Weldon’s next 25 years would begin with the new township air unit being delivered to Weldon followed by two new pumpers in 1981. In 1989, Weldon would take delivery of its most sophisticated piece of apparatus to date with the arrival of a custom built Spartan/Saulsbury rescue truck. As these 25 years would come to a close, the fire company’s 100th anniversary would occur, marking 100 years of dedicated service to Glenside and its surrounding communities.
In January, 1980 Chief Schramm was given permission to put out bids for replacing the two American La France pumpers. In March, he brought back to the company a list of bids and after a lengthy discussion, the Company voted to purchase two, 1250-GPM Class A custom pumpers with 750-gallon booster tanks from American La France for $265,779. These trucks would be the company’s last without enclosed cabs for crewmen.
In May, 1980, Fire Police officer Jim Murphy died in the line of duty while operating at the scene of a fire. This would be Weldon’s first line of duty death. Murphy’s widow would receive the full benefit from the Abington Township Relief Association. In October Nomex hoods were purchased for the active crew. These hoods provide an additional level of protection for the faces, ears, and hair of firefighters entering a burning structure. In November, the specifications were adjusted to accommodate stainless steel cabs and bodies for both La Frances, a change which proved to be very beneficial and has been part of every set of specifications on trucks ordered since then.
Weldon took delivery of the two new pumpers in September of 1981—one on September 16, and the other on September 23. It was tricky for a while since the other two La Frances were not yet officially sold, but the company made due and the Chief Schramm thanked everyone for their help while placing the two new trucks in service and readying the old trucks to be turned over to their new owners.
Another communications upgrade was initiated in 1982 when Chief Dave Schramm explained that the Abington Township Firemen’s Association had discussed transferring dispatch duties to the Montgomery County Communications Center in Eagleville, PA. The era of Abington’s fire companies being dispatched by the police department was coming to an end. Weldon went on record as supporting the move of dispatch duties to Eagleville. It would be a year or so before the change was complete.
In April of 1983 the company began its investigation into replacing the 1973 rescue truck. The company would not take delivery of this apparatus until 1989, but what was eventually delivered would set the standard for rescue vehicles of the day. Representatives from the Philadelphia Fire Department would base specifications for their own rescue on the 1989 Spartan/Saulsbury.
In August, 1984, the Company decided to purchase Roslyn Fire Company’s special service vehicle to serve as a backup to the rescue truck if necessary. The truck was received 1984 and would serve the fire company for several years as a rescue backup as well as a utility vehicle before being sold to Willow Grove Fire Company.
January 1985 would bring news to the fire company that the Abington Township Firemen’s Association was no longer active. The Company broke through into the computer age during the 80s, purchasing its first computer and converting the room north of the stage in the meeting room into a computer room. It was also in 1985 that Weldon first started considering a break from the township relief association. In September, 1986, a motion was made, seconded, and carried to allow the Executive Committee to establish an Incorporation by Petition to create the Weldon Fire Company Relief Association.
In November, 1986 750 alarm cards were sent to Montgomery County Communications Center, and a direct phone hookup to the County was approved in 1987. By March, 1987 the changeover to county dispatching was expected within weeks. The Bell lines were removed from the firehouse, which ended the Cross Road siren’s life.
In April of that year, like his father before him, Ken Norman received a State Citation for Service to the Community from State Representative Jon Fox.
Rounding out a very busy year administratively, the first official meeting of the newly appointed Relief Association directors was held on June 2, 1987 with the following directors:
Charles Gerhard, Jr., President
Charles Gysi, Vice President
Charles McNamara, Financial Secretary
Eric Pihl, Treasurer
Lou Fanelli, Secretary
In October, Chief Ken Clark, Jr. stated that due to more strict standards adopted by the NFPA, bunker pants would soon be mandatory, ending the days of hip boots and long coats as the standard running gear for firefighters.
The Company’s first set of on-spot chains was installed on one of the American La Frances in December, 1987.
In early 1988, specifications were sent out for the replacement rescue truck. After investigating, the truck committee recommended that the company purchase a Spartan/Saulsbury rescue truck with a Spartan Motors chassis and Saulsbury constructing the body. The truck would cost $378,603.
In November, Chief Clark explained to the company why it was necessary to comply with the new NFPA 1500 standard. Because of the good practices of the Fire Company through the years, he stated that Weldon already adhered to many parts of the standard. While NFPA standards are voluntary, many of them, including 1500 become de facto standards. Understanding this, and the importance of compliance, the Chief explained that he’d be remiss as fire chief if he did not do everything in his power to ensure Weldon met the remainder of the standard.
1988 also marked the 100th anniversary of Glenside. Throughout the community, banners proclaiming the town’s 100th year could be seen and an enhanced Independence Day Parade was planned to help residents celebrate. Long time residents recounted the early days of Glenside, including “Ma Ellis,” long time neighbor to the fire company. Her daughter, Bernice Campbell still resides in the house Ma Ellis once called home and is a wealth of information about the area, as well as Weldon Fire Company. Given the chance, she’ll generously recount the days when a phone line was stretched to the house to answer the phone when the phone company received a report of a fire.
The Second Alarmers Rescue Squad approached the company in March of 1989 to request the use of the firehouse during the day for a crew to be on duty to answer calls in this end of the township. The Second Alarmers main station in Willow Grove and substation in the McKinley section of the township made it difficult to provide the kind of emergency medical coverage the organization wished to provide. Weldon agreed that having the Second Alarmers stand by at its station during the day would enhance the emergency medical services available to this part of the community. What began as a trial period has grown into a 15 year relationship between the two organizations, borne of the desire of both organizations to provide the best possible service to the residents of this area.
In September, the 1973 rescue truck was sold to Avoca Fire Company for $50,000 and in October, the company received the new Spartan/Saulsbury. This truck featured two generators whose output totaled 40 kW, could transport more than 12 members to and from fires, and featured an impressive array of heavy rescue equipment. This truck helped set the standard for modern-day rescue apparatus and its design is still used today. The truck also stood as an example of the dedication of Weldon members to making heavy rescues their specialty. This would go on to serve as the command center for many fire incidents. This truck would serve the company until 2002.
The 90s began with NFPA requiring that riding the back step of fire apparatus not be standard practice any longer, deeming it unsafe. Weldon immediately complied. The 90s also began with Weldon assisting Willow Grove Fire Company at a unique incident—a Skyhawk plane crashed in Willow Grove’s local. No lives were lost in the crash, and Weldon joined 32 other agencies assisting Willow Grove Fire Company at this incident. In March, an enhanced agreement with the police department made Weldon’s rescue truck the Mobile Communications Command Center for the township. In May, the Company participated in a demonstration of 5″ hose applications, and it was announced that the rescue truck would be added to the dispatch of certain confirmed fires in what was at the time a crude version of today’s box system.
Recognizing the importance of the amount of water five inch hose can carry, the company decided to purchase 2000 feet of this hose, with 1,000 feet being carried on each of Weldon’s pumpers. This hose all but retired three inch hose as the preferred supply line of the fire service. This large diameter hose would prove its worth to Weldon sooner than it might think at major fires in 1991 and 1992.
1991 was a relatively quiet year until May 11 when Stoney’s IGA supermarket on Easton Road caught fire. Weldon was dispatched at 2222 hours to the structure. This fire had a very good head start on responding companies. Before units arrived on location, the heavy smoke condition in the area dictated that a supply line should be laid. The five inch hose Weldon had purchased just one year before received a major test at this fire. No lives were lost at this fire, though the building in question was a loss. Chief Ken Clark, recognizing that the safety of firefighters would be compromised, gave the evacuation order to abandon the inside of the building and switch to a defensive attack. Nine fire companies responded to this fire. It took approximately 500,000 gallons of water from five hydrants pumped through approximately 3,900 feet of five inch line, 1,000 feet of four inch line, and 1,000 feet of 3½ -inch line to extinguish the fire. Weldon was in service for 16 hours and 14 minutes. Dave Schramm, Joe Deck, Joe Fitzpatrick, and Steve Nedzwecky were the drivers/operators at this fire.
A year and five months later, the Company responded to its next major fire at the Glenside Bible Church on Keswick Avenue. No lives were lost at this fire and the shell of the church was preserved to make rebuilding the interior a reality. Due to the hard work of Weldon and several surrounding companies, what could have become a catastrophic event for the Church and its congregation had a positive outcome as it reopened its doors in 1993. Again, a defensive attack was required at this fire as at the IGA fire, but the results speak for themselves. Weldon used 600 feet of five inch line, 400 feet of 3 inch line, 600 feet of 2½-inch line, and 250 feet of 1¾-inch line to extinguish the fire. The township air unit filled 63 air bottles.
1993 saw the Montgomery County Communications Center implementing some changes to the way communications would be handled between the time a company was dispatched and when it called in service. Beginning in July, F2 was to be utilized for company responses and fireground communications. F1 would be used solely for dispatching companies. It was also this year that Abington Hospital planned a major expansion to the other side of Old York Road. To provide patients with a means to get from one side of Old York Road to the other, the hospital decided to tunnel under Old York Road. Recognizing the potential that disaster could strike, the hospital agreed to provide training and equipment to both Abington and Weldon Fire Companies. A new specialty was added to the Weldon arsenal—confined space rescue. During the next several months, both fire companies received the training and equipment they’d need if called to a specialized rescue during the construction of the tunnel. Luckily, the services of fire companies were never required for an incident in this tunnel.
Montgomery County Communications Center also requested this year that companies begin using “plain speak” to identify officers and apparatus. At the time, this would have required a station number change. The five township fire chiefs decided not to change any of the township station numbers but did reserve numbers for possible consideration in the future.
1993 also found a replacement for the township air unit in the works. A Saulsbury-built vehicle was selected with delivery taken by the township in early 1994. This truck, still housed in Weldon, was a vast improvement over the original air unit, meaning simply that the company and township strives to improve itself constantly. A meager improvement simply wouldn’t be acceptable.
In April, 1994 replacement plans for the twin American La France pumpers would begin. But news of the American La France going out of business meant the Company would have to seek out a new builder to provide its trucks.
In July, 1994, a shift in how the company solicited funds from its community occurred. What began in the early years of the fire company as selling ticket books, holding dances, sponsoring movie viewing, renting out the upstairs hall, going door to door, arranging rummage sales, and later sending out fund drive letters every year would be an outsourced program. Since 1994, Weldon’s fund drive letter has been delivered to local residents in a newsletter format with the outside company handling all the maintenance of the mailing list and follow-up letters. The Company experienced an increase in responses to this updated fund drive format and each year it uses a portion of the money to purchase a needed piece of equipment. In recent years it has helped buy a battery-operated hydraulic rescue tool and a thermal imaging camera.
It was also in 1994 that the Company decided to sell the utility vehicle/backup rescue vehicle to the Willow Grove Fire Company. Again, fiscal responsibility drove this decision. The company was paying a hefty insurance premium on a vehicle that was not called to service often. It was better to sell it to a company that would get more use out of it.
Most importantly, 1994 was the busiest year on record for Weldon Fire Company. It is still the busiest year for structure fire responses and the following statistics prove this:
6000 feet of five inch line used
600 feet of three inch line used
200 feet of 2½-inch line used
4,050 feet of 1¾-inch line used
5,035 feet of Booster line used
In 1995, the company would see a major improvement to its building once again as the basement was converted into a fitness room for the members featuring state of the art fitness equipment. Remaining physically fit is critical for firefighters if they are to perform well on the fireground. The leadership of Weldon realized this and so the fitness room became a reality.
Tragedy also struck this year as life member John Schuyler died in the line of duty. Both his name and that of Jack Murphy are on the National Fallen Firefighter Memorial in Emmitsburg and on a memorial at the Montgomery County Fire Academy.
Specifications for replacement pumpers were also sent out this year. Once returned, the truck committee recommended that the company purchase twin Spartan/Saulsbury pumpers to feature 2,000 GPM pumps and be outfitted with light rescue tools to be used for vehicle rescues.
In April of 1996, Weldon responded with Roslyn Fire Company on the initial dispatch for a trench rescue at Marsden Field of Roslyn Park. Through the efforts of Roslyn, Weldon and several other agencies including Rescue 1 from the Philadelphia Fire Department, the individual trapped in the trench was removed without critical injuries.
In April news arrived that the two 1981 American La Frances would be sold to Weavertown Fire Company, Station 28, of Lebanon Valley, PA. Weavertown would pay Weldon $128,128.28 for both pumpers.
In July, a repeater system was installed to help radio communications for the area, and the “Fire Watch” system was set up for the Keswick Theatre. Members from all five fire companies were invited to make a little extra money on nights when the Keswick Theatre’s fire alarm system would be disarmed for a show that used smoke machines or other pyrotechnics.
In September, the township as a whole experienced one of the most devastating floods in its 100+ year history. The Floods of ’96 caused two fatalities and township estimates state that 150-200 rescues were effected from police, fire, and ambulance personnel. Weldon member Frank Gallagher rescued a woman and child from flood waters at Keswick Avenue and Mount Carmel Avenue that night.
In January, 1997, the first new Spartan/Saulsbury pumper was delivered. A few weeks later, the company received the second pumper. 1997 also saw Weldon go on record as supporting a two mill tax increase. In October of that year, the company decided to have the entire floor of the engine rooms and engineers room replaced. The new floor would be virtually impervious to the shock of dropped tools and would provide a no-slip surface for the members. It was also October when Good Day Philadelphia broadcast from the Keswick section of Glenside, now known as the “Keswick Village.”
In early 1998, Chief Clark reviewed some of the new verbiage in the County dispatches intended to give responding firefighters an idea of what the type of fire to which they were responding. The idea had safety in mind. Responding to the firehouse can be a dangerous venture at times, and the natural adrenalin rush to a report of a house fire versus the report of an unplugged toaster smoking plays a large role in how firemen might respond to the firehouse. The system is still in use today.
1998 set another record for fire responses with 422 calls for the year.
In April of 1999, Ed Geissler commended Weldon member and Captain Ken Smith for the outstanding job he did establishing command at a fire in a restaurant at the then Benson East Apartments. Continuing the trend set in 1998, 1999 was another record year for fire calls with Weldon responding to 482 alarms that year.
One event in 2000 posed a logistical challenge to not only Weldon Fire Company but to several township agencies, including all five fire companies. Republican Presidential Candidate George W. Bush paid a visit to Glenside on one of his last campaign stops before the 2000 presidential election. On November 4, the Keswick Village played host to the future president as a crowd estimated at 10,000 gathered. Chief Ken Clark, Jr. was charged with ensuring adequate fire protection to the Keswick section amid the gathered crowd. Weldon’s firehouse became the command center for police and fire agencies during the event. Despite a few medical emergencies the event was a huge success and one which Weldon members who participated that day will not soon forget.
2000 also found a new era of alerting members of fire alarms. Alpha-numeric pagers were introduced that year, which alert members that a fire alarm has been received and give a detailed report of the fire and units that are to respond.
The township created a Swift Water Rescue Team after the Fathers Day Weekend Floods of June, 2001. Keswick Avenue and Mount Carmel Avenue was the site of another water rescue as a vehicle was swept away by rising waters. Just on the other side of the railroad bridge a family in a minivan was rescued by Abington Fire Company. Elkins Park and McKinley fire companies assisted with the rescue at Keswick and Mount Carmel. Open to all members of all companies, the Swift Water Rescue team is ready to be placed in service if needed when and if flooding occurs again in Abington Township.
September found the company discussing a Junior Firefighter Program at the firehouse to attract and retain members at an earlier age. Successful programs at other fire companies prompted Weldon to pursue establishing a program of its own. Members of Weldon’s first junior firefighting force make up one of the most active groups in the company today. This discussion took place at the regular monthly meeting of Weldon on September 10, 2001. And the next day, the unthinkable occurred.
On September 11, 2001, the fire service sustained its worst single loss of life as 343 firefighters perished at the World Trade Center in New York after terrorists hijacked two planes and flew them into the Twin Towers. The Fire Department of New York lost a good deal of its senior members and the fire service lost some of its most experienced leaders on that fateful day. Weldon members were prepared to answer the call to assist in rescue efforts if activated by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) or to assist in any other activity necessary. A preponderance of anthrax scares followed 9/11, and eastern Montgomery County’s HazMat team was called to investigate a plethora of anthrax calls, some of which called for the township air unit to respond as well.
At October’s monthly meeting, Company members observed a moment of silence for those who perished on 9/11 in New York, Washington, D.C., and Somerset County, Pennsylvania.
In early 2000, the truck committee had begun to hold meetings to discuss replacing the 1989 Spartan/Saulsbury. After several meetings and sending out specifications for bids, the truck committee replace the 1989 Spartan/Saulsbury with another Spartan/Saulsbury vehicle. The big difference between the 1989 and 2002 vehicles—one was a walk-through, and one is a walk-in. This was not a difficult decision to come to, but the extra space realized by not making the truck a walk-through made it imperative to go with a walk-in truck. The company’s newest vehicle, a 2002 Spartan/Saulsbury custom-built heavy rescue vehicle was delivered in early February, 2002.
The momentous task of State-certifying this truck was spearheaded by Larry Siefken. After pouring through members’ training records, driver training records, and compiling a detailed list of the equipment carried on the new truck, Weldon received word it was State Certified at operations level—a distinction held solely by Weldon in Pennsylvania. Siefken, Assistant Engineer Chris Mc Loone, and Chief Ken Clark, Jr. were on hand at a ceremony on August 28 to be formally recognized as certified under the Pennsylvania Volunteer Rescue Service Program. Operations-level certification identifies basic tools, equipment (hand and basic power tools), manpower, and training requirements that personnel trained to the operations levels can use to undertake basic to moderate rescue operations. This equipment may be carried on any first line fire or rescue apparatus.
Montgomery County Communications Center finally made it basically mandatory that fire companies in the County switch to the “plain speak” method of identifying officers and apparatus over the radio. The county did make one concession for some companies which allowed Weldon to retain its station number—300. On March 4, 2002, plain speak went into effect and Lieutenant Keith Maslin radioed “Engine 300 and Lieutenant 300 responding,” as the Company responded to a fire alarm. Since March 4 the following changes have been in effect:
311 now known as Chief 300
312 now known as Deputy 300
313 now known as Assistant 300
314 now known as Captain 300
315 now known as Lieutenant 300
316 now known as Engineer 300
302 now known as Engine 300
305 now known as Rescue 300
303 now known as Squad 300
306 now known as Air 300.
The next month, on the first anniversary of September 11, Weldon members participated in several ceremonies to honor those who died that day and blasted its siren two times at the designated times that the two planes in New York hit each tower.
It was reported this month that Frank McCann, en route to Massachusetts for some R&R assisted at the scene of an accident. McCann was able to calm a trapped victim keep an engine compartment fire at bay until fire apparatus arrived at the scene to free the trapped driver. He was later honored by Abington Township representatives at Weldon’s annual banquet.
The company also purchased Nextel telephones to usher in yet another new era in communications. Each Weldon truck has a Nextel installed and phones were also issued to all officers in the company. Instant communication, at times the bane of each officer, has made the investment well worth it.
As 2003 commenced, members learned that the idea of a pension plan was being revisited. The membership committee chairman reported that of Weldon’s 75 members, 55 were still active. Plans for Weldon’s 100th anniversary celebration were in full swing. Plans were being readied for a special banquet to be held around the time of the Company’s founding and also to step up Weldon’s participation in 2004′s Independence Day parade.
In April, Weldon launched its first Web site, now in its second iteration. Recognizing that the Worldwide Web is a dynamic entity, the Company’s Technology Committee is dedicated to keeping Weldon’s site up to date. This Web site also serves as a vehicle for past members and present members who no longer live in the area to keep abreast of the many changes that occur at the company from new trucks to new members.
In October, members learned of yet another change to County communications. Ultimately, all fire companies in Montgomery County will change over to a digital, 800 MHz system to communicate with each other, Montgomery County Communications Center, and other agencies such as police departments and EMS departments. While no deadline has been set, the changeover will occur at some point.
And so Weldon Fire Company has arrived at its 100th Anniversary year. Weldon remains a viable presence in the Glenside community and continues to update itself, its members, and its equipment at regular intervals to keep up with what has in the last 100 years become a fire service that changes at an ever increasing pace. Life members of Weldon look back and stand proud of what they see before them. They look at today’s new members with confidence that the leadership of the Company today will look after them just as their leaders looked after them. Newer members, understandably swept up in the 100th Anniversary planning will read the history of the company and no doubt will come to respect the Company’s past as well as look to what the future will bring. Residents in Weldon’s district will look upon a Fire Company that is one of the best equipped and best trained fire company’s in the State of Pennsylvania and can remain confident that when they need the assistance of Weldon Fire Company, members will arrive promptly and will attend to their appointed tasks professionally.
Times have certainly changed since April 20, 1904. Weldon now responds to 400+ calls per year, and that number only rises. What began as Chief Ken Clark Sr.’s Thursday night training schools has turned into twice-a-week training, and members have also been known to give up their weekends to better prepare themselves for whatever incidents might occur. And what that means, is now, 100 years later, Weldon’s members remain committed to the mission the Company was chartered to complete: to protect lives and property from destruction by fire.