Sitting at an elevation of 1700 feet, the City of Hazleton is located in the southern end of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. The first white men who may have passed through this area were Captain D. Kadler and a company of irregulars in 1783. They were massacred in Conyngham a short time later.
Around 1804, construction of the Berwick Pike reached this area with this road becoming our present day Broad Street in Hazleton. Soon after, Jacob Drumheller built a stage stand or hotel. By 1830 a small village arose around this establishment. With the finding of coal and the beginning of mining operations by the Hazleton Coal Company in the late 1830's, the village grew quite rapidly. Hazleton became a Borough on April 3, 1851, but the first election was not held until March 27, 1857.
The first fire engine was bought by the Borough in 1867, however no fire company existed until two years later when, in 1869, the Pioneer Steam Engine, Hose, Hook, and Ladder Company No. 1 was organized. Their firehouse was located on Wyoming Street in the Borough Hall, which was built in 1868.
By the late 1880's, the Borough was experiencing tremendous growth. The fastest growing section at this time was the North Ward, which was known as the Diamond Addition. The Diamond Coal and Land Company had opened this section and many homes and businesses had been and were being built. Sometime during 1889, a group of concerned citizens of the North Ward began to meet at Otto Brien's Hall to discuss the formation of a second fire company to protect themselves and their property in the Diamond Addition. This proposed company would also assist the Pioneer Fire Company in time of need.
On Thursday evening, September 5, 1889, twenty-three public-spirited men met once again at Otto Brien's Hall and subscribed to the organization of a new fire company. The name chosen for the company was the DIAMOND HOSE, HOOK AND LADDER COMPANY NO. 2 of the Fire Department of the Borough of Hazleton. This name not only honored the area of coverage -- the Diamond Addition -- but also the Diamond Land Company, which had contributed to and encouraged the formation of this Company. Elected at this meeting were: John Bringenberg, President; John H. Schott, Vice-President; James B. MacCartney, Secretary; Adam Fuhrer, Treasurer; and Peter Fallon, John Schott, and Conrad Gans; Trustees. Line Officers were also elected, they being: Conrad Gans, Chief; A. H. Houser, Hose Foreman; Adam Broadt, Assistant Hose Foreman; Joseph W. Mehan, Hook and Ladder Foreman; William H. Schwartz, Assistant Hook and Ladder Foreman and Adam Hoffsomer, Tillerman. At this same meeting, the secretary was instructed to petition Chief Burgess A. R. Longshore and the Council to allow this formation and to make the Company part of the Hazleton Fire Department under the command of Chief Engineer Elias Bauchman. A committee was also appointed to draw up a set of by-laws and to inquire into securing a charter for the Company.
At the next Borough Council meeting on September 19th, this petition was approved with the provision that the Company presents Council with a set of by-laws or rules of order within the immediate future. Council also promised to secure equipment and quarters for the Company as soon as possible. It is interesting to note that the Company Secretary, James B. MacCartney, was also Secretary to Borough Council and would later become Chief Clerk of the City.
A preliminary set of by-laws was submitted to and approved by Council by the end of February 1890. Under these By-laws a new election was held at the last regular meeting of March and this procedure has been followed t o this day.
Another tradition, which has been followed, had been the holding of all regular weekly meetings on Thursday night, the same night as the Company's organization.
Otto Brien was one of the first members of the Company and one of its greatest supporters and contributors. The first firehouse was a shed, which was located to the rear of his hotel located on the northwest corner of Third and Alter Streets. He donated the use of his establishment as a meeting place. Early records show hat we, on occasion, supplied the refreshments after the meetings and work sessions. He remained as active member until his death on August 5, 1901.
The first apparatus that the Company acquired was a hand drawn hose cart, a play pipe or nozzle, and 300 feet of hose. The Diamond Land Company donated this equipment, along with the monetary grant. When laying out the Diamond Addition, the Land Company had the foresight to form the Diamond Water Company as part of its operation. The water company built large reservoirs and installed underground pipes along the streets. Fire "plugs" were situated at convenient locations, which made firefighting somewhat easier. By 1917 the water company had expanded its system of reservoirs and had installed pumps to give the lines more pressure. When firefighting demands increased and more water and pressure were needed there pumps could be put into high gear to meet the demand.
Within a few months, the Borough supplied an additional hose cart, 900 feet of hose, and some coats and helmets. Public subscriptions and fundraisers were held. The monies realized allowed the Company to buy additional coats, boots, helmets, lanterns, axes, and other assorted equipment. A hand drawn hose ladder wagon was also donated but it was in poor shape. Each hose cart or jumper carried between 600 and 900 feet of hose. This was necessary because of the distance between the plugs and the need for more lines at big fires.
Fighting fires with only hand drawn carts, hose, and ladders was strenuous work. During these early years the alarm system consisted of telegraph boxes that were placed on poles throughout the Borough. These were connected to an alarm tape at the Borough building. When an alarm came in a large bell on top of the building was rung, signaling the fire location. This bell was later electrified and eventually replaced by a whistle. Upon hearing the alarm the firefighters would run to the firehouse to don their gear and take the carts to the scene. When enough men arrived, usually six, they would pull the first cart to the box location. Upon arrival they would place the play pipe (nozzle) and one section of hose at the fire under the direction of a pipe director. The hose directors would then pull the cart to the nearest plug and hook up. By this time the other men and apparatus would have arrived and the firefighting could begin. If a fire was very large upon arrival or looked like it would get big, a call was put in at the box to summon the Pioneer steamer and additional equipment. This was a General Alarm. Meanwhile, the ladder man would be setting up their ladders to reach the upper stories and to affect a rescue if needed. Hook man would be busy pulling apart the area around the fire to get at any hidden sparks.
When the fire was extinguished the hose and equipment was picked up and returned to the station. Here it was cleaned and dried and all other tools were checked and repaired. The hose carts were repacked with fresh hose when available so as to be ready for the next call. Although modern equipment has made firefighting easier, this part of the job had remained the same.
On August 14,1890, the Borough bought a piece of land on the northwest corner of Sixth and Church Streets from C. Hess on which they planned to erect a firehouse for the Diamond Fire Company. Within the next few months the built a three story wooden building on this lot as quarters for the growing Diamond Fire Company. The first floor held the apparatus of the company. Twenty-eight large closets were built along one wall to hold the firefighters gear as well as their street clothes when they went to a fire. Two large ports or doors opened on to Church Street. On the second floor were two large rooms. One was the meeting room. The other was called the "banquet" room. Its exact use is not known but we can assume it was used for formal parties and functions from the comments found in the early meeting minutes. Two smaller rooms served as storage and a pantry or kitchen. The members for cards, smoking, and relaxation used three smaller rooms on the third floor. The cellar was used for extra storage and served as a social hall for the serving of "refreshments."
Shortly after the construction of the new firehouse, Hazleton became a City in April of 1892. From September 20th to 23rd of that same year, the Hazleton Fire Department under Chief Bauchman, the Pioneer Fire Company, and the Diamond Fire Company hosted the annual convention and parade of the State Fireman's Association. Delegates from 145 companies throughout the state made themselves at home. Meetings were held at Hazel Hall and Mayor Leroy Gavitt gave the welcome address.
The parade was held on Tuesday, the 20th, in a drizzle or rain and on muddy streets. Companies moved into line at 1p.m. in answer to the fire bell which sounded six times with the parade moving at 2 p.m. Dr. W. R. Longshore was Chief Marshall assisted by Chief Bauchman and Alvin Markle. The Hazleton Liberty Band led the parade. Friday, the final day, was set aside for contests. Hose laying, cart pull, hub race, and a Hook and ladder race were held on Diamond Avenue. A steamer contest was also held with the winner shooting a stream of water fifteen feet over the top of the flagpole.
Two years later in 1894 the City’s third fire company was organized. The East End hose Company No. 3 was formed to protect the rapidly growing southern part of the city and to assist the other companies in times of need. Their first quarters were located on Poplar and Mine Streets in a shed. Permanent quarters were secured for them a short time later at Poplar and Chestnut Streets. At present their station is on East Broad Street.
On June 2, 1898, the by-law committee of the Diamond Fire Company gave their final report and presented a first reading of the Company by-laws. It appears that they took their time in establishing these rules since the committee had been appointed in 1890 and had only submitted a rough draft in February of that year. These by-laws were accepted unanimously (19-0) on the night of June 16th at which time were ordered inscribed into a book for presentation to the Mayor for his approval. President Schott also ordered that all members were to present themselves as soon as possible to sign the by-laws. To date, all members accepted into the company have signed the original book. Mayor H. E. Meyers and Council approved these by-laws as written during July of that year.
With the adoption of formal by-laws and with the Company being in better financial shape, the process of securing a charter was initiated. A lawyer, Frank Needham Esq. was hired for $64 to petition the Luzerne County Courts to grant a Company Charter. On December 7, 1898, the court granted a charter to the Diamond Engine, Hose, Hook, and Ladder Company No. 2 of the Fire Department of the City of Hazleton with all its benefits and obligations. On January 5, 1899, the charter was read to the Company and the trustees were ordered to have it embossed and framed.
Around this same time, the Company had asked the City to purchase a steam fire engine for use in the district. Council approved this and an engine had been ordered and delivery was expected. This is why the word "ENGINE" appears in the charter of the Company. During the Company's election that March, an engineer, two assistants, and a stoker were elected in anticipation of the delivery of the new engine. This election also allowed for the training of these men by the City Engineer on steamer operations.
Expecting the arrival and use of a second steamer, City Chief Bachman issued the following signals to be used at all fires:
Whistle Signals Lantern Signals
1 tap -- Stop Full swing over head -- Start
2 taps -- Start Up and Down -- Stop
3 taps -- Take up Across the Hose -- Take up
4 taps -- Call for fuel
5 taps -- Call for Chief
August 10, 1899, will be a day, long remembered by the Company. It was the start of the horse drawn era. An 1897 Silsby No. 4, Serial # 2495 Steam Fire Engine was delivered and housed that day. Gleaming with brass and chrome it became the pride of the Company. It was capable of pumping water at 750 GPM and, at capacity, could operate four hose lines. With this engine the firefighters were able to place more water on a fire in faster time. The Company elected Ed Mills as the first Driver and set out to find and buy a team of horses to pull it.
During this period, the city replaced the Pioneer's old Hook and Ladder wagon with a newer one. This old wagon was horse drawn so it was given to the Diamond to replace the hand drawn ladder cart. After refurbishing by the Company, it was placed into service and saw many years of use.
On June 6, 1900, a telephone was installed in the firehouse to receive alarms and to call for help. In September of this same year a ladies auxiliary was formed.
After a year of searching, the Company found a suitable team of steel gray horses, which were purchased from Henry Krause for $455. Up until this time, horses were borrowed from a neighbor, a Mr. Thomas or Thompson, to pull the engine and hook and ladder when the alarm sounded. For many years after, this neighbor lent his horses when needed. Once no horses were available and the members pulled the engine to the fire by hand. To house the team, stalls and stable area were built in the rear of the building.
These first horses, Leroy and Andrew, were the beginning of long line of fire horses. The second team was bought in 1908 to replace the first team. They were christened John and Charles on January 13, 1909. A third team was bought in 1916 and christened on June 8th. The names of these are unknown. Prince and Kernel were bought and christened in 1925. They were the last horses to be used by the Diamond Fire Company.
After a few months, the City bought the first team from the Company. Since that time, the City has bought all of the fire equipment and apparatus and has paid the salary of the drivers. The driver’s job was not only to drive the engine to the fire but also to care for the horses, the building, and the equipment. He was also responsible to see that a proper starter was laid in the firebox of the engine. A two-platoon system of drivers was introduced during the late 1920's. Civil Service was introduced into the drivers system in the 1930's and they became unionized during the 1940's. The system of paid drivers and volunteer firefighters continues to this day and is a very good system. In addition, since the turn of the century, the City has given each company a yearly stipend to cover incidentals.
In 1904, the Diamond along with the Pioneer and East End companies was instrumental in the formation and growth of the Four County Fireman’s Association. This organization was founded to unite the fire companies of Luzerne, Schuylkill, Columbia, Lackawanna, Montour, and Northumberland Counties for the purpose of obtaining legislation beneficial to all fireman and to foster the ideals of the fire service. John Sphor of the Diamond Fire Company was elected its first President and the Hazleton companies have been active in the organization ever since. On many occasions, Hazleton has hosted Six County Convention and Parades.
Towards the end of 1904 the Company equipment consisted of a horse drawn engine, a horse drawn ladder wagon, two hose carts, and equipment carriage. Stalls for three horses took up the back part of the building. The firehouse was becoming too small for all of the equipment and men. With the growth of the Company, it was felt a newer, larger building was needed. Council was petitioned for a new building and they passed an ordinance to that effect on January 12, 1905. In April, they allocated $10,000 for construction of the building. It was decided to build the new station on the same site so the old building was offered for sale. In June of 1906 it was sold and moved to the northeast corner of Ninth and Vine streets where it stands today as a double residence. Construction was started on the new brick building that same month. Originally it was to have three stories but at the request of the Company this was changed to two stories with the length of the building increased.
While construction of the new quarters took place, The Company met first at the Pioneer Fire Company rooms and later at Sachs Hall at Third and Alter Street. Some of the apparatus -- engine and horses -- were placed in the City building on Wyoming Street. The other equipment was kept in John Schimf's barn on Alter Street while other Company goods were placed in John Schott's shed.
Seven months later after construction began, on February 7, 1907 the regular meeting was held in the new building. All apparatus, equipment, and property were moved back in the firehouse within the next few days. A formal dedication took place on February 24th. Built at a cost of $9,000, the first floor housed all the apparatus in the front with stalls and stables in the rear of the building. Two large doors opened on Church Street. The second floor held the meeting room, a sitting room, a pantry, and storage room in the front. A driver’s bedroom and the hayloft were in the back. The cellar was for storage and use as a social room.
Chief Elias Bachman died on April 12, 1909 and was replaced by Lewis Kepping. On April 8, 1910, Mayor Charles A. Bruch appointed Thomas Burkhart as City Fire Chief. Evidently, this was not a popular move and at the request of the companies, Chief Kepping replaced Chief Burkhart on June 6, 1912.
The year 1911 marked the beginning of the end for two eras in the fire service at the Diamond Fire Company and the City Department. The hose carts of the Company were in bad shape and Council was asked to replace them with a new horse drawn hose wagon. The City agreed but decided to replace the carts with a motorized vehicle. On July 8th, the Company took possession of a Robinson Auto Chemical Engine; thus becoming the first motorized company in the City. The days of horse drawn apparatus were coming to and end. This truck was built in St. Louis, Mo. and purchased from the Hazleton Machinery and Supply Company. It was a combination chemical fire engine and hose wagon. With a four-cylinder motor, chain drive, and solid rubber tires it was able to go almost anywhere. It carried 100 gallons of water in two tanks, which when mixed with chemicals (soda and acid); was capable of extinguishing many fires. The bed of the truck was also capable of carrying over 1000 feet of fire hose along with the nozzles and other gear. The "Otto" served the Company till well after W.W.I. Shortly after the arrival of the "Otto," one of the horses died while on duty. Maybe it knew?
During the earlier part of the decade, the Company bought over $5,000 in City Bonds to help finance capital improvements. With the coming of the "Great War," many members went into the Armed Forces. While in the service, these members were exonerated from paying dues; a practice which has continued since during times of conflict. When their boys came marching home, the Diamond was there to help celebrate the victory.
On September 14, 1917, the fourth City fire company was organized. It was the Hazleton Heights Fire Company No. 4 and serves that section of the City. Its first quarters were on Muir Avenue and it was equipped with a hose cart and 1000 feet of hose.
Sometime during 1921 or 22, the Robinson was overturned while responding to a call at Third and Church Streets. The chemical tanks were badly damaged but it was still able to haul hose. Problems with the Silsby prompted the City to ask for bids for some new equipment. On April 10, 1923, bids were accepted for two new fire trucks – one for the Diamond and one for the Heights. These vehicles arrived on August 1st. After testing, a Reo Chemical wagon was given to the Heights and a new American-LaFrance was delivered to the Diamond. This new truck was a triple combination truck. It had two, 35-gallon chemical tanks, a 750 GPM pump, and a hose bed for over a 1000 feet of hose. Storage compartments for additional gear made this an ideal truck for the Company. Some records and news articles indicate that this engine was a Hahn but other reports and eyewitnesses confirm it was an American-LaFrance.
The old Hook and Ladder was in poor shape by the end of 1919. Councilman Martin Proposed to refurbish it, however the cost estimates proved to be too excessive. Because of this a used Hook and Ladder was purchased and placed into service by the Company. It was christened on November 24, 1920.
A fifth fire company was organized in the City during 1923. This was the 14th Ward Fire Company No. 5 and it was the last to be added to the Department's roster. It serves the East Diamond section of the City. An attempt to form a sixth company in the 12th Ward section took place in 1931 but failed.
Not all was milk and roses for the Company during the latter part of '20s. A note in the minutes of the April 5, 1928 meeting indicate that the Company violated the Volstead Act (Prohibition) and received a reprimand from Council about it.
Many changes occurred during the 1930’s. The Hook and Ladder was in bad shape and the Company asked Council to replace it with an American-LaFrance Ladder Truck. Bids were solicited and a Hahn City Service Truck was purchased for the Company. It was placed into service in September of 1930. This one came equipped with a rack of eleven ladders. It also had a set of chemical tanks and a booster hose for the tanks. A top rack allowed the truck to carry some extra hose. Because this truck was motorized, the horses were no longer needed and they were retired in 1931. An era had ended. These had been the last horses not only at the Diamond but also within the Hazleton Fire Department. The Diamond was the first company to be motorized and the last one to use horses. One era of firefighting ended but a new one was beginning. Firefighting was changing and new equipment and methods were needed. The old Silsby was put into storage but was still taken care of by the Company. New members were required to keep it polished. It's end came when it was melted for scrap to support the war effort during World War II.
After Prohibition was repealed in 1932, the Company refinished the old hayloft and turned it into a social room. This room provides a place for members to relax and have some fun. Many good times were and still are had in this room. A small kitchen was added later to provide snacks to patrons. A modern bar and equipment were added in 1961. This is still in use today.
On March 1, 1933, City Chief Lewis Kepping passed away. George Brandau assumed his duties -- the fourth Chief of the Department. Later that same month, a siren was installed on the roof of the Diamond Firehouse. This allowed the drivers to summon the volunteers when a telephone alarm was received.
A 1938 Hahn Fire Engine was bought to replace the American-LaFrance. On April 23, 1938, it was placed into service and was christened "The Champ." This was to honor the high school basketball team, which had won the state championship that spring. This new pumper was equipped with a 750 GPM pump, a 150-gallon booster tank, and booster reel. It became necessary to replace the double doors with one large overhead door. Removal of the center post made it necessary to remove the marble banister on the balcony because it was too heavy. It was replaced by the iron railing, which is still in place.
On September 5, 1939 the Company celebrated its 50th Anniversary with a Golden Anniversary Banquet. Over 200 members and guests attended this affair.
During World War II, many of the Company's younger members served in the Armed Forces with distinction. In addition to their firefighting duties, many of the active members served as air raid wardens, first-aid volunteers, and as members of other war effort committees. The Company not only bought many War Bonds but sponsored a number of bonds drives as well. On May 11, 1946, the Company hosted a Welcome home Banquet at the Hotel Altamont for its heroes.
With the war won and peace at hand, the Company turned to improving its firefighting skills. Some of the first formal firefighting schools and classes were started at this time. The Company held some of its own and sent men to others. This commitment to training has continued and will continue in the future.
As one of the leaders in civic affairs and efforts, the Company donated $10,000 towards the establishment of the St. Joseph Hospital in Hazleton during 1946. In 1947, they donated $2,500 to the Industrial Fund Drive to help attract new industry to the City. Some ten years later, in 1956, the Company purchased over $3,000 in Can-do Bonds to be used to bring new industry to the area. Along with its' sister Companies, The Fireman’s Relief Association, and the Fire Drivers Union; Hazleton's firefighters purchased over $25,000 worth of these bonds. The Diamond Fire Company has been active in many civic projects to aid the public. They have supported the Muscular Dystrophy drive, Boy Scouts, the Fireman’s Teeners Basketball League, and the Red Cross Bloodmobile over the years.
After many years of hard use, the City Service Ladder was showing its age. Mechanical problems kept the drivers busy. The construction of the multi-storied St. Joseph Hospital and other proposed high-rise buildings convinced the members of the need of an Aerial Ladder truck. Working with Council, a Seagraves 75 foot Aerial Ladder Truck was purchased in 1949 to replace the City Service Hahn. In addition to the aerial ladder, this truck came equipped with several wooden ground ladders, pike poles, hand tools, and other equipment. A christening was held for this truck in conjunction with the 60th Anniversary celebration on September 17th of that year.
On December 19, 1949, just three months after delivery; the Aerial was involved in an accident while transporting Santa Claus to the Company's Annual Children's Christmas party. Only slight damage occurred to the truck, however the driver, a few members, and Santa Claus were slightly injured. This annual party for neighborhood and member's children was started in the early 1900's and continues to this day. Santa has always arrived on one of the Company's vehicles.
Chief Brandau was hospitalized on May 5, 1955. Chief of the Diamond Fire Company -- Paul Ziegler -- was named Acting City Chief at that time. One month later, Council made this permanent and he became the fifth Chief of the Hazleton Fire Department on June 23rd.
Five years later in 1960; the Hahn pumper was retired and replaced with a 1960 FWD Fire Engine. It was the first fully enclosed cab Engine bought by the Department. It was equipped with a six-cylinder Waukesha engine, a 750 GPM pump, a 250-gallon booster tank, twin booster reels and line, and ten compartments for equipment. The hose bed was capable of holding 2500 feet of fire hose. It was christened "Old Rip" on April 23, 1960.
Starting in the early 1970's many changes occurred which affected and continues to affect the Hazleton Fire Department and the Company. Politics, a decline in revenues, layoffs, apparatus, and station closings have pitted volunteer against volunteer, volunteers against drivers, drivers against driver, and companies against administrations. To save money, the City began to shut down apparatus, First in 1974, the Pioneers lost their pumper, Next to go was the East End's Quad and finally the Diamond's Aerial was sold in 1983. None were replaced. With less equipment to operate, the ranks of the drivers were reduced, first by attrition and later by layoffs. At present, not enough drivers are employed to keep the all stations in operation on a full time basis. During 1988, the Heights and 14th Ward stations were closed for over 50% of the time.
In 1970, City Chief Paul Zeigler retired and was replaced by William T. Nilles, also a member of the Diamond and a City Fire Driver. Under Chief Nilles, many improvements were made. A full time Deputy Chief was named and later a second Deputy was added. A record keeping system was instituted to keep track of the Department's records and data. Prevention, inspections, and firefighting training was upgraded. Politics entered the picture in 1972 when a new Council was seated. Chief Nilles was discharged and Anthony DeCusatis became City Chief. Council's makeup changed again in 1973 and Chief Nilles was returned to his position. He served until his retirement in 1975. Deputy Chief Girard Caso was elevated to Chief of Department and continued until 1980 when he was discharged by a new city administration. Named to replace him was Fred Polmounter who served as City Chief until 1981 when Chief Caso was reinstated as the result of a lawsuit over his discharge. He remains as the present Chief of the Department.
The present Engine in service at the Diamond is a 1978 Mack Fire Engine. It replaced the FWD, which was sold to neighboring McAdoo. The Mack is a 1,000 GPM pumper driven by a six-cylinder engine. It has a 500 gallon tank and booster system, nine compartments, and a bed to hold over 2,500 feet of hose.
Many things have changed over the past century. Firefighting equipment and methods have changed dramatically. It has changed from an avocation to a science, which constantly changes with the introduction of new products and materials. Straw and wood have been replaced by plastics and ceramics, which produce fumes unheard of years ago. Over these past 100 years, over 750 members of the Diamond Fire Company have served their fellow citizens. Fighting fires to protect life and property is why the Company was formed. The members have always answered the alarm and will continue to do so as long as the need exists. We have been fortunate in having many fine and active members. Some of us are sons, grandsons, great grandsons, and great - great grandsons of the founding members. Divine Providence have been with us through the good times and bad times. What the future holds for the Company, we do not know. We do look to the next century and we are ready for it. This is not the end, only a pause in the story.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: In putting this history together, many sources were used. Many people helped in researching materials, giving verbal history (telling stories), and supplying photos. We were especially fortunate in that our predecessors had the foresight to save the old meeting records, however much was also lost or thrown away. My advice to the future -- saves and records everything. At some point it becomes irreplaceable.
--- TCB, Hazleton, PA. April 1989
THE NEXT 15
During 1989, the Diamond Fire Company celebrated its 100th Anniversary. Events were held throughout the entire year. In early January, the Company commissioned a mural to be placed in the meeting rooms. Mr. William Yenkevich, a local artist, was commissioned to execute the project. He proposed a tripartite painting illustrating three moments in the history of the company. The left frame envisioned was a scene taken from the invitation card to the dedication of the 1906 firehouse. It shows one of our firefighter forefathers racing to a working fire and outlined by the equipment of the day.
The center frame shows a Chief, holding a speaking trumpet and directing the operations of a fire crew rescuing a young child. They are backlit by a structural conflagration. In front of them is the company motto – “DUTY ● HONOR ● COURAGE”. Above the motto are the years – 1889 – 1989.
The third or right panel emblazons an early firefighter on an old wooden ladder calling orders with a speaking trumpet. To his left is the Maltese Cross. Below this is a rendering of the Mack Pumper on its way to a call.
One of the projects for the Centennial Celebration was the development of a hardbound book containing a written and pictorial account of the Diamond from founding to the present day. Many pictures both old and new were gathered for inclusion. On March 5th, all the members that could attend assembled at St. Joseph’s Gym where a professional photographer took individual pictures as well as a company photo. These were printed in the book. Many members came from afar to attend this session.
On September 3rd and 4th, the company held a public open house at the fire station. Tours of the quarters were given, a display of fire equipment was presented, and a display of historical photos and memorabilia was displayed. In addition, literature and gifts were given out to all attending. Refreshments were served to all who came.
The big weekend arrived on September 9th and 10th. On the 9th, a Vespers Service of Celebration and Remembrance was held at Trinity Lutheran Church. The Reverend Doctor Carl G. Schweitzer, Pastor of Trinity Lutheran and the Reverend P. Lawrence Homer, Pastor of Holy Trinity German Catholic Church presided. The members of the Company delivered Readings.
After the Service, a social was held in the church hall. At that time, the Centennial Mural was unveiled for the first time. The three oldest members of the Company – Joseph Herr, John Culp, and Edward Bainbridge, did unveiling the mural. All have left us and are missed.
The following night, September 10, 1989, the gala Banquet was held to celebrate the 100th Centennial Anniversary of the Diamond, Engine, Hose, Hook and Ladder Company No. 2 of the Fire Department of the City of Hazleton. Over 200 members and invited guests attended. Each guest received a copy of the Anniversary History Book of which only 225 copies were printed, a set of mugs and a one-ounce pure silver medallion or coin embossed with the Company Motto, Shield, and dates of the Anniversary of which only 200 were minted. Other gifts were also distributed throughout the night.
Speaker for the banquet was the Honorable Curt Weldon, Member of Congress. Congressman Weldon was a former Chief and Mayor of Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania. As a member of Congress, he founded the Congressional Fire Caucus, which meets to further the interest of the fire service and the Paid and Volunteer firefighters throughout the United States. Congressman Paul Kanjorski introduced Congressman Weldon.
Chief Caso continued as Chief of the Department until 1990 when he resigned over the elimination of a Deputy Chief’s position and a cut back in the number of drivers. He felt, and rightly so, that the safety of the Department and it’s members was being jeopardized. This was especially significant in light of the large, disastrous fires, which were occurring throughout the City. During the early 1990’s, a number of multi structural fires occurred. In one instance, most of a block along East Diamond Avenue was destroyed.
Replacing Caso as Acting Chief was John Andeara who was promoted from Deputy Chief. He was named Chief in 1992. Jackie served the City for many years before being replaced. In 1996, a new Mayor replaced Chief Andeara. He named Louis Rossi to the position. Rossi was not confirmed by City Council who set his salary at a few thousand dollars. He resigned in March of that year. Deputy Chief Thomas J. “TJ” Powell was named Acting Chief until being named Chief at the beginning of 1999. He continues as present Chief at the time of this missive. A list of Deputy Chiefs to this point would include but not be limited to: Jerry Caso, Frank Kukowski, William Ringlaben, Joseph Sahaida, Richard Ziegler, Salvadore Craig, Francis Kashi, John Andeara, T. J. Powell, Gerald Palermo, Carl Rienmiller Sr., Carl Rienmiller Jr., Emil Havrilla, Leslie Rossi, Edward Havrilla, Robert Dorneman, William Getz, Robert Mandak Jr. and Gabriel Mhley. The number of on - duty Deputy Chiefs has fluctuated throughout the past fifteen years.
On Saturday, November 6, 1999, the Diamond Fire Company celebrated its 110th Anniversary with an open house, program and buffet, which was held in the company rooms.
On July 7, 2003, we were saddened to learn of the passing of Line – of - Duty Deputy Chief Gabriel A. Mhley. Since then, a foundation – “Foundation 58” has been founded in his memory. Foundation 58 is a 501(C) 3 nonprofit organization, established in memory of Hazleton City Deputy Fire Chief Gabriel A. Mhley, dedicated to providing financial assistance to Fire Fighters, Police Officers, and Emergency Medical Service Personnel, throughout the United States, who have been diagnosed with cancer.
As noted previously, in 1904, the Diamond; the Pioneer and the East End companies were instrumental in the formation and growth of the Four County Fireman’s Association. This organization was founded to unite the fire companies of Luzerne, Schuylkill, Columbia, Lackawanna, Montour, and Northumberland Counties for the purpose of obtaining legislation beneficial to all fireman and to foster the ideals of the fire service. John Sphor of the Diamond Fire Company was elected its first President. This Association became the Six-County Fireman’s Association of the State of Pennsylvania and the Hazleton companies have been active in the organization ever since. On many occasions, Hazleton has hosted Six County Convention and Parades.
During June of 2003, Hazleton’ s Five Companies, the West Hazleton Fire Department and their Relief Associations hosted the 100th Anniversary Six County Convention and Parade. Thousands arrived and enjoyed the meetings and activities.
“Big Billy”, the Diamond’s 1978 Mack Pumper finally wore out in early 2003. After a bit of wrangling, it was replaced with a 2002 KME 1500 GPM Panther Engine. This piece of apparatus was christened on September 13, 2003, which coincided with the 114th Anniversary of the Company. It was christened “Blazing Honor” in memory of all firefighters who have come before.
On Saturday, October 16, 2004, the Diamond Fire Company celebrated its 115th Anniversary with an awards ceremony, program and buffet, which was held at the Top Shelf. Over 100 members and guests attended.
A changing political climate, a severe financial crunch and lack of an adequate tax base, as well as the influx of linguistically arrested newcomers has affected the whole region, including the whole fire department. Equipment, vehicles and buildings have deteriorated throughout the period. Presently, the active membership of many of the companies is in decline. The euphoria of 9/11 has worn off. Many of the younger persons we always depended upon to fill the ranks no longer care nor are they interested. For them, they don’t need the hassle of fighting to stay viable and maintain an esprit de corp. They can go elsewhere where they are respected and valued.
At present, the East End Station #3 is being enlarged and converted into a Super Station. This will combine and house the Pioneer Fire Company No. 1, the East End Fire Company No. 3 and the Hazleton Heights Fire Company No. 4. Not with a bang but a whimper! Talk exists of constructing a Super Station to house the two North Companies - The Diamond Fire Company No. 2 and the Fourteenth Ward Fire Company No. 5. Where does the future lay? Only time will tell. Once again, the saga continues.
--- TCB, Hazleton, PA. October 2004
THE NEXT 5
Donald Leshko was sworn in as Deputy Chief of Department at ceremonies on October 12, 2004 at Hazleton City Hall. Chief Powell was sidelined by injury during the late fall of 2004. At a meeting at City Hall on February 2, 2005, Deputy Chief William Getz was promoted to Acting Chief of the Department. At the same ceremony, Shawn Jones was promoted to Deputy Chief.
On May 25, 2005, the South Side Fire Station was dedicated in an elaborate ceremony. The expansion of the old East End Station now combines all three center and south city fire companies under one roof – The Pioneer Fire Company No. 1, the East End Fire Company No. 3 and the Hazleton Heights Fire Company No. 4. The facility contains apparatus bays for all vehicles, dispatch center, sleeping and kitchen facilities, Volunteer Company, Hazleton Fire Department and IAFF offices, meeting and training rooms as well as storage.
October of 2005 proved to be a turning point in the Department. Earlier, Chief Powell took retirement. Acting Chief William Getz also retired and the Department looked to new leadership. Deputy Chief Donald Leshko was promoted to Chief on October 17, 2005 at a ceremony held in council chambers. Donald is reputed to be the youngest man to hold this position being only twenty-eight at the time. On February 1, 2006, Brian M. Mandak was sworn in as the newest Deputy Chief of Department.
Under the new Department heads, many changes have been instituted. The number of prevention and educational programs as well as inspections has increased dramatically. Equipment purchases have increased by working with and through the Hazleton Fireman’s Relief Association. Writing, coordinating and acquiring both federal and state grants have added additional updated and modern equipment for the protection of the firefighters and the citizens of the City. Training of all personnel has increased with an emphasis on certification and new methods in the field. The new leadership has and is encouraging cross and inter-company training, which is proving invaluable. SOPs have and are being developed, implemented and expanded.
During 2007, the City replaced Hazleton Heights Engine 4, a 1977 1000 gpm Mack Engine with a 2007 KME – 1500 gpm Pumper. This new engine was christened “Pipeline 4” on September 9, 2007, which coincided with the 90th Anniversary of the Hazleton Heights Fire Company No. 4. This dedication was part of the Heights Anniversary and Banquet.
In June of 2008, Hazleton’ s Five Companies and Relief Association hosted the 105th Anniversary Six County Convention and Parade. A golf tournament, banquet, exhibitions, demonstrations and parade were held. Hundreds of firefighters and their families arrived and enjoyed the meetings and activities many of which were held in the new South Side Station.
The past few years has seen a growth as well as a diversification in the city population. Neighborhoods are changing and remodeling is the fore. Because of these changes, the Department has seen a steady increase in the number of responses for aid and assistance. While the number of large fires has decreased, the number of vehicle accident responses has nearly quadrupled. The number of small fires – electrical and cooking related has also been increasing. A severe financial crunch, mounting debts has affected the City of Hazleton including the fire department. Unless drastic measures are taken, the future of the department may be progressing backwards. Back to the Future?? So it continues. Into the future.
--- Thomas C Bast, Hazleton, PA. October 2009
We operate as one of 5 Volunteer Companies in the City of Hazleton :
East End #3
14th Ward #5