There are two important dates in the history of the Alert Fire Co. No. 1. The first date is when twelve gentlemen of Downingtown gathered together and formed the fire company on August 18, 1887. And, the second important date is October 13, 1887. On this day, 127 years ago, the request for a Charter and Corporation was approved by the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County.
The current officers and members of Alert No. 1 would like to congratulate and say thank you, to those public-minded men who took a bold chance of starting a new organization with absolutely no money and very little support from the community, until a few fires occurred in those early days.
We would like to thank all of our current members, past members and supporters of Alert for making this a truly great 100% volunteer organization for the past 127 continuous years. And, true our company motto “The Danger of our Citizens Prompts us to Action” we hope that we can continue to serve our neighbors of Downingtown Borough and East Caln Township for many more years to come.
Below, is a snip-it from the History of the Alert Fire Co. No. 1:
Twelve public minded men gathered at the offices of the Downingtown Review, a weekly newspaper, on Thursday, August 18, 1887 to discuss the urgent need for organized fire protection in the Borough of Downingtown. At that meeting, the dozen organizers decided to begin, what would be the ninth oldest fire company in ChesterCounty, and agreed to name the new organization the Alert Fire Company No. 1 of Downingtown.
Prior to the existence of the company, each property owner was responsible for his own protection. While various construction techniques afforded some protection from fire, most homes and businesses were likely to sustain significant damage from small fires. With no organized fire protection, a small fire could venture beyond a single property, consuming large sections of a town.
The first members of the Alert Fire Company organized quickly and efficiently. Robert McGraw, who with eleven other citizens was organizing the Brandywine Savings and Loan Association, was elected the first President of the company. E. Vinton Phillips, operator of the Viaduct Roller Flour Mills, was elected Vice President. The other inaugural officers of the company were as follows: Ed M. McCaughy, Secretary; W. Howard Buckwalter, Assistant Secretary; James Leighton Guest, Treasurer; John Stout (three years), W. Howard Buckwalter (two years) and F. Fillmore Lewis (one year), Trustees. In addition to the above officers, the remaining charter members of the company that were also at the first meeting in August, were Ezra Brown, Walter H. Gracie (Editor of the Review), John H. Lillie and Frank McGorkle. In September, Mr. Stout was elected first Fire Marshal, or Fire Chief.
Without funds or members, the twelve men began to build the company. Initial attempts to attract members were discouraging, with many citizens arguing that since their properties were insured, a fire company was not needed. Wearing red flannel shirts with the letter “A” sewn on the front, the men of the Alert Fire Company attempted their first fair during September of 1887. With the company turning out in parade every evening of the fair, the public slowly began to support the efforts of the group.
The proceeds of the fair and funds gathered from the annual dues, $1 per member, enabled the fledgling company to purchase their first hook and ladder truck. The Rumsey and Company, of Seneca Falls, NY, hand drawn truck arrived on Monday, December 19, 1887 and the next night, the company responded to its first fire. The Alert Fire Company saved the molding room of the Downingtown Stove Works by carrying buckets of water from the Park Run to the fire. No men from east of the Brandywine Creek had volunteered for the company until the fire occurred, but three members from the East Ward were soon elected.
During this time of starting out, the small company was given permission to hold their meetings in the Excelsior Paint building on West Lancaster Ave., adjoining the public high school, near Viaduct Ave. The hook and ladder truck was also kept in a small shed near the property. As the membership started to grow out of room in the Excelsior building, on April 01, 1889 the company moved their meeting place to the spacious G.A.R. rooms in the Masonic Hall on the corner of Stuart and West Lancaster Avenues.
On September 13, 1887 the officers and members petitioned the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County for a Charter and a Certificate of Corporation. Therefore, on October 13, 1887 President Judge J. Smith Futhey approved the request for the Charter and Corporation as the Alert Fire Company No. 1 of Downingtown. The following persons were named as the membership of the new corporation: President McGraw, Vice President Phillips, Secretary McCaughey, Treasurer Guest, Trustees Stout, Buckwalter and Lewis. Members: Ezra Brown, Samuel P. Brown, Mr. Gracie, Mr. Lillie, Mr. McGorkle, John Stitelery and J. B. Stringfellow.