The motto, “service for others”, is the proud boast of every volunteer fire company in America. These famed words or their counterparts, hang on the walls of every fire house in the country. To every fireman, the motto is all that it implies. No other one could be more appropriate or fitting in describing the purposes and activities that characterize volunteer fire companies everywhere.
The passing years with their records of heroic deeds and unstinting work by Delaware’s various volunteer fire companies; their services and their willingness to serve have expanded their honored place in the community. A great deal of honest praise is due to all active firemen for the unselfish services they so cheerfully give their own and neighboring communities. They are ready on every occasion when catastrophe and danger threaten. When fire, accident, or any other emergency endanger the property and lives of any citizen, the volunteer firemen are always first to answer the call to service; and the last to leave the scene when the emergency is finally over.
Many volumes could be written on the history and accomplishments of volunteer firemen of America, but the present humble effort is a volume concerned solely with the Elsmere Fire Company #1 of Elsmere, Delaware on the occasion of its 50th Anniversary, March 18, 1971. This book is as true to fact as possible, but in no way does it mean to be exactly the way it happened.
This history is affectionately dedicated to the past and present members of the Elsmere Fire Company who with their unselfish public spirit have given so much into making of the Elsmere Fire Company what it is today.
Elsmere Fire Co. #1
The town of Elsmere was quite small in the year 1921 and really had no need for a fire department, until a large field fire took place in March of 1921. The fire was of such a large nature that it threatened quite a few houses in the town. It took about half an hour for the nearest fire company, from Wilmington, to be contacted and respond. On March 18, 1921 a meeting was held of the townspeople, in the office of Lewis Cloud, for the purpose of starting a fire company. The first acting president was John Tobin, until a duly elected president could be decided at the next regular meeting. The first name of the company was the Fairview Fire Company of Elsmere, Delaware. The reason Fairview Fire Company of Elsmere, Delaware was chosen was because of the famous State Fair Grounds located in Elsmere. The first elected president was Frank Hoffecker and the first chief was F. E. McGinnis. On August 19, 1921 the charter was approved by the State of Delaware, but at this time they discovered there was already a Fairview Fire Company so the name was changed to Elsmere Fire Company #1.
The first apparatus was purchased from Brandywine #10 in Wilmington, for $500.00. It was a horse drawn ladder truck, with two chemical tanks. A short time later the first motorized apparatus was purchased. It was an International and cost $1600.00. It was equipped with the chemical tanks off the ladder truck.
The first Board of Directors came into existence on August 18, 1921. The first Directors were James Smith, Lewis Cloud, Richard Crooks, George Wilkie, Henry P. Jones, John E. Tobin, and Miller Jeffers. Also Elsmere had Juniors at that time, but they were called runners.
The first real fire house was completed in 1924, at the cost of $11,000.00 and was dedicated on September 27, 1924. Volunteer men from all over New Castle County attended and took part in a large parade and dedicating ceremonies. Dues in the old company were $.25 per month, #3.00 per year.
The next apparatus was a U.S. pumper, built by U.S. fire apparatus company in Wilmington, Delaware. It is not known the date of the U.S. but it is approximately around 1926. These two pumpers were kept in service by Elsmere until 1935, when a new American La France pumper was purchased and Little Emma was sold.
In 1928 the first siren was installed. Also in 1928 began the struggle for water to help fight fires in our area. There was no water available except what the truck carried. A request was made to the town commissioners about putting dams across the creeks running on each side of the town. Elsmere became a well known company in the early years and responded to many fires all over New Castle County and even fires as far away as Penns Grove, New Jersey, and Avon Grove, Pennsylvania. The biggest fire during that period was the old Fiber Mill in Elsmere. The fiber mill burned for two days. Yes, Elsmere became well known and quite respected throughout the State, but little did they know that in late 1946 they would become will known throughout the United States.
It the early morning hours of December 18, 1946, the Elsmere Fire Company was destroyed by a fire. A tremendous effort t was made to save the apparatus, but all was lost. The old building died a very hard death, on that snowy December morning. It gave everyone a warning of the fire by setting off the siren at the hour of Six A.M. The siren reached its peak and stayed there until the building itself fell into the street. It was an eerie sound, the siren at the top of its peak with neighboring fire companies fighting to save something, but all was lost. The siren was salvaged the next day, and reconnected for use. Today that same siren sits next to Big Mo on the tower in back of the fire house. Tragedy struck Elsmere for the first time, but the thriving young company that had worked so hard to build what they had, began the long road to rebuild. The following day, after the fire, a piece of equipment was borrowed from the Cranston Heights Fire Company. A short time later an old Hale pumper was purchased from Edge Hill Fire Company in Edge Hill. Pennsylvania. About six months later a 1945 Army surplus International pumper was purchased at Fort Miles.
There was always quite a lot of controversy over the Stock company. And after the fire the controversy and arguing finally came to a head. Procedures were then started to do away with the old stock company. On September 17, 1947 the Elsmere Fire Company #1, merged with the Elsmere Volunteer Fire Company, during this process a new charter was formed and the old stock company was deleted.
The fifties were big years for Elsmere. In 1950 two new apparatus were ordered, they were, a 1950 Dodge Quad Pumper, the first Quad for a volunteer company in New Castle County, and a 1950 Dodge Pumper. These were built by Oren Fire Apparatus Company in Virginia.
In 1951 after the arrival of the two new apparatus and after the completion of the new fire house, there was a large parade and celebration and dedication of the new fire house and the new apparatus. One of the guest speakers was Senator Boggs, and the following is an excerpt from his speech: “The housing of new equipment is a tradition of long historical standing. It signifies the spirit of accomplishment. It is an occasion for the expression and recognition of a feeling of gratitude to have helped make it possible and it is a tradition which expresses the ability and courage to meet the challenge of the future. The volunteer fireman makes many sacrifices unselfishly, voluntarily in the interests of serving one’s fellow man and community, the sacrifice of time, personal convenience, comfort and yes even the sacrifice of his life.”
In 1954 a new Reo Rescue Truck was purchased with matching funds from Civil Defense. Also in 1954 a new GMC pumper was delivered. Now Elsmere was really on the move again. Their fleet now consisted of two pumpers, one quad, and one rescue. Elsmere was quite proud of its new fire house and new equipment but again tragedy struck.
On December 24, 1954, Chief Charles L. Jones, passed away. The day was very cold and very sad for the members of Elsmere, their leader had died after 26 years as their chief. The following is an excerpt from his plaque which was dedicated on January 19, 1956. “Charles L. Jones who capably and devotedly served the Elsmere Fire Company #1 as their Chief for 26 years. A life of unselfish effort and generosity….His wise counsel, guidance and human understanding, will ever inspire those who carry on the good work which was his honor for the success attained.” Yes, their leader was gone but never to be forgotten. Then the First Assistant Chief, a well known man by the name of Paul Rambo took over as Chief and led Elsmere with a steady hand.
On August 17, 1961 a new Autocar 1000 gallon tank truck was delivered the truck was built be Oren Fire Apparatus Company at the cost of $24,000.00. The Autocar replaced the 1950 Dodge pumper which was sold to a fire company in Pennsylvania. On September 30, 1961, a 40th Anniversary parade was held in Elsmere. This was the first parade to march down the streets of Elsmere in a long time. The gala event was three-fold, with a parade, open house, and the housing of the new apparatus.
1961 and 1962 were noted as the years of severe fires. As quoted by Harold F. Wilkins Jr., then President of the New Castle County Fire Chiefs Association: “If this pattern of serious fires continues at this rate of frequency, 1962 will go down in history as the year of the great fires in Delaware.” The following is a list of the serious fires, four of which were in our district, and six of which we responded to:
July 29, 1961 – Reading Railroad warehouse in Elsmere
October 12, 1961 – Grant’s Department Store, Midway
December 8, 1961 – Foulk Woods dwelling destroyed
5 people killed
December 26, 1961 – Shaffer’s Market, near Elsmere
January 12, 1962 – Newark Shopping Center
January 21, 1962 – House fire in Minquadale
3 people killed
January 27, 1962 – Acme Market, Prices Corner
February 17, 1962 – House fire in Colonial Heights
1 person killed
March 25, 1962 – Two apartment houses in Marshallton
On December 7, 1962, tragedy again struck Elsmere. Paul P. Rambo, who had succeeded Charles L. Jones as Chief passed away. Paul Rambo had been a good chief and a strong leader for Elsmere, but now he was gone. The members were very sad and very heart broken, but with the help of William H. Clark, Jr., who then became their chief, picked up in Paul’s memory and kept going. In 1963 our old 1959 Cadillac ambulance was replaced with a new 1963 Cadillac Miller-Meter ambulance. Also in August of 1963 the new addition to the firehouse was started.
Again as in 1961 and 1962, 1963 spelled a year for serious fires, but unlike the ones of 62. These were different kinds of fires, not only fires of buildings, but fires of acres and acres of land. The most devastating of these was the famous Iron Hill fire, which took place on April 4, 1963. This fire destroyed many homes and many, many acres of land. Before the fire could be brought under control a General Alarm for New Castle County, was sounded, bring practically every fire company in the county to converge on the tremendous Iron Hill fire.
On May 23, 1964, the new $220,000.00 addition to the Elsmere Fire house was dedicated. The dedication was preceded by a huge parade. The key note of the event was the dedicating by the Governor. The new hall was named the Paul P. Rambo Memorial Hall, in memory of Past Chief Paul P. Rambo. Governor Carvel praised Chief Rambo for his 28 years of service, as he addressed an audience of several thousand. The year 1964 would not be complete without mentioning the famous Avisun fire. On November 8, 1964, a fire raged for more than three and one half hours at the Avison Polypropylene Plant, on River Road south of New Castle. Three devastating nerve racking events made the men of Elsmere and all the other firemen start thinking, that maybe this was the one, the one where it would all end. But with a bit of luck, a lot of guts, and maybe the Hand of God, prevented this fire from destroying the lives of the men from Elsmere and all the other fire on the hand at this historic fire.
1965 marked the year of a new concept in firefighting, for Elsmere. The old controversial gasoline engine in the 1961 Autocar was replaced with a new Diesel engine. It was hard to convince the older members into trying this new idea. The Diesel engine was new to the fire service, but through the steady arguing of our younger fire officers the diesel engine was finally placed in the Autocar, to be tried and tested and never to be regretted by Elsmere. Today we have three diesels and a forth on order.
The sixties could not be mentioned without mentioning the historic general alarm fire at the Delaware State Hospital on August 16, 1966. This was a general alarm involving almost every company in New Castle County, and even some from New Jersey, and a Truck Company from Wilmington.
August 10, 1967 brought another devastating event for the men of Elsmere. This was unlike any other event they were used to handling, for on the warm August morning Elsmere experienced its worst flood. Over three inches of rain fell and inundated Elsmere with more than six feet of water in some places. Over 100 people were driven from their homes and a lot of these had to be rescued by boat. The first call came about 12:05 A.M. August 10 and the last engine finally returned around 9:00 P.M. August 11. The men and women of Elsmere Fire Company worked hard and faithfully during the emergency.
In 1968 a new Hahn, diesel powered was delivered. This event marked a change for Elsmere. The change was moving from the conventional all red fire apparatus, to the red and white combination that has been with Elsmere ever since. It is really strange how this change came about. The new truck committee was visiting the Hahn plant before the new truck was ordered and saw a newly completed red and white pumper for a fire company in New Jersey. The liked the color so much that it was brought up at the company meeting and the decided that all our apparatus would be red and white from then on. Also in 1968 a new Cadillac Superior Ambulance was delivered, replacing the 1963 ambulance.
1969 marked another year of changes for Elsmere. In October 1969 the first paid fireman was instituted for Elsmere. This was the first paid fireman for Elsmere, but will he be the last? Elsmere in sticking to its reputation became the first ambulance in the state to carry a Heart Lung Resuscitator.
1970 marked another change for Elsmere. William H. Clark, Jr. retired as chief and Robert D. Mills took over the reins as chief. This event marked another first, Chief Mills is the first Wilmington paid fireman to become chief of a non-paid volunteer company. In 1970 another 1250 G.P.M. Hahn (Diesel) pumper was delivered. Also in 1970 the new Rescue Truck was ordered. At this time the chassis is completed and the body is being assembled by the Providence Body Company of Providence, Rhode Island. This Rescue will mark another first for Elsmere. It will be the first diesel powered rescue in the State, and it will be the first mobile communications center for a volunteer fire company in the State. This Rescue is unlike any other and we hope it will be delivered around the middle of March.
We have just covered the history of the Elsmere Fire Company from March 1921, through tragedy and heartbreak, to joy and happiness, from a small volunteer company, to one of the most professional fire companies in the State of Delaware today. We have just covered history, but let us remember that history happens every day. It is good to remember the joys of the past, but let us thank God for our past and look ahead for what God and our future may bring.
You have now read how Elsmere has had a lot of firsts in their company, but we like to feel that Elsmere is and always will be second…Second to None, that is.