Note: History collected and written by 1st Asst. Ed Saliba. We are working on breaking this out into smaller sections–please pardon the long page.
The City of New Kensington is located in the northern tip of Westmorland County Pennsylvania, situated on the eastern banks of the Allegheny River 18 miles northeast of the City of Pittsburgh. New Kensington, like Pittsburgh, has a strong industrial heritage and that is what made it what it is still known to this day, “The Aluminium City”. New Kensington was the birthplace of the Aluminium Company of America (ALCOA). The very first plant of Alcoa was in New Kensington, as well as, the Wear-Ever cooking utensil division and the Alcoa Laboratories. Along with Alcoa, were the Sterling White Lead Co., General Electric Conduit Division, The Union Spring and Manufacturing Co., American Shim Steel, and many, small industrial based businesses. The downtown business district contained a 12 square block area that included clothing stores, banks, taverns, restaurants, hardware stores, night clubs and many confectionary stores. People came from as far as Pittsburgh to shop and enjoy themselves in “downtown” New Kensington. New Kensington was a city to shop, work, and enjoy as it grew from its incorporation in 1891. The city was often referred to as: ”Little Chicago”, due to it having been home to organized crime back in the day. In any giving day, there were as many as 20,000 people working in New Kensington, mostly at the Alcoa plant. The population of New Kensington in the 1960’s swelled to over 25,000 people, placing it as the largest city in Westmoreland County.
The New Kensington Bureau of Fire was the very first public organization formed in the city. This was brought about after the “Rhodes Fire” was extinguished by a bucket brigade in Ivy Alley in the downtown section on November 17, 1891. Three days later, on November 20, 1891, Citizens Volunteer Fire Company was founded and led by the first chief, Chief J.P Mulvihill. This was within the same year that Alcoa and the Borough of New Kensington were incorporated as well. A 1,000 pound bell was ordered and used to sound the alarm. This bell came from the Sharpsburg Fire Department. The first piece of apparatus was a used hose cart from the Kittanning Fire Department.
The Goodwill Hose Company No. 2 was organized on September 1, 1899 this fire station was located only a few blocks from Citizens Volunteer Fire Company No.1 in the 800 block of 4th Avenue. This company served until 1915 when it was disbanded. On July 22, 1904, Hilltop Hose Company No. 3 was organized in the “Hill District”. Their second fire station was the first building in New Kensington to be wired with electricity as it was under construction. The present No. 2 company was organized in 1899 as the Parnassus Volunteer Fire Company. This became New Kensington Engine Co. No. 2, as the Borough of Parnassus was annexed into New Kensington and the two boroughs became known as: The City of New Kensington in 1931. New Kensington continued to grow through annexation as two more districts became part of New Kensington. These two annexations, added two more fire companies to the city, as well. The East Kensington annexation brought East Kensington Volunteer Fire Department, organized in 1926 as Lower Burrell Township No. 1, as New Kensington Engine Co. No. 4. And the Valley Heights/ Valley Camp annexation brought Lower Burrell Volunteer Fire Department No. 2, also organized in 1926, in as New Kensington Engine Co. No. 5. The City of New Kensington now was 4 square miles had five districts and a work force over 20,000 people and a population of over 25,000.
The early 1900’s brought the addition of the Gamewell Fire Telegraph system to the city to alert the fire department. Also, the city employed 6 firefighters that were hired as paid drivers. They belonged to the International Association of Firefighters Local 2453. They were under the direction of the seventh fire chief, Edward J. Clawson. Chief Clawson was the longest serving fire chief in the 119 year history of the department. He served from 1922 until his retirement in 1960.
The Alcoa plant employed many of the volunteers. The boiler house at the plant had the gamewell system in the boiler room. When a box was struck in the city, the boilerman would blow out the box number using the steam whistle at the boilerhouse. The employees that were firefighters were excused from work to answer alarms, and were kept on the payroll. In 1933, a group of firefighters and workers at the Alcoa plant built the first of three fire trucks utilizing three Ford chassis, all with flathead V-8 engines. The bodies were made from aluminum fabricated at the Alcoa Plant. The first one was built in 1933, the second in 1935 and the third in 1937. The 1933 went to Engine No.5, the 1937 went to Engine No. 4 and the 1935 went to Company No. 1 as Emergency No. 1. Today, this truck is housed at Station No. 1 and is used at parades.
The city was set up in five districts, 1,2,3,4, and 5, as it still is to this day. District 1 is downtown, the mills and business district. District 2 is the former Borough of Parnassus, the “south side”. District 3 is the “Hill District”. District 4 is the former East Kensington section of old Lower Burrell Township, and District 5 is the Valley Heights/ Valley Camp section of old Lower Burrell Township, and newer business district of the city. Each company has an assistant chief, captain, first and second lieutenants.
The apparatus of the New Kensington Bureau of Fire, as it is known, was basically two different makes in the 60’s and 70’s. Mack and American LaFrance made up the majority of apparatus throughout the years. The city purchased two American LaFrance pieces of apparatus, a 1,000 gpm pumper and a 100’ aerial ladder truck in 1927 for Company No. 1. These, along with the 1935 Ford were the main pieces of equipment in the downtown district. The 1935 Ford, as it was known had a 350 gpm Barton American pump, with a 100 gallon water tank and a 150’ ¾” booster reel. It carried a 1000’ supply of 2 ½” hose. This truck carried Serial # BB-181409096 and V.I.N. # A4120424. This truck fought most of the fires in districts 1 & 3 well into the early 1960’s when it was placed into reserve status. The 27’s were replaced in 1960. The engine by a 900 series American LaFrance 1,000 gpm pumper with open cab, and 300 gallon tank it had serial # N-930 and V.I.N. # 13900015. The aerial was a 900 series open cab also. It had a 100’ midship ladder with a 250 gpm booster pump and a 150 gallon tank, and carried 212’ of ground ladders. It had serial # N-984 and V.I.N. # 14051217. Both trucks had a Continental “J” series gasoline engine and a 4 speed manual transmission. The engine served in front line until August of 1990 when it was sold to the neighboring fire company, Kinloch, Lower Burrell No. 1. It was painted chrome yellow. It is now collector owned in Worthington, PA. The ladder truck served until June of 1998. It was sold to a collector in the Washington D.C. area.
Engine Company No. 2 had a 1927 Ahrens – Fox pumper as its first motorized piece that served until 1954. When replaced, this engine was for sale. It was unable to be sold and was later scrapped. The value was not as much as the city paid to put tires on it a year earlier. This engine was replaced by a 1954 Federal that was on a General chassis. It had a 750 gpm pump and a 300 gallon booster tank. It carried serial # 159726 and V.I.N. # 10905252 and was purchased through the Civil Defense System. This engine had served until 1979. It was sold to Swank Construction, a bridge construction company located in the City of New Kensington. The General, as it was known as, was replaced by a 1979 Hamerly on an International Cargostar chassis. This engine carries serial # D1045JCA15157. This engine had a 1,000 gpm Waterous two stage pump and a 500 gallon booster tank, and a 50 gallon foam tank with AFFF foam, and is powered by a 3208 Caterpillar diesel engine and a 5 speed Fuller Transmission. This engine was replaced in 2001 by a 1970 Mack CF-600 that served Lower Burrell No. 3. This Mack was refurbed by 4-Guys in 1988 that included a new stainless steel fire body and 750 gallon booster tank. This engine has Mack serial # CF-685-F(10)-1209. It served until September 11, 2008 when it was replaced by a 2008 Pierce Impel that was purchased through the AFG program through the Department of Homeland Security. The Mack was sold to a collector in the Harrisburg area in April of 2010.
Engine Company No. 3, Hilltop Hose, first used the pull cart that No. 1 used. Their first piece of motorized equipment was a 1918 American LaFrance pumper with a 1,000 gpm pump and a 100 gallon booster tank. This engine was refurbished in 1931 by American LaFrance. Part of the refurbishment included the addition of new rims and pneumatic tires. This engine served Engine 3 until 1949. The city purchased a 1949 Mack L-95 1,000 gpm pump with a 150 gallon booster tank. It carries Mack serial # 95LS1186. This engine served frontline until September of 1970 when it was replaced and put into reserve status. It fought its last fire on August 7, 1996 and served in reserve status until March of 2002.
Engine Company No. 4 used the 1937 Ford engine, built at the Alcoa plant until 1956 when the city purchased an American LaFrance 750 gpm two stage twinflow pump with a 300 gallon booster tank on a Ford F-650 chassis. This engine served until 1986 when it was sold at a city auction. It carried serial # F75J6H52765 and V.I.N. # A11885675. The fire pump and body were removed and a dump body installed by a local shop.
Engine Company No. 5 had the 1933 Ford that was fabricated at the Alcoa plant. It too was replaced in 1956 by an American LaFrance on a Ford F-650 that had a 750 gpm twinflow pump and a 300 gallon tank and was replaced in 1986 with a twin to Engine No. 4. It carried serial # F75J6H52766 and V.I.N. # A11885676. It too was sold at a city auction upon the arrival of a new engine by the same shop as old Engine 4.
Today, the New Kensington Bureau of Fire operates from five stations utilizing six engines, one aerial ladder truck, two heavy rescues, one light and air truck, one service truck and five squads from five fire stations manned by 115 firefighters under the direction of Fire Chief J. Edward Saliba, the second longest serving chief of the bureau. Chief Saliba has been on the job for 62 years, serving the last 32 as chief of the department. Also, the Bureau operates an ALS ambulance service that has three ALS ambulances. A 2009 Ford E-450 Lifeline, a 2008 Ford E-450 Lifeline, and a 2003 Ford E-350 Medtec. Also on the roster is a Ford E-250 wheelchair van. The Ambulance Corps., as it is known, answers an average of 3,000 medic calls per year.
Currently, the bureau operates out of 5 stations, strategically located in the city’s 5 fire districts. Engine – Truck Co. No. 1 operates out of the downtown fire station, headquarters of the department, with two engines, an aerial ladder truck, light and air truck, and a squad. Engine No.1 is a 1990 Spartan Diamond / 4-Guys 1,250 gpm Hale single stage pump with a 500 gallon booster tank. Engine 1 is powered by an 8.3 liter 6CTA Cummins diesel engine and an Allison MT643 automatic transmission. Engine 1 carries Spartan serial # 4S7PT900LC002856. Engine No.1 has 6, 1.75” attack lines totaling 1,200’, 2, 150’ attack lines of 2.5” with smooth bore nozzles, 1,200’ of 5” supply line and 400’ of 3” line. Truck No. 1 is a 1998 Smeal 105’ heavy duty rear mount aerial ladder truck mounted on a Spartan Gladiator low-profile chassis. Truck 1 is powered by a Cummins M-11 Plus 450 H.P. diesel engine and an Allison 4000 5 speed automatic transmission. It has an 8,000 watt diesel generator and carries 500’ of 5” supply line and 300’ of 3” hose, as well as three chain saws and a rotary saw. Truck 1 also carries two PPV’s and one smoke ejector, rope, 5 breathing apparatus, two high rise hose packs, and numerous other truck company tools. It carries serial # 4S7JW2395WC021019. Air 1 is the departments’ light and air truck. It is a 1989 Ford F-800 with a 4-Guys rescue style body. It is the second rescue style truck that 4-Guys manufactured. It is powered by a Ford diesel engine and a 5-speed manual transmission with a two speed rear end. Air No. 1 has a 6 bottle 6000psi D.O.T. air cascade system with a two bottle explosion proof fragment containment system. Air 1 also has a 12,000 watt Onan diesel generator that supplies a 25’ 6,000 watt light tower, and (2) 250’ cord reels. Air 1 carries 45, 30 minute medium pressure air cylinders and is dispatched on all working structure assignments in the city and also the surrounding communities. It carries V.I.N. # 1FDXX84A1KVA92772. Squad 1, a 1985 Chevrolet Surburban, that formerly served as Squad 5. The Hamerly served as the department reserve engine, operated as the second engine out of No. 1. It was sold to Wexcon Construction in Reading in September of 2010. The 1935 Ford is also housed at Station No.1 as well.
Engine Company No. 2 is still located in the Parnassus section of the city, the south side of the city. This station houses four pieces of equipment. Engine 2 is a 2008 Pierce Impel purchased through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program. This engine was delivered on September 11th 2008. Ironically, the Mack that was replaced by this engine, was replaced by a Pierce on the same date, seven years earlier at Lower Burrell No. 3 by a Pierce Dash on September 11, 2001. This is the first Impel in Western Pennsylvania. It has a 1,500 gpm Hale single stage pump, a 750 gallon booster tank with a 40 gallon intregal class A foam tank. It has a Hale Foam Pro system and carries (2) 1.75” and one 2.5” preconnects over the pump, a 100’ bumper trash line, 1,000’ of 5” supply line, 1,000’ of 3” supply line, and (2) rear 2.5” discharges. Engine 2 has a 400 h.p. Cummins engine, and an Allison 3000 automatic transmission. Also housed at Station 2 is Rescue 2, a 1986 Hendrickson 1871 that was formerly a rescue in Deptford New Jersey. Rescue 2 carries serial # 1871-W42, it has a Detroit Diesel 6V-92TA and an Allison automatic HT-740-D. Rescue 2 has a full compliment of the Amkus Rescue tools, air bags, and air struts. It responds on all rescues in the city. Also housed at Station 2 are Squad 2, a 1999 Ford Excursion and the department service truck, a 1988 Ford F-150.
Engine Company No. 3 was chartered as Hilltop Hose Fire Company No. 3 in 1904. Station 3 is located in the hill section of the city and is in its third home in 104 years. The former house was constructed in 1911 and had a bell tower with a four sided active clock and a 1,100 pound bronze bell that rang the time on the hour. This clock and bell were active until 1994 when the new station was placed into service across the street. Housed at Station 3 is a 1970 Mack CF-600 open cab engine. This engine was placed in service in November of 1970. It carries Mack serial # CF 685F-10-1166. It has a 1000 gpm Waterous 2 stage pump with a 500 gallon booster tank. It has twin 1” booster reels and twin 1.75” reels with 200’ of 1.75” attack line on each reel. Engine 3 also has a 200’ 2.5” attack line and carries 1,000’ of 5” supply line and 1,000’ of 3” line. Engine 3 was refurbished in 1991 by New Lexington which included a new fire body and booster tank. This was the first refurbishment by New Lexington. Engine 3 was 1 out of 12 open-cab CF’s that Mack constructed from 1967 until 1974. The last CF open cab was constructed in 1974 and went in service in Connellsville, PA. Engine 3 is the only open-cab CF still in front line service. Engine 3 is powered by a Mack Maxidyne diesel engine and a 5-speed Mack Maxitorque transmission. Also housed at Station 3 is Squad 3, a 1999 Chevrolet Surburban. Engine 3 will be replaced in the near future through a grant through the AFG program from the Department of Homeland Security. The new engine will be on a Spartan Gladiator chassis and built by 4-Guys. The new engine will have a 2,000 gpm 2-stage pump, 500 gwt. And have 4, 1.75” & (1) 2.5” preconnect over the pump, a 100’ 1.75” trash line on the front bumper, and a 2.5”, (2) 1.75” and a blitzfire monitor off of the rear, plus 1,100’ of 5” and 1,000’ of 3” supply line.
Engine – Rescue Company No. 4 was chartered in 1926 as the East Kensington Volunteer Fire Company and is located in the eastern end of the city. Currently, it houses 3 pieces of equipment. Engine 4 is a 1986 FMC on a Kenworth chassis with an Omega aluminum body. It has an L-10 Cummins diesel engine and a 5 speed Fuller transmission. It has a 2 stage Hale 1,250 gpm pump and a 750 gallon tank. Engine 4 carries serial # 3NMLH58X2GF702259. It has (3) 1.75” attack lines totaling 500’, and 200’ of 1.5”. There is a 150’ 2.5 “attack line, and 2,000’ of 3” supply line carried in a split bed. Rescue 4 is a 1989 Spartan Darley that is a rescue pumper that formerly served as Engine 304 in Roberts Park Fire Protection District in Illinois. It was purchased by Station 4 in November 2008. Rescue 4 carries a complete Holmatro rescue tool system, has air bags, cribbing, scene lights, front winch. Also on Rescue 4, is a 1,250 gpm Darley pump and a 500 gallon booster tank. Rescue 4 is dispatched on all vehicle accidents in the city and also responds into many of the surrounding communities on mutual aid. Also housed at Station 4 is Squad 4, a 2000 Ford F-350 pick-up truck that carries additional rescue equipment.
Engine Company No. 5 is located on the northern end of the city and protects the main business district and many upscale residential developments. Engine 5 is a twin to Engine 4, a FMC on a Kenworth chassis with an Omega aluminum body, and carries serial # 3NMLH58X0GG702258. Engine 5 also has a 1,250 gpm Hale two stage pump, 750 gallon booster tank and carries (4) 1.75” attack lines totaling 900’, two, 200’ lengths, 1, 100’ length as the bumper trash line, and a rear 400’ length, a 150’ rear mounted 2.5” and a 100’ rear mounted 3”line supplying a water thief. There is 2,200’ of 4” supply line carried. Engine 5 has the same engine and transmission as Engine 4. Also housed at Station 5 is Service 5, a 1985 JB Rescue box mounted on a Chevy C-85 chassis. This truck served the Slippery Rock Volunteer Fire Department until 1989 when it was replaced. It carries V.I.N. GBM7D1E6FV209323. Station 5 bought this truck to carry additional equipment, oil-dry, saws, fans and spare air cylinders, as well as high angle rescue rope, and a 7,500 watt Onan generator. Service 5 also has a 10,000 pound front bumper mounted winch. Squad 5 is a 2000 Ford Excursion.
The bureau answers on average of 500 plus fire calls per year, nearly 5% of these are mutual aid runs involving the truck, the rescues and mostly engines No. 3 & 5.