Hydrant Threads Spawned Fire Association

SHIPPENSBURG -- Firefighters and officials almost 112 years ago knew something had to change when a problem with a fire hydrant connection prevented them from quickly tackling a factory fire that burned 13 houses

Fire broke out the evening of Aug. 3, 1901, in the paint room of the Boher Furniture Factory in downtown Shippensburg. Help was requested from fire companies in Chambersburg, with fire companies in towns along the Cumberland Valley Rail Road then loading their equipment onto rail cars for transport to other towns in need of assistance.

However, on that night, firefighters from Cumberland Valley Hose Co. No. 5 in Chambersburg realized there was a problem. They were unable to hook their steam engine to the fire hydrants in Shippensburg because the connection threads did not match those on the hydrants. Instead, the firefighters had to go to King Street and draft water from Branch Creek.

In total, 13 houses burned that night, causing a then-estimated loss of $150,000, which would have been the equivalent damage of $4.2 million today.

It was not the first time the house coupling and hydrant connection could not be made along Cumberland Valley Rail Road towns and not the first fire loss exacerbated by the problem. Officials, however, were intent on making sure it was the last time for both.

At the bidding of Gen. Joseph Boyd, superintendent of the Cumberland Valley Rail Road leaders and fire officials from towns along the railroad from Harrisburg to Winchester, Va., adopted a standard for coupling threads within a month of the Boher fire.

The effort also resulted in the establishment of the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firemen's Association, which included fire companies from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. Companies from Delaware began joining in the 1980s, and New York and New Jersey are involved, though not officially a part of the five-state association.

Policies and convention

Since the first decision to make the hydrant connections identical along the Cumberland Valley Rail Road, the association has worked to continually improve fire service safety, said association past president Charles Myers, who is only one of three men from Shippensburg who have ever served as president of the association.

"It does a lot for legislation for fire services," he said. "It also does a lot for safety on the highway for emergency personnel."

Myers said some of the legislation that has come out of the association include the mandate that fire police wear reflective vests and the move-over law, where motorists must move to another lane if they can to give room for police and other emergency vehicles.

More policies may be shared this weekend as Shippensburg hosts the 112th convention of the Cumberland Valley Firemen's Association. The convention will be from Wednesday, July 31, to Saturday, Aug. 3, at Vigilant's new station in the Shippensburg Emergency Services Building on Walnut Bottom Road.

During the convention, association members will attend training sessions, business meetings and a dinner at which officers will be installed for the coming year.

The public is invited to the association's memorial service at 11 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 1, at Memorial Lutheran Church, 34 E. Orange St.

The convention's highlight is the parade of more than 40 fire companies, and that will take place at noon Saturday, Aug. 3, starting at the intersection of King and Fayette streets and proceeding north on King Street to the intersection with Prince Street. The reviewing stand will be at Vigilant's former station at King and Prince streets. Post-parade award ceremonies will be at Shippensburg Township Park on Britton Road.

Portions of North Fayette Street (from Burd Street to Roxbury Road) and North Seneca Street (from Springhouse Road to West Fort Street), and all of Springhouse Road, will be closed Aug. 3 for the parade formation. West Burd Street will be closed in the area of McCune Lumber Co. when the parade moves at noon.

Parade registration and judging will be in the former Kmart parking lot on Walnut Bottom Road. Registration will begin at 8:30 a.m.; judging, by Shamrock Judges, will run from 9 to 11 a.m.

Sentinel City Editor Naomi Creason contributed to this report.

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