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The History of the Bon Air Fire Company

It was 1918; Woodrow Wilson was President, Sunday baseball was made legal, the United States’ First World War I victory was achieved in Belleau Wood, gas was 25 cents per gallon, the average family income was $1,518 per year and 22 concerned & civic minded individuals joined together to form the Bon Air Civic Association. Since they had no official meeting space, they met in various members’ homes and, as a part of their activities, they formed the Bon Air Fire Brigade. Each member of the Brigade was issued 2 buckets for purpose of controlling unfriendly fires. At the time, we were the only fire company on the southwest corner of the township.

5 years later (1923), the Association paid $1,000 for a community lot, at the present site on Royal Avenue, and the next year they built its first hall. Our first piece of motorized apparatus, a Ford, on which was mounted soda-acid tanks for firefighting, was housed in George Shadel’s workshop.

In 1931, the company sold that Ford and ordered a new, modern Brockway pumper. Between the time the Ford soda-acid unit left and the Brockway arrived, the Oakmont Fire Company loaned us an engine for firefighting purposes.

From its inception, firemen were alerted to a fire by the striking of a locomotive wheel rim, donated by the Baldwin Locomotive Works. They supplied such rims to several fire companies in the area, but it could only be heard for a short distance. This was a problem solved in 1935 with the installation of an air-horn, which could be heard for miles. It was mounted on top of the hall, immediately adjacent to a new 14’ x 25’ engine house. A decade later, this was augmented by a traditional house siren mounted on a pole at Dill Road and Stump Lane. Another 19 years later, Bell Telephone installed “house bells” in all of our members’ homes. In the late 1960’s Bon Air became a leader in wireless notifications when “Tiny” Petrovitch installed a tone-activated alert system which allowed members with a special receiver, a “Plectron,” to be alerted by radio. This system was the forerunner of today’s “Minitor” pagers, which started to be used in 1974. Previously, members would not know the nature of the emergency until they arrived at the firehouse to read “the tape,” an old, yellow-papered, teletype.

In 1936, the Bon Air Civic Association and Fire Company became Company #4 in Haverford Township’s Bureau of Fire.   Nine years later (1945) various competing priorities resulted in the Fire Brigade taking legal steps to separate itself from the Civic Association. The vote was 16 to 3 for the separation, but proposal for a name change to the Bon Air / Aronimink Fire Company failed. Finally, in 1947, the Delaware County Court officially recognized the Bon Air Fire Company as a stand-alone legal entity. Just a couple of years after that, we took possession of a new township-purchased 1949 American LaFrance engine.

In 1959, it became obvious that we needed more space and an addition was built in anticipation of a new, township-purchased engine, a 1960 American LaFrance engine, this piece of apparatus costing $22,975. As the township grew, however, our mission expanded into what is now called an “all-hazard” response model and, to meet these new challenges, the Fire Company, in 1963, acquired a 1950 International Rescue Truck from the Philadelphia Fire Department for $4,000.

On the 7th of April, the Bon Air Fire Company experienced its first, and hopefully, its only line-of-duty death, that of John “Jack” Coyle, who died while riding in the jump seat of Engine 41 while enroute to an emergency.

In the early 1970’s, that old rescue was replaced with a 1971 Bruco Heavy Rescue and the 1949 LaFrance was replaced with a state-of-the-art, 1971 American LaFrance Engine capable of flowing 1250 gpm. A dual housing for both pieces of apparatus was held on June 3rd, 1972, to make them an official part of the Fire Company.

In 1981, the last surviving charter-member, M.D. Hartman died.

In the last almost 100 years, we’ve had 16 Chiefs and 43 Presidents; we’ve responded to house fires in Havertown, helped those ravaged by floods in Johnstown, PA and even responded to an oil tanker on fire in Marcus Hook; we’ve had good times and bad; turbulent years and years as smooth as glass. As with any organization, we’ve had our leaders and those who needed to be led; we experienced our tragedies and the comedies, but getting us through it all has been our members, proud, sometimes irreverent, loyal, but not without disagreement; steadfast in our mission, which reads:

The Bon Air Fire Company shall be an indispensable asset to the Township of Haverford, by providing essential services during times of emergencies or duress, by promoting fire safety education within the community, by encouraging good fellowship, both within the Company and without; and by furnishing these services through the spirit of volunteerism.

We will accomplish this mission by responding to natural or man-made emergencies, and by interacting with various civic groups and community associations, through the selfless commitment of our volunteer members.

We hope to continue this history long into the future; come and join us.