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May 21, 2018

A History of the Union Fire Company

1789 – 2013

By Randy Watts


The Union Fire Company was formally organized on April 6, 1789.  The move to form the fire company had started after a devastating fire that destroyed several houses in the area of what is now 9 North Hanover Street.  The company copied by-laws widely used by other fire companies of the era that can be traced to the Union Fire Company of Philadelphia formed in 1736.


An often published sketch of an early fire house.


They ordered a hand engine from Philadelphia and built a shed to house it on the square near the present Civil War Soldiers monument.  The company became inactive by 1807 and languished until it was re-organized in 1819.  In 1821 the Union Fire Company and the Cumberland Fire Company (1809) built a two story Town Hall.  The apparatus was housed on the first floor and each company occupied half to the space.  This building and the adjoining Court House were destroyed by an arson fire in March 1845.  Three of the four hand engines and both hose carriages were destroyed. 


The Court House (left) and Town Hall ca. 1840.


The town’s citizens quickly raised money to replace the lost engines and to help the fire companies rebuild.  The Union built a one story frame building on West Louther Street.  The town bought them a new Agnew engine and a hose carriage.  In 1859 the Union built a new two story brick fire house on this lot (34 West Louther Street) and remained there until 1889.

The Union’s 1859 station and company band ca. 1885.


The Union supplied many soldiers to the Union Army and several members died in service to their country in the Civil War.  William E. Miller, a winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions at Gettysburg, was a long time member and leader of the company after the war.


The Union celebrated its Centennial in a big way in 1889.  They purchased one of the finest hose carriages in Pennsylvania, built the station still in service at 35 West Louther Street and hosted that year’s State Fireman’s Convention.


The meeting room in the 1888 station.


The Union purchased their first steamer in 1870.  It was replaced in 1896 by another Silsby which is now owned and preserved by the Easton Maryland Fire Company.  The steamers, which weighed as much as 6,000 pounds, were hand pulled until 1910 when the town supplied the Union with horses. 



The horses proved very expensive to feed and maintain and were replaced by a motorized engine in August 1913, the first in the Cumberland Valley.  In fact the engine was not even placed in service when it was called to Newville to assist at a conflagration there.



The 1913 American LaFrance.


The first soldier from Cumberland County to die in European combat during World War I was Orlando Newcomer, an active member of the Union.


In 1931 the Union organized its Rural Service to provide contracted fire protection in the townships around Carlisle after the borough refused to let their engines respond out of town.  Originally the purchased an engine from the Prospect Manufacturing Company of Ohio but this engine proved to be too small and was replaced by a Hahn engine in 1935.  This engine is now preserved at the Pennsylvania National Fire Museum in Harrisburg.

The 1931 Prospect Rural Engine.


The Union’s first Line of Duty Death came in 1938 when Chief James Dysert died as a result of injuries he sustained at an earlier call.


Scores of Union members served in World War II and two died while in service to their country.


The Union’s Rural Service was modernized in 1954 with the purchase of their first tanker and again in 1955 with the purchase of a new Ward LaFrance engine.   Since then the company has continued to update and expand the services they offer to the town and surrounding areas.  In 1977 a three bay addition was built to the west of the 1888 station.  This was extensively remodeled in 2010.


The company’s first tanker added in 1954.


The company’s second Line of Duty Death occurred in August 1969.  Vincent A. Mahoney, Jr. was killed in an accident while responding to a fire in Middlesex Township.


The Union Rural in the 1970s.


The company is preparing to celebrate the 225th anniversary of its founding.  A complete history of the company can be found in the book To the Rescue – Carlisle’s Union Fire Company 1789 to 2013.  The book can be ordered on the company web site or picked up at the station.