In the beginning…
Acme Hose Company Number 1
East Stroudsburg Fire Department
East Stroudsburg, PA
In the year 1890, a group of men, headed by A. R. Brittain, proposed a plan to organize a Volunteer Company. The plan went into effect on April 7th of the same year and the first Volunteer Fire Company in East Stroudsburg was born.
During the course of the initial meeting, the following officers were elected:
President: John McNeal
Vice President: Charles S. Hoffman
Financial Secretary: Joseph H. Zacharias
Recording Secretary: A. R. Brittain
Treasurer: James Fable
Chief: A. W. Tetter
Foreman: C. James Martz
1st Assistant Foreman: George Ransberry
2nd Assistant Foreman: John C. Applett
Property Clerk: Thomas B. Cullather
Janitor: James C. Deemer
The first piece of equipment was a small cart drawn & operated by manpower & consisting of a cylinder pump, two brass cylinders with a suction to discharge on either side & a plunger projecting in each cylinder with a cross arm that connected the plungers. The capacity of this pump was rated according to the depth, height & speed of the working of the plungers. Wagons drawn by horses were later purchased, only to give way to more modern trucks.
In 1926, the Borough of East Stroudsburg began construction of a building on ground owned by the Fire Department to be a Municipal Building large enough to house the Fire Department & Police Department on the first floor; the second floor was to be used for Council Chambers, Borough Offices & Fire Company Meeting rooms. In 1927, the Fire Department moved to its new location which has become its permanent home. At the time of this writing (not present day 2007), personnel numbers slightly over one hundred, of which sixty are active members.
The following is a list of equipment operating when this was written:
– 1942 American LaFrance 1000gpm Pumper ($14,000)
– 1950 American LaFrance 750gpm Pumper with a 300 Gallon Booster Tank ($15,000)
– 1951 American LaFrance 75 Foot Aerial ($30,500)
– 1953 Assembled Truck with 300 Gallon Booster Tank & Pump purchased through Civil Defense matching funds ($9,650)
– 1957 American LaFrance 750gpm high pressure with 300 Gallon Booster Tank ($18,400)
– 1957 Willys Jeep Rescue Truck four wheel drive with front end winch, purchased through Civil Defense ($5,600)
Except for the one piece of equipment bought in 1952, these additions to the firefighting capabilities have been added since 1950.
All trucks are equipped with short wave radios & the base station is housed in the Fire Department headquarters. They are now on narrow band low frequency 33.98, along with the rest of Monroe, Lehigh & Northampton Counties. In dollars & cents, the apparatus & equipment is valued at about $1800,000. There can be no possible tabulation of what this means in terms of devotion by men of the Fire Company.
The Company maintains about 8,000 feet of 2-1/2” fire hose & 3,600 feet of 1-1/2” hose. It has a combine pumping capacity of 3,300 gallons of water per minute (gpm) according to the National Fire Board of Underwriters.
Trucks are equipped with the most up to date firefighting equipment. Since 1955, when Hurricane Diane drowned the upper reaches of the Delaware Valley, many items essential in rescue work have been purchased. A portable iron lung, portable generators up to 5,000 watts, life line throwing guns, chain saws, power saws, Porta Power Sets, power megaphones, many first aid units of the largest size & many more items essential to preservation of life & property.
Since 1937, the Fire Company has been conducting weekly fire schools throughout the year. Started by the late Frank P. Sommers of the Stroudsburg Fire Department, who devoted his life to firefighting, the schools have embraced not only Monroe County but many adjoining counties as well. Sommers was responsible for bringing a training program that was acceptable to large & small communities alike. It can now be said that the various departments work together as a unit under the same method of firefighting procedure.
We pay tribute to Frank P. Sommers & the legacy he has bequeathed firefighters in our association.
With accent on training of men, Acme has sent many members to the State Fire School first at State College & now located at Lewistown. At the present time there are three qualified State Instructors within the local department. Interchanges of knowledge, methods & procedures have been responsible for the most advanced systems of alarm available. Sixty-nine alarm boxes placed throughout the Borough activate a tape recorder located at the firehouse, immediately recording location of the box.
From the top to the bottom, Acme has attracted & held the kind of personnel that has been a credit to the community. Fire Chief Marvin E. Abel is a member of the Civil Defense Council, & heads up Fire Security & Communication in Monroe County. “Marv” is completing his 25th year as an active member of Acme, 21 of those years as a line officer & 15 of the 21 as chief. That’s a big chunk out of a man’s life that he didn’t get to go fishing, hunting or just plain being lazy. But, they have been rewarding years in lasting friendship & accomplishment.
We did a bit of reminiscing recently. Personally modest about his own achievements & abilities, “Marv” feels less restraint when speaking of the Fire Company. He said, “In all fairness to all fire companies & firemen, I honestly believe that we here in East Stroudsburg have one of the best equipped & best trained fire departments in the country. Our men & equipment have been instrumental in lowering fire insurance rates & we have the lowest rate in all classes for the present time. With God’s help, we hope to keep it that way.”
That about sums up the feeling of the Mayor & the Borough Council. Cooperation with the Fire Department has been excellent. It is through this cooperation & planning that the Fire Company has made the strides it has.
The East Stroudsburg Fire Department would like to go on record on thanking their Mayor & Borough Council for this splendid cooperation.
Flood of 1955
East Stroudsburg Fire Department Report
On The Flood of August 18, 1955
By Fire Chief Marvin E. Abel
The night of August 18th, 1955 was dark and rainy, the same kind of weather that had prevailed for the past two and a half days. At 8 PM the regular Thursday night Bingo Game got underway in the Acme Hose Company Building on the Corner of Day Street and Lenox Avenue. About 175 women were in attendance. Traders Flour & Feed Company on lower Washington Street, near Brodhead Creek was locked and secured for the night. Across the street there was a bowling match in progress in the basement alleys of the American Legion Home. The Elks Home located right alongside of the Legion Home was also operating in their usual manner for a Thursday night. These things are mentioned to show that in the minds of the people of East Stroudsburg there was no thought whatever of the terrible disaster which was about to occur within a very short time.
At 9 PM Mayor Jesse Flory, Chief Burgess of the Borough of East Stroudsburg and several members of the Borough Council started checking the Borough Reservoir and also Gregory’s Pond, recently purchased by the Borough to serve as a reservoir to hold back storm waters. At 9:30 PM the local Police Department contacted the Bingo Building with information that several of the main highways out of town were temporarily closed because of overflowing creeks. Several minutes later more information, several residents on Park Street had requested help in evacuating their homes because of water filled cellars and water still rising. At about 9:45 the firemen conducting the Bingo Game decided to close up early, not because they felt any immediate danger but some of the players might live in low areas and they should be home checking or looking over their personal property.
Suddenly at 10 PM box 134, the fire alarm box which is located directly across from the firehouse sounded. This wasn’t any ordinary rain storm any more, this was a Flood Emergency. Brodhead Creek, a normally quiet trout stream that separates the Boroughs of Stroudsburg and East Stroudsburg was a raging torrent and rising a foot every few minutes. Between 10:30 and 11 PM it came up better than 20 feet and didn’t stop until about 12:45 AM when it reached a crest of about 33 feet, above normal.
Mayor Flory and Fire Chief Marvin Abel met the Volunteer Firemen when they arrived at the Fire House in the Municipal Building. Groups of two or three firemen were immediately sent out to all of the sections along the creek to warn people and advise them to leave their homes, also, to report back to headquarters facts about the situation. Acme Hose Company had at this time 3 portable radios that were on the same wave length as the local Police short wave set up, these were used by these groups. All fire apparatus was to remain in the fire house until needed.
As reports started to trickle into the Fire House Headquarters the real seriousness of the situation started to become apparent. The rain turned from a heavy drizzle to a steady downpour and continued until about 4:30 on Friday morning. One Fireman, Donald Gage with a portable radio was stranded on the corner of Walnut and West Broad Street. The water was so swift that it was impossible to wade or swim so he climbed a tree and gave periodic reports as he inches up higher in the tree. Finally, there were no more reports and it was the next morning before we knew he had survived. This is just one of many other firemen that had started out to help people evacuate the stricken areas and the water rising so swiftly that they themselves became trapped. Some other names were Charles Van Auken and Claude Schaller. There were two of our local Policemen, James Smith and Louis Caramella who were stranded when a boat they were in upset. They were fortunate to hang on to a tree and later climb up into the branches but the tree was torn up by the roots and they were again thrown into the swollen water. They again managed to grab onto another tree where they were later rescued, minus most of their clothes, guns, money, etc.
There was one group that had started down Day Street with Robert Lesoine driving a pick-up truck and found that they could go no further that the Trailer Camp which was located about 400 yards from the Bingo Building. They immediately aroused the occupants and returned to report. Boats were pressed into service and calls went out for all available boats to be brought to the firehouse where they were dispatched to the areas needed. Fireman Carl Michaels was put in charge of the boat detail. The first boat arrived within ten minutes (the owner of this boat was the young Holland boy who was killed about three months after the flood in an auto accident). This boat was sent to the Day Street area where it was responsible for rescuing about sixty people during the night. The second attempt this boat made for a rescue was for two men who were standing waist high in water on a table in their home, a pin was sheared on the boat and it was then at the mercy of the swollen waters, the men were thrown out of the boat but they managed to hang on to it until they could grab hold of some tree branches, they tied themselves fast, fixed the pin and went back to rescue the victims. Upon reaching the same house one man was gone, the other was now on the roof hanging to the chimney standing waist high in the water, he was rescued. This is but one example of what occurred with each and every boat during the entire night. The current was extremely swift and 25 H.P. boats handled by skilled men could not maneuver at many places. Floating debris was a big hazard to boat operation coupled with the fact that the boatmen were working in pitch black darkness with only hand flash lights. Portable generators (there were too few available) were set up at strategic locations to guide the boats to a landing. At the Day Street landing we were fortunate to have had Doctor Jones and his wife standing by during the entire procedure (in all the rain) checking the victims before they were sent to the Fire House.
During the night there were at least 15 or more boats that capsized, the boatmen being tumbled into the roaring waters. One other crew in particular which was the second boat to be brought in was owned and operated by Harvey Hartman, also helping him was Lieutenant Walter Arnold who died of a heart attack June 1956. These two men were responsible for rescuing many victims until such time as they upset and were thrown into the waters, the boat was lost and the men hung on to a tree for about ten minutes when at this time the tree was uprooted and they again were back in the water, this time they were separated but fortunately the both managed to grasp another tree while being swept swiftly along with the raging current. It was about two hours later before they were located and were rescued then sent to the hospital for observation but were later released and sent to their homes after being treated for minor bruises and shock.
One of our firemen Edward Pugh was trapped in his own home, he went to the second floor and jumped into the swollen waters which were about twenty-five feet deep. He then tried to rescue his invalid sister who was in an adjacent building. Under conditions such as they were, he was unable to save her and she was drowned. These are just some of the examples of what occurred, these same experiences occurred time after time during the entire night and every fireman and boat owner experienced them at one time or another.
We have what is known as a box alarm system in East Stroudsburg and from 10:30 PM until 12:30 AM the night of the flood the alarm sounded on several occasions. It seemed that as victims were thrown into the swollen waters and if they happened to grasp a pole where one of our alarm boxes was located, they would reach in and pull the alarm. This told us where the victims were (at least until they were swept away) but on many occasions it was impossible to get to them until the current started to recede. The alarm going off from time to time coupled with the people calling for help, the noise of buildings and debris swept by with the roaring waters and little or no light and the rain coming down in a regular cloud burst is quite hard to explain to someone unless you were actually there. It gave one the feeling of emptiness, how powerless you were in not being able to get to all of the victims. When was it going to stop? How much deeper and swifter would it actually get? For a while it looked like the end of everything at least for the biggest part of East Stroudsburg.
During the height of the storm the firemen were responsible for rescuing about 450 people and evacuating them from the stricken area. One boat with three men upset and the men were washed down with the current for about 800 yards before they were able to hang on to trees, each of the three in a different tree. It took two rowboats and a group of firemen about one hour to rescue them. This was done by tying ropes fast to the boat and also the men in the boat and then letting the current take him down stream trying to maneuver the boat as near to the victims as he could. As he passed a tree, he would tie a rope fast to it and in this manner, he would work from tree to tree. Two of the firemen who led this group were William Masters and Jon Strunk who worked the boat. One could go on and on telling of the rescues and the experiences of the firemen and the boat owners but in order to complete this report I will go on with the other emergencies that were taking place.
Just as soon as the victims were brought from the stricken area there had to be a place for them to go in order for them to get out of the rain and get into dry clothing. The fire house along with the Borough rooms and Council chamber was used for this purpose. Merchants were contacted and asked to bring clothing, food, cooking equipment or anything that could be used, as we were without power of any kind. Charcoal burners, gas stoves, kerosene stoves and lights were brought and put to use. The merchants were also asked to bring rescue equipment such as rope, flashlights and batteries, oars, boots, rain coats, gloves, first aid kits and many, many other items. Every merchant responded without any thought of being reimbursed. Our Ladies Auxiliary turned out along with other people from the Borough and began to feed and clothe the victims. The Fire House was kept open and our ladies auxiliary and others worked twenty-four hours a day for three straight weeks serving food and helping other details which were set up from time to time.
The morning following the flood, August 19th was one to remember as the rain stopped and the water started to recede and daylight came, we began to take inventory of the situation. We knew by then that East Stroudsburg was isolated, no one could get in or out of the town, all bridges were down and no one knew how long it would be before they would be rebuilt. Power and communications were out and no trains could run, the tracks were washed out for miles. The following began to take place: A generator was taken to one of our local ham operators in order for him to have power. This was set up and he began to send out messages and in time also received them. The Fire Company set up a communication detail with Jack Wyckoff, Herman Smeltz and Donald Gage. They took up headquarters in the Police Station, our portable radios were used between the ham operator and the Police Station. Later on, the Signal Depot at Tobyhanna sent in other portable radios and operators to work with our communication detail (this was about three days later) all incoming and outgoing messages were handled and records kept here. The equipment sent from the Signal Depot was done by helicopter, they used the State College Football field for landing purposes.
The following is a list of other groups and details which were set up by the fire department in our headquarters in order to get some kind of a system in operation. A sleeping detail which was to contact homes, schools and other buildings which could put up beds for the victims until they could be taken care of by other means. The names of the victims and where they would be kept was put on record. A searching party was set up, or rather a detail was started with several searching parties. They were supposed to send out groups from both ends of the town and work toward the center looking for bodies, if one was found someone stayed with it while a report was sent back to headquarters. A body detail was set up as soon as a body was found they left with necessary equipment which was ropes, axes, saws, shovels, blankets, disinfectant, rubber gloves, gas masks and other items. The bodies were brought in and taken to the only Funeral Home in town, Lantermans. In three days’ time and before any other help arrived, we had brought in 18 bodies. I might say at this time that most people worked for three days and nights with little or no sleep, not eating properly and drinking mostly juice. A registration detail was set up with Rudy Meinheim and the Ladies Auxiliary, everyone was supposed to register so we could tell who was missing and who was not. A missing person bureau was started and handled at the Police Station with the communication detail. A food and water detail was also set up so that the firemen and other workers would be served something to eat and drink while they were working, it was taken directly to them in order that they would not lose any time and would not have to leave the detail which they might be working with.
The day after the flood we were notified that no water was to be used unless it was either boiled or chlorinated. This presented another problem, letting the people know about it. We set up another detail and it was up to them to locate a truck and set up a sound system so that they could ride throughout the Borough and outlying districts calling to the people to boil all water before using if they had no way to boil it, they were to chlorinate it (a method of chlorinating same was explained) they were also told that they could get water or powders for chlorinating purposes at the Fire House. B.K. Williams, a chemist and Dr. Towe reported at the Fire House and started to chlorinate some water and show people how it was done. There were two wells in the Borough which were found okay to use, these were located at Penn Dell Dairy and the other was at Kreamee Ice Cream Co., Inc., milk cans and water could be obtained at any time of the day or night. Both these concerns along with everyone else done everything they could to help and at considerable cost of their own. Kreamee Ice Cream Co. also offered to handle as much food as they could from the homes of those who had deep freezers and no power, this saved a great deal of the local food.
After about three to four days the churches and other organizations began to offer places to eat and they set up in business, the Red Cross and Salvation Army supplying most of the food. This was not just for the people that had been in the flood but for all the workers and many others who had no means of fixing food. This in itself presented quite an eating problem.
The National Guard was flown into East Stroudsburg, Sunday night and they took over patrolling the streets at night, at no time were we under Martial Law, they done a good job and worked with the Fire Department and the Borough Council and Police Department.
It was Saturday when we were able to get across the creek at Stokes Mill in a boat where a Civil Defense truck was waiting and we obtained a great deal of rescue equipment which we needed badly. Lights, generators, ropes, cooking equipment, portable telephone system, rubber blankets for bodies, gloves and gas masks. From this time on we obtained and stored many thousands of dollars worth of equipment. There were two Buildings used for this purpose and the communication detail was in charge of this detail. I might add at this time that this is one detail that should be very careful and keep records of anything coming in and what goes out and to whom. A great deal can be lost or disposed of and not to the proper ones and the expense will be considerably higher if you are not careful. We found this out too late.
It was about the second week after the flood that Fire Companies from many places asked how they could help. They began to send truckloads of clothing, much of it from Long Island, NY and parts of NJ. They asked only that the Fire Department dispose of it. Before we were through, with the help of our Ladies Auxiliary and Civil Defense boys handled, sorted and disposed of over 150 tons of clothing and this lasted until the last of November. We also received bedding and food and furniture. The food was stored away until later we decided that everyone was more or less being taken care of by the Red Cross and the Salvation Army and sooner or later this would stop. At Thanksgiving and also Christmas we packaged and distributed to the people that were in the flood large food orders. We had about 2-1/2 to 3 tons of food which we distributed.
I think one of our biggest and hardest jobs was the searching and gathering up of the bodies. Some of them were located in trees fifteen to eighteen feet high others under mud and water and some under or tangled up in debris that in some cases was piled fifteen to sixteen feet high. For about two weeks bodies were found a lot easier than they were later on. In the beginning they might lay out in the open or parts of them sticking through the water or mud or debris. You could also tell something was around by the odor. After a while there was no longer any odor and many were found by watching blow flies, they would swarm around some debris and then down they would go, we would then begin to dig around as carefully as we could and we would always find a body or else it would be an animal of some kind which had been caught in the flood such as chickens, pigs, horses, cows, etc. It seemed that if a body being exposed in any way to the air, within a short time attracted maggots and other insects, the odor was terrific. Some cases the body would just fall right apart the minute you tried to move it. This had to be done carefully so that each and every part would be accounted for (for identification purposes).
The gas masks were due to the odor which occurred on many cases pretty near every fireman at one point or another on this detail became sick at his stomach but the job had to be done. Rubber gloves were used and then they were burned right on the spot in order to protect the firemen and the rest of the people of this Borough from any germs and also to play it safe and not start an epidemic of any kind.
The second week after the flood we had a number of Game Wardens sent in by the Pennsylvania Game Commission to help in searching for bodies and they worked under John Doebling who is a member of our Fire Department and also a Pennsylvania Game Warden. These men were a great help, not only for the body detail but also in helping to direct traffic and to keep out sightseers which presented a terrific problem just as soon as people could get into the Borough regardless of conditions.
We were responsible for setting up details and some of these were the Meat Detail (this was for the purpose of taking out meat from refrigerators and deep freeze units where they had to be taken away and buried). We also had a pumping detail, this was used to pump water out of cellars so that men could get in to work, they also pumped out man holes, etc. for the different Utility Companies in order for them to work. This detail also helped people to wash out their homes and were busy for three months after the flood.
The Fire Department kept three pieces of apparatus intact, which were the Aerial truck, 1,000-gallon pumper and a 750-gallon pump with a booster tank. Three other pieces of apparatus along with all equipment on them were used when and wherever they were needed. We lost quite a lot of hose due to the way it was taken care of at the time but this was something that could not be helped, it was drug around in the mud and it was impossible to brush it and wash it each time it was used, there was no time to dry it as it was in use constantly, we also lost boots, coats, gloves, hand lights, axes, shovels, etc. All of our equipment was replaced by Civil Defense and what was not replaced as yet we have the money for and will be taken care of within a very short time.
One could go on and tell about the things which happened and the part that the firemen played during the flood. There is one sure thing that I have discovered for certain and I am positive that all fire departments have more or less known just how important they are but it just takes an emergency such as this other than a fire to really prove how lost a community would be without this organization. Fire Departments have been organized for many years, they have conducted Fire Schools over a period of time and as a rule have drills once a week weather permitting, they are a group of men who have been taught to work under leadership no matter what the emergency may be and should conditions arise each and every fireman could without a doubt take over leadership of a certain group or detail. They are also a group of men who can assemble within a moment’s notice and they have the means for notifying their men to roll out and they have the equipment to work with and the knowledge in how to use it. Now with these things in mind you can rest assured that no matter what the emergency may be it will rest on the Fire Department to handle the situation and the people will depend on you, even your own local management as your Borough Council, etc. until they can get something organized. This could take considerable time as they have not prepared themselves for serious disasters and if they had then each time you had a change of local management you can see what would happen. Some of the equipment we needed for our emergency which we either did not have or else there was not enough of was as follows: Short wave radios (almost a must when power fails and communications are out), rope and longer lengths, 500 feet and600 feet long, generators, portable pumps, power saws, power megaphones to broadcast, hand lights and batteries, paper and rubber blankets, first aid kits, (we had six 24-unit kits) they were not enough.
If you live in a community where there are lakes, streams, or rivers it is a good idea to have a boat unit. List all boats owners who will cooperate, put them into different divisions and two captains for each division, list their telephone numbers, have them elect their own advisory committee and have a fan out system. Don’t wait for disaster to hit, what would you do if your community was isolated as we were? Have drills and plan ahead, be prepared!
The Fire Department’s Bingo Hall on Day Street after the 1955 Flood.