Category Archives: History

Flickering Embers of the Past: Becoming a Firefighter in the Old Days

When Dan Fisher Sr. joined the Fire Company in 1963, there were no training requirements. He had attended fire meetings as a boy with his dad, Levi “Dutch” Fisher, in the old fire hall across the street from the present one. Ironically they were called “smoke meetings” because the meeting room was blue with tobacco smoke! Always there was chitchat after the business of the evening was finished.
While he was still a child, Dan started helping with local calls. Whenever he saw smoke, he ran to the scene along with farmers and the rest of the neighborhood. It was a bit like freelancing at firefighting.

When Dan was 17 he officially joined the Fire Company, paid his annual dues, and rode to the fires on the equipment. At that time the basic process of joining was paying dues and attending monthly meetings. There was also training available on the county level as evidenced by training certificates that were earned, but not nearly everyone took the training. According to Dan Sr., firefighting was learned through experience.

The Diamond T won several firemen’s competitions for Bird-in-Hand  while in use from 1936-1960.

Flickering Embers from the Past: A Flat Out Win!

n the early 1950s there were Fire Company competitions at Green Dragon in Ephrata.

According to Dave Haldeman, there was a starting point and at the sound of a whistle each company moved into the source of the water supply. Then they hooked up their pump and delivered on the target. The quickest company was recognized as the winner.

Bird-in-Hand had practiced for the competition with their old 1936 Diamond T. However, East Petersburg arrived very proud and confident with their brand new Seagrave engine and pump .

When the whistle sounded, Bird-in-Hand started their rotary gear pump. It was the kind that took awhile to start putting out water. Cliff White was holding the hose and waiting. When the engineer shot to full pressure right away, Cliff was not prepared and it knocked him down on his behind, but Bird-in-Hand took the prize! The old Diamond T delivered faster than the new Seagrave engine and pump!

Senior Firemen Keep Fire Company’s History Alive

Bird-in-Hand’s most senior firefighters met together at the Fire Hall on Thursday, January 14 for a morning of reminiscing. As Dave Haldeman (68 years), Glenn Siegrist (66 years), Dan S. Fisher (53 years), Les Fazekas (45 years), and Bud Shirk (41 years) told their stories, they flamed up fading embers from the past. John Schell (57 years) added his memories in a later interview.

Their stories follow a common theme of dedication to their community. Together they have served an impressive total of 330 years. These men were firefighters, chief, deputy chief, fire police captains, chaplain, president, and board member. In their words, “We did what needed to be done.”

Here are some brightly glowing embers that flicker from the past:

  • In the old days, the way to get started as a firefighter was to pay the annual dues and come to the fire meetings. There were also firefighting courses available but not everyone took those. Dan S. Fisher came to the meetings with his dad Dutch and then started going to the fires too. He “freelanced” at firefighting. “Whenever we saw smoke, we went to the fire. When we got there, we grabbed a hose and ran.” Firefighters came, but farmers and neighbors also showed up to fight the fire.
  • At a low point in the Fire Company, when only six men came out for the Fire Company meetings, the Brubakers from the Beechdale Duck Farm worked hard to keep it going. They said, “Let’s have a turkey dinner.” They supplied the turkeys from their farm and Vince Miller was the chief cook.
    Fifteen people were at that meal at the old fire station before the kitchen addition was put on the back. They sat on the running boards of the fire truck since there was no other place to sit. Today it is still called the turkey dinner, but instead of 15, now 150 community people gather to enjoy the evening.
  • Early on, the Amish in our community were encouraged to join the Fire Company. One of the first Amishmen was Andrew Beiler. He bought one of the two-wheeled handcarts that the firefighters used. It was pulled by a rope and the pressure was generated by dumping water, soda, and acid together. The water shot 60 feet in the air. The Beiler family has been faithful to the Fire Company. Today three of Andrew Beiler’s greatgrandsons, Andrew, Mark and Benjamin are firefighters.
  • Aaron Miller from Gibbons Road encouraged John Schell to join the Fire Company a few years after John bought his house on Beechdale Road and moved to the Bird-in-Hand area from Lebanon County. John suspects Aaron needed a ride to the fire station. When the fire siren sounded, John drove his pickup truck along Beechdale Road and slowed down enough for Amish firefighters to jump on the back. He arrived at the station with a full load!

There are still many more stories to retell from the January 14 roundtable discussion. Watch for brightly glowing embers in the next issues of the Fire Company newsletter.

 

Senior Firemen Bud Shirk, Dave Haldeman, Les Fazekas, Glenn Siegrist and Dan Fisher (not pictured) gather at the Fire Hall to tell their stories of long years of service.
Senior Firemen Bud Shirk, Dave Haldeman, Les Fazekas, Glenn Siegrist and Dan Fisher (not pictured) gather at the Fire Hall to tell their stories of long years of service.
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Firefighters Remember Major Fires

In 2009 the Hand-in-Hand Fire Company responded to 124 calls. This is somewhat higher than the average of 110 calls per year over the past decade. Present Fire Chief Lonnie Kauffman explains, “The number of calls per year is definitely increasing, although this has only been noticeable in the past two-three years. In 2010 we are already over 100 calls at the end of September.”

The average number of Hand-in-Hand firefighters who respond to a call is 20-25, enough to run three or four pieces of equipment. If Hand-in-Hand has a fire in its first due, as many as 30 responders turn out in addition to retired firefighters and other community people. Since the 1960’s some of the largest fires that firefighters remember are:

  • Carriage Machine Shop – Maple Avenue – saved office, lost building
  • Reuben Stoltzfus’ farm – Old Philadelphia Pike (construction materials) – loss
  • Benjamin Riehl’s tobacco shed – Mascot Road (12/1989) – loss
  • Paul Smucker’s barn (now Jerry Smucker) – 431 Beechdale Road (2/1965) – loss
  • Amos Stoltzfus’ barn – 2870 Church Road (2/2010)
  • Christ Riehl’s Cabinet Shop – 259 Mascot Rd. (2010) – saved horse barn area
  • Omar Petersheim barn fire – loss
  • Beechdale Woodworks – Beechdale Road – loss
  • Manny L. Fisher’s cabinet shop – North Ronks Road – loss
  • Wilmer & Marilyn Lapp’s home – 2684 Evergreen Drive – 2 big fires, 2 saves
  • Bird-in-Hand Window Sales – 367 Lynwood Rd. (2/2005) – 1st time save, 2nd time loss
  • Weavertown Coach Shop – 2 fires – saved
  • Henry Blank’s chicken house – Gibbons Road – saved
  • John Petersheim’s home – N. Weavertown – saved home
  • David Beiler Farm – 280 Maple Ave – roof fire burned into attic
  • Don Oatman – 2600 Old Phila. Pike – very cold winter night – saved house
  • Aaron Y. Beiler – house @ foot of Molasses Hill – saved
  • Christ Beiler’s home – end of Miller Lane -saved
  • C.B. Miller – Gibbons Rd. – saved house
  • Dan Esh farm – Gibbons Rd. – fire started in lower level stripping room – saved
  • Amish Barn Restaurant – 3029 Old Philadelphia Pike – wooden shingles roof – saved
  • Vallorbs – 2591 Old Philadelphia Pike – 3 saves (2 flammable metals, 1 main building
  • John U. Stoltzfus’ Wood Shop – 2957 Church Road – saved
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Benjamin Riehl’s tobacco shed (12/1989)
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Benjamin Riehl’s tobacco shed (12/1989)
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Hand-in-Hand firefighters assisted in protecting President George Bush during his visit to Lancaster on August 16, 2006.
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Bird-in-Hand Window Sales (photo courtesy of Greg Leaman)
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Christ Beiler’s house file at the end of Miller Lane
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Bird-in-Hand Window Sales (photo courtesy of Greg Leaman)
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Bird-in-Hand Window Sales (photo courtesy of Greg Leaman)
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Bird-in-Hand Window Sales (photo courtesy of Greg Leaman)

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Cisterns Furnished Water Supply in Years Past

A reliable source of water is a necessity for a fire company to successfully fight fires.  The source should be conveniently located with an abundant supply of water available for use at all times.  With this in mind, the residents of Bird-in-Hand met in a public meeting with the intent of raising money to build cisterns.  A total of $500 was pledged at the meeting to construct two cisterns, each with a capacity of 13,500 gallons.

They were built in 1946 for the total cost of $1,684.46.  One was located at 2695 Old Philadelphia Pike near the junction of Maple Avenue on land deeded to the Fire Company by Clarence Bitzer of Bitzers Hotel.  The second one was located at 2644 Old Philadelphia Pike in front of the old 1922 fire hall and across the road from the present fire hall.  Witmer, Lafayette, and Strasburg Fire Companies helped fill the cisterns by relay from the Mill Creek in December 1946.  

These cisterns are no longer in use today, because they lack suffient volume to fight large, modern-day fires.    In addition, four of today's large tankers can bring the entire contents of a cistern to the fire.  The designated fill sites are the lake on the grounds of the Bird-in-Hand Restaurant and Family Inn, the reservoir behind the Business Center on Beechdale Road, and some of the local streams.  

Early Equipment Storage & Meeting Locations

Early Meeting Locations:

  • Neuhauser Brothers Hardware Store
  • J. Harry Weaver’s Garage
  • Bird-in-Hand Quaker Meeting House

Early Equipment Storage Locations:

  • Frank Shirk’s Shed
  • Neuhauser Brothers Repair Shop

For the first 12 years of the Hand-in-Hand Fire Company’s existence, it did not own a building or have an established fire hall. When the men first began meeting, they gathered in Neuhauser Brothers Hardware Store (2701 Old Phila Pike). Later they met in J. Harry Weaver’s Garage (2677 Old Phila. Pike) and the next meeting place was in the Bird-in-Hand Quaker Meeting House.

Frank G. Shirk, first president of the Fire Company, donated a shed to house the firefighting equipment. It was located at 250 Railroad Avenue across the street from the railroad freight station. The 50th Anniversary Celebration booklet describes the location. Before the railroad underpass was built, Railroad Avenue joined the old road (Old Phila. Pike) 10 feet west of and almost level with the eastbound railroad track. On the corner formed by the old road and Railroad Avenue was the Frank Shirk residence. It was on an elevated lot bounded on the east by a five-foot stone wall.

This storage space for the equipment in Frank Shirk’s shed worked out well in the summertime. However, in the winter the water kept in the tank for emergency use froze in the unheated shed. Neuhauser Brothers offered to house the equipment over the winter in their heated repair shop. Records show that the shed was later sold to Jacob K. Beiler for $80.

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Designing Buildings to Meet the Demands of Firefighting

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A man walks along Rt. 340 in the area that will someday be Lynwood Road. The first fire hall would be built near the utility poles in 1922.

1922 Fire Hall – 2644 Old Phila. Pike

By 1921 the Fire Company members were ready to build their first fire hall. They purchased land west of the railroad along the south side of Old Philadelphia Pike from Benjamin Wilson and by February 7, 1922, they moved into their new building.

Dave and Mary Haldeman, long-time fireman and Ladies Auxiliary member, shared these memories of the interior of this fire hall. For a number of years we only had one big room where we stored the engine and cooked and served the benefit dinners. There was a loft, but we did not use it much for storage because it was only a hole in the ceiling and difficult to get to. Because the fire hall only had a cistern, we ran a hose through the west door to a neighboring house and used their water for the dinners. We had space to serve 30-35 people at a time. The windows became fogged over at the ham dinners from all the activity and conversations. A tent was 1921FireHouse_1also set up outside to give added space for dinners.

According to Dave Haldeman, the fire hall had room for only one firefighting vehicle. Storage for other equipment was mainly the hooks on the walls and the cab of the fire truck. For a short time the firefighters were able to store two vehicles in the room by backing the squad truck in first along the west wall and then backing the fire engine in beside it.

This fire hall served the needs of the Fire Company for the next 50 years. By the 1970’s it was clear that a new building on a larger plot of land was needed to house vehicles and equipment, as well as to provide space for increased fundraising activities. After the Fire Company moved out in 1972, it has been the location of several businesses including Cleveland Brothers and Agri-Analysis. Presently Emily Hoerner operates her business, Every Individual Salon & Massage, in the building owned by her parents Tim and LouAnn Hoerner.

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Marian Bare & Mim Landis prepare ham dinner at the original fire hall.

Kitchen Addition

Because fundraising efforts were growing, the Fire Company added a kitchen to the back of the fire hall. Paul Yuninger was the builder and the Ladies Auxiliary sold blocks for 15 cents a piece to help pay for the addition. Dave and Mary Haldeman remember that this kitchen and restroom addition helped to relieve congestion at the fundraiser dinners. The dinners were served from a large window that separated the kitchen from the rest of the fire hall.

1972FireHouse_11972 Fire Hall – 313 Enterprise Drive

The Fire Company did not have far to search when it was looking for a new site. The members were able to acquire property directly across from the old fire hall on the north side of Route 340. They bought a two-unit apartment house at 2653-55 Old Philadelphia Pike. Eber O. Reese donated the land behind the apartment house to the Fire Company in conjunction with his Industrial Realty Company. A condition of the donation required the Fire Company to build a new north-south street, which became Enterprise Drive. The new fire hall was built on the donated land behind the apartment building. The apartment building was sold to raise funds for the building project.

Construction of the new building began on June 15, 1972. Bill Landis was the architect and Emmanuel Flaud Sr. was the general contractor. It truly was a community effort with much donated labor. Elmer Fisher was the foreman directing the work on site. The new building had three vehicle storage bays, a dining room, kitchen, and a partial basement for storage. It cost $62,000 and was dedicated on January 13, 1973.

1988 Utility Building

Lack of storage space in the dining room and kitchen became a big problem as the fundraising meals increased. Emmanuel Flaud Jr. was hired to construct a 38’ x 45’ attached utility building.

scan02041990 Engine Bay Addition

The Fire Company had planned well, but 17 years later, it was again feeling the need for more space and upgrades in its building. Higher and longer firefighting equipment required bigger bays. The members again enlisted the help of architect Bill Landis who designed the addition of an engine room. The general contractor for this building project was Bird-in-Hand Builders who worked through the winter of 1989 and early part of 1990 to construct the addition.

The Building Committee was John Petersheim, Levi Stoltzfus, Daniel Fisher, and Raymond Kauffman with Elmer Glick as chairperson. Elmer Glick took his role seriously and gathered stray cement blocks in the trunk and back seat of his car as he traveled to farms with his work. At one point the Fire Company had knocked down a cement block garage that was on the property and given the blocks to John Petersheim. John had taken the time to knock off the cement fragments, thinking they were his. Now the Fire Company took them back to erect the interior walls.

The Finance Committee of Lloyd Glick, Dave Beiler, and Tim Hellberg with Harlan Kauffman as chairperson had the challenge of acquiring and managing funds for two major projects at the same time. That year the new Tanker 4-1 cost $190,952 and the Engine Room addition that had room for 4 vehicles was built at a cost of $98,000.

On Saturday, May 5, 1990, the Fire Company held the dedication ceremonies for both the new Tanker 4-1 and the Engine Room. First they led off the festivities with a parade of the fire equipment through the village of Bird-in-Hand. Then followed that with a program at the fire hall, which included prayers, John Brubaker III as the guest speaker, America played on trumpet by Oliver Shenk, a litany of dedication, the housing of the tanker, and refreshments.

2 Station-Outside4 Kitchen 12008 Addition – Phase I

As the Fire Company was approaching its 100th anniversary in the first decade of the 21st century, the main areas of the fire hall were again in need of upgrading and renovation. Improvements were planned for firefighting facilities, fundraising events, and safety requirements. Jake and Ruth Bare had donated additional adjoining land to the Fire Company in 2004 so that the parking lot could be expanded to the west. Thus, the property was large enough for another addition.

In order to accomplish all of the building goals in a financially responsible way, the Building and Finance Committees broke the project into two phases. Phase I was designed by Providence Engineering and constructed in 2008 by D & M Builders at a cost of $750,000. The general contractor was Dan Fisher. The addition included upgraded electrical and phone systems, enhanced training space, a laundry room, restroom facilities for firemen with shower decontamination, a generator to use the facility as an emergency shelter, handicapped accessible restrooms for guests, expanded dining room and kitchen with upgraded appliances, new basement storage area, and fire walls.

The Building Committee was Paul Fisher, Amy Sweitzer, Diane Glick, Ephraim Stoltzfus, and Sam King with Dan S. Fisher serving as chairperson. The Finance Committee was Allen Miller, Dave Glick, Jake King, Reuben Stoltzfus, and Elam Stoltzfus with Paul Fisher serving as chairperson.

Not only did the Fire Company need funds to complete Phase I of the building project, it also needed to replace the squad truck at the same time. The cost of the new squad truck was $194,323. These two major projects together had a total price tag of one million dollars. Throughout 2007-08 the Fire Company conducted a vigorous Capital Funds Campaign. The members contacted local businesses and residents and told them of their needs. They also sent literature to their out-of-town friends on their fundraising dinner mailing lists. By combining their Fire Company savings, selling the “House that Hands Built,” accepting the Ladies Auxiliary and East Lampeter Township donations, and with the financial help of many friends, the one million dollar goal was reached.

The addition was finished at the end of January 2009. The first fundraising meal served in the new dining room was the potpie dinner on February 21.

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Future Addition – Phase II

There are still more areas of improvement at the fire hall that need to be addressed. Phase II of the building project could eventually correct these needs. The most pressing ones are additional office space, a new lobby, and improvements to the parking lot. Phase I was structurally designed to accommodate another addition in the future. The Fire Company is doing careful work on long-term budgets and keeping its future expansion options open.

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Fire of 1896 Leads to a Fire Company Charter

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A portion of the handwritten charter dated 1910.

The earliest beginnings of the Hand-in-Hand Fire Company started on September 3, 1896, when a devastating fire swept through 12 buildings in the village of Bird-in-Hand.   The Great Fire of 1896 started in a barn that was owned by James Kacy, retired agent for the railroad.  It was located on the Old Philadelphia Pike west of the railroad station.  At the time Adam Gall was using the barn.  Unfortunately, Gall’s small son was playing with matches in the barn and accidently set the straw stack on fire.

The fire flamed up quickly and the barn was soon a total loss.  While it was still burning, large sparks fell over the town and upon the wooden shingles of houses and other buildings.  Fire swept from Kacy’s barn westward across the tracks, spreading to buildings on the south side of the Old Philadelphia Pike.

The people of Bird-in-Hand telegraphed the fire department in Lancaster asking for help and meanwhile formed a bucket brigade.  Hundreds of people were attracted to the fire and all were needed to help carry water.  Unfortunately the wells of the village were low at the time, but the townspeople used buckets, hand pumps, and what water they had.  The heroic work of the bucket brigade saved all but 12 buildings in the town, including the large warehouse of the Pennsylvania Railroad.  The damage was extensive as houses, barns, stables, roofs, farm implements, hay, straw, and other crops were destroyed.
Knowing about the threat of fire firsthand, the residents of Bird-in-Hand met soon after the fire to discuss the need for a more efficient fire fighting system than a bucket brigade.  The 50th Anniversary Celebration booklet states: This experience implanted a greater fear of fire and its possible consequence and contributed to serious discussion of the need for some fire fighting equipment better than buckets.  Discussion was inspired but action was slow.  Tired of discussion, a group of determined Bird-in-Handers met in Neuhauser Brothers Hardware Store in 1910 and duly moved and seconded and bound themselves together into an Improvement Association.

This determined group of men organized themselves and elected officers.  The first officers were Frank G. Shirk, President; Levi G. Herr, Secretary; and Isaac U. Neuhauser, Fire Chief.  The original group also included John A. Umble, Frank Minnich, Elmer B. Leaman, Jacob K. Beiler, and Abraham D. Brubaker.  It was Secretary Levi Herr who creatively used a play on words to give the new fire company its name.  He insisted that the village of Bird-in-Hand’s fire protection be called the Hand-in-Hand Fire Company.  Thus, on November 21, 1910 a fire company charter was granted to this new company and annual dues were set at 25 cents.

Bird-in-Hand’s Fire Protection for One Hundred Years: Volunteers – Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

Whatever were those few men thinking one hundred Octobers back?
Their problem, after all, was far bigger than any one of them.   Where was their solution really coming from?
Did they wonder if their efforts would endure?

What are we thinking, seeing the intervening years since those few men?
Our problem, after all, appears huge.  Where is our solution coming from?
Will our efforts endure?

Today we recognize and embrace the essence of our founders.
Though they did not dismiss it, their solution was not rooted in the things of their day.
Neither is ours.
Instead, our sustenance is from the source that has flowed here for one hundred years.
And much longer.
It is a pool that daily refills to the level we allow, and will for as long as we allow it.

It is more than our wish, we have affirmed it our intent, to convey the sustenance of our forbearers, our sustenance, to our future.
We commend to you our love and caring for our neighbors and friends.
That when the call is made, what is good in your hearts will bring many together, Hand In Hand, to help all in their time of need.

 –Timothy M. Hoerner, President Hand-in-Hand Fire Company
October 17, 2010

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Dispatching Methods Change Over the Years

In order to call volunteers to a fire in the early days of firefighting in Bird-in-Hand, a townsperson ran to Frank Shirk’s shed on Railroad Avenue where the firefighting equipment was stored. There he pounded on a 36-inch circular toothless saw that was hanging in front of the shed. The noise alerted nearby firefighters that their services were needed.

Dispatching advanced to the point where a siren was activated from a home, store, or garage. Because their home at 398 Lynwood Road was close to the fire hall, Lloyd and Miriam Weaver would get the fire call at their home number. The Weavers had a button at their house that activated the siren on top of the old fire hall. Firefighter Lloyd left immediately for the fire leaving Miriam, who was often in her housecoat at night, to go to the fire hall and tell the responders where the fire was located. Later the Fire Company purchased a chalkboard and the location and type of fire were printed on it. Under that system, Dave Haldeman’s home was the second number to call.

Eventually the system was updated by using a more efficient base and remote station. Ben Stoltzfus was instrumental in getting the base for Zone 4 operating 24/7. For four and a half years (March 15, 1969-September 28, 1973), Ben and Ruth Stoltzfus and Jonas and Mim Miller served as the KGC-750 dispatchers for the nine companies and two ambulances in Zone 4 from their homes in Bird-in-Hand. Ben’s house had the radio with a remote at Jonas’ house. The new system utilized radio transmitters, allowing the alert to be broadcast to all volunteers at the same time. Under this greatly improved system, normal ambulance response time dropped from 30-40 minutes to 4-5 minutes.

According to Ruth Stoltzfus, this was a 24-hour job involving sleepless nights, inconveniences, and frustrations. In order to provide some relief, the two families took turns being on duty for two weeks at a time. Other volunteers helped out too.

During their four years of dispatching, the Stoltzfus and Miller families remembered these calls:

  • train wreck in Paradise
  • evacuation of Paradise due to leaking chemical drum on a truck
  • 1972 Hurricane Agnes flood
  • Noah Lapp’s barn fire (located right behind the base station)

A memorable dispatch was to the Gap Fire Company. When the firefighters arrived at the designated spot, there was no fire in sight. They were told, “It’s coming.” Sure enough, the engine of an approaching train was on fire!

After the Lancaster County Fire Dispatch System began operation in September 1973, the Eastern Lancaster County Sertoma Club recognized the Stoltzfus and Miller families for their fire and ambulance dispatching service. Today Lancaster County-Wide Communications is the centralized answering point for 911 telephone calls originating from the 60 municipalities in Lancaster County. The center dispatches over 140 emergency agencies and departments from this one location.

In 2010 the Fire Company continues to maintain and improve a backup radio station in a radio room set up in the basement of the fire hall. It is a backup radio communication system for use in Zone 4 when Lancaster County- Wide Communications system (911) cannot operate due to natural or manmade disasters or when LCWC becomes overwhelmed. It is in essence a backup dispatch center for Lancaster County’s Zone 4.

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Eastern Lancaster County Sertoma Club honors Ben & Ruth Stoltzfus and Jonas & Mim Miller in 1973.

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Elmer Glick sits in Hand-in-Hand’s radio room.  This radio room and equipment continues to provide backup communications to more than 30 fire stations in Eastern Lancaster County.