The Union Fire Company

Photo of the Union Firehouse in 1909

The Union Fire Company during Old Home Week 1909.

The Union Fire Company was organized on April 6, 1789 by a group of citizens that had joined together to order a fire engine after a devastating fire in the fall of 1788. By January of 1790 the engine was housed in a shed built to the west of the Court House in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Fires were infrequent in that era and by 1807 interest in the fire company had waned to the point that the company became inactive.1

In 1818 remaining members of the Union and other interested citizens revived the company for reasons that remain unknown. In 1821 the Union and the Cumberland Fire Company (formed in 1809) joined forces to build a two story town hall and fire house, again on land just west of the original Court House.2 That building and the Court House were destroyed in an arson fire in March of 1845. Only one of the four fire engines, that of the Cumberland Fire Company was saved, and it was too damaged to be of any use during the fire.3

The townspeople quickly came to the aid of the fire companies and bought each a new engine, hose reel, and hose. The Union moved into a one story frame building on West Louther Street in Carlisle which was replaced with a spacious two story brick fire hall in 1859.4 It was in this building that the fire company formed the Union Guard, a local militia company, just after the start of the Civil War. Before the war ended over 100 members of the Union served and eight died in service to their country.5

The company replaced its hand operated engine with a steam powered pumper in 1870.6 In 1889 the Union celebrated the 100th anniversary of its founding with a grand parade held in conjunction with the Pennsylvania State Fireman’s Convention in Carlisle. Over 2,000 marchers and nearly 15,000 spectators gathered for the parade. In conjunction with the celebration the Union constructed the firehouse they still occupy today.7

The Union Fire Company band was one of the finest in the area from 1885 to 1895.8

The fire company began to use horses to pull its apparatus in 1910 but they were very costly to maintain and were replaced with a motorized fire engine in 1913.9 This was the first motor fire engine in the valley and even before it was placed in service it was called to assist with a major fire in Newville10

In 1931 the company formed the Union Rural Service to provide fire protection into the growing areas around Carlisle. This service was operated using a company owned engine as the borough objected to their fire apparatus being used at out of town fires.11 The first water tank truck was purchased by the company in 1958 to supplement water supplies in non-hydrant areas.12

Two members have died in the Line of Duty. James Dysert died in 1938 from injuries he suffered at an earlier house fire.13 In August 1969 Vince Mahoney II died in a crash while responding to a call in the rural district.14

The company has provided service to Carlisle and surrounding areas for over two centuries and celebrated the 225th anniversary of its founding in 2014.

Get the full history of the Union Fire Company by reading To the Rescue: Carlisle’s Union Fire Company 1789 to 2012 by Randy Watts. Avaliable at the CCHS library or purchase online here.

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References (Sources Available at CCHS in bold)

[1]Union Fire Company, Minute Books, Volume 1.

[2]Union Fire Company, Minute Books, Volume 1, various dates.

[3] American Volunteer, Carlisle PA, March 27, 1845.

[4] Union Fire Company, Minute Books, Volume 2, various dates.

[5]Randy Watts, To the Rescue – Carlisle’s Union Fire Company 1789-2012 (Carlisle: Union Fire Company 2013) Chapter 4 and appendix material.

[6]Herald, Carlisle PA, May 19, 1870.

[7] Watts, 79-88.

[8]Watts, 89-100.

[9]Watts, 141-143.

[10]Sentinel, Carlisle PA, August 8, 1913.

[11]Watts, 163-171.

[12]Sentinel, Carlisle PA, October 3, 1958.

[13]Ibid, November 9, 1938.

[14]Sentinel, Carlisle PA, August 26, 1969.