Radnor Fire Company: responds to trolley & train crashes, 1951-1952 report, Radnor High School boys training to fill spots of firemen gone to WWII

The report of Edwin J. Clark, chief of the Radnor Fire Company for the year extending from April 1, 1951 to April 1, 1952, shows that in that period of time 608 calls were answered by the Company. Of these, 279 were fire calls and 329 were those for the ambulance.

The fire trucks travelled a total of 2,907 miles answering calls, that in variety ran all the way from the Ryan and Christie fire in Bryn Mawr to a “cat in the tree” and “birds in the chimney” as these last two calls are listed in the report.

The men went out in all sorts of weather, including 24 rainstorms and eight snowstorms. And while 201 of these calls came in form 6 A. M. to 6 P. M., 78 of them came between 6 P. M. to 6 A. M. Average hours of service were 217 1/2 for each fireman. With the exception off one full time employee who lives at the Fire House to receive incoming calls, none of the active firemen receives any compensation.

Responding to the multiple fire alarm for the Ryan and Christie fire, Radnor men and apparatus arrived in Bryn Mawr at 8:00 o’clock on Wednesday evening, February 28, 1951, and remained through the bitter cold of that winter night on until 11:00 o’clock Thursday morning. Dense smoke, with little flame, made the work of the firemen difficult from the beginning. Some 30 men from the various companies were overcome by smoke, while one Bryn Mawr fireman died a few days later as a result of the injuries he sustained. Throughout the night and early morning fire ambulances, including Radnor’s, stood by, ready for any emergency that would necessitate a run to nearby Bryn Mawr Hospital.

Two disastrous accidents in 1951 brought out the Radnor Fire Company, the first on April 26, when an East-bound and a West-bound trolley met in a head-on collision just west of Wayne-St. Davids trolley station. The second occurred on May 16, when the “Red Arrow” train of the Pennsylvania Railroad plowed intuit he Philadelphia Night Express west of Bryn Mawr station. Radnor firemen, arriving without delay on the scene of the first accident, freed the seven seriously injured passengers from the wreckage and within half an hour’s time had all of them in Bryn Mawr Hospital by way of their own ambulance and those from Berwyn and Paoli.

At the Pennsylvania Railroad wreck, which resulted in the death of eight persons and the injury of 60 more, three Radnor fire trucks with the ambulance were on duty for hours, the former assisting with the work of rescue and the latter with the transportation of injured to the Bryn Mawr Hospital. They were but one of many such groups that responded to the emergency call. Thus far in 1952, the two most serious fires to which Radnor has been called have been that at Dr. McFarland’s Paoli home, which resulted in a loss of about $25,000, and the Smith warehouse fire in West Chester, with a loss of $100,000 or more.

In discussing the matter of training volunteers for their important work of firefighting and rescue, Mr. Clark says that not only does he have no difficulty in obtaining these men, but that usually there is a waiting list for any possible vacancies that may occur. Once admitted to the Fire Company, there is a six months’ period of probation before final acceptance. Also, for three months no new fireman is permitted to go into a fire unless accompanied by an old-timer.

In the meantime, there are fire drills for new and old firemen alike. From April 1 until October 1 these are of weekly occurrence, while from October 1 until April 1 they are held monthly. Much of the technique of the newest methods of fire fighting is acquired at the Fire School held in Lewistown each year by the Pennsylvania Department of PublicInstruction. Radnor Fire Company endeavors to send one or more representatives to each session, Chief Clark himself rarely missing one.

At the local fire drills  not only these newest techniques are taught but amateur firemen learn all ladder practices, including the proper raising, carrying and climbing of ladders. From discarded lumber a two story house has been erected on the old sewage plant on Ivan avenue. Here firemen are taught the putting out of blazes by fog methods, and techniques of rescue.

For the latter a smudge fire is usually started in the frame building, and somewhere in the depths of it, most often on the second floor, a dummy is hidden. Wearing masks and carrying a litter, firemen are trained to find and to rescue this dummy, just as they may be called upon to rescue persons overcome by smoke. Other fire drills, pertaining to the proper use of ladders, have been held on the outside of the Wayne Primary School building from time to time.

First Aid training is also given though a great deal of the knowledge comes through actual experience on the ambulance. Those who attend the Fire School in Lewistown receive courses in advanced first aid.

Due to the fact that several of the active firemen were called into the service following America’s entry into World War II in December, 1941, a number of High School boys were trained as active firemen to take their places. Well does the writer remember the pride her own son took in this assignment, the discipline and the training, which were to serve him in such good stead less than a year later when he, too, entered the service.

The first group of boys to be trained consisted of Malcolm Murphy, Davis Washburn, Joe Young, Carter Lippincott, Jack Fogarty, George Ott, Tom Mell, Bill Clark and Bill Patterson. There have been many others since then, each in turn considering it a great honor to be chosen. At present the group is limited each year to six senior class boys, who must have special releases from the school as well as written permission from parents. While they are firemen, they are not allowed to participate in any school sports. They may leave any and all classes at the first sound of the siren, and run to the Fire House, which conveniently adjoins the High School. They have, according to Chief Clark, proved of invaluable assistance, especially for daytime fires.

Exclusive of these six school boys, the total crew numbers 33 men, headed by “Eddie” Clark, who has been Fire Chief for the past 20 years. Leslie D. Wilkins, who is not only the chief engineer, but the secretary of the company, has served in the latter capacity for 17 years. Both men are sons of charter members of the company.

Assistant Chiefs are James Kane, Wells Walker and Edward Gallagher, Jason L. Fenimore is president of the Company; William M. Zimmermann, Jr., vice-president; Arthur T. Stillwell, treasurer. Directors are Hon. Benjamin F. James, Ralph Robson, Harry Simes, Grover Lengel, Rocco A. Odorisio, Harry Campbell, Jr., and John Ferguson.

The Fire Company’s budget is met each year by a certain amount derived from taxes, by contribution from the Township Board of Commissioners and yearly dues varying from three dollars for annual membership to $25 for sustaining members. The company has recently been the recipient of funds derived from the Wayne Rotary Basketball Tournament, and the Lions Main Line Charity Ball, to be held on Friday evening, April 18, will be for their benefit. These funds will be used for maintenance expenses. Among the most needed pieces of new equipment are a smoke ejector, two 500-gallon capacity fog nozzles, new ladders, two “walkie-talkie” radio sets and additional radio equipment. Other desirable additions would be two more portable oxygen units and a modern and a portable pump unit which would make it possible to draw water from a distance of 500 feet, at the rate of 250-300 gallons each minute.

It has often been said partly in jest, partly in earnest, that “you don’t have to be half crazy to be a volunteer fireman, but it helps an awful lot.” Residents of Radnor township, however, like better the definition of a volunteer fireman as given by Judge MacDade, when he described the former as “one who lives as close to the Ten Commandments as any human being can . . . for who else would get up in the middle of a cold winter’s night to help his neighbor?”