History of the Austin Volunteer Fire Department From 1888-Current
From 1886-1888, the homes, properties and lives of the people of the Austin were protected by bucket brigades and a fire company that been organized at one of the mills by a Mr. Dillon. The fire company had more the 20 members who “drilled every evening and were instructed in the art of tossing a pail of water where it would do the most good.” (“Community Growth in Freeman Run”, Marie K. Nuschke).
Apparently this fire company was ineffective since every fire up to 1888 was a total loss. The situation was so bad in fact that an insurance company threatened to cancel all insurance on the town.Things seemed to improve somewhat in the late 1887. A local newspaper. The Austin Autograph noted in its premier issue on September 16, 1887, “the erection of a hose house for the accommodations of our fire department will soon be classed among the noticeable improvements of our town.”The November 25h issue tells us that there was now a whistle in town that was used for a fire alarm.In 1888, the Austin Chemical Works formed the Crystal Hose Company. A local painter and art teacher, Paul Costa, became Austin’s first official fire chief. Then in 1889, two mills in Austin formed the F.H. Goodyear Fire Department.
There were now two fire departments in Austin.That didn’t help in August 1890, however. On the 14th of that month Austin suffered its first, but not its worst, major fire in town. 43 businesses and several dwellings burned to the ground.In May 1893, the Charity Hose Company was formed. The first officers were: President, Fred Austin; Secretary, Martin Gorman; Treasurer, John Downs; Foreman, Burt Kittel; and First Assistant Foreman, John Hutchingson.On March 30, 1896, an application was made to the Court of Common Pleas for the County of Potter, “for the charter of an intended corporation to be called (The Austin Fireman’s Relief Association) the character and object of which is the care and relief of the sick and disabled firemen and their dependents” (Potter Enterprise; March 18, 1896)
On October 4, 1897, another major disaster struck Austin. A fire started at 3:40 p.m., and within four hours 89 families were homeless. Besides the residence that burned, several stores, a hotel, two churches, and a local theater were leveled.
Not all was fire and disaster for the local “hose boys” however. The following article appeared in the August 4, 1899 issue of the Austin Republican: “What will doubtless be the largest attended firemen’s convention ever held in this section of the United States will be held at Bradford, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, August 16th, 17th, 18th… It begins to look as if over 100 fire companies will be in line. This will be a grand spectacle. Charity Hose, of Austin, will be there and will be accompanied by the Turner Hose band of Olean. “The boys have had painted, by Paul Costa (Austin’s first Fire Chief) three fine banners, each of which is thirty feet long and on which is painted ‘Charity Hose Company No. 1, of Austin, Pa.’ Two of these will adorn the sides of the special railroad car in which they will travel and the other one will be stretched across the front of the hotel at which they will stop in Bradford.”Charity Hose Company continued to attend conventions in Bradford (winning many awards and prizes) for several years. They also attended conventions in other areas including the five county conventions in Coudersport, until it was discontinued in 1914.Although fire departments had existed in Austin for about sixteen years, it wasn’t until August 27th, 1902, that a borough fire department became incorporated.
Charity Hose Company became chartered as Charity Hook and Ladder Company #1. The officers at this time were: President, W.G. Harvey; Secretary, E.D. McCloskey; Treasurer, E.W. Campbell; Foreman, W.G. Barrows and First Assistant Foreman, Charles Haight.Through the years the small community of Austin suffered more than its share of disasters. Obviously the most catastrophic was the 1911 flood. As did the rest of the town, the Charity Hose Company rebuilt after that dreadful September day.In 1926, another major fire hit Austin’s Main Street.
The Potter Enterprise headline on May 13th, read; “Austin hit by fire that destroys the hotel Goodyear.” This fire also damaged a market on each side of the hotel. Firemen from Coudersport and Emporium responded on a mutual aide call with equipment. Neither town used their powerful pumpers however, because there was “a chemical in the water in the stream at Austin, and it was thought best not to pump it through the machines unless necessary.”In September 1940, the Austin Volunteer Fire Department joined a fledgling organization founded by a few other area fire departments.
This organization, known as the Tri-County Volunteer Fireman’s Association, have been formed only two years earlier, Austin was the tenth member company. The Tri-County Association has sense grown to over forty members and still to this day Austin is one of them.We now skip a couple decades to October 1963, and Austin’s next major fire. On Wednesday, 23rd, a factory owned by the Meteor Manufacturing Company was leveled, with damage estimated at $300,000. The building was rebuilt however, and currently houses the powdered metal division of Emporium Specialties Company, Austin’s only industry.In the early and mid 1970’s things began to change rapidly for the Austin Fire Department. In mid 1973, the “hose boys” had been discussing the possible location and cost of a new fire hall. In early 1974, the fireman’s dreams were becoming a reality. The old community building that had served the town for decades as the sites of movies, bowling, dancing, roller-skating and for year the high school gymnasium had fallen into disrepair. The firemen razed the building, burned the scrap and leveled the ground.By July, the fire department members were well involved in the construction of their new hall. During that same month the Austin Volunteer Fire Department filed articles of incorporation in the Pennsylvania Department of State.
The main purpose of the corporation being “to provide fire protection to persons and property in the immediate vicinity of Austin, Potter County Pennsylvania.” The fire department officers at this time were: Chief, Donald Caskey; Assistant Chief, Stanley Bundy; President, Pete Eckert; Vice President, Clifford Stuckey Jr.; Secretary/Treasurer, John Hajzus.In August a Ladies Auxiliary was formed to help the firemen in providing funds and furnishings for the new fire hall. The first officers of this auxiliary were: President, Carol Logue; Vice President, Jerri Hajzus; Secretary, Jeannie Stuckey; Treasurer, Sandy Caskey and Publicity, Dale Hunsinger. Although the auxiliary was relatively shortly lived, they were a major fundraiser in the early days of the newly incorporated fire department with the new fire hall.While all this was going on with the fire department, the state of Pennsylvania issued a mandate, to become effective January 1st, 1975, that each community have its own ambulance service.
For years that service had been provided by the Grabe-Fickinger Funeral Home of Coudersport. Austin complied with the states mandate and by January had indeed formed their own ambulance association. The first officers were: President, John Hajzus; Vice President, John Fowler; Secretary, Jerri Hajzus; Treasurer, Josephine Hofer.On January 26th, 1975, at a special joint meeting, the fire department, the ambulance association and the ladies auxiliary voted to incorporate all the units into one corporation. Each organization retained its own officers and treasuries, but would also have a unified corporate board. The first officers of this board were: Chairman, Clifford Stuckey Jr., Secretary, John Fowler, and Treasurer, Terry Crosby (who was
Treasure for over 13 years).
In February phones were installed in six locations to receive emergency calls. In October these phones were wired to the alarm system so that the siren could be activated from any of these six phone locations.Through the years the fire department has constantly strived to update their equipment, knowledge and training.
Currently the Austin fire hall houses two modern, fully equipped ambulances, two fire engines, two tankers, one brush truck, and one rescue.The firefighters of Austin recognize and are proud of their long heritage. From 1888 to current the fire department has served the community of Austin and surrounding areas. We look forward with pride and anticipation to another hundred years of growth for the Austin Volunteer Fire Department.
(Source: Austin Volunteer Fire Department Centennial Book ‘1988’)