The Clarendon Fire Department takes great pride in its rich, 130 year history as it reminds us how far we have come. Though the names are many, the calls are plenty, and the stories are countless, we present a brief history of our department.
The Borough of Clarendon became a bit of a boom town after its founding in 1872 when its oil, refining, lumber, and tanning industries attracted new settlers. The town quickly grew up around these industries to include shops, dining, and hotels. With that expansion, Clarendon was in need of fire protection.
The Clarendon Fire Department began as three separate fire companies. First was the Brown Hose Company, which was organized in June 1882. They purchased a hand-drawn, four-wheel hose cart in July from the Drake Hose Company of Titusville. That same July, another company came into being. After purchasing a cart and ladders, the company called themselves the Cornen Hook and Ladder Company, named after C.A. Cornen. October 1883 saw the creation of the third company of the Clarendon Fire Department; the Independent Hose Company. They purchased a two-wheeled, hand-drawn hose cart.
THE GREAT CLARENDON FIRE
July 4, 1887
Like several American towns and cities of that era, Clarendon fell victim to an enormous, devastating fire on July 4, 1887. After the day’s festivities had ended, a fire broke out at the Brown Brothers Mill located on Brown Avenue between present day Main and Center Streets. This mill coincidentally housed the town’s water works, causing disruptions to the town's water supply. To make matters worse, another fire broke out at the Weaver House, a hotel located on South Main Street. Both fires rapidly spread to other buildings due to their construction and close proximity. Quickly, the members of all three fire companies found themselves overwhelmed and began defensive operations to save what they could. The fire eventually merged into one, sweeping down Main Street on both sides, then north to Elston St. (now Ellison St.). The structures on both sides of Railroad, Exchange, and Anchor Streets were too consumed.
The fire burned through the night and into the next morning. Daybreak revealed that Clarendon had been entirely decimated and only a handful of buildings were left standing. After declaring a state of emergency, Pennsylvania Governor James A. Beaver sent supplies and tents to assist in the relief efforts. Once lumber and other construction supplies arrived, the residents of Clarendon began the long process of rebuilding.
Image 1: Map of the 1887 fire based on historical accounts and a hand-drawn map by Len Falbriski & Patty Pascuzzi, Image 2: Clarendon a few days after the fire
MECHANIZATION OF THE DEPARTMENT
A new fire station was built in 1931 on Main St. and all three fire companies were finally united under one roof. But even after the production of automobiles and the mechanization of American industry, the Clarendon Fire Department continued using hand-drawn carts up until the early 1930’s. The first piece of motorized apparatus was acquired in 1935 when the Department purchased a new Dodge truck chassis for $797 and had it outfitted as a pumper for and additional $700.
With the mechanization of the department came the growth of the coverage area to include Mead Township. Eventually a second truck was needed to handle the size of the area and the increase in calls. In 1942 the Clarendon Fire Department purchased a 1912 American LaFrance pumper from Warren.
In 1944, Chief Charles McNett was involved in a motor vehicle accident and was seriously injured while driving his own vehicle home from a fire. He died a few months later in May due to complications from his injuries. Chief McNett was described as being a good chief and a hard working man. A young assistant chief named Leonard Falbriski stepped in to fill the vacant chief's position.
Image 1: Chief McNett, Image 2: 1935 Dodge, Image 3: 1912 American LaFrance
YEARS OF GROWTH
Like McNett, Falbriski was also a well-liked chief and the Department quickly began to grow under his leadership and drive. Concepts such as mutual aid, county-wide radio communication, and a ladies auxiliary were established in the late 40s. A new American LaFrance 800 series pumper was purchased in 1952 and cost $16,000. At it’s time, it was one of the finest pieces of fire apparatus in the country.
The Department’s ambulance and rescue service was introduced in 1957 after members received first aid training and purchased a Chevy panel truck. With some modifications, the truck was converted into an ambulance with patient transport capabilities.
During this period, the Department responded to numerous high-profile emergencies -- from refinery and hotel fires to flooding and tornadoes. One noteworthy call came in on Christmas Eve 1968 when Allegheny Airlines Flight 736 crashed on approach to Bradford Regional Airport. The Department was returning from a call at the time of dispatch and responded immediately with the ambulance. Clarendon firefighters were involved with the rescue and recovery of the plane's 47 passengers, 20 of which were killed. That would have been a once-in-a-lifetime kind of call, but less than two weeks later Clarendon was called to respond to a second plane crash in Bradford when Allegheny Airlines Flight 737 went down. 11 passengers on board were killed.
The 60’s and 70’s also saw the department grow into a fully-functioning 5-unit department. To handle the growth, a new station was built next to the old Clarendon School (now Borough Building) in 1973. With 5 bays, the Department finally had a home that would comfortably fit all its apparatus for years to come.
Falbriski retired from his position as chief in 1987 after 43 years, passing the torch of leadership to department veteran and assistant chief Robert Jones. Falbriski continued to serve as an active member until his passing in 2009 at age 94. In his 70 years of service, he answered over 14,500 calls.
Image 1: Chief Leonard Falbriski, Image 2: The Department at its centennial, 1982.
THE MODERN ERA
The Department continued to modernize during the early 90's. Aging pieces of equipment were replaced with modern units and historical apparatus, like Engine 1 and the 1935 Dodge, were given a semi-retired status.
The early 90's also found the Department battling a spree of senseless acts of arson that claimed several buildings including an apartment building on Main Street. One of the most serious of these fires occurred on December 3, 1993 when the Department was dispatched to a structure fire at Allegheny Valley Elementary School. When the Department arrived they found several rooms ablaze at different parts of the school, including classrooms, boiler room, and the library. Firefighters managed to contain the fires, but the school suffered severe damage.
During this modern era, new vehicles were acquired that had never been a part of the fleet. In 1999 a multi-purpose rescue vehicle was purchased, designated for carrying vehicle rescue tools, airbags, and a 200-gallon tank for small fires plus 20 gallons of foam. In 2001, a brush truck was acquired from the Forest Service to provide dedicated unit for wildfire operations and to get involved with a new county-wide wildfire "strike team" concept. In 2004, the Department bought a new 2,000-gallon tanker with a DHS grant plus public donations. This elevated the level of area fire protection by providing a large, mobile water supply for rural fires. It also meant that the Department now had a piece to add to the county's tanker task force. Besides the acquisition of new equipment, these steps toward county-wide collaboration truly define this modern era.
Jones served as chief until 2005. He kept the Department grounded in its traditions while integrating the modern age of firefighting. The Department saw the chief position turn over a few times since then; Pat Shaffer in 2005, Jay Christensen in 2007, and Terry Gregerson in 2011.
Veteran firefighter Andy Jones, son of former chief Bob Jones, took over as chief in 2014 after Gregerson stepped down.
This history of the Clarendon Fire Department is based on a booklet written by Leonard Falbriski for the 1982 Department Centennial. Facts written after 1982 are based on Department records and first-person accounts.