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Firefighting story is told at museum
Shenandoah honored to host site

To say Schuylkill's volunteer firefighting heritage is rich is an understatement.

For nearly two centuries, county volunteer firefighters have risked life and limb in all kinds of weather in the quest to preserve people's property and lives. In doing so, they've used all kinds of equipment, from hand-drawn hose pumpers to modern aerial ladder vehicles. And they've selflessly gone out in the middle of the night or perhaps even had to leave their job sites - action that's never easy - to respond to the alarm's wail.

Now the county's volunteer firefighting heritage - and the equipment used to build it - is being preserved at the Schuylkill Historical Fire Society Museum located in the old Columbia Hose & Steam Fire Company building at 105 S. Jardin St., Shenandoah.

Opened in July of 1998, the museum - once only a dream for people like society President Michael J. Kitsock - was formally dedicated Saturday before a crowd of more than 200 and regional representation via a parade of more than 100 modern and antique firefighting vehicles from some 70 regional companies. That the more than 125-year-old former Columbia building is a fitting site is borne out by the structure's history of service not only to the Columbia but also as a borough and police headquarters and jail - simultaneously until the borough and police facilities were relocated to Washington and Main streets in the '70s. And Shenandoah is a community that has already remembered firefighters through dedication of the old Columbia bell that was moved in the late '70s from a tower at the rear of the fire station to a prominent place at the entrance to the new borough hall in tribute to the volunteers. Speaking at the dedication, Kitsock noted that Schuylkill, with 119 fire stations, has the highest company to population ratio in the nation, and opening the museum "is our way of preserving the rich heritage of the county's fire departments."

Two antique pieces of equipment housed at the museum last August are from the Ryan Township Fire Company, Barnesville and the Defender Hose Company in Shenandoah's Turkey Run section. The former is a refurbished 1859 Studebaker water wagon, the oldest horse-drawn apparatus in the county. The latter, a 1910 American LaFrance chemical cart, had been in use for several decades in the early part of the century.

The museum for years to come will lure fire apparatus buffs to Shenandoah and has already participated in community events by holding open houses and displays in conjunction with them, most notably the first Shenandoah Heritage Day held in August by the Greater Shenandoah Area Historical Society. Those whose dream it was to preserve our firefighting equipment now have a base from which to do so and Shenandoah is all the richer for it.

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