The Summerhill Borough Volunteer Fire Company #1 was chartered May 19, 1952. Inaugural officers included President Arthur Apple, Vice President George Bodenschatz, Second Vice President Felix Bopp, Secretary Cecil Bopp, and Treasurer Clement Bodenschatz.
The original members saw a need to raise money to build a station and to purchase equipment and supplies for fire protection. In August 1952, the members started monthly 50-50 ticket sales as a fundraiser.
In 1953, the company purchased a lot from Alex Betz for $600 which would be the site of the first Summerhill Borough fire station in 1956. The building still stands today as the Summerhill Borough Municipal Building.
The department held its first major fundraiser in 1955 when it chanced off a 1955 Plymouth station wagon. Ticket sales brought in $3,475, a profit of $480.
In 1958, after several years of planning, the fire company finally received its first pieces of firefighting equipment, a 1924 American LaFrance pumper from the Wilmore Fire Department, for $350. In addition to the pumper, the Brownstown Fire Department donated a Buick ambulance to the department to be used as a squad truck. Shortly after this, Summerhill Borough became an active fire department.
Before Summerhill had its own fire department, fire protection was provided by the South Fork Volunteer Fire Company at no charge to the residents of Summerhill. In March of 1958, the South Fork Fire Company, who also provided fire protection to South Fork Borough and parts of Croyle Township, realized the South Fork taxpayers were assuming too great of a burden in order to service all three of these municipalities. Thus, a new plan was devised for a better method of underwriting operational costs.
The plan was based on the assessed valuation of properties at 1.5 mills. Summerhill Borough agreed to pay about $500 per year for fire protection. This agreement lasted only one year. In March of 1959, the Summerhill Fire Department notified South Fork Borough council that they would handle their own fire protection and respond to any and all emergencies in Summerhill Borough. In that same year, the department joined the Cambria County Volunteer Firemen’s Association.
Over the next few years, the department grew and many changes occurred. Seeing the need for improvements, the department made various equipment purchases. In 1961, the department purchased a 1946 Chevrolet pumper from Paul W. Miller for $4,000. A used siren, a new portable pump, and boots and helmets (which were the closest things to turnout gear then) were all purchased in 1963. Soon thereafter, the department bought a 1952 squad truck from Portage Volunteer Fire Company for $350 to carry personnel and equipment to scenes in a safe manner.
Because the department had better vehicles and equipment, the members decided that the station needed attention. The department paid $1,700 to renovate the station in 1965 and held an open house in October of that year to show the community the improvements that were made.
Due to the increase of rural fire calls and a poor water system in the borough, the department decided in 1966 to purchase a 1,000-gallon Chevrolet tanker from Wilfred Kibler for $550.
Charles Huber relieved Jay Bimle as president in January 1968.
In September 1971, the department purchased their first self-contained breathing apparatus. They were made by Survive-Air, and cost the company $352 each. These SCBA allowed the personnel to enter burning buildings and attack the fire from within for extended periods of time, replacing previously-used gas masks.
The first milestone for the department came in 1972 when the members agreed to purchase their first new fire engine from Paul Miller Fire Equipment. The cab and chassis was purchased from E.L. Jones Dodge of Summerhill for $6,885. The chassis was shipped to Tipton, Indiana, where the John Bean division of the FMC Company manufactured the body at a cost of $18,742. The engine was put into service in January 1973.
The Croyle Township Supervisors awarded the department with a contract in April 1973 to provide fire protection to all of Croyle Township north of Route 53 for $350 per year. This area includes New Germany, Rose Hill, Pringle Hill, and Swigle Mountain Road. The department continues to provide fire protection to these areas today.
Another change was brought to the department in 1974. Due to the increasing decline of memberships, the department allowed 16-and-17-year-olds to become junior firefighters. In that same year, the department purchased two additional SCBAs for $620 each, bringing the total SCBAs to four.
The company purchased its first radio equipment in 1975. This equipment included a base station from the Westwood Fire Company and three mobile radios from the Dale Fire Company. In that same year, the department purchased a new Chevrolet Suburban for $5,946, which lead to the sale of the 1952 squad truck to the Wilmore Fire Department for $250. The 1975 Suburban served as our rescue truck for 17 years until it was replaced in 1992 by a 1980 GMC/SWAB rescue. It lasted for another six years as our squad truck until finally being sold to a private owner.
In February 1976, the company purchased 1000 feet of 4-inch hose, one of the first departments in the county to move to large-diameter hose. This decision was made due to the increasing building construction in our coverage area and it also brought down insurance costs to the residents.
After months of planning, in an effort to reduce costs through group purchasing and to reduce the duplication of equipment in the area, the Forest Hills Fire Association was formed in December 1976. The Association members were Dunlo, South Fork, St. Michael, Summerhill Borough, Summerhill Township (Beaverdale), and Wilmore.
Major flooding occurred on July 20, 1977, in parts of Cambria County, including Summerhill Borough. At the height of the storm, a pickup truck was washed downstream by the raging flood currents after a bridge washed out. Tom Bodenschatz, without due regard for his own personal safety, rescued the sole occupant of the truck. For his unselfish act, Tom was awarded the only honorary life membership for action from the department. The borough did suffer the loss of one life as a result of the flood.
In September 1977, a truck committee was formed to look at and plan for the future purchase of a fire engine. The company didn’t want, or need, to rush into this project, so the committee carefully looked at numerous types of engines from various companies and dealers. In September 1979, the company agreed to purchase a 1980 American LaFrance from William Sprowls at a cost of $89,000.
To help defray the cost of the engine, a monthly sub sale was started in August 1979. This sale is still a valuable fundraiser today and continues to be held on the second Saturday of every month.
The Sector 8 Air Association was formed to purchase a “regional” air compressor in May 1980. Summerhill Borough, along with Beaverdale, Dunlo, St. Michael, South Fork, and Wilmore Fire Departments formed the association. In later years, the association went on to buy a 6-bottle cascade for the system and, more recently, upgraded to a high-pressure system.
Also in 1980, Treasurer Paul Bimle resigned after 29 years of service. Larry Wilburn took over this office and still holds it today.
Looking to the future, the department purchased the land adjacent to the fire station in July 1983. This purchase allowed for the planning of a new, larger fire station.
In 1984, Summerhill was elected to host the 1986 Cambria County Firemen’s Convention and Charles Huber was elected as Second Vice-President of the association.
From July 26 - Aug. 3, 1986, Summerhill hosted the 65th Annual Convention of the Volunteer Firemen’s Association of Cambria County and Vicinity. During the convention, the department appointed new honorary life members. They were Paul Bimle, Ed Bodenschatz, Jack Bodenschatz, Charles Huber, Ed Huber, Vince Kitchick, and Jack Wilburn.
In March 1987, the department purchased the first hydraulic rescue system in the Forest Hills area when an AMKUS system was purchased from Kaza Fire Equipment. Prior to this tool being put into service, the area departments had to rely either on the Portage or Dauntless Fire Companies for a hydraulic tool.
With a new-found interest in fire fighting once again on the rise in the Forest Hills area, our department, in conjunction with Harrisburg Area Community College and the Cambria County Department of Emergency Services, sponsored an Essentials of Fire Fighting class. Over 25 students participated in this course, with four from our department.
A ribbon cutting ceremony was held on May 1, 1994, to open the new fire station. Guests included Cambria County Commissioner Kathy Holtzman and State Representative Ed Haluska. Cub Scout Pack 53 raised the flag at the station for the first time. The cost of construction was nearly $350,000.
The Cambria County Firemen’s Convention came back to Summerhill in 1999 when the borough hosted the 78th annual event.
Also in 1999, with age again creeping up on our apparatus, another truck committee was formed to start looking into replacing our rescue with a new vehicle. The committee looked at several models and styles, and decided HME would best serve our needs. Bids were sent out for construction. The contract was given to 4-Guys, Inc. of Meyersdale for $250,000. In January 2001, we took delivery of a 16 ft, non walk-in rescue built on an HME 1250 SFO chassis.
2002 marked the 50th anniversary of the Summerhill Boro Fire Department. A dinner was held at the Imperial Room in Ebensburg to commemorate the event. All members, both past and present, along with members of the community who routinely help with our events were invited. Guest speakers were Charles Moyer, the Mayor of Ebensburg Boro, and Representative Gary Haluska from Patton. The women’s auxiliary, who has always worked hard to support the fire department, presented us with a gift that we had been working for… a thermal imaging camera. New honorary life members were also presented at the dinner. They were Linda Bodenschatz, Ron Parks and Larry Penatzer.
The morning of Monday, February 9, 2004, brought tragedy to the department with the death of Charles Huber. Charlie was starting his 36th year as president of the department and died in the Summerhill home he grew up in. Greg Madison was elected president – only the fourth president in the department’s 52-year history.
New leadership came to the department in January 2005 when Dan Penatzer was elected our fifth president. Greg Madison was retained as the vice president.
The Assistance to Firefighters Federal Grant Program awarded the department a grant for $251,750 in August 2005. In late September, the truck committee started plans to replace the 1973 Dodge John Bean pumper.
Tragedy struck the department again on October 23, 2005, when former assistant chief and life member Robert “Newt” Gallardy was injured in a training class at the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy in Lewistown. Bob was an instructor in a live burn session when, for an unknown reason, he failed to exit the building. Students found him unconscious on the basement floor. Bob suffered third-degree burns over most of his body and died two days later from his injuries. Bob was a volunteer firefighter with our department from 1975 until 1996 when he was hired by the Altoona City Fire Department, where he had been recently promoted to captain. Bob leaves behind his wife Vicki and sons Drew, Kyle and Derrek.
After advertising for bids in August 2006, our department entered into an agreement with Nollie W. Neill Jr of Ennice, NC, to sell him the 1973 Dodge pumper for $5,000. Neill is a collector of Dodge fire trucks, and plans to refurbish it and take it to fire truck shows. Bright-and-early on the morning of Oct. 9, Neill arrived at the station to do the paperwork and drive the Dodge back to North Carolina. By 7:00 PM that evening the 73 Dodge Pumper was in Hillsville Virginia for a Fire Prevention Parade, the first of 3 Fire Prevention parades, it did that first week with it’s new owner.
Our department took delivery of a 2006 HME engine on Oct. 13, 2006. The engine has an eight-man cab, 750-gallon tank, and 2000 gpm pump. The engine was placed into service in mid-November in a limited capacity until all its equipment could be purchased and installed.
The Assistance to Firefighters Federal Grant Program awarded our department another grant in November 2006, this time for $50,799. This money was put toward equipment for the new engine and updating equipment on the 1980 American LaFrance.
In October 2007, through a cooperative effort of Croyle Township, Summerhill Township, New Germany Wood Products and Pat Dumm, a dry hydrant was installed in Dumm’s pond located next to New Germany Wood Products, thus greatly increasing fire protection in New Germany. An access road was created from the business’s parking lot.
Also during October 2007, we received a FEMA grant for $89,915. In an effort to complement our existing hydraulic rescue tools, the department purchased a Genesis C-165 cutter for $5,400 from Howell Rescue Systems and an AMKUS 24-inch spreader. We also replaced the arms on our current AMKUS spreader, purchased removable and extended reach tips, and quick chain adjusters. Also purchased were 20 new sets of turnout gear, 29 pairs of gloves, two sets of auto cribbing, accountability tags, 14 flashlights, eight SCBA with spare bottles, and traffic control equipment.
After several months of planning, the department ordered a 2008 Ford F-350 pickup truck from Day Chevrolet in Monroeville in December 2007. Keith’s Truck Service in Hollidaysburg then built the body for what would become Utility 864.
Charter member Edward “A” Bodenschatz passed away on April 3, 2008, at Lauralwood Care Center. “A” was a past fire chief, serving in 1972.
Utility 864 was placed into service on July 30, 2008. That weekend, it won “Best Appearing Utility/Support Vehicle” at the Cambria County Firemen’s Convention Parade in Clymer.
In January 2022, Chief Bob Burkett retired after serving 50 years in the company and 19 years as chief. Bob joined our department in 1972. Through the years, his experience and knowledge in just about every area has been a tremendous asset to the department. He moved up through the ranks, holding each of the line officer positions at one time or another, and holding the fire chief's office for his last 19 years. In 2022, he resigned as chief and retired from the fire department. He was presented a carved wooden fire chief's badge in recognition of his 50 years of service.
The Summerhill Borough Volunteer Fire Department looks forward to the future growth and development of the area. Our department has set goals in which to increase training of its members, to modernize all equipment, and to expand the education of the public in the area of fire prevention.