In 1927, 11 residents of Bethel decided that their homes and their community in general, needed protection from fires. As far as anyone knows they were led by a man named Alcorn. Their first truck was a not-quite-fully equipped model T. They must have done an admirable job with what they had because their embryo fire department did nothing but expand from then on.
One of the most interesting, indeed unique, aspects of the “Bethel Fire Department”, is that it was completely and totally self-supporting. In 1954, the department answered 158 calls involving thousands of man-hours in all types of weather. It cost the community not a penny in tax money.
In 1965, it cost over $12,000 a year to properly operate and maintain the fire company. This was a cost of approximately $2.00 a unit to Bethel Park. All of this money was raised by the firemen themselves. Each year the fire company held a carnival and the firemen called on each home in the Borough for contributions to support this fund raising drive. Additional revenue was brought in by various other activities. According to the then Chief George Pokrajac, “One of the reasons we have low millage rates in Bethel is because the fire department receives no aids or grants of any kind. If Bethel were to bear the expense of maintaining a paid fire department, it would cost around $200,000 a year.
These civic-minded volunteers were not strictly concerned with fires. A disaster of any kind, natural or accidental, was likely to bring them on the run. How long it took to respond to a call depends on what time of day or night the alarm was given, but it averaged out to a little less than five minutes. That’s fast action in any man’s league. When they were not fighting fires, the firemen were trying to prevent them by helping to enforce safety regulations and maintaining periodic safety and educational programs on fire prevention.
Not just anyone who comes in off the street can become a volunteer fire-fighter. It takes a special breed to keep oneself in the physical shape required of an efficient fireman. Long hours are spent in training sessions, held three times a month and special schools help keep their skills honed to a fine edge. Above all, teamwork is stressed. To be successful they must work together, quickly and efficiently.
Lives and property depend on the volunteer fireman’s ability to think clearly and act quickly at times of great stress and peril. These training sessions help them to achieve that ability and maintain it. The debt owed to these volunteer firemen who give freely of their time and strength to help their fellow residents when calamity strikes is incalculable. Suffice it to say that many people in Bethel Park sleep more soundly than they would otherwise knowing that there are many men standing guard only five minutes away.
In 2013, the Bethel Park Volunteer Fire Company ultimately changed history again. The firefighters requested the community to fund the construction and upkeep of a new fire station. In collaboration with the Municipal Council, a referendum to modify the community’s home rule charter was placed onto the Spring 2013 ballot. The referendum passed with an overwhelming majority of the community supporting a tax to fund the construction of a new fire station and maintenance of all of the community’s fire stations. Despite this tax, the fire company still must rely on donations to continue operating as an independent body.