A tragic fire that took the lives of five young men and destroyed four buildings at a cost of a quarter-million dollars led to the organization of the Waynesburg – Franklin Twp. Volunteer Fire Company.
The fire occurred early on the morning of December 23, 1925, as the town was looking forward to Christmas just two days later. The fact that the deaths of the five victims (trapped under a falling wall of one of the burned buildings) might have been prevented if a formally organized volunteer company had been in existence. This tragic fire led to the first meeting of the present Waynesburg – Franklin Twp. Volunteer Fire Company on March 4, 1926.
The fire which led to the organization of the company destroyed the three-story Downey House Hotel at the southwest corner of High and Washington Streets, the adjoining four-story Grossman Building and the adjoining one-story John T. Silveus Building. Embers from the inferno were blown by the wind a half block into the former First Presbyterian Church on Church Street across from the east side of the courthouse and it was also destroyed. The cupola of the courthouse just opposite the hotel was also destroyed, along with the wooden statue of General Nathaniel Greene for whom Greene County was named.
By May 20, 1926, a formal organization had been completed with Marshall D. Wood as the town’s first Fire Chief. In less than six months after the 1925 fire, the company had bought its first fire truck, the now revered 1925 American-LaFrance pumper of which they have taken such meticulous care that it is still in use today, along with other fine equipment purchased through the years.
The Fire Company operates out of two stations and has over 40 active members. The Waynesburg Station is located at 116 East Greene Street in Waynesburg Borough, was completed in 1963. In 1990, the Fire Company purchased the old Howards Grocery building across the street from Waynesburg station to provide more room for equipment and much needed parking for Waynesburg Station.
An important improvement in the service of the Waynesburg – Franklin Township Volunteer Fire Company was the construction of Franklin Station. As early as September 1981 the company unanimously endorsed the notion of creating a substation in Franklin Township. The need was obvious as housing developments grew, especially in the township east of the borough. The opening of Interstate 79 also sparked construction of many businesses at the Waynesburg Exit. Extension of water and sewage in the township contributed to the need.
In April 1987 when Fire Company representatives discussed with the Franklin Township its contribution to the Fire Company, the matter of a fire station in the township was broached. By October 1987 the Franklin Township Supervisors agreed to increase substantially their contribution to the Fire Company and said they would like to have a substation built on township property in the Rolling Meadows area. In addition, the township agreed to place on the next primary ballot the question of a four-mill fire protection levy. If adopted, it would result in three mills being contributed to the Fire Company and one mill being set aside for debt service and operating costs of the new station, which would be built by the Fire Company on land leased to the company for 99 years by the Township. The Fire Company agreed, and events moved swiftly.
On April 26, 1988, the voters in Franklin Township approved a four mill annual property levy for the 1989 and thereafter “for the purpose of making appropriations to the Waynesburg Volunteer Fire Department for fire protection, for the purchase and maintenance of fire apparatus, and providing a suitable place for the housing of fire equipment.” The yes votes were 596; the no votes were 447. In July the Fire Company was informed that the Township would lease land to the company. Ground was broken on the 40-foot by 60-foot Franklin Station on June 6, 1989. The station was dedicated to the Citizens of Franklin Township on October 14, 1989.
Today, the Waynesburg – Franklin Township Volunteer Fire Company protects the citizens of Waynesburg Borough, Franklin Township, Washington Township, and Whitely Township. The response area includes over 100 square miles, over 14,000 residents. The uniqueness of our response area provides many challenges for which the Fire Company must prepare for. Key Facilities protected by the Fire Company include the following: 15 miles of Interstate 79, Waynesburg University, Greene County Airport, Greene County Government, State Correctional Institution Greene, Washington Hospital Greene, Extensive Infrastructure for Natural Gas Industry. The Fire Company responds to over 300 calls per year on average.
With the financial assistance from all the municipalities and citizens that the Fire Company protects, the Fire Company has been able to procure a fleet of fire apparatus and equipment to perform the ever-changing needs of our community. The fleet includes three Fire Engines, an Aerial Tower, a Tanker, a Rescue, a Brush Truck, a Chief’s Mobile Command Unit, and two Utility Vehicles.
For more information on the Waynesburg – Franklin Township Volunteer Fire Company can be found at www.waynesburgfire.com on Twitter @waynesburgfire and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/waynesburgfire/