SOUTH ABINGTON TWP. — An antique 1956 Ward LaFrance fire truck sits in a garage at the Chinchilla Hose Company. Fire company members and their families will have an opportunity to catch a glimpse of the fully-restored pumper truck at a clambake at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 19, at the fire company, 113 Shady Lane Road.
After more than two decades of fundraising, Mark Dougherty, fire company president and member of the company for 43 years, said the restoration that cost $70,000 was “a slow process, but a reminder to upcoming generations to see what we started with and where we are now.” The truck was restored by American Fire Restoration.
“It (the restoration) is mostly for sentimental reasons. Certain fundraisers throughout the year made it possible,” Dougherty said. A dedication ceremony and open house is planned for the fall.
Bob Habeeb, 88, Clarks Summit, one of the founding fathers of the fire company, said his legacy “is to make the community safe and a better place to live.”
Habeeb, Warren Fetzer, Bruce Shultz, Harold Stuessing, Ray Atherton and Frank Jenkins were among those who recognized a need for additional fire and emergency services in the mid-1950s. The group met in the old Chinchilla Post Office to make plans for the company that would serve residents in Chinchilla and South Abington Township.
“All of us knew each other,” Habeeb said. “It’s something you get in your mind. We needed coverage.”
At the time, fire and emergency calls were handled by the Clarks Summit Volunteer Fire Department.
“Clarks Summit had such a big area and we thought we should have a fire company here to handle the people right around here,” longtime fire company member Keith Wellard explained.
But, what’s a fire company without wheels to get the all-volunteer crew to an emergency scene? One of their goals was to buy a fire truck. To come up with the funds, in 1956, Habeeb and other charter members mortgaged their homes on a dream as collateral to purchase the truck and fire house. They test drove one truck before purchasing the Ward LaFrance. The criteria for selecting the pumper were simple, Habeeb said.
“If it could get up Burcher (Street), then we would buy it,” he said. “Everyone was sitting on their porches watching us to see if we’d make it up Burcher in the fire truck.”
“They brought it down here and ran it up all the hills and it (the Ward LaFrance) made it,” added Wellard.
The department received its charter in 1956 and in the interim, before the fire station was ready, the engine was stored in a garage on Northern Boulevard, according to Wellard.
“We had a place (in Chinchilla) where we stored the fire truck,” he said.
Throughout the years, the Ward LaFrance truck was also used by the fire company to deliver gifts to children during the Christmas season. Habeeb said he purchased gifts on his own, put them in a sack and, while dressed as Santa Claus, distributed gifts to “all the people’s homes he knew.” To show appreciation for the gifts, residents he visited had a drink ready for him.
“I’d be drunk by the time I got back to the fire house,” he said with a laugh.
Wellard said Habeeb made a comment years ago that has stuck in his mind. “’I’m so proud of you guys for keeping it (the fire company) going.’ It was true pride for me to hear Bob (Habeeb) say that, because they worked so hard to get it and we kept it going. That was the greatest part of all.”
“We were family,” Habeeb said.