the thought, “If this safety house can teach one child not to burn, or one senior not to be careless, and teach everyone involved what to do in an emergency, then it paid for itself.” Delivered in September 2004, it includes many extras the older one did not have. It can not only teach children, but also adults about not being careless around the house with cooking, smoking, and other things taken for granted. The new safety house, in one short year, was a success with great reviews from fire companies and those who have gone through the program.
In May of 2001, a monument was purchased and dedicated at the fire academy on National Fallen Firefighters Day, which is the first Sunday following the first Friday in October. To annually honor those killed in the line of duty, a program was put together by our Chaplain, Assistant Chaplain, and committee members. The names of the fallen from Pennsylvania are read aloud and a flower placed in a boot in their memory. This service has been well attended by fire companies, local and state dignitaries, and honored guests. The following year a memorial walkway was created to honor not only firefighters, but anyone who wished to have their loved one’s name engraved into a brick and set in place in front of the monument. A double brick was dedicated to those who lost their lives during the tragic events of September 11, 2001.
The Association holds a yearly convention during the second, third, or fourth full week in July. This week usually begins with a “Battle of the Barrel” competition among teams of firefighters from the member companies of the Association. This event has been held on the Saturday prior to the convention week. A Memorial Service is held on Sunday, to honor local firefighters and other public service people who have passed away during the year. The annual meeting of the Association is held on the Friday following the Memorial Service to have the current officers give their final report for the year, to elect officers for the upcoming year, and to give awards to individuals of the fire service in various categories, and to members of the general public for heroic measures that go over and beyond the call of duty. The Saturday parade ends the convention. The host organization can add more events as they wish.
After 70 years of service the purpose of the Association has not changed much. The purpose now reads, “The purpose of this organization shall be to unify the fire services of Washington County and to further the standings and interests of their membership by the betterment of active fire fighting training, the advancement of safety-first endeavor, conducting and/or assisting in the conducting of schools of instruction, standing for protection of beneficial legislation already secured and furtherance of other legislation that may be deemed timely and necessary, to show a proper respect for the sacred dead and to provide a death benefit fund, and to provide a fire training and instruction fund.”