The Union Fire Company was founded in Lancaster, Pa. in 1742, making it the oldest volunteer fire company in the United States.From its 1968 directory we extract the following history.
The inception of the Union Fire Company was over two centuries ago in 1742. On August the 14th, 1760 the founders of the Union No. 1, the oldest volunteer fire company in America, held a meeting to assign various duties to members and review the purposes of the organization.
Inasmuch as conservation of property was important to property owners, these lauded gentlemen were the founders of the Union Fire Company. For many decades the fire call brought running many of Lancaster’s most illustrious citizens, each with a duty to perform. James Buchanan, later President of the United States, carried the ladder. Edward Shippen, Burgess Adam Simon Kuhn, James Burd and William Atlee directed and formed the lines of bucket-passers. Gunsmith-Engineer William Henry and Innkeeper Mathias Slough were the pipe-layers or nozzle-directors. Christopher and Adam Reigart, and Henry and Mathias Dehuff—all borough officers—pumped the engine. Other active firefighters included George Ross, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Robert Fulton, Supreme Court Justice Jasper Yeates, Christopher Hager, Judge Charles Smith, Mayor John Mathiot, Judge Walter Franklin, Amos, Jasper, Samuel and Henry Slaymaker, Judge Benjamin Champneys, Attorney-General Thomas E. Franklin, State Treasurer Henry Magraw, Edward Bates Grubb, Editor John W. Forney, Congressman Anthony Roberts, and Dr. Henry Carpenter.
The Union Fire Company initiated many of the improvements in the early days of Lancaster. The company urged the installation of street lamps, night watchmen, public pumps, piped water system and chemical firefighting apparatus. Centralization of direction for volunteer fire companies sought by the Union Fire Company resulted in the highly efficient paid department in 1882—a radical idea then. Few cities in Pennsylvania have a wholly-paid fire department even 78 years later. Formation of the city into wards and establishment of constables and assessors all came through the initiative of the Union Fire Company’s civic-minded and farsighted officers.
Today, the Union Fire Company is a civic organization dedicated to the twin objectives of commemorating the volunteer firefighters who have contributed so significantly to the stability and development of Lancaster, and to serve Lancaster by fostering an intelligent civic awareness. Hence, the oldest civil organization in Lancaster and the oldest fire company in America survives as a civic group-historical association. May its existence be perpetual!
The response board of Lancaster County Emergency Communications maintains an active tap-out signal for Union Fire Company No. 1, even though the organization has no equipment and the fire house is the Willson Memorial Building of the Lancaster County Historical Society.
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