History of the
North Wales Volunteer Fire Company
The North Penn Volunteer Fire Company was founded in 1888 as "North Wales Hose Company No. 1". Since the beginning in 1888 the fire company has been comprised of volunteer firefighters. These volunteer firefighters respond day and night to emergencies in North Wales Borough, Lower Gwynedd Township, and surrounding communities.
1888– In a town council meeting on September 7, 1888, town committees were approved to purchase necessary equipment to start up the fire company, and to begin building the first firehouse in North Wales
1889– Sylvester Bright. a North Wales carriage designer and builder constructed 1 hand drawn hose carriage. Cost of $54.50
1891– A second hose carriage was purchased by the company at a cost of $225.00
1910– Company purchases new horse drawn chemical wagon, builder unknown
1913– Purchased Buick for a hose cart
1914– Purchased Nash chemical engine
1920– Purchased 500 GPM Loco mobile
1924– Fire Company buys a new Chevy-Roadster Chief’s car to speed response time of chief to fire scenes
1926– Borough of North Wales buys 2 Hahn Pumpers
1927– Purchased Model T Ford Curtain Side Truck
1929– By years end, policy differences, area growth and new demands plus equally divided manpower from Lower Gwynedd prompted volunteers to rename company, set new goals, new training policies, and seek offical charter
1930– January of the New Year saw the company with a new name. The North Penn Volunteer Fire Company. The state of Pennsylvania also granted the fire company a charter to serve Lower Gwynedd Township, North Wales Borough and a portion of Upper Gwynedd Township
1930– North Penn Volunteers buy two brand new American LaFrance pumpers
1946– Brand new 1946-Ford Pumper is purchased and housed
1947– Fire Company relocates from original fire station at 3rd and Montgomery to a brand new station on Main St.
1949– A brand new open cab 1000GPM American LaFrance pumper is housed
1951– Saw the addition of the company’s first Aerial Ladder Truck, a 65ft American LaFrance that also had pumping capabilities
1957– Fire company buys a brand new custom made pumper from the Hardwick Manufacturing Company of West Point Pa
1962– 1950 Chevy panel style truck purchased from the Wissahickon Fire Company of Ambler for us as a fire police vehicle
1966– A brand new Ford Econoline is purchased for Fire Police use
1966– July saw the company take delivery of a new Ford Tilt Cab pumper built by Hahn Motor Company
1969– A brand new hi-capacity custom built Hahn pumper was put into service, went through an extensive refurbishing in 1987 and is currently owned by a private collector - click here for more
1975– Fire company sells old 62ft aerial ladder to West Grove Fire Company in Chester county and buys a brand new 100ft American LaFrance Century Series Ladder Truck
1977– A Hammerly Ford Tilt Cab attack pumper takes its place in front-line action
1980– Fire Company adds a rescue/cascade truck built by K & S coachworks
1982– Purchased a 1974 International/Pierce 250 GPM Mini-Attack Pumper
1984– Lower Gwynedd Substation dedicated at Foulkeways in Gwynedd
1986– Millipore Inc. a local business, donates a brand new GMC van for use as new fire police vehicle
1987– Growing number of fire and rescue calls create a need for new pumper and new rescue truck. Company sells outdated Ford-Hahn Pumper, converts it lightweight K & S rescue truck to an air supply truck, and purchases a brand new Pierce combination and rescue truck (Squad 62)
1992– Purchased a KME Renegade MFD 1250GPM Pumper
1994– Purchased a GMC Suburban (SRL) QRS/Squad Vehicle
1997– Purchases a Simon/LTI 75ft Quint 1500GPM Pump 450 Gallon Tank
1998– Purchased 1962 American LaFrance Ladder for parts
1998– Purchased Dodge Ram 350 Van for Special Service
1999– Purchased International/SCWAB 1998 Cascade/Utility Vehicle
2000– Lower Gwynedd Township donates old police vehicle for Chief’s Vehicle.
2005– Purchased 2005 Chevy Tahoe for Chief’s Vehicle
2007– Refurbishes and rehouses Bertha
2007– Receives donation of Chevy Tahoe from Lower Gwynedd Township Police and is placed into service as a Fire Police/Personnel Vehicle
2008– Purchased a Seagrave Marauder II w/1500GPM Dual Stage Pump
2010– North Penn places an order for their new replacement vehicle, QRS62
2011– The new QRS62 is placed in service July 25th, and in a few hours, runs it’s first call
2014 - Purchased Engine 62-1, a 2014 KME Predator and first out apparatus from the Main Station for all fire-related incidents.
2018 - Construction of an extended ladder bay and general upgrades to the fire house and social club is completed
2018 - Purchased a 2018 KME Tractor-drawn Aerial
Our original 1929 AMERICAN LAFRANCE
BERTHA MAKES IT BACK TO HOME BAY
By Bonnie L. Cook
Inquirer Staff Writer
With two loud bangs and a flurry of sparks, the antique fire truck known as Bertha roared to life in front of her firehouse in North Wales. Driver Bud Rhoads throttled down the enormous six-cylinder engine. Then, staining to turn the unpowered steering wheel, he headed her out into a world of Explorers and Subarus. “It’s awesome,” said Jose Gonzalez and Samuel Gutierrez, of Philadelphia, two of the many who stopped on the town’s main drag to view the unusual sight.
Eighteen years after the North Penn Volunteer Fire Company began its painstaking work, the company’s 1929 American LaFrance Metropolitan pumper is fit and finished. The old girl has been restored, down to her silver bell and nickel trim.
She’ll be unveiled formally Saturday at an afternoon parade and housing at the fire company, 141 S. Main St. The housing, in which she is backed three times into her bay at the station, is an old-time firemen’s tradition.
Built by American LaFrance, of Elmira, N.Y., and priced at $13,000, Bertha was “the Rolls-Royce,” the biggest, most powerful fire truck of her day, said Al Novack, a firefighter and spokesman for the company. She zipped along at speeds of 50 to 60 m.p.h., responding to as 40 calls a year in barns, houses and factories as far afield as Chalfont, Bucks County, and all points of Montgomery County.
When she arrived, Bertha could draw water from a pond or creek, pressurized it, and pump it out again at about 1,000 gallons per minute, Novack said, roughly what fire trucks can pump today. “That’s a lot of water,” Novack said. He said Bertha would depart with a siren and the clanging of a bell. As she returned, the bell would sound again, he said.
Robert Kulp, who is 80 and lived three blocks from the firehouse as a boy, recalled waking up in the night to the sound of the fire truck’s engine revving up before a call. “When we heard this truck start up, you knew everything was OK. This truck had a heartbeat,” Kulp said.
Bertha remained in service until 1958, when she was retired. She had been eclipsed by larger apparatus, including a 1946 Ford Harwick pumper and an American LaFrance ladder truck that the fire company bought in 1951. She was sold to a fire department in Plant City, Fla., outside Tampa. For a time, she was service there, but then was retired to the backyard of a fire official, and gave rides to kids, Novack said. The story would have ended there had it not been for a committee composed of North Penn company firemen who were planning for the station’s 100th anniversary celebration in 1988. “Earl Wampole at one meeting said it would be nice if we could bet Bertha back,” Novack said. “Somebody suggested why don’t we track her down?”
The committee put two Whitemarsh Township policemen on the case. Stolen-car tracker Ted Fry and Chief Richard Zolko, both now deceased found her in no time.
Jim Schiele, the North Penn fire company president, issued a check for a small sum, and Kulp, by then a local paving contractor, paid the $1,500 for Bertha to be hauled back on a flatbed to North Wales. No fire company money was spent on restoration, Novack said. Instead, the firefighters held pancake breakfasts, hoagie sales, coin-pitch games, and flea markets to raise the “tens of thousands of dollars” needed for the project, Schiele said.
Bertha’s red paint had faded in the Florida sun. She was rusty. The firemen’s took her apart. Each piece was cleaned or replaced. When pieces weren’t available, they were custom-made. “We did that for the nickel plating for radiator,” Schiele said, “because (in 1929) chrome hadn’t been refined yet,”
When the volunteers completed all the work they knew how to do, they turned Bertha over to the Swab Wagon Co. of Elizabethville, Pa., for finishing.
Restored to her circa – 1929 glory, she is ready to face the future. “It’s a magnet,” Novack said of the antique truck. “People want to know the history. They think, ‘Jeez, those guys have their heart in it. How can I get involved?’"