In 1949, Harvey Bretz and several other individuals whom all lived in Hampden Township, Cumberland County, discussed the possible formation of a volunteer fire company. The idea was presented and the outcome was mixed. At first, no one wanted to take on the responsibility of forming the all-volunteer organization. It took Mr. Bretz almost five years to convince the group that the formation of the fire company was necessary to protect lives and property within the township. In the fall of 1954, the group of men charged with the formation of the fire company held their very first company meeting at the Shaull Elementary School. The group included: Harvey Bretz, Charlie Shank, Jr, Frank Balsavage, Richard Horner, Ed Bramwell, Russell Bramwell, Olaf Johnson, and Don Martin.
The first order of business in 1954 was to acquire land somewhere within the township to house the new fire department. Harold Fetrow owned a small farm on Good Hope Road and was willing to sell five and half acres to the fire company for $1500.00. It was an exciting start for the group. One of the individuals donated an old chicken coop to be used as a facility to hold meetings until a station could be built. With the land and “building” under control, there was only one thing left to do. The company needs to be recognized in the community. Each of the men had different ideas on the identity of the organization, but the consensus settled on naming the department Hampden Township Volunteer Fire Company No. 1. Each enjoyed a sense of pride in the newly created company.
During the following eight months, more work lay ahead for the fire company to obtain the recognition of Cumberland County and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. On Monday May 31, 1955, Hampden Township Volunteer Fire Company No. 1 was incorporated in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as a Chartered Volunteer Fire Company. This was a historic milestone that was celebrated by all. Two days later on Wednesday, June 2, 1955, the first official meeting as the newly chartered organization was held at the Shaull Elementary School. At this meeting, the group of members voted on their new board of officers. The first board of officers was;
|Vice President:||Harold Fetrow|
|Fire Chief:||Charles Shank, Jr.|
|1st Assistant Chief:||Harvey Bretz|
|2nd Assistant Chief:||Richard “Pappy” Horner|
Now, the fire company was off and running. These brave men had no idea of the daunting training they would have to go through. Much of their training was “learn as you go.” In the new organization, the wives of these gentlemen played an extremely important role. They were the backbone of fundraising activities for the company, doing all they could to support their husbands and sons.
In the beginning, there were no radio dispatches. The police department would call the firefighters at work or at home and the telephone tree would begin. Would find the men and notify them of the call and the men would respond to the fire station then respond to the emergency. The first fire call the company responded to was Bill Newminer’s chicken house fire. Apparently the members were at one of the first training sessions when they were notified of the call.
Obviously much has changed over the past sixty years; the Good Hope Station saw construction of a new building in 2006. In 1969, with the growth of the township population, a second station was established across from Sporting Hill Elementary School. This station is now the current location of the Hampden Township Recreation Department. The current Sporting Hill Station is located across from the Hampden Township Municipal Building and was constructed in 1995. Thanks to the citizens and the township officials, we now have two of the most modern state-of-the-art emergency services building in Central Pennsylvania.
From a “telephone tree” to station sirens to modern pagers that provide for a rapid response of volunteers, technology has served us well. Additionally, the pioneers of the fire company could not imagine the number and sophistication of the fire apparatus and equipment we operate today. From the first engine being a used 1937 “Diamond T” pumper to today’s fleet of modern and fully functional fire and rescue vehicles that carry the latest technology in emergency service equipment, we truly have come a long way.
We sincerely thank Harvey Bretz, Charles Shank, Jr., Frank Balsavage, Richard Horner, Ed Bramwell, Russell Bramwell, Olaf Johnson, Harold Fetrow, and Don Martin and the hundreds of other men and women who gave and continue to give so much for the protection and safety of the Citizens of Hampden Township.