Radnor Fire Company: building history, equipment, members, ambulances

The present building which houses the Radnor Fire Company looks very different from that first small one built in 1890 by the Wayne Public Safety Association, although, as a matter of fact, the latter is incorporated in the former. This original fire house is the square, two story northeastern section of the building which has the caretaker’s quarters downstairs and the assembly room upstairs. When it housed the horse drawn engine it had an entrance both onto Audubon avenue and onto the open field in the back. Each doorway was wide enough for the firemen to drive the fire engines through.

Soon after the acquisition of the two automobile engines in the early nineteen hundreds, the first building was moved backward on the lot and a front section added, retaining, however, the tower which still remains on top of the building. Then in 1936, another addition and some further improvements were made, including alterations to the front which made possible the small upstairs balcony and changed the appearance of the front of the building. In the course of various improvements, the original frame part was encased in brick, making for greater uniformity of appearance.

When the ambulance was purchased in 1947, it was at first crowded into this building as it was at that time. However, in 1948, the addition to the south was built as a means of more adequately accommodating the ambulance, as well as one of the five fire engines now in use by the Radnor Fire Company.

The front upstairs room is used for recreational purposes while the back room is used for the monthly meeting of the Fire Company. Close inspection of the fioor shows marks where desks were once screwed down when this room was used some fifty years or more ago as one of the class rooms for the Radnor Public Schools. The gavel on the long table in the present room is in the shape of a wooden block on the side of which is a silver plate inscribed with the names of the various presidents from that of William W. Hearne, who took office, down to Jason L. Fenimore, the present incumbent.

Mr. Hearne, who held office until 1911, was succeeded by Eugene C. Bonniwell whose term extended until 1914, when Mr. Hearne again took office until 1917. Jonathan D. Lengel was president from 1917 to 1921; Charles E. Clark from 1921 to 1925; Charles M. Wilkins from 1925 to 1928; Ira V. Hale from 1928 to 1930; David H. Henderson from 1930 to 1947 and John J. McGovern from 1947 to 1951, when Mr. Fenimore took office. Meetings are called to order by striking the bell now hanging on the wall, originally the one which clanged its way to all fires from the front of company’s first motorized fire engine. Incidentally, this first engine was smashed on its way to a fire, Charles Clark tells your columnist, instead of rusting away on the vacant lot back of Lienhardt’s as stated in this column. However, the second engine did meet this fate when instead it might have been preserved by the Waterous Company who wished to put it on exhibition in their St. Paul plant.

Leslie D. Wilkins, secretary of the Fire Company for a number of years past, as well as its chief engineer, tells us that the present system of sirens was installed in the early 1920’s. During the first years of the original fire company, a big iron rim from a locomotive wheel had its permanent place in front of the fire house. This rim was struck by a hammer when a fire alarm came in. The noise was so resounding that it could be heard pretty well around the town, thus calling the firemen into action. Even as far back as 1906, the Fire Company kept a man on 24 hour duty, one of the first of these watchers being “Old Dad Watson”, a tall colored man still remembered by many people in Wayne. There was always a telephone in the firehouse and the telephone operator called the firemen at their homes.

Prior to the time of the installation of the present siren system, the loud whistle on the top of the steam heat plant gave the signal for firemen to assemble. In summer when the plant shut down it was necessary for a time to ring a bell. Mr. Wilkins well remembers the small auxiliary bell at the side of his father’s house on Aberdeen avenue which notified all the firemen in that neighborhood of any fire. Eventually a group of women in the town got together and planned for a “Tag Day”, when they stood on street corners and sold tags with small whistles attached, thus starting the fund for the purchase of a siren. After the permanent discontinuation of the steam heat plant a few years ago, it became necessary to depend entirely on the present siren system, although up to that time the siren at the plant was always used in winter for serious fires.

One of the most unusual undertakings of the Radnor Fire Company was their trip to Louisville, Ky., in February, 1937, to aid in relief work made necessary by the flooding of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, following heavy rains. Those who went were Charles E. Clark and his son, Edwin J. Clark, the present fire chief, James Kain and James Conway. With Louisville as their ultimate destination, they went as far as Harrisburg in the fire engine which they were taking from Wayne. Then a special train was provided for all the equipment which had been volunteered from various sections as well as the firemen to man these engines. They entered the flooded area at Indianapolis, from which point on the going was tedious and difficult.

Once arrived in LouIsville they found themselves installed in a warehouse of the American Tobacco Company where, along with all the rest of the volunteer firemen from Pennsylvania they were under the able direction of Chief Deen, of the Lancaster (Pa.) Fire Department. Of these volunteers, the men from Radnor were the only ones from a district smaller than a third class city. Conditions everywhere were bad with many buildings afloat and many people trapped by fire and water. Among the many strange sights was that of a huge Ohio River steamboat stranded in the center of a golf course.

(To be concluded)