Fire protection in and around Erie, PA back in the early-to-mid twentieth century was very sparse. The Erie Fire Department was the main fire protection around the region. West Lake FD in west Millcreek began operations in the early 1930’s. Kearsarge FD was organized several years later as the second fire department in Millcreek.
Belle Valley community leaders were worried about the lack of fire protection for the residents in the eastern portion of Millcreek. Frank Schrimper who was known as the “Mayor of Belle Valley” brought together members of the community on November 2, 1938 to discuss starting a local fire department. Frank and nine other men made up the charter members of the new department. They included HK Williams, Wallace McCall, Elmer Armes, John Hotz, J Henry Shattuck, Ted Davis, Pete Engesser, Paul Martin Sr. and Everett Cook.
Because of that meeting on November 2, 1938, the Belle Valley Hose Company was established as the third fire department in Millcreek.
From the beginning, fundraising was the Departments only source of income. Each member had to pay dues to maintain active membership. In the early years, square dances were held as fundraisers at the Engesser barn.
The First Fire Truck
In May 1940, the very first fire truck was bought. A brand new 1939 Chevrolet pumper was christened Engine 31. This truck was used in its original configuration until the early 1970’s. More on this later.
At the time there was still no firehouse to put the truck into. Until one was built, the Engesser barn on Wattsburg Rd. and the Tate garage on Gore Rd. were make-shift firehouses.
With a truck available now, Belle Valley’s response area was actually quite large. We responded on all calls in Greene Township, northern Wattsburg and portions of Summit and Harborcreek Townships. This lasted until the establishment of Kuhl Hose, Perry Hi-Way and Brookside Fire Departments.
The First Fire
Not long after the arrival of the new pumper, a basement fire in a house on Wattsburg Rd would prove to be the first fire that Belle Valley Hose Company would respond to. The house was saved! Not bad for a bunch of guys who never fought a fire before.
The Ladies Auxiliary
Also in 1940, the Belle Valley Ladies Auxiliary was formed.
The First Fire House
In November 1944, a new two bay firehouse was built on land they bought from the Newcomer family at Norcross Rd & Wattsburg Rd. This is the same location that the firehouse currently occupies. As a matter of fact, the original firehouse is still standing today as a part of our current station.
Street Fairs & Bazaars
Another fundraiser the Department held was the Street Fair that was started in 1941. With a name change to the Belle Valley Bazaar in 1943, this very successful fundraiser lasted until 1961.
Adding To The Fleet
Tanker 32 was the next vehicle purchased by the Department. The 1937 Chevrolet tanker was purchased in 1944 from Ed Lindberg, who used it as an ice delivery truck. The members added compartments and a pump onto the truck. This truck was used until 1955. Parts of this truck were later morphed into another truck. More on that later too.
Then in 1948, Tanker 33 was added to the fleet of fire apparatus. This 1940 Chevrolet was originally used as an oil tanker by the Kendall Oil Company.
Junior Firefighters Part 1
In October 1949, in an effort to bring in younger members to the fire service, Belle Valley began a Junior Firefighter program. One of the original Juniors would later go on to become a longtime Millcreek Township Supervisor. The program lasted several years but eventually was discontinued Township wide.
Building Renovations version 1.0
In 1952 the first of many renovations occurred. The building was enlarged and a community hall was added.
Also in 1952 the membership voted to change the name from Hose Company to Fire Department. The actual name change didn’t occur for quite some time. More on this later also.
Dial 911, Well Not Quite
Dispatching in the early days was quite inadequate. When someone needed the fire department, they would have to call the Schrimper Feed Mill or the Fire Chief. They would then begin to call other members of the department. There was a siren mounted at the Engesser barn that would be activated by the first person at the firehouse. Later, a new siren tower was erected at the firehouse with remote switches at the Feed Mill and the Engesser barn to activate it.
New tube type monitors were bought for the firefighter’s homes in 1954. This meant that calls were actually being dispatched now by Millcreek Fire Control at the Police Department.
In May of 1954, Millcreek Township put into effect one single telephone number for all of the residents to call in case of emergency. That number was used until the 911 system went into operation in the early 1990’s.
Radio communications was unheard of until the mid 1950’s. Up until then, if we needed more help someone would have to walk to the closest house and call another department on the phone. The first radio we had was installed in Engine 31.
Engine 33 and Rescue 35
1955 and 1956 brought two more trucks into the Department.
Engine 33 was a 1954 Ford/John Bean Pumper. This truck had a 500 gpm pump and 500 gallon water tank. Engine 33 was in service until January 1980. It was donated to the newly formed Franklin Township Fire Department near Edinboro.
In 1956 Belle Valley purchased their first rescue truck. The brand new Rescue 35 was used to carry rescue equipment and also doubled as their very first ambulance. The Metro-Van was used until 1974.
Building Renovations Version 2.0 and 3.0
In 1957, the Social Hall was built. The hall was added onto the rear of the main firehouse. It was available to the community for a multitude of events. It even served as the location of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church from 1960 until the church was built in 1962.
There was also an addition put onto the building in 1962.
Engine 34, Squad 37 and Rad-O-lites
1962 also saw the purchase of two vehicles.
The Department’s second ambulance was delivered in July. The 1952 Cadillac, designated Squad 37, was purchased from Hamot Hospital. With the addition of the new ambulance, this gave Rescue 35 a much needed break. “Inhalator calls”, as they were known back then, were starting to increase yearly.
This same year, the Department also purchased a 1955 Ford pumper from Cooperstown, PA FD. The “new” pumper was in service as Engine 34 until the late 1970’s.
A new innovation to the region came to Belle Valley in 1962. Rad-O-Lites were installed into the two ambulances. Rad-O-Lite was a traffic pre-emption system that enabled the ambulances to get to hospitals quicker and safer (they were later installed into all the FD’s vehicles).
The Famous Chicken Barbecues
In August 1963 the first of many chicken barbecues were held as a fund raiser. The barbecues were very popular. In 1964 the number of dinners grew from one to three a year. The reason the chicken was so popular was that the chickens were cooked by the firemen in pits behind the firehouse using a special secret recipe.
The New Squad 37
The new pride & joy of the Belle Valley Hose Company arrived in the fall of 1967. A brand new International ambulance replaced the 1952 Cadillac as Squad 37. The Cadillac was sold to the Erie Shriner’s Hospital. The International was utilized until 1982.
30th Anniversary & Renovations Version 4.0
1968 marked the 30th anniversary of the department. To mark the event, a major renovation project was undertaken. Both the firehouse and the Social Hall had extensive work completed mainly by the members.
A New Orange Engine 31, and Of Course Renovations Version 5.0
With the start of the 1970’s the members decided it was time to upgrade the fire apparatus. In September 1971, a new 750 gallon pumper arrived to replace the Departments first fire truck. The modern Ford/FMC John Bean was the most state of the art piece of equipment the Department had to date. The new Engine 31 was the first orange fire truck at Belle Valley.
Why orange? The insurance companies were urging fire departments to use brighter colors on their vehicles rather than red. A discussion was held before the purchase of the truck on what color to paint it. It was between orange and slime green. Orange won.
Because this truck was much larger than any of the other trucks that were being used, renovations had to be done to the front of the firehouse.
New Ambulance or Rescue Truck?...
It was time to replace the 1956 Metro-Van rescue truck/ambulance. Discussions were held to determine what would serve the community better, an ambulance or a rescue truck. That question was answered with the delivery of a new 1974 Dodge/National Coach ambulance. If you’re counting this is the tenth vehicle the department has purchased since 1938.
Engine 36. Remember Earlier Where It Said More On This Later? Well, Now It’s Later...
Engine 36 is actually the 1939 Chevrolet pumper (the original Engine 31) and the 1937 Chevrolet Tanker 32, well parts of them. Department members who were mechanically inclined used their magic to add the cab and chassis of the 1939 to the body of the 1937. This truck was a return to the orange color scheme. The finished product was a grass fire truck, Engine 36. This lasted until the mid 1980’s. The truck is now retired in the barn of George Engesser.
Another new pumper, back to red (for now)
In 1975, the Hose Company purchased a new pumper to replace the old 1940 tanker that had already been placed out of service. The 1975 Ford/Young pumper was the new Engine 32. It carried 750 gallons of water, had a top mounted pump and was red & white. This truck served the community until 1992.
The Area of Belle Valley
Since the early days, when Millcreek was incorporated as a township, the Belle Valley area had predominately been rural farm land. Between 1955 and 1975 the area had little growth. Then in 1975, the area saw a growth spurt. Industrial, commercial and residential areas grew tremendously. The Belle Valley community was the home of Erie’s former pro hockey team, the Erie Blades. They played at the Erie County Fieldhouse before they moved to downtown Erie.
In 1976 Millcreek Township had 12 traffic fatalities. Of the 12 fatalities, 9 of them were in Belle Valley’s district. At that time Belle Valley didn’t have a Hurst tool. If one was needed, Erie FD or Perry Hi-Way Hose Co. was called in to assist.
Improving Fire Protection with Additions To The Fleet
Between 1979 and 1980 the Department added two pieces of apparatus to the fleet.
With having three of the townships tallest buildings, the Department purchased a 1949 American LaFrance ladder truck from the Warren, PA FD in 1979. The open cab truck had an 85’ aerial and carried 212’ of ground ladders. The truck stayed in service until December 2001. The truck came red, and stayed that way until refurbished.
Then during the first week of 1980, a brand new Ford/Saulsbury tanker was delivered to the station. The tanker carried 1250 gallons of water. Tanker 34 (also known as “Bulldog Spot”) eventually doubled as a rescue truck. The tanker stayed in service until it was sold to a local landscaper in 2001.
New Building and Renovations Version 6.0
Due to the addition of all the new apparatus and having limited space, it was decided to add on to the building and make necessary renovations. Space was so limited that Engine 36 had to sit outside under the chicken cooking pits.
In early 1981, a new 50’x80’ three lane truck bay was put in use. Along with that, the former truck bays in the old building were made into an ambulance bay, radio room and meeting room. An office, shower and locker rooms were also added. The original firehouse from 1944 is still standing as part of the current firehouse.
The Mayor Retires
1981, Frank Schrimper - the Mayor of Belle Valley, retired from the fire department. He held the position of treasurer for 43 years.
New Ambulance and Ladder Truck Rebuild
In June of 1982, the 1967 International ambulance was replaced by a new Ford/TEC ambulance. The new Squad 37 was one of the first modular ambulances in Erie County and was built to carry a Hurst tool but never did. This was used until replaced in 1993.
Later that same year Truck 30 was refurbished in-house by members of Belle Valley. A used cab and side compartments from the Rochester, NY FD were added, and it was painted Belle Valley orange.
An Era Ends
Early 1985 brought much sadness to Belle Valley as Frank Schrimper, the man who started it all, died on January 21st.
Belle Valley Hose Company Is No More
A revision to the charter in late 1985 officially changed the name to Belle Valley Fire Department.
The Hurst Tool
The roads of Belle Valley may not be the most treacherous, but we get our share of serious accidents. After a fatal accident in 1985, a fund was started to purchase a Hurst Rescue Tool System. The initial donation to the fund was actually given by the family of the young man who died in that accident. In February 1986, the system arrived and was placed in service.
One day after its arrival the Hurst tool was put to work at a serious accident on New Perry Highway.
Time Again For Another Engine 31
By 1987, it was time to replace the 16 year old Ford/FMC Engine 31. In October, a 1500 gpm Sutphen pumper was delivered as the new Engine 31. This was our first brand new custom built fire apparatus and it came in a new crème over orange color scheme. This pumper is part of our current fleet of apparatus. The Ford/FMC was sold to Elgin-Beaverdam FD near Corry, PA.
1988 A Big Year At BVFD
Several different events took place in 1988
This year marked the 50th anniversary of the Belle Valley FD. A grand banquet at the Maennerchor Club and an open house at the firehouse were held to celebrate the occasion.
1988 also saw the first of many BVFD Street Dances. This was a major fundraiser for the department. The dances would have both a live band and a dj to entertain the crowds. At the peak of the dances, attendance would swell to nearly 500 people. As the years went on, the dances started to became less popular and it was decided to stop having them. Overall, the dances lasted for just over ten years.
Replacing The Dodge Ambulance
It was also time to replace an ambulance in 1988. The 1974 Dodge had seen better days, so a slightly used 1988 Ford/AEV ambulance was purchased from an ambulance service out of Pittsburgh. With the new Squad 35 in house, the Dodge was sold to a private owner. The Ford would last until 1993.
The BIG ONE...
The biggest fire in Belle Valley's history occurred on October 11, 1988 at Church & Murdoch Electric Company. The afternoon fire could be seen for miles. The fire took over 4 hours to control and caused nearly $350,000 in damages. Several area departments assisted in fighting that afternoon blaze.
Another rebuild for Truck 30
In April 1989, Truck 30 was sent down to the American LaFrance Neville Island service center outside of Pittsburgh for another refurbishment. The truck again had a new cab & compartments added on, new wiring, and a new paint job. When it returned in December, the members added a new generator, lights and tool holders.
February 1991 Multi-Vehicle I-90 Accident
Just after returning from a fatal accident, BVFD was sent to assist Harborcreek FD on I-90 at what was the largest MVA (motor vehicle accident) in Erie County history up to that time. Five people died in the nearly 30 vehicles that were involved. Heavy snow and frigid temperatures hampered rescue efforts. Crews were on scene for several hours.
Explorer Post #833
In the summer of 1991, BVFD introduced a program similar to the old Junior program. In association with the Boy Scouts of America, Belle Valley started an Explorer program known as Post #833. Due to the very limited amount of participation that was allowed by the group, the Post only last two years before disbanding.
In Case Of Emergency Dial 911
Basic 911 service came to Millcreek Township in November 1991. The first 911 call for the Township was a call for BVFD. Enhanced 911 came to all of Erie County in May 1993.
Say Goodbye To The Last Red Fire Truck
The last red fire truck to call Belle Valley home was replaced in June of 1992 when a new crème over orange Sutphen pumper rolled into the station. The all new Engine 32 had a 2000 gpm pump and carried 750 gallons of water. The old Ford was sold to a department in the mid-west.
Why Buy One When You Can Buy Two
A committee was put together to find a replacement for the 1982 Ford/TEC ambulance. After looking at several models, it was decided to purchase a McCoy-Miller ambulance. After serious considerations it was decided to replace both the Ford/TEC and the Ford/AEV, so twin model McCoy-Millers were purchased. The new 1993 ambulances were much larger than their predecessors. Both of the former ambulances were sold to separate fire departments in Warren County.
New Number Added To The Fleet
After several years of researching, writing specs and building, Rescue 38 arrived in late 1996. The number 38 had not previously been used by any of our apparatus. The heavy rescue was custom built by KME Fire Apparatus. The arrival of this truck gave Tanker 34 a much needed rest, since all the rescue equipment was removed. Rescue 38 is part of our current fleet of apparatus.
Firehouse On Fire
In September of 1996, a fire occurred in the most unlikely of places, our firehouse! An electrical fire broke out in the storage space above the bar in the social hall. The fire extended through a portion of the firehouse. The fire along with the smoke caused a considerable amount of damage. None of the apparatus were damaged.
World Wide Web
BVFD made its presence for the first time in 1998 on the Internet.
After a couple years of planning, the Millcreek Paramedic Service began operations in May 1999. The service that is owned by the five Millcreek fire departments provides emergency and non-emergent transports service to Millcreek Township. Belle Valley leased Squad 35 to the service that eventually purchased it. A couple years later, Squad 37 was also sold to the service.
From Truck 30 To Tower 30
A 90 foot Sutphen tower ladder was purchased from the Upper Arlington, Ohio FD in 2001. Tower 30 arrived in December after a major renovation. The truck has a 1500 gpm pump, no water, a light tower and the normal truck company equipment.
New Radio System
After years of bad reception and sharing the frequencies with departments from miles away, Millcreek Township fire departments switched over to a high band radio system late in 2002.
After selling Squad 37 to Millcreek Paramedics, it was decided to purchase a smaller vehicle to run EMS calls instead of using the larger rescue or pumpers. A customized Ford F350 four door pick-up truck with an ARE cap was placed in service in early 2003. The vehicle was customized to carry a full set of EMS supplies, plus fire and rescue tools. Truck 39 is part of our current fleet of apparatus.
BVFD assisted Pennsylvania State Police & Perry Hi-Way Hose Co. at the scene of the notorious Erie Pizza Bomber case. Rescue 38 was requested to the scene that night, several hours after the bomb exploded, to provided lighting for investigators.
Valley of the Ghouls and 5K Races
In 2004 two new fundraisers were started.
Valley of the Ghouls, a haunted house attraction, began in 2004. The haunted house has seen several thousand people pass through the doors and for many years, it has gotten bigger, better and scarier. As a matter of fact, the first year it was named the best haunted house in the region by the Erie Times-News. This event was eventually discontinued as many other organizations began to have their own haunted houses.
Another new fundraiser started in 2004 was the BVFD 5K Race & Walk. The two courses that were used went through separate sections of our response district. Although popular among some local participants, the races never really grew large enough to make any real impact on fundraising. Because of the lack of participation versus the amount of work needed to set it up, the races only lasted for three years.
Safety Dave Passes Away
In March of 2005, Dave Teubert, a past chief, passed away at his home unexpectedly. Dave was the Safety Officer at the time of his death. He had gotten the nickname "Safety Dave" due to his longtime position as Safety Officer and his outlook on the safety of our firefighters.
Smile For The Camera
Thanks to our Ladies Auxiliary, BVFD placed a brand new thermal imaging camera in service this year. The MSA Evolution 5200 TIC was purchased as a gift by the auxiliary. The camera is used to see through smoke & darkness, and can read the temperature of heat inside a structure, and also assist in locating people inside a burning structure. This is a valuable piece of rescue equipment.
Just Doing Our Jobs
Two near tragic events in 2006 proved why the members of this department are hero’s every day.
At the Annual Erie Zoo parade, the crew manning Engine 32 during the parade observed a young boy choking. The crew immediately jump off the rig and performed the Heimlich maneuver to save the boy. Aboard the Engine that day were Lt. Shannon Goho, and firefighters Allen Lombardozzi, Pat McKellop, Mark Kazin and Chris Piganelli.
An early morning structure fire in October trapped four residents on the roof of a house. Two managed to get off the roof but two others were still in need of rescue. We arrived within seven minutes. Deputy Chief Tom Krahnke extricated both of the people safely.
All six of these members received awards in April 2007 at the Public Safety Awards Dinner.
The five members from Engine 32 won a "Special Unit Citation Award", while Deputy Chief Tom Krahnke won the "Erie County Firefighter of the Year Award".
Junior Firefighters Part 2
In 2006 we re-introduced the Junior Firefighter program. The program has been very successful and has already yielded us some senior firefighters, but was discontinued again in 2015 due to a shortage of applicants.
I-90 Multi Vehicle Accident again
On January 25th, 2007, in a scene reminiscent to 16 years earlier in the same location,BVFD assisted Harborcreek FD at a multi-vehicle accident. Although this time there were several more vehicles involved, only one person died. BVFD crews worked to free occupants of two severely damaged vehicles during a blinding snow storm.
Grant to Refurbish Engine 31
BVFD was awarded a federal grant in late 2006 to refurbish Engine 31. The truck was taken to ITE Fire Apparatus in Hagerstown, Maryland. Keep reading for information on the delivery...almost!
Cider Mill Fire
Fire in the historic Fuhrman’s Cider Mill & Bakery destroyed the century old local landmark in October 2007. The fire, caused by an electrical short, was the largest in the Belle Valley district since the 1988 Church & Murdoch blaze requiring nearly 20 pieces of apparatus to put out the fire. The cider mill had been a staple in the Belle Valley community for over 100 years.
Hurst Tool Upgrades
After 22 years of service, new Hurst equipment was placed in service in February 2008. New cutters and combo-tool were purchased, along with several small hand pumped tools. A refurbished portable generator & new hoses were also delivered. The new equipment keeps up with new stronger materials used to build modern vehicles.
Engine 31: The Refurb, The Attempted Delivery, The Crash, The Delivery...Finally
As mentioned before, Engine 31 was sent to ITE in Maryland for refurbishment. The refurb included a cab enclosure with doors, foam system, new lighting package, hose trough, mattydale cover, miscelaneous additions, and mechanical work.
As it was being driven back home in January 2008, they came upon an accident on Interstate 79, and then was hit from behind by another car. The rear of the pumper was heavily damaged. The engine was sent back down to ITE for the repairs.
In March, after a very long year, Engine 31 finally returned home. Looking brand new from front to back.
The Crashin' Cruise-In Car Show
A new fundraiser began in the summer of 08. The Crashin' Cruise-In Car Show debuted in June with over a hundred cars and trucks participating.
A Celebration of 70 Years
In 2008, BVFD celebrated 70 years of service to the the residents of Millcreek and the community of Belle Valley.
In August, a grand banquet was held at the Concourse of Union Station to commemorate the anniversary.
Progress Means Change
Erie County's new 911/dispatch center, known as Erie County Dispatch, opened in January 2009. All Millcreek departments switch over to new center on February 18th.
Because of the switch, BVFD needed to change apparatus numbers. Gone are the 30 series that were used since the inception of the department in 1938. All vehicles were changed to the Erie county 3-digit system, with BVFD having numbers 360-379 assigned. Current apparatus are now listed as
Engine 362 (former 32)
Engine 363 (former 31)
Truck 367 (former 39)
Rescue 368 (former 38)
Tower 369 (former 30)
Truck 379 - Reserve (former 30X)
The Great Flood of 2009
June 30, 2009 will truly be a day that goes down in history, not just for BVFD, but the entire community. Several hours of heavy rain caused a major flood throughout the Belle Valley area. The hardest hit building in the entire region was the Belle Valley fire house. More than $600,000 worth of damaged occured to just the fire department alone that day. Throughout the flooding, the fire department continued to answer calls as we responded to 25 calls that day and made nearly 25 rescues.
Brand New Tower Ladder
In November 2010 a brand new Sutphen Tower Ladder was delivered to BVFD. At a cost of a little over $1 million dollars, this new truck was until recently the most state of the art apparatus in the region. Reaching to a height of 100 ft, the Sutphen SPH100 aslo has a 2000gpm pump with a 280 gallon water tank. Several new tools were purchased to go with the custom built vehicle. The truck was titled Tower 369 and replaces the former Tower 369/30, the used Sutphen we bought from Upper Arlington FD.
New Patch Adopted
A new official BVFD patch was designed and adopted in late 2011. The patch incorporates the design of the former patch of the "eagle covering the 3" and the maltese we have been using in recent years.
New Tower Gets Damaged at Fire
The brand new Sutphen tower that was just delivered November 2010 sustained over $100,000 at a fire in Harborcreek in May 2011. The building contained several chemicals that caused damage to the rig, along with several thousand dollars of damage gear and equipment. Many firefighters had to be seen at hospitals for respitory problems. The Tower had to be returned to Sutphen for repairs. The rig returned in October.
BVFD Adds SCUBA to Rescue Operations
In 2012 twelve BVFD members became certified rescue SCUBA divers. Sets of dive gear were purchased for the divers to use. They also became members of the Millcreek Dive Team.
In June 2017, the department made the decision to discontinue the Scuba/Water Rescue team due to low demand for our services, and relatively high costs for equipment maintenance and training.
Engine 362 Sent Out For Refurb
The 1992 Sutphen was sent to Sutphen in Springfield, Ohio for a refurbishment in July 2012. Quite a bit of work was done to the truck including paint job, led & strobe lighting, generator/cord reel install, upholstery work, SCBA brackets & spare cylinder holders, engine & tranny work, pump work and a few other miscellaneous items. The rig returned in Januay 2013.
BVFD Adds ATV To Fleet
A new piece of apparatus was added to the BVFD fleet in January 2013. A new Kawasaki Mule ATV was loaned to the department by Off-Road Express. The ATV was used for rescue, search and wildfire operations. It was designated as ATV-377. It was returned to Off-Road Express in 2016 when the loaner program was discontinued.