The History of the
Claymont Fire Company
In the extreme northern section of the state of Delaware, lies the town of Claymont, bounded on the north by the Pennsylvania line; on the east by the Delaware River; the south, Holly Oak Creek; on the west by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
Claymont is known the world over for the close industries. It also has the background as the historical location of bygone years.
On January 5, 1928, town residents, headed by Joseph Tatnall, called a meeting for the purpose of organizing a local volunteer fire company. To this call, about seventy- five residents responded and a meeting was held in Red Men’s Hall. Mr. Tatnall opened the meeting and spoke of the needs and the uses of a local fire company which was generally approved by those attending. After some discussion, Mr. Tatnall was elected temporary chairman and Mr. Frank R. Lord, temporary secretary. A resolution was then adopted that a company be organized to be known as the Claymont Fire Company, No 1. The following officers were elected:
President - William F. Hadley
Vice-Pres. - Herman Shane
Financial Sec. - Charles L Talpey
Secretary -Joseph Faulkner
Treasurer -J. Gordon McMillan
Fire Chief - Thomas Kellum
1st Asst. Chief - Thomas Watkins
2nd Asst. Chief - F. G. Brown
T. Y. Moore
G. H. Giles
During the course of the meeting, fifty-nine members were secured and plans were made that made the meetings be held throughout the town for at least six weeks with the idea in mind of procuring as many members as possible. The goal set by the President was four hundred and in the following six weeks, the company had listed 297 members.
Through kindness of the Red Men of Claymont, this newly organized company was donated the use of the Red Men’s Hall in Overlook Colony, free of charge, until the company was able to have a meeting place of its own.
The first fire equipment of the Claymont Fire Company was donated by the Overlook Public Service Association, who conveyed its fire equipment consisting of one two-wheeled hose cart with equipment; approximately 550 feet of 2 inch hose with fittings; one ladder cart complete with ladders and equipment; one 50 gallon capacity Soda and Acid Type Chemical Engine and cart. This donation was made on April 5, 1928.
On March 6, 1928 the Company was called to its first drill and according to all the records it was a complete success. For the first time the men worked together under a controlled fire environment. They lad out approximately 400 feet of 2 inch hose and they discharged the chemical tank. The drill was held in Overlook Colony on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Brandywine Avenue.
Also, on April 5th 1928 at the company meeting it was decided to join the New Castle Volunteer Fireman’s Association, and the Delaware Volunteer Fireman’s Association. Approval was also obtained for the purchase of 25 badges for the fire company, and that they would be sold to any member wishing one for the nominal sum of 75 cents.
By the time in the young life of the company, the members had already started investigating the ins and outs of motorized fire apparatus. They had already started receiving bids for new truck from various manufacturers. Bids from Arhens Fox Fire Engine Company, for $13,000.00; Hahn Fire Apparatus Company, $6,700.00; W.S. Nott Company, U.S. Fire Apparatus company; and Hale Fire Pump Company.
On May 28, 1928, the membership of the company totaled over 400 members, and it was at that time that the membership of the company was closed. It was also decided at that meeting that this new company would apply for Charter and Corporate papers, which were at once prepared by Mr. George Lodge, a local attorney, without any fee whatsoever.
Time moved on for the company very rapidly, and in September of 1928, at the company meeting, a fire apparatus committee was set up to review the bids for the various motorized equipment received to that date. The committee consisted of Chief Kellum, James McNulty, John Maher, Oliver Hineman and Joseph Faulkner. On September 20, 1928, Chief Kellum, Chairman of the purchasing committee, reported the purchase of a 500 gallon American LaFrance Fire Engine at a cost of $6,700.00. Delivery was made on October 4, 1928 and on the following day the fire underwriters made their final inspection relative to the fire insurance rates. This then completed the fire phase of the organization of the company. The next step in the growth process was to acquire an appropriate location to house the new engine and to headquarter the fire company.
Mr. James McNulty offered the use of the ground adjoining his garage for the sum of $25.00 per year. The company readily accepted his proposal. The location of the property was on the Philadelphia Pike between Commonwealth Blvd. and Lawson Ave.
On October 18, 1928, after thorough testing by the company and the underwriters, the company by resolution accepted the new apparatus. On the same date the company purchased a company seal for all company business.
The contract was awarded to the Hadley Construction Company to build the new headquarters for the Claymont Fire Company. No estimates could be located for the building. The firehouse was completed on December 22, 1928. Merry Christmas to the Claymont Firemen, was the greeting that year, and it was by far the merriest one for them. It was decided to dedicate the new firehouse and house the new engine on January 19, 1929. The housing attracted 20 Fire Companies, with the Bellefonte Fire Company housing the truck.
It was on this date that the Claymont Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary was organized. It was their purpose to provide for the men when their help was needed, which seemed to be all the time. The first President was Mrs. Thomas Hibbert, to whom great credit should be given for the success of the organization. The Ladies Auxiliary presented the company with a new, silk American Flag, a State Flag and a new bell for the apparatus. Later in the year, they procured kitchen equipment to be used for social events pertaining to the company.
The first meeting in the Company’s new home, located on the Philadelphia Pike, near Overlook, was held January 3, 1929 with practically the same officers elected.
On February 21, 1929, the first secretary of the company, Mr. Joseph Faulkner, who had been quite an asset in the organizing of the Claymont Fire Company, was forced to hand in his resignation through a change of employment and was presented with a handsome watch charm by the members of the company.
On June 14, 1929, the company opened its first carnival as a benefit to raise funds. At the end of the carnival the company realized a net profit of $3000.00.
In April, 1929 our first fire siren was installed on the firehouse. Also, the By-Laws of the company were adopted.
By January 1, 1930, the company made a deposit of $100.00 in favor of James McNulty to be used for the ground of the first firehouse, and, after legal entanglements were straightened out, the company paid the balance of $2,550.00 for the plot of ground 50 feet by 120 feet.
Throughout the year of 1930, the company through a committee, made special efforts to have fire plugs installed in the community. This beginning effort has proven to be successful, not only then, but throughout the years, in reducing the insurance rates of the residents and businesses in our community.
On August 21, 1930, a resolution was passed that the company make alterations and additions to its present building at the cost of $5,500.00. The committee consisted of the following members: Forest Reiss, John Maher, Thomas Kellum, and Allen Burke. Mr. Burke drew up the plans and specifications and bids were solicited. After three contractors responded and submitted bids, the contract was awarded to W.F. Hadley & company, the lowest bidder.
Entering the year of 1931, the company was led by the same officials. From time to time the company held very interesting entertainment and shows. Those who were active in this work were: John Maher, Frank Cohee, T. A. Kellum, Benjamin Bushnell, and A.F. Bolin. Frank Cohee in particular was very active, having chaired all 5 shows that were held.
All the affairs held by the company have shown a profit, thanks to the hard work of the chairmen, and also, the general memberships togetherness when it came time to “go get the buck”. Frank Cohee was placed in charge of his second carnival, and with the help of the men and ladies, it cleared $2000.00. There were mortgages on the buildings and equipment, but the company ahs never failed to make timely payments.
Throughout the year the ladies would donate various amounts of monies, to be used for specific items. They purchased for the men in 1931, helmets, gloves, and goggles, to be used by the men while driving the apparatus. They also purchased the first company banner which was used at the convention parade, held on July 8. The siren on the 1928 American LaFrance pumper was also purchased at a cost of $35.00. In July there was a by-law change passed allowing the playing of cards on Sundays in the firehouse.
It was discussed and passed to have a banquet in January 1932, at a cost of $.50 a plate with W. De Vore and Frank Cohee placed in charge.
It was said that the progress of the fire company slowed down in 1931 because of the depression. It seemed as though many of our members were unemployed at the time, and the activities of the company decreased. However, it turned out to be a time in which the membership of the company became much closer with each other and used this time to reflect on the three years gone by and the rate at which we had grown to this date. They laid out some long range plans though not in an official sense, that seemed to work out as the future years came and went.
In 1932, the year proved to be unusually quiet because of the general conditions throughout the country. Regular meetings were held and the general routine work was well done. The company continued to pay off, at yearly interval, parts of its mortgage.
Winding up the next year 1932, on December 15, President Hadley expressed his desire to retire from the presidency and his desire for new blood to be injected into the offices of the company, stating that it would promote harmony and progress. For the year 1933, Wm. H. Hickman was elected President and the office of the Chief remained with Thomas Kellum. In as much as the depression was still in progress, it was an imposition to expect a great deal from the new President, as all odds were against him. Quite a few members were taken in and steps were taken to promote the enthusiasm of the old members.
At this time, two men should be mentioned for the wonderful services they performed. Dr. D. T. Davidson, the company’s physician, rendered exceptional service on many occasions. Mr. George Lodge, the company’s solicitor, should be remembered for his untiring efforts and wonderful success. At no time did he charge the company for his services.
During the year of 1933, most of the work accomplished consisted of the general work. The company’s finances were in excellent condition and the company took part in the state conventions and functions in the same manner as it has the years previous.
In September, the company appointed a committee to revise the By-laws and President Hickman at this time took up the matter of the fire plug with the community to investigate the matter. It was decided that the fire plugs be installed as early as possible.
In the year of 1934, we found the same officers as of 1933, with President Wm. Hickman presiding.
On January, 18, 1934 a first aid unit was organized. Mr. T. A. Kellum was elected Captain and W. F. Hadley was Secretary.
On July 19, 1934, the company decided to hold annual picnics for members and their families and they were said to be very enjoyable.
Starting the year 1935, we found a new set of officers leading the company. Mr. Frank Cohee was elected President and Tom Kellum remaining as Chief.
During the year, the company seemed to take a new interest. Times were gradually improving and most of the men in the community were taken back to their various positions. Mr. Cohee, a very hard and tireless worker, deserved the cooperation of all those connected with the company.
On January 20, 1935, a resolution was passed that the past presidents be presented with badges. W. F. Hadley and W. H. Hickman received their badges at the following meeting.
One of Mr. Cohee’s first moves as President was to enlarge the company’s membership, aiming for 100 new members during the year. He also promoted another first aid unit to work in conjunction with the previous first aid unit. On April 16, 1935, the first aid unit held its banquet in the Acme Bridge Club with Chief Kellum presiding. It was also voted to make this an annual affair.
The company, on May 16, 1935, installed a new William’s Oilmatic Oil burner and made other improvements, including new windows and screens in front of the building.
After the carnival of ’35 the company enjoyed its annual at Charlestown, Maryland.
The year 1936 found the same officers as 1935. Throughout the year, the members seemed even more enthusiastic than they had the previous year. Various financial arrangements were made such as: Sinking funds and Savings Accounts.
In March 1936, through the efforts of the first aid unit, the company purchased an Inhalator to be set in the ambulance for emergency cases.
In June a committee was formed to solicit bids for a new ambulance, and also raise funds for the same.
On July 16, 1936, a building committee was formed to have permanent plans and specifications drawn up for alterations to the building.
In October, Chief Kellum reported to the company that the ambulance committee had decided on purchasing a Pontiac Ambulance. It would be painted dust-proof gray, striped, with Buckingham gray fenders. He also reported the ambulance fund drive had raised $1,190.28. Other bids were received from Chevrolet-$1,775.00, Ford-$1,600.00, and Hudson-$2,650.00.
In November, William Hickman read 2 bids on the building project. They were William F. Hadley-$2,998.00 and George A. Morton-$2,874.00. These bids were rejected and the committee was discharged. However, it was decided to renovate the kitchen area at a cost of $200.00. The new Pontiac ambulance was delivered to the company on December 29, 1936.
At the closing of the year, the following officers were elected to carry on the work for 1937:
President - Russell Franklin
Vice-Pres. - Armand Duphily
Secretary - W. F. Hadley
Treasurer - B.H. Bushnell
Chief - T. A. Kellum
1St Asst. - A. Jones
2nd Asst. - J. Jones
Trustees: W. H. Hickman, J. Casey
First Driver - James Murry
R.C. Potts, F.G. Cohee, C. Moore
On January 21, 1937, the officers for the New Year were installed, and the regular routine of business was conducted. The Company was set for a successful year.
During this month the company purchased the new Pontiac Ambulance which was fully subscribed and paid for by the company, in the amount of $2,305.00.
At this time it is well to note that the Claymont Fire Company was named the first Fire Company in the State of Delaware as a First Aid Station. The First Aid Unit of the company worked in conjunction with the Delaware Chapter of the Red Cross, and raised the sum of $400.00 from a card party, for the relief of flood sufferers in the Middle West.
In June, the company carried on their annual carnival, which proved to be very successful, profiting by the amount of $2,305.00. Then, as usual, they held their annual picnic in Chestertown, Maryland.
During the year the company made many improvements in the building and apparatus, such as: New windows, grading and new fencing around the building, painting of the building and general repairing.
They also purchased 300 feet of 2 ½” hose, new coats, helmets, hose reel and many other pieces of equipment.
One of the moist interesting matters of the year was satisfying the mortgage on the building with Claymont Trust Company. This cleared all indebtedness of the company.
For the year 1938, Thomas A. Kellum was elected President of the company. It is important to note that he had served the company for the past 10 years as Chief. Elected Chief for the year was F. Albert Jones.
During the years of 1938, ’39, ’40, the company continued serving the community of Claymont in an exemplary manner. This was a low key period in the history of the company. The normal everyday operations of the company were carried out as usual and nothing extraordinary occurred. President Kellum retained his position as well as Chief Jones.
In 1941, Ira A. Holley was elected president, and F. Albert Jones was elected chief. The company started to progress in its professional ability as a much needed community service. The company saw a need to expand its apparatus, since the only pumper was approaching its 13th year of service. An apparatus committee was formed in June to prepare specifications and to receive bids for a new pumper. In August, they reported to the company on the bids received. They were as follows:
Mack Fire Apparatus---Model 45---$5,725.00 Model 505--$7,160.00 Buffalo Apparatus Co. - Model pathfinder---$7,325.00 Model 500---$6,600.00 American LaFrance Co.-Cab-type Model---$7,750.00
All the above quotes were for 500 gallon per minute triple combo pumpers. It was decided by the company to purchase the American LaFrance model. The contract was signed in September, and February 1942 delivery was expected. The total cost in receiving the fully equipped pumper was to be $8,000.00
In 1942, Frank G. Cohee was elected President and F. Albert Jones retained his position as Chief. In February the company awarded the George Moreton Co. a contract to alter the building and enlarge it to accommodate the new pumper due for delivery. There were some minor modifications to the existing building included in the contract. This job was estimated by Moreton to be $6,538.00. The new pumper was delivered and placed into service in March after the Fire Underwriters approved the performance of it.
The additions to the building were completed in August after some minor delays in receiving materials, due to the war. The total cost to the company for the work was $7,404.00. The additional expenses were due to some maintenance performed by the contractor that would have otherwise been contracted out.
When World War II was declared, our firehouse immediately became Civil Defense Headquarters. The Air Raid Center was manned day and night for the next four years. In addition to fighting fires, and rendering emergency first-aid through the ambulance service, our efforts were concentrated upon was activities with our building being used by fire and police auxiliaries, First-Aid, Nursing, and Canteen services. We participated in salvage drives, collecting over a million and half pounds of paper and magazines, besides giving notable support to the war bonds drives.
One hundred of our members served in the armed forces and distinguished themselves variously with citations, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Oak Leaf Cluster, the Purple Heart and other commendations. As it did to so many other communities, war claimed two of our members, Staff Sergeant John Nichols, Jr., U.S.A. and Coxswain Allen H. Burke, U.S.N., went to battle never to return.
Also, during the war the members of the company built a third pumper. They utilized a Dodge truck body, a pump from the civil defense, and equipment obtained from other sources. The fire engine was assembled at Brown Vo-Tech.
In 1946, the company ordered its third American LaFrance pumper. The members worked had to raise the monies needed to pay for the pumper as well as the money needed to operate the company. The cost of to the company for the pumper was $12,800.00. There were other activities that took up member’s time; one project was the responsibility of hosting the Delaware State Volunteer Association Convention, to be held 1947.
The company set out to present the firemen of the state with biggest convention parade to date. Everything went according to plan, and the convention went smoothly. The 1947 American LaFrance pumper was delivered and housed in time for the convention.
A Ford rescue truck was ordered by the company in late 1949, and was delivered and placed into service in January of 1950. The company began to formulate plans for the construction of a new firehouse at this time. The first taken was to purchase the lot at the corner of Lawson Ave. and the Philadelphia Pike from Mrs. Charlotte M. Peters for the sum of $11,000.00. The actual construction started on June 7, 1952, with all the labor being done by the members of the Claymont Fire Company and their friends. The building was completed and dedicated on June 5, 1954.
In March of 1955, a Cadillac ambulance was ordered from the Wolfington Body Company for a cost of $9,500.00. It was delivered in May and placed into service.
Mr. Frank Cohee was made chairman of a committee to bring the convention to Claymont in1956. He accomplished this job and was made overall chairman of the convention committee. The convention was held in September of 1956 and it was a complete success. The parade was the largest ever held and the prizes awarded were the most given in the history of the convention parades.
On December 2, 1956, it was decided by the company to order a pumper. The apparatus committee recommended the purchase of an American LaFrance pumper at a cost of $29,995.00. The new truck was delivered in May of 1957 and placed into service in June.
In April of 1958, the company approved the purchase of a new rescue truck for $10,600.00. It was placed into service in September of 1958. In February of 1959, the company decided to order a Cadillac ambulance from the Superior Ambulance Co. for a cost of $11,600.00. It was delivered in May and placed into service.
In January of 1960 the company approved a new alert system. It was supplied by the Bell Telephone Co. and will operate the phones in the individual members’ homes. In March the company approved the purchase of the American LaFrance pumper at a cost of $24,995.00. It was also decided by the company to build an addition to the rear of the building. It contained a large kitchen and a large banquet hall. The new addition was known as Cohee Memorial Hall, in honor of Mr. Frank Cohee. Who passed away on February 25, 1960. The cost of the new building was $75,230.00. The building was completed in October 1961.
In June of 1962 the company ordered a Cadillac ambulance costing $10,680.00. It was delivered in August and placed in to service in September.
The company started looking at its future and the growing community it was protecting. A decision was made to expand the company from one station operation to a main station and sub-station. After much investigation and deliberation it was decided to obtain the lot at the corner of Marsh Road and Naamans Rd. A station was erected and equipped in 1965. The new station cut down response time to emergencies on the west side of the B & O railroad. Also at this same time three piece of apparatus were purchased. They were: A 1965 American LaFrance AeroChief, and 2 American LaFrance pumpers. The AeroChief was an 80’ articulating boom with basket; it was capable of discharging 2000 gpm through a six inch water pipe to the basket. The two pumpers were 1000 gpm twin hose bed engines designed to compliment the snorkel. The cost of this expansion program was $225,000.00.
The company continued to provide professional emergency services to the community throughout the remainder of the 1960’s and as any large volunteer organization they continued to have problems of growth and keeping up with the technological advances of the times. The company was capable of handling these problems during this time as it had in its past history. The 1970’s were approaching and a need to replace some of its equipment was becoming evident. In December of 1970 it was decided to purchase two pumpers to replace the two first line attack pumpers that were in service. The bid submitted by the Hahn Fire Apparatus Co. was accepted, with the price of the two pumpers being $101,370.00. They were delivered in December of 1971 and January of 1972. The company also purchased two Oldsmobile ambulances at this time.
As the company continued to upgrade its apparatus and equipment, it also maintained a high level of professionalism within its members by training them constantly. In the days before the Delaware Fire School, the company held periodic training classes in first aid and upgrading the knowledge of its members on firefighting, rescue, and other areas of our involvement. With the advent of the Delaware Fire School and its permanent facilities, located in Dover, the members’ knowledge and proficiency in all area related to the fire service had been kept at the highest level.
The members of the company were constantly working on ways not only to raise money, but also, on ways to save money. By having some major building renovations to both stations we had been able to save on maintenance costs as well as the costs of operating two stations. Other ways the company saved money was to perform some of the general maintenance to both the equipment and building ourselves.
The Claymont Fire Company would like to take this opportunity to thank every individual and organization that, throughout our first 50 years, has supported us and our goals.
If it were not for the support of the community, we would not be where we are today.